It was John Maynard Keynes who said “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?” Ignoring his disastrous economic theories he has a point, and to that extent I am reluctant to vilify an MP who alters his opinion to one which I think more correct. But I am struggling to find much joy in Mr Reckless’ recent defection to UKIP.
All I know about Mr Reckless comes from Wikipedia; it seems that he is a lawyer with the inevitable PPE from Oxford and a bit of time in the City. His majority is just shy of 10,000 and he took the seat over from the champagne socialist Bob Marshall Andrews. He is a close friend of Eurosceptic (Conservative) MEP Daniel Hannan, and has spent much of his parliamentary career rebelling against the more pro-EC line of his party. To that extent, what’s not to like? As professional politicians go he has a wider commercial experience than many and has been consistent in his Euro scepticism.
I assume that his move to UKIP has come at a time when he realises that his chances of advancement under Cameron are slim, and without that advancement his influence on policy will remain limited. He has had the decency to resign to trigger a by election (amazingly, still not a legal requirement) and as he got 50% of the vote last time (with no UKIP opposition) he should be fairly likely to win unless the Tory dirty tricks department proves to be as effective as the New Labour one. He’ll then get to fight again in May 2015.
If you are an MP and are going to change sides then this is probably the way to do it – state your case and then let your constituency judge. Most MPs changing side don’t (most famously Winston Churchill switched to the Liberals in 1904 but didn’t face an election until the general election of 1906). But I think it is still reasonable to ask why change now? Nothing much has changed in the Conservative Party, nor indeed in UKIP other than the former’s electoral prospects look grim and UKIP’s are improving. As a lawyer it is relatively easy for Reckless to earn a wage outside of politics, unlike Lembert Optik, who was reduced to marrying a Cheeky Girl when his political career died. But in the current environment it will be hard for any MP to avoid a charge of putting self-interest before beliefs. Mr Reckless should be better placed to argue this than most.
There is no doubt that as an ex-City economist (albeit back in the 1990s) he brings much needed expertise to the UKIP team. But that would have been true last month, or last year. Mr Reckless may have had a Damascene moment at a policy day, but it’s taken him a long time to act. The feting of a defecting MP is getting to look a little like a new signing in the Premier League, with lots of media. But it also distracts that media from the messages that they should have been conveying; from UKIP the reiteration of the point that the EC exports more to the UK than the UK does to the EC, so the prospect of punitive tariffs on UK goods in the event of a UK exit from the EU. For the Tories that at least they have a plant for reducing the deficit (even if it isn’t working yet). Instead we get talking heads and vox popping where we need rational analysis.
What’s the impact? I don’t know. In the last election UKIP didn’t contest the seat and I guess some Tory will stand. The Labour candidate got 28% of the vote compared to Reckless’ 49% and in 2005 Reckless would have won but for UKIP taking 1,488 votes (he lost by 213). The reality is that UKIP collects votes from Tory, Labour and non-voters so the arithmetic is hard, if not impossible (which is a good thing). Rather than causing a fundamental change in Conservative policy I think that this may change strategy – if UKIP can win parliamentary seats that’s good for the conservatives as UKIP is a free market capitalist party. If the Tory vote splits and UKIP does not make up the difference, thereby allowing in Labour of Liberal Democrats, then it’s a disaster and we get Milliband.
If I were Mr Reckless I’d make darn sure that I got the UKIP economic team to start being persuasive and publicised.
If I were Farage I’d keep on doing what he’s doing, if anything with more venom for the prat who can say together but not mention the deficit, and then has the chutzpah to pretend that he forgot. I’d try not to seduce more sitting MPs to UKIP as they’ve pretty much missed the boat.
If I were Cameron I would stop being rude about UKIP supporters, most of whom have personally done a heck of a lot more for the economy and the country than he has.