Douglas Carswell, the newly elected Ukip MP, has said that he expects his new party to win the Rochester and Strood byelection, adding it was possible that Ukip could win as many as 24 seats at the general election in light of polls showing it could take 25% of the vote next May.
He said he would not indulge in bravado talk but added that things “could be very different” if Ukip won Rochester and that centre-left voters were starting to come his party’s way. He also hinted that a Labour MP was willing to defect. Austin Mitchell, the 80-year-old MP for Grimsby, has denied he is the possible defector. Mitchell, a long-term Eurosceptic, is standing down next May, and has previously denied he will join Ukip.
Carswell was speaking on Sunday amid a round of interviews follow last week’s byelections. Boris Johnson, the London mayor, responded to the Ukip surge by saying it was axiomatic that the Conservatives would campaign to leave the EU if the UK cannot negotiate concessions with Brussels on the free movement of peoples across Europe.
Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, also rejected suggestions there were any “wobbles” over Ed Miliband’s leadership, as party officials insisted the key lesson from Thursday’s byelections was that David Cameron no longer has a strategy to win a majority at the next election.
Labour said it would not be shifting ground to curtail the free movement of workers within the EU, but would say more, on its own timetable, about the trio of immigration issues of integration, exploitation and contributions. Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, admitted Labour had not gained extra votes in the way that it hoped in Heywood and Stourbridge byelection on Thursday. He conceded immigration was an issue, but added: “Ukip want to take their bat off the field and leave us powerless.”
Carswell said he was not interested in bravado, adding he wanted a humane immigration policy based on humanity and common sense.
The former Tory insisted that his new party was offering an optimistic vision of the UK’s future.
“I think it’s important to remember that Ukip is not the Conservative party in exile; I’ve got good friends in the Conservative party and I’ve also got good friends in other parties,” he said.
“If people who want change, and perhaps if they want to be true to the principles of Keir Hardie [Labour’s first leader], there is a party they can look to and a party that reflects the values of those who went into politics to improve the lives of their constituents.”
Carswell also highlighted a more liberal tone than Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, saying no one was seriously suggesting screening immigrants for HIV.
Farage had suggested only “quality” EU citizens without life threatening diseases, such as HIV or cancer, could be let into the UK, but later added they might be permitted to enter if they could prove they would pay for their own medical treatment.
Carswell said: “The way the Tory party is retailing politics is a bit like the way HMV retailed music: it’s a defunct retail model. The Conservative party should be more like Spotify but the Conservative party can’t change and won’t change because there are too many vested interests that are against recall of MPs, open primaries, direct democracy and change. Why? Because if we had direct democracy many of the members of the Conservative party and the leadership would be replaced.”
Speaking against the backdrop of one poll by Survation showing Ukip on 25%, Johnson said he did not believe EU partners would recoil in horror at British demands for renegotiation of free movement and the introduction of a points-based system linked to skills.
He told the BBC1’s Andrew Marr show: “You cannot go into negotiation unless you are prepared to walk away so it follows that if you do not get the right solution then you need a better solution. I would certainly say there is nothing to fear in this argument and everything to gain.”
He said Ukip was making gains among the electorate “because voters felt they were not being given a proper choice”.
Johnson added that the original EU vision was first outlined when there were far fewer member states with similar wage rates. “The principle of uniformity across the European Union patria [fatherland] has already been breached in our case pointing out that the UK already had different border arrangements through the Schengen agreement,” he said.
Johnson, who is standing as Conservative candidate in Uxbridge, said people were too apprehensive about the possible downsides of leaving the EU. He conceded that some business would be apprehensive in the first phase after Britain’s exit, but he said he doubted many would leave the EU, pointing out the same warnings were made if the UK did not join the euro. The mayor said London had powered on outside the eurozone, adding that the city it continued to have great attractions.
Johnson insisted the Conservatives should not panic in the face of a defeat in Rochester and Strood byelection. He rejected talk of local pacts between Ukip and Tory sceptic MPs, saying the whole revolt against Westminster was based on a belief that Westminster is a stitch-up. “I don’t see how that works, No.”
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