Tom Goodenough

Mark Reckless’s defection presents the Tories with a conundrum

Mark Reckless's defection presents the Tories with a conundrum
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Mark Reckless infuriated many Tories when he defected to Ukip. Now, he’s defected again - and made few people happy in the process. The Ukip AM has announced that he is joining the Conservative Group in the Welsh Assembly, where he sits as a regional representative. Not for the first time, he is following in the footsteps of Douglas Carswell - this time by leaving Ukip behind. And his reasons for doing so are similar to Carswell’s: Brexit means that it's mission accomplished. In his statement, he says:

‘I am joining the Conservative Group in the Welsh Assembly. I leave Ukip positively, having achieved our joint aim, a successful referendum to leave the EU. For me it is job done now that Article 50 has been triggered. I campaigned all my adult life for us to leave the EU. Now we are, under a Conservative government. I support Theresa May, and her team of Brexit ministers, to deliver’

Reckless' decision to leave Ukip won’t surprise many. But for all his warm words about the government, it’s fair to say the Tories have greeted his decision rather coldly. The Conservatives released a terse statement saying that: ‘Decisions about who sits with the Conservative Group in the Welsh Assembly are a matter for the Group in the Welsh Assembly’. Essentially, they say: he can sit where he wants, but he won't be fully returning to the fold.

For the Tories, this moment presents something of a conundrum. The party is keen to push for Ukip votes, and high-profile defections like this won’t do them any harm. Some say that Brexit has put paid to Ukip for good, but even after Article 50 has been triggered the party continues to poll healthy numbers. In that sense, the defection is good news for the Government. It’s also true that, at a local level, Reckless' decision helps the Tories in the Welsh Assembly, where being able to call on his vote tips the balance in the party’s favour, giving them 12 votes to Plaid Cymru’s 11.

Yet the cold wording of the statement from the Conservatives shows their reluctance to forgive. For many, Reckless’s defection - timed as it was on the eve of the party’s conference in 2014 - was an act of sabotage that won't be forgotten. And David Cameron's feelings towards Reckless are still widely shared within the Tory party, even two years on.

On Ukip’s part, they’re doing their best to pretend it remains business as usual. Yet there's no doubt that Reckless played a key role (he wrote the manifesto) in the Welsh elections last year, where their share of the vote jumped by 12 per cent. Even so, the party's chairman Paul Oakden is trying to put a brave face on. When he was asked whether this was the final nail in the coffin for his party, he insisted that Ukip was still ‘a party on the up’. Today’s high-profile defection makes that even more difficult to believe.