Reckless politics

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

If you are going to make a political statement, timing is everything.

As the UKIP Conference came to a close in Doncaster and the doors opened to the Conservatives in Birmingham, Mark Reckless a hitherto fairly obscure backbencher, chose the moment to defect.

Given his close ties to Douglas Carswell, the first and most prominent defector from the Conservatives, and allegiance to Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan is decision is perhaps no surprise. Reckless has been a constant rebel, disobeying the Conservative whip on numerous occasions with, according to Brian Wheeler’s political epitaph to Reckless, no real cause.

For Reckless the move is likely to be a pyrrhic gesture. If re-elected in the inevitable by-election, he and Carswell (if re-elected) might be a thorn in the side to Conservatives. But they will struggle to be heard. The 2015 might return some UKIP MPs to Westminster but research suggests that voters focus on national issues, in particular the economy, at national contests whereas European or local elections they are more willing to vote on a single issue or split their ticket. Hence it is an uphill struggle for UKIP to make a serious impact in Westminster.

However the defection of Carswell and Reckless is not without significance.  While Boris Johnson in his inimitable style described defections as utterly nuts, it belays a concern that must resound around Conservative members who dream of a second term for Cameron. The burning question is how many traditional Conservative voters sympathise with the defectors, and how many increasingly see UKIP as the party they should support in order to at least force the issue of an in/out referendum on the UKs membership of the EU.

The benefits freeze may well solidify Labour’s vote, despite Ed Miliband forgetting the economy during his conference speech. Labour’s lead is a tenuous 2% (35 to the Conservatives’ 33, UKIP trail on 9%) but the most recent survey was on September 14th. Post conference is the key to understanding how the parties stand after they showcase their manifesto promises for the first time. This may be a win-lose situation for the Conservatives, and to be overshadowed for even a second by the thorny question of ‘Europe’ plays into their opponents’ hands.

The forthcoming by-elections in Rochester and Strood and Clacton will bring the Europe question again to the fore. They could expose deep divisions within Conservative ranks as their candidates struggle to articulate a clear defence against their former colleagues’ doubts regarding Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum. Thus for both the defectors and for their former party their moves may prove extremely ‘reckless’ (pun intended) and damaging.

With Nigel Farage’s ability to earn free media, with public opinion uncertain on the Europe question, and with a coalition split and a Conservative party wavering on when to hold a referendum and what the timing and criteria for this might be, there is a lot to play for over the next eight months. The election, and the future of the UK, hangs in the balance, and Mark Reckless may well have played a key role in undermining the chances of a Conservative second term.

European election debate held at BU


Prospective MEP candidates from seven political parties gathered to debate key topics in preparation for the upcoming European elections.

The hustings, hosted at Bournemouth University, was organised by students from BU’s Media School, who also filmed proceedings as a part of their coverage of the European elections.

Candidates were faced with pre-prepared questions, followed by audience responses to their comments during the Question Time-style debate, chaired by BU academic Dr Dan Jackson. At times the debate became heated as candidates from opposing sides positioned themselves with polarised thoughts on important political topics.

Topics discussed by the candidates included Britain’s future in Europe, Britain and Europe’s response to the situation in the Crimea and the immigration issues facing the UK.

Audience participation was excellent, with debate encouraged amongst the crowd; students, staff members and members of the public engaged in the debate with comments, and applause was offered for particularly strong points from the prospective MEPs.

Jay Risbridger, a prospective MEP candidate for the Liberal Democrat party, said after the event, “Its important [to have events such as this at universities] as students will become the future voters who will participate in the EU. I think this generation, more than any other, their jobs and future prosperity will depend on what goes on in the EU rather than what goes on in the UK government.”

Jay also offered a message to students who will be voting in next week’s European elections, saying, “Think about what you are going to be doing and where you are going to be working in the future and be mindful that you may not be working in the UK in the future but in the EU!”

Students from a number of Media School courses came together to deliver the debate. Television production student Edward Lawrence organised the event and said, “I’m a big fan of these political debate shows, which give audiences a platform to ask the questions that matter with politicians they are going to be voting for. I am proud that we have provided that platform and am proud of the students that covered the event, I think they are a credit to Bournemouth University.”

Douglas Tham, a student studying Politics and Media at BU, also helped to run the event on the night and added, “It really shows that students do care about politics and it’s great that we have the European elections coming up next week and we have students here asking questions, talking about it and learning about it.”

Other candidates to take part in the debate included current Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, UKIP prospective MEP Dr Julia Reid, Green Party Prospective MEP Mark Chivers, Labour Prospective MEP Clare Moody, An Independence from Europe Party Prospective MEP David Smith and English Democrats Prospective MEP Amanda Hopwood.