Douglas Carswell, the Eurosceptic Conservative MP for Clacton, seems to have been overwrought by his own sense of morality. It appears to have hamstrung him, for, writing in his Telegraph column yesterday, he lamented:
“My every instinct makes me want to vote against HS2; the cost, the corporate vested interests lined up behind it, the Whitehall group-think. But I cannot. Why? On page 23 of the Conservative manifesto, on which I stood for election in 2010, is a straight forward promise to support the ruddy thing.”
Clearly battling with himself, Carswell’s internal turmoil spills out onto the page:
““But being in a Coalition means all sorts of broken promises,” someone will write in the comment thread below. “Politicians say one thing before the election and another after all the time”. Indeed. But must we all be like that? And if we don’t keep the promises we made in our last manifesto, why should anyone believe what we write in our next?”
This may come as a shock to poor Mr Carswell, but thanks to a slew of broken promises, people already don’t believe what politicians write in their manifestos. And the blame for that can be placed squarely at the feet of his leader, ‘Cast Iron Dave’.
Not only did Cameron renege on his promise for a referendum, he also solemnly intoned that he had ‘no plans’ to redefine marriage, three days before the 2010 general election. Just 18 months later, he declared to his party conference “I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
In fact, Cameron has made quite a habit of ‘changing his mind’. The Sunday Telegraph uncovered no less than ten clear promises in his leader’s speeches which have subsequently been broken or not acted upon, including abolishing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights; cutting EU red tape; a clampdown on bogus migrants; and the restoration of three army battalions “that should never have been abolished”.
Carswell entered the Commons in 2005 with a majority of just 920. In 2010, this increased to over 12,000 when UKIP failed to run a candidate against him. His integrity is not under question – indeed, Britain might be a happier place were more MPs as clearly troubled by their conscience as Carswell is by his. But his naivety does his constituents, who will be shelling out £1000 per family to pay for this white elephant, no good.
This is a fine illustration of why the Unite the Right campaign is flawed, perhaps fatally so: voters need to have confidence that they are voting for a manifesto they believe in, and for MPs whom they trust to uphold it. It’s not good enough to ask someone to vote for an MP who might be persuaded to ignore a poor manifesto and rebel against their leader – after all, they may be gripped by similar attacks of conscience should a ministerial role come vacant.