The UKIP fox, as they love to tell us, is well and truly in the Westminster hen house. Of course there is one group of people for whom killing foxes is a favourite pastime: Tories. It will not be an irony lost on Nigel Farage and co that fox hunting remains a banned activity under the current Conservative-led government.
Following Douglas Carswell’s return to the House of Commons yesterday, the first elected UKIP MP sat down for a spot of tea and fruitcake with his leader. At times like this it seems the party exists only to troll David Cameron. But what lies ahead for UKIP in Westminster in the run up to the general election?
There are some very real obstacles for the party to overcome. First, the relationship between Carswell and Farage. Carswell is a maverick, a nonconformist, a renegade – above all else, an individual. That is the one thing that Farage cannot stand, despite the Thatcherite ideology he now pretends he never supported.
Carswell differs from his new party’s leadership – the new vote-driven cynicism of Farage and the money-driven realpolitik of chief donor Paul Sykes – on many issues. Take immigration. As a Conservative MP, Carswell praised the contribution of Bulgarian immigrants to the economy, arguing powerfully:
“I know of a farm in Essex that has for years depended on Bulgarian students to help gather in the harvest. Each year they come over, work hard, and return to Bulgaria. Without them, the farm would not cope. However unfashionable it might be to point this out, it needs pointing out.”
Contrast this with the rhetoric of Farage and Sykes, who infamously said in their controversial posters earlier this year: “26 million people are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?”
What about another issue that cropped up this week, somewhat unexpectedly. Carswell failed to back Farage’s suggestion that migrants with HIV should be banned from entering the UK, meekly telling reporters that “we need an Australian-type immigration system” when questioned about his leader’s incendiary comments earlier this week. Carswell’s father was a pioneer in discovering Aids. The video makes for excruciating viewing, and the differences between Carswell and Farage do not end there.
It is not just his first MP with whom Farage has differences. I understand that the UKIP leader gave a dressing down to his MEP and former head of spin Patrick O’Flynn, privately expressing his fury that O’Flynn had floated the idea of a luxury tax on shoes, bags and expensive cars without his approval at UKIP’s conference. At the time Farage told me O’Flynn was taking the party in a “different direction”. Now we know that he reacted with disdain to his ex-spinner going rogue and suggesting a policy of his own.
Last night former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom quit the party in disgust, directly warning Carswell: “there are dead UKIP bodies all over the place with knives quivering in their back so make sure it’s not yours”. That is a warning that would be well heeded by anyone looking to make a name for themselves in UKIP. “The party seems to have gone astray,” says Bloom. The UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house, but increasingly it seems the hounds to watch out for are not those of Cameron, but those of Farage.