Douglas Carswell

30 MAR 2017

After Brexit, spread power

Now we're leaving the European Union, we have the chance to rethink huge areas of policy that were subcontracted to Brussels. Our aim should be to spread power outwards and downwards.

Britain is breaking free from an oligarchy. In Brussels, decisions are made by a tiny elite behind closed doors. Special interests have more say over legislation than voters. Taking back control means leaving that system of government behind.

So repatriating powers from Brussels shouldn't just entail transferring them to our own elites in Whitehall. It should mean giving people control over their own lives.

Yes, we