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Douglas Carswell's Blog

30 OCT 2014

Heir to Blair? This lot are more Ted Heath

Not since the 1970s has Britain had such a mediocre government.

Cast your mind back to that sun-lit May morning four years ago. What was it that the Coalition promised us, and what has actually happened?

"We'll come together in the national interest to sort out the public finances", Clegg and Cameron told us. Since that press conference in the Downing Street garden, our nation's public debt has almost doubled. If getting government borrowing under control was really what brought them together, they have taken their eye off it. Government borrowing last month was ten percent up on the year before.

Ministers pushed through costly NHS reforms. None of it has actually improved health care. Many folk cannot get to see a GP, and no one seems to be in charge.

Energy policy continues to be built on expensively subsidised renewable targets. To meet our renewable obligations, poorer people have been priced out of heating their homes. Businesses have been made less competitive and there are fears a winter blackout.

Instead of cutting immigration, it's back up to where it was under Gordon Brown. Our armed forces remain over stretched and under resources. Localism, which was supposed to give local people decide on planning, turns out to be a sham. Using the language of the free market, ministers intervene in the economy in the interests of crony corporatism.

"But what about the government's welfare reforms?" you ask. "And what about Michael Gove at education? Surely ministers have got some things right?"

To be fair, not even Ted Heath's government got everything wrong. Yet a lot of this administration's welfare reforms were in fact pioneered by that uber Blairite minister, James Purnell. Much of the rest, such as universal credit, has yet to actually happen.

As for Gove at education, he is no longer at education. Rather like Ted Heath and the unions, this government runs shy of vested interests.

Just as Ted Heath promised a radically new approach to the economy, Clegg and Cameron promised a different kind of politics. Last week we saw government whips use the same old Westminster tricks to sabotage the Recall Bill. A measure designed to allow voters to hold MPs to account will do nothing of the sort.

On Europe, at least Ted Heath had the virtue of consistency, even if he was consistently wrong. Mr Cameron has flipped from Heathite acquiescence to mere flops.

First ordered his own MPs, on a three line whip, not to vote for an In Out EU referendum. Now he puts the prospect of an In Out vote, and the faux offer of real change, at the heart of his re-election bid.

A few months ago, Number 10 told us they were opposed Jean Claude Junker as European Commission President. A couple of weeks ago, he ordered his MEPs to vote for the Junker Commission. How long before he tells us he was against Euro Arrest Warrants all along?

Of course, there is one big difference between this administration and that of Ted Heath, and that is the economy. Output is up and unemployment is down. But so it seemed under Ted Heath during the Barber boom, too.

They might not call it that, but with the government spending £100 billion a year more than they take in tax, we are living through the largest Keynesian spending stimulus in our history. Record low interest rates mean a massive monetary – as well as fiscal – stimulus. Like the Barber boom, will it last?

Osbrown economics may yet turn out to be little more than reheated Heathism.


26 OCT 2014

European Arrest Warrant - justice and credibility on the line

MPs will soon be asked to vote on whether to opt back into the European Arrest Warrant.

Although European Arrest Warrants have been use since 2004, due to the way that various EU treaties have been revised since, it is necessary for the House of Commons to vote to keep us in. Failure to do so will mean an end to Euro Arrest Warrants in Britain.

It is vital that MPs vote against opting back into the Euro Arrest Warrant.

Why? First and foremost, it's about justice.

Extradition between countries is a good thing. It is in the interests of justice that someone suspected of committing a crime in another country can be sent to that country to face trial.

But before they are extradited, surely it is right that a court considers that there is a case to answer?

We would be appalled if someone could be held on remand in Britain without evidence of wrong-doing. So why are we prepared to have someone carted off to another country without giving a UK court the chance to take a look at the basic evidence?

As one of my constituents has discovered, the Euro Arrest Warrant means that once an application to extradite is received, the process rolls along more or less automatically. You can, for example, be hauled off to France to face trial for crimes you were supposed to have committed there without having actually been to France.

"But" insist Home Office apologists "we need these extradition arrangements to fight terror".

Really? It was perfectly possible to extradite terror suspects before we had Euro Arrest Warrants.

While the use of Euro Arrest Warrants has sky rocketed over the past ten years, only a tiny, tiny fraction of those arrested under the EAW have been accused of anything to do with terror. My local constituent, for example, was carted off because he was believed to have been involved in tax fraud.

Far from being the end of everything we hold dear, opting out of the Euro Arrest Warrant simply means that we would have to revert to the kind of extradition arrangements that existed before, and which we have with all sorts of non-EU states.

Of course the Commons vote won't simply be about justice. It will also be the credibility of those voting that will be on the line.

