Just 48 hours ago I wrote that Ukip had fallen out of the headlines. Not anymore. Amjad Bashir’s defection to the Conservatives gave Ukip top billing in many newspapers and websites on Saturday. Nigel Farage’s typically blunt response ensured the party stayed in the headlines on Sunday.
Bashir’s defection has had an interesting arithmetical impact on the number of British MEPs from each of the main political parties.
Before the weekend Ukip had 24 MEPs, Labour had 20 and the Tories 19.
After the weekend Ukip has 23, and both Labour and the Tories are tied on 20.
If you think back to the European elections last May, one of the big stories was the Conservatives finishing in third place in a nationwide election for the first time in decades.
That result still stands, of course, but the change brought about by Bashir’s defection is a reminder of just how close the Tories finished behind Labour in an election Ed Miliband’s party was at one point hoping to win.
The writer John O’Farrell made a good point on Twitter about Bashir’s move from Ukip to the Conservatives. “I don’t understand how it is even legal for an MEP elected on the list system to switch parties,” he tweeted. “They voted for a party, not an individual.”
This sort of behaviour is not uncommon, however. In the 2009 European elections, the Tories won 25 seats, Ukip 13 and Labour 13. By the end of that parliament, the number of Ukip MEPs was down to 9. The party had gained one MEP from the Tories (Roger Helmer), but had lost five: two of them had joined the Tories (Marta Andreasen and David Campbell Bannerman), two had left to set up their own splinter parties (Nikki Sinclaire and Mike Nattrass), and one left the party to sit as an independent (Godfrey Bloom).
In this context, Amjad Bashir’s defection is nothing new but simply a continuation of a trend that began several years ago.