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Douglas Carswell's Blog

18 SEP 2014

Essex V the Westminster machine

Whichever way the Scots vote today, things will never be quite the same again.

Either Scotland votes to become an independent country, or – in order to save the Union – Scotland will have been promised what amounts to internal self government, or devo max.

Back in 2009, Daniel Hannan and I co-authored a book called The Plan, which suggested giving each of the different parts of the United Kingdom a form of devo max. What a pity that the option was never even included on the ballot paper.

My old party, the Conservatives, paid lip service to localism, but did little beyond toying with these ideas. By not making the changes, they have rather lost the ability to shape the change when it happens. How very sad.
--

Herds of MPs and ministers are now wandering around Clacton. Balloons are being handed out. Local residents are being told, in friendly yet firm tones, that their views matter.

My own campaign team is made up of the "little platoons". Older folk from Holland-on-Sea take the bus to pick up leaflets. Sixth formers from Frinton put up window posters.

We seem to be holding our own against the big, corporate parties who have descended on us from Westminster. But we need more help. If you are reading this, and are a supporter, please come to Clacton this Saturday.
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MPs in Westminster, as we all know, are beholden to their party whips. Whips decide who gets made a minister. They select who sits on various committees.

Yet the whip's power ultimately comes from their ability to remove the whip from an MP. Lose the whip, and unless you grovel and get it back, you forfeit the right to stand for your party.

But what if MPs could sack the whips, rather than whips sack MPs? Suddenly the whips might lose their ultimate sanction. Shock, horror – MPs might then begin to represent those that elected them, rather than do the whips bidding.

Come to Clacton – help take on the whips!
----

The jam making season in Essex is here again. I've not, alas, had much time to think about blackberries and pectin.

I have given a pot of last year's quince jelly to help raise funds for my new party at their conference in Doncaster. The label proudly says "Made in Essex".
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The Scottish referendum campaign also seems to mark the moment when the whole of the United Kingdom at last woke up to a stark, uncomfortable possibility; perhaps that cozy, complacent clique in Westminster, whose business is to govern us, aren't that good at it?

Those in SW1 ignore big public policy questions for as long as possible. Then, when forced to, they make key decisions on the hoof. They fail to think things through. Tactics are mistaken for strategy.

Surely we can do better than this?


16 SEP 2014

Change is in the air in Clacton

The past few days in Clacton feel unlike any campaign I've experienced before.

There is a freshness and enthusiasm in the air. As summer turns to autumn, there are hints that perhaps the political season is changing, too.

We've had to do a second print run of window posters to keep up with demand. Folk who would never previously have even considered voting Conservative are now cheerfully helping former Tory party members deliver leaflets calling for choice and competition in politics.

---

When I was first elected to Parliament in 2005, I was horrified to discover the extent to which Clacton's sea front had been neglected.

Maintaining the sea wall and beach had once been the responsibility of the old Clacton town and district council. During the out-of-season winter months, local building firms would be commissioned by the town council to repair and restore the sea wall and the beach groynes. The arrangements worked well.

Then, of course, Ted Heath restructured local government, abolishing the old town council. The old arrangements, like the rotting groynes, abandoned.

Slowly but surely the beach was washed away. The sea wall started to collapse. Holland-on-Sea was on track to become Holland-in-Sea.

Then in 2006 I called a meeting in the town hall, backed by the local beach hut owners and others. That led onto a meeting with ministers and Environment Agency. They eventually found the money.

Work began this summer on a £36 million project restore the sea front. It will give us some of the best beaches in England.

--

Talking of beaches, I found a fossilised shark's tooth on the beach at Walton on the Naze on Sunday. On a family walk with the dog, I at last spotted something I have been on the lookout for for years. They are not uncommon in these parts – but until Sunday I'd never managed to find one.

Still razor sharp, I held it in the palm of my hand contemplating the tens of millions of years that separate us from the fearsome creature that produced it. It puts certain things into perspective.

--

Thursday marks three weeks until polling day. The halfway point.

Perhaps it is a sign of middle age, or maybe it's just the sheer intensity of a by-election, but it can be exhausting. At the same time, I have found the past few days exhilarating. There is a massive appetite out there for real political change.

--

The big, corporate parties like to talk about election "battle grounds". They send out "battle buses" to fight them and coordinate it all from "war rooms".

Why such aggressive language? Politics ought to be an act of persuasion, not combat. To win an election you need to bring people together, no?