When the idea of Euro Arrest Warrants was first mooted a decade ago, the Conservative party in opposition opposed the idea. Now in government, many Conservative ministers have, of course, been captured by the mandarinate.

Any Conservative MP who fails to vote against Euro Arrest Warrants cannot make an credible claims to be Eurosceptic.


01 OCT 2014

I don't miss the party whips

I gave up going to Conservative party conferences several years ago. Why? There never seemed to be many Conservatives. The lobbyists outnumber the activists. The fringe debates seemed so sterile.

Compare that to what I found at UKIP's gathering in Doncaster. There was a real buzz. Supporters from all over the country, and all kinds of backgrounds, were genuinely enjoying each other's company. New friendships were being formed all around me. Not a lobbyist in sight.

--

"What do you think of Grant Shapps?" asked a journalist, hoping I might say something rude. I like him, and I've made no secret of my admiration of him in the past. If he has had to say some fairly strong things as Conservative party chairman over the past few days, he is doing it because he is Conservative party chairman.

I know Grant is a thoroughly decent person and have always enjoyed his company. I might have changed parties, but I'm not going start pretending that everyone that wears a blue rosette is bad. Grant is one of the good guys.

--

Government used to be accountable to Parliament, and Parliament once answered to the people. Slowly but surely this has changed.

MPs have lost the power to amend budgets or meaningfully control what ministers do with our money. The executive controls the legislature, rather than the other way round. Political parties have "safe seats", which they treat as fiefdoms to reward A listers and insiders.

The result is that we are governed by tiny cliques, each competing to sit on the sofa in Downing Street – and none of them much in tune with the country over which they preside.

Not so very long ago, to make such observations might have seemed a little wonky or obtuse. Dissatisfaction with the way Westminster works – or fails to work – is now so widespread, even Westminster is waking up to it.

--

Each week, as a constituency MP, I would pick a couple of streets at random – and go and knock on the doors.

"Hello. I'm Douglas, your MP" I'd say. "I'm in the neighbourhood and wanted to introduce myself". I got to make a lot of new friends and drink an awful lot of tea.

During this by-election I've been knocking on many of the same doors again. I've had to say many a polite "no" to tea this time, but the friends are still there.

The internet and iDemocracy will overturn many of our assumptions about politics. But not perhaps the way some pundits imagine.

--

A big part of the problem with Westminster is the whipping system. Party whips hold far too much power. Instead of answering to the electorate, too many MPs end up answering to whips.

Whips are able to influence MPs in all sorts of ways. But their power stems from their one ultimate sanction; they can withdraw the whip.

Withdrawing the whip from an MP means, in effect, that the MP has been sacked. Unless they grovel, they are out and cannot run as a party candidate again.

What if instead of whips being able to sack MPs, MPs were able to sack their whips?


23 SEP 2014

Political apathy? Not in Essex

Big political meetings are a thing of the past, we are told. They might have done politics like that yonks ago, but not any more, they say.

Really? Tomorrow in Clacton there will be a full house at the biggest venue we could find. Over 700 people are coming – and they are all local residents.

It won't be some sort of choreographed rally of the party faithful. These are ordinary people, coming to take part in a grass roots meeting.

All 700 places went within the first day – and we could have filled the venue twice over.

Political apathy? Not in my part of Essex.

--

For decades, fashionable opinion formers liked to imply that society was going to the dogs. Modern life is more atomised, they would say. Folk are more lonely and isolated than ever before.

Not in my experience. Over the past few years as a local MP, I've noticed how many community groups have been reenergised.

Why? I suspect it has a lot to do with the internet. Things started to change around about the time we got broadband. Email and social media make it easier to do things together. Administration gets simpler. It's much more straightforward to find out about what's happening in your neighbourhood too. Connections can be made via google, not just serendipity.

Far from bowling alone, Holland on Sea bowls club, as I discovered when I dropped in for tea on Saturday, has lots of new members and is thriving.

--

For years, politics has been dominated by big corporate parties. Why? Only they could generate the brand recognition. They alone could aggregate votes and opinion.

The internet, as I suggested in my book on iDemocracy, is going to change this. The digital revolution creates the space for nimbler start ups. Not only does campaigning change. Many assumptions about messaging are turned on their head.

I am, you might say, trying to put that theory into practice in my corner of Essex. There is still an awfully long way to go until polling day, but thus far I have been struck by how mid90s the Westminster party machines have been on the ground.

----

Our campaign office in Clacton is bang opposite the train station. This means we have a constant flow of MPs and ministers wandering past. My team was rather amused to see one minister arrive in Clacton on the quarter to train – before racing to get back on to the five past back to London.


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.
--

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".
--

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.
--

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?
--

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.
--

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!


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After Osbrown: mending monetary policy

Read Douglas' latest pamphlet on economic policy. 

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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

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