I will be commenting on today’s by-election in Rochester & Strood tomorrow when the result is known – it being foolish to pre-empt the mind of the electorate and the implications of their currently unknown decision! I will however venture a brief thought that both this by-election and the previous by-election in Clacton have introduced a principle that I would like to see remain in British politics: that when a representative defects from the party they stood for when successfully elected, they should resign to stand for a by-election under their new party label.
The infamous example of Shaun Woodward MP, one time member of the Blair government, illustrates why the principle is needed. Woodward won the safe Conservative seat of Witney in 1997, but defected to Labour in 1999. So confident was he of re-election, that he miraculously was reincarnated as the MP for St Helens in the 2001 General Election, leaving a young Conservative called David Cameron to win his old seat of Witney. The point is of course simple – the voters in Witney, even at the height of Tory unpopularity and favour for Tony Blair, did not want a Labour MP, yet for two years they had a Labour MP representing them.
Here I would like to applaud Douglas Carswell, even if I am very saddened that he left the Conservatives for UKIP – for he had the courage of his pre-stated convictions to stand anew for office once he took the decision to leave the Tories and join UKIP. He did not have to do so, and it carried a risk, but in doing so he has set a precedent that I hope any future MP will adhere to – certainly the Rochester and Strood by-election has been made more probable simply because Carswell set this high standard. Carswell’s commitment to honouring democracy and constituents will be sadly missed by the Tories, and is something all parties should learn from.
So regardless of whether Mark Reckless holds in the by-election or not, let’s keep the Carswell Convention, and ensure that MPs, and indeed all political representatives, treat their constituents with the respect they deserve.