Dorset's Christopher Chope drawn to UKIP debate

"Let's have a little sport!" was Chris Chope's reaction to hearing about UKIP's historic first debate in the House of Commons.

It had been called by Douglas Carswell on the subject of energy prices, and UKIP's second MP Mark Reckless came to support his colleague in Grand Committee room off Westminster Hall.

Carswell gave an impassioned speech decrying the green taxes of the three major parties.

We are living in "an Alice-in-Wonderland world" he said, where "ministers are competing to be the mad hatter".

The minister replying to the speech was Minister for Portsmouth Matt Hancock, and he probably expected to be the only Conservative facing his former colleague.

But a couple of minutes into the debate, Mr Chope, MP for Christchurch appeared seemingly keen to fan the flames of anti-government sentiment.

He rose to intervene on Mr Carswell's speech and was immediately welcomed.

Hansard records the exchange as follows:

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con):I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he accept that the Government's policy is very illogical in this area? For example, we are spending taxpayers' money in order to enhance the setting of a world heritage site at Stonehenge, while at the same time using taxpayers' money for subsidies for offshore wind turbines that are going to wreck the world heritage site on the Jurassic coast?

Douglas Carswell: The hon. Gentleman makes a brilliant point. He is extremely sound on this issue, as on so many other things. There are things on which it is good to spend public money, and securing the future of something like Stonehenge is wonderful, but one of the downsides of subsidising windmills is that they damage the countryside.

That will have set Conservative and UKIP tongues wagging, in Dorset and Westminster.

But I have to pour some cold water on the gossip and confess to a small part in what might appear to be an act of whip-defying rebellion.

A few minutes before the debate Mr Chope and I had been discussing local politics over a cup of tea nearby, talking of the strong support for UKIP in the Christchurch constituency.

In the European elections UKIP polled higher than the Conservatives, though at the general election Mr Chope enjoyed a 17,000 majority over the Lib Dems and UKIP were a poor fourth.

Image caption The Grand Committee Room debate

Christchurch is the most elderly constituency in the country, and Mr Chope a noted Euro-sceptic.

If UKIP was to persuade him to defect it would be a real coup. He is a former minister at the Departments of Transport and Environment.

Even over a private cup of tea he remains loyal to his own party, denying any kipper-esque intention.

However, at the end of our conversation I told him I was next off to watch the UKIP Westminster Hall debate and the idea of getting involved seemed too much too resist.

On the spur of the moment he decided to come along too, making his comment about the prospect of "some sport."

I think it was the chance of teasing his own side, rather than putting down some marker for the right of the party, that was the motivating force.

But when we get closer to next May, things will be a little different.

Will that ringing endorsement from UKIP's Mr Carswell: "...he is sound on this issue, as on so many other things," get another outing in the Christchurch election literature?