Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

If Carswell was serious about Europe, he would never have defected

Where is this burning point of principle that drove Douglas Carswell into the arms of Ukip? I’ve read lots about his defection, and I’m still none the wiser. We’re told that he was talking to Farage for almost a year, which would have overlapped with the time he told me that the Tories need to unite behind Cameron because he was the only one promising an in-out referendum. What has changed?

Carswell says that Cameron is not serious about Europe. The Prime Minister has become the only leader in the continent to promise an in-out referendum. I’m not sure how much more serious one can be. Should he lay out, now, what he wants in a renegotiation? Of course not – it would be rendered rapidly out of date. The referendum would be three years away, and Europe is changing all the time. Back in January, Carswell told me that he understood this. No longer.

So what’s going on? I can recognise the argument Charles Moore makes: that the ‘modernising’ project now stands exposed as an abject failure which hollowed out, rather than strengthened, the Conservative Party (its membership has halved under Cameron). I can see the critique of the Tories from the right, summed up by Peter Hitchens today. We can also see the old Tory wars, where the left and the right of the party want to fight each other more than Labour. Even Matthew Parris is saying that it’s time to draw the battle lines. You can add to this perhaps the single greatest weakness in the Cameron project: a lack of a political message (the absence of a political operation in No 10 is a symptom, rather than a cause, of this malady).

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