I suspect that the school boy language tell us about the school boy mind set of many of those that run the big political parties.

Here in Clacton we don't have a "war room". We have an open office, and we give people warm welcomes and big smiles.


09 SEP 2014

UKIP is fun, cheerful and optimistic....

I struggled to even get into my Clacton campaign office on Saturday. The crowd of people outside was so big, it took a while to get past all the handshakes and hellos.

Two hundred and fifty people came along to help me get my next leaflet out. A lady who had come on the bus from Frinton went off to do some leafleting with some lads who had come on a coach from Manchester. I feel humbled by all the help and warmth I have had from so many different people.
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Over the past few decades, so many things have got so much better. Britain is more tolerant and open. Most people are for the most part more prosperous.

Medical advances mean we are living longer and healthier lives. There's more choice in the supermarkets. We can access our bank details from our own home. Instead of having to save up to phone relatives in Australia as a Christmas treat, we have facetime and skype.

Imagine if we were to have a little bit of change and choice when it comes to our politics?

UKIP is not an angry backlash against the modern world. Modernity has raised our expectations of how things could be.

I wrote a book – The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy – setting out the sort of changes I would like to see to the way we do politics.
--

A local GP surgery had, until very recently, a single doctor trying to serve 8,000 patients. Predictably, the latter ended up having to compete to be seen be the former.

That meant pensioners in their 80's standing on a pavement, in the rain, at 8am trying to get an appointment. Disgraceful.

Having pressed local NHS bosses to act, there has been some improvement. But what riles me is the response from Whitehall. "Nothing to do with us, Guv" sums up their attitude.

If you can log in to your bank account on a mobile phone, surely it ought to be possible for people to get the health care they have a right to expect, without having to queue in the rain?

Who isn't being very modern, minister?
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It is not true that our Clacton campaign office has now instigated a "Matthew Parris prize", awarded each day to the volunteer who delivers the most leaflets. That would be unkind.
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Pride of place as you walk into our Clacton office is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi; "Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony".


05 SEP 2014

What a busy week its been!

It's been quite a week. This time last Thursday I was pacing anxiously around St James' park, readying myself for the coming press conference. I'd decided to leave the Conservative Party and join Ukip.

Why? As I was about to tell the assembled throng, I no longer believe that the upper echelons of the party are serious about the change our country needs.

No one forced me to resign from Parliament and face a by-election. I just feel it's the decent thing to do. MPs should answer directly to those who elected them to Parliament. If I am going to make this move, I must get permission from folk in my part of Essex.

I walked into the press conference. Said what I believed. Things have been a bit full on ever since.

If I'd even the tiniest teeniest doubt about what I was doing, it disappeared the moment I got back to Clacton. Walking down Wellesley Road, I kept on hearing cars beeping. It took me a moment to realise that they were beeping me.

Lots of thumbs ups and grins. A van pulled up alongside and cheerfully asked why it had taken me "so b––––– long". When I opened my email inbox that evening, several hundred messages said much the same.

This isn't mainly about Europe. It's the failure to deliver meaningful political reform that drove me to do this. Read – if you can bear to – the Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto.

It's full of great ideas – which have not been implemented.

More localism, so locally elected councillors can decide on local planning. So why has a government official ignored what our local councillors decided, and imposed an extra 12,000 new houses on our area?

It promised to give local people the power to recall MPs and enable open primary candidate selection. Ministers stalled on recall, scuppering the idea over the summer. The last proper open primary – as opposed to an open meeting, or caucus- used to select a Conservative candidate was in 2009.

Politics is about cosy cliques. Too many MPs became MPs by working in the office of MPs. They answer to each other. We can change this, and we must.

I've made many wonderful new friends this week. Some wonderful people have dropped everything they were doing and rallied to help. I cannot thank them enough.

When we moved into our amazing new Campaign Office bang opposite Clacton railway station, dozens of people came to help.

It's the little things they do that touch me the most. A retired chap stopped me in the street, pressing a £20 note into my hand. "Here you are, Douglas. This is for your campaign."

My unofficial campaign HQ seems to have become McDonald's. When visiting journalists drop by, it's a great place to meet. And there's nothing quite like a McFlurry or a milkshake to keep the energy levels up.


04 SEP 2014

Quit making mischief over data smears ...

Tory HQ is apparently briefing that I have misused data belonging to the Conservative party. This is simply not so.

Any data that I might have helped gather for the Conservative party while a member of the Conservative party is rightly property of the Conservative party and must remain so.

At no point in my campaign will I, or indeed, UKIP use any data obtained from the Conservative party or from Merlin. It is mischievous to suggest otherwise.


02 SEP 2014

We need change to feel great again

Remember the London Olympics a couple of years ago?

Okay, so I admit it, beforehand I'd been a little grouchy about the whole idea. But then I saw that amazing opening ceremony – wow! It blew me away. I was hooked.

Within a few days, like most people I knew, I felt I'd become an expert on sports I hardly knew existed previously.

But far more than that, the Olympics made me feel so good about our country. It seemed to show the world what we could be. We could do amazing things when we come together as one.

"It's the best moment of my life" explained Mo Farah. "This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I'm proud." Me, too. I felt that intense pride in Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and our other athletes, too.  I also felt pride in the Olympic volunteers, welcoming visitors to London.

I found myself falling into conversations with perfect strangers about it all.

So why can't we feel that way about our country all the time? Why can't we feel that sunshine can-do, instead of the drip-drip pessimism?

Because of the way our country is run. Our politics is dominated by politicians. It's all about them, not the people they are supposed to answer too.

Things don't have to be this way. We can change things.

All of the major challenges we need to deal with together as a country – improving the NHS, reforming the banks, controlling our borders, changing our relationship with Europe, sorting out our public finances – we can sort out. We can make this country so much better.

But we will only be able to make them better if we have a government that answers to Parliament, and a Parliament accountable to the people. Politics must be more than a competition between two cliques to sit on the same sofa.

And that means real, meaningful political reform. I'm up for it.  If you are too, pop into my office in Clacton - bang opposite the station .... I need your help!


01 SEP 2014

What's gone wrong - and how we can put things right

For some people, it's the fact they can't get to see a local GP in Frinton and Walton. For other it's the way remote officials insisted our local council accept a further 12,000 new houses.

Others are concerned about benefit migration into Clacton. And the spate of knife crime in the town centre. And the decision by remote officials to switch off our street lights.

All of these problems can be fixed. But they can only be addressed if we have meaningful political reform.  Those who make public policy must be made accountable to the public.

Until government answers to Parliament, and Parliament answers to the people, we will never get a government that is on our side.

Too many decisions are made by little cliques in London. No one seems to want to take responsibility. When things go wrong
they hide behind process and procedure.

I didn't have to resign to fight this by election. But I believe that I owe it to local people here in our corner of Essex. 

You - not David Cameron - are my boss. I really meant it in my regular newsletters when I said that I answer directly to you!

There is nothing we can't achieve in Clacton or this country – but only if we have real political change. Those that make public policy must be made accountable to the public.

My new office opens at the Station Road / Carnavon Road junction in Clacton today. I'll be there. Please pop in to help our local team make the change – and help us make Clacton make history!


28 AUG 2014

It's time for change

I'm today leaving the Conservative party and joining UKIP.

This hasn't been an easy decision.

I've been a member of the Conservative party for all my adult life. It's full of wonderful people who want the best for Britain.

My local Conservative Association in Clacton is thriving. It brims with those that I am honoured to call my friends.

The problem is that many of those at the top of the Conservative party aren't on our side. They aren't serious about the changes that Britain desperately needs.

Of course, they talk the talk before elections. They say what they feel they must say when they want our support.

But on so many issues – modernising our politics and the recall of MPs, controlling our borders, less government, bank reform, cutting public debt, an EU referendum – they never actually make it happen.

All three of the older parties seem the same. They've swathes of safe seats. They're run by those who became MPs by working in the offices of MPs. They use pollsters to tell them what to tell us.

Politics to them is about politicians like them. It's a game of spin and positioning.

First under Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown, now David Cameron, it's all about the priorities of whichever tiny clique happens to be sitting on the sofa in Downing Street. Different clique, same sofa.

Few are animated by principle or passion. Those that are soon get shuffled out of the way. Many are just in it for themselves. They seek every great office, yet believe in so little.

Only UKIP can change this. Only UKIP can shake up the cozy little clique called Westminster.

I'm joining UKIP not because I am a conservative who hankers after the past. I want change. Things can be better than this.

I am an optimist. Britain's a better place than it was when I was born in the early 1970s.

We're more open and tolerant. We're, for the most part, more prosperous. More people are free to grow up and live as they want to live than ever before.

As the father of a young daughter, I've come to appreciate what feminism's achieved. Most girls growing up in Britain today will have better life chances than before thanks to greater equality.

There's been a revolution in attitudes towards disabled people.

What was once dismissed as "political correctness gone mad", we recognise as good manners. Good.

So much about Britain is so much better. Except when it comes to how we do politics.

UKIP is not an angry backlash against the modern world. Modernity has raised our expectations of how things could be.

We need change.

People have a right to expect a government that gets the basics right.

In a world of 24 hours supermarkets and instant access everything, it ought to be possible to make an appointment to see a GP. Yet in my Essex constituency patients have to literally stand in line and wait. They have to compete to been seen by doctors.

There is an alphabet soup of NHS quangos supposed to be in charge. But who takes responsibility?

People have a right to expect the government to control who crosses our borders. Tens of thousands of Londoners log in and log out of the London underground each day. Yet the government just wasted another £224 million on a system that failed to log people in and out as they cross our borders.

On the subject of immigration, let me make it absolutely clear; I'm not against immigration. The one thing more ugly that nativism is angry nativism.

Just like Australia or Switzerland, we should welcome those that want to come here to contribute. We need those with skills and drive. There's hardly a hospital, GP surgery or supermarket in the country that could run without that skill and drive. Real leadership would make this clear.

We should speak with pride and respect about first generation Britons.

But like Australia, we ought to have the right to decide who comes.

Ministers promised us a great Freedom Bill, which was going to repeal all that unnecessary red tape. It never seemed to
happen.

Ministers promised us real bank reform. They only seemed to tinker.

They don't think things through. They make one glib announcement after another – and then move on. On to the next speech. The next announcement. The next headline.

They promised to cut the public debt. In just five years of this government, public debt will increase by more than it did during thirteen years of Gordon Brown.

Clever word play about debt and the deficit doesn't conceal that fact that we're still having to borrow over £100 billion a year – and even then government is not getting the basics right.

We need change.

People have a right to expect a government that answers to Parliament, and a Parliament that's accountable to the people.

All three parties went into the last election promising to give local people a right to recall their MP. The Coalition agreement promised a system of open primaries, to throw politics open to those beyond SW1.

None of it has happened.  The whips spent the summer trying to undermine Zac Goldsmith's proposals for real recall. They're really not serious about real change.

We need change in our relationship with Europe.

When we joined what was to become the European Union all those years ago, we imagined we would be joining a prosperous trading block. In the early 1970s, it accounted for almost 40 percent of world economic output.

Today it accounts for a mere 25 percent. In a decade, its expected to be down to 15 percent.

Far from growing, the European Union has grown sclerotic. Indeed, it's the one continent on the planet that isn't growing.

Even a decade ago, we were told that we had to join the Euro because it would raise our output. It would bring prosperity.

Looking across the channel, no one seriously argues that any more.

Yet who in Westminster – who amongst our so-called leaders – is prepared to envisage real change?

To be fair, over the past four years ministers have at times done the right thing about Europe. They vetoed a treaty change. They refused any budget increase. And of course they agreed to an In / Out vote.

But on each occasion they only did the right thing because they had been forced to by their own side. On each occasion, they had instructed their own MPs on a three line whip to support the wrong thing.

With an election approaching, ministers most Eurosceptic boasts are about things they know that they were pushed into doing. It's not leadership. They've not serious about real change. They're only interested in holding office.

No one cheered David Cameron more loudly at the time of his Bloomberg speech, when he finally accepted the case for a referendum. He would, he claimed, negotiate a fundamentally new relationship with the EU, and put it to the people in 2017; In or Out.

But there's been no detail since.  That's because there isn't any.  Again, they've not thought it through.

Ministers have specifically ruled out a trade-only arrangement with the EU. The Prime Minister said so specifically at a meeting of the 1922. It won't even be on the table.

His advisers have made it clear they won't contemplate any deal with UKIP. They're more comfortable doing deals with Nick Clegg than with a party that wants real change in our relations with the EU.

His advisers have made it clear that they seek a new deal that gives them just enough to persuade enough voters to vote to stay in. It's not about change in our national interest. It's all about not changing things.

Once I realised that, my position in the Conservative party became untenable.

There is a world of change and opportunity out there. Tens of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty within my life time. There is a growing middle class in India, China and elsewhere.

Our future prosperity rest on being able to produce things that those millions of new consumers want.

Ministers are simply not up to giving us the kind of realignment that we need.

BY-ELECTION

It is not enough that I leave the Conservative party and join UKIP.

As someone who has always answered directly to independent-minded Essex folk, there is only one honourable thing to do.

I must seek permission from my boss - the people of Clacton. I will now resign from Parliament, and stand for UKIP in the by election that must follow.

I don't have to do this. It would have been easy for me to have muddled along comfortably as a backbench MP. There are all too many who enjoy that convenient life. But that's not the sort of person I am.

I stood for Parliament in the first place because I believe in certain things. I still do. With greater determination than ever.

I just happen to know that principle in politics is more important than the career of an individual MP – even if that MP happens to be me.

Things don't have to be this way.  I'll be asking the voters of Essex to help me bring change. Let's do this together. Let's see if we can make history.

Thank you. I must now return to Clacton to prepare for what is to come.


29 JUL 2014

Ed Miliband can't be worse than Gordon Brown, surely?

It's quite something when Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, Damian McBride, attacks you as a Labour party leader for being ..... well ... a bit .... pointless.

After years of coveting the top in 10 Downing Street, Gordo was infamous for not really knowing what to do with it. Having finally prised Tony Blair out the door, Brown muttered something about values. Grinned foolishly on youtube. Wandered around Suffolk on his summer holidays pretending to enjoy it. And then lost the subsequent election.

No one really seemed to know what a Gordon Brown premiership was for, least of all himself.

Miliband's policies by contrast are a "great, steaming pile of fudge", says McBride.

Worse, the coterie that surrounds him are "dysfunctional". Perhaps that means that when they throw Nokia's at one another the way Gordo was alleged to have done, they keep missing?

It's not just McBride who doesn't think Ed Miliband is up for it. According to this rather amusing website, www.JustNotUpToIt.com , dozens of Labour party members across the country are starting to ask what Ed Miliband is for.

"This is all just Westminster bubble silly season stuff" various left leaning pundits will say. "Its childish and puts people off politics" they will sternly inform us. "Time to focus on the real issues"

I'm not so sure. I have just spent the past week going from door to door in one of the more Labour leaning wards in my part of Essex. If there was one constant that keeps coming up its doubts about Ed Miliband from once Labour leaning voters.

No. I wasn't able to tell them what Ed's about either.


21 JUL 2014

Panic in Foreign Office as minister speaks of Out

They won't like it at the Foreign Office. Not only has the new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, given a straight answer to a straight question. He's said that he would be prepared to vote to leave the EU if things don't change.

Hammond is not just the first Foreign Secretary to say that exit is an option. Hammond has made it clear that the current terms of our EU membership are not in our interest.

There could be some interesting conversations with the Sir Humphrey's in his department this morning. It will be interesting to see if Hammond remains resolute, or if he begins to buckle to the views to the big Whitehall bureaucracy.

Ever since David Cameron announced plans for an in/out referendum in 2017, our Foreign Office has followed what you might call the "Wilson strategy". That is to say they intended to engineer a bogus renegotiation, like Harold Wilson in the 1970s. The Prime Minister, they hoped, could then wave this new deal at the public in 2017 – and then persuade them to vote to stay In.

At the same time, Britain's permanent representative in Brussels – Ukrep – has organised meetings for Tory MPs in Brussels, Paris and elsewhere to try to soften their Euroscepticism. Mixed results, apparently.

The failure to block the appointment of Jean Claude Juncker has caused real alarm in King Charles street. Stopping him was a key part of the Wilson strategy. "Look! We blocked that unreconstructed federalist! We can get a new deal", they wanted ministers to be able to say.

For the Wilson strategy to work, our government needs partners willing to go along with the smoke and mirrors trick. But by 26 to 2, the rest of the EU showed that they are not even willing to pretend to make concessions.

Philip Hammond's position has now become the default position for most Tory MPs: vote to leave, unless there is a substantially new deal.

Hammond, like most, is a little vague about the detail in any new deal. The Prime Minister has already specifically ruled out a Swiss type of trade only arrangement. Indeed, Mr Cameron has made it clear that he is not even seeking arrangements that would apply distinctively to Britain, but rule changes applicable to all.

Great. As Hammond says, without substantive change, the chances of exit grow. The longer there is a lack of detail about any new deal, the more mainstream the out option becomes.

This article first appear for the Telegraph.


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The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy

"A revolutionary text ... right up there with the Communist manifesto" - Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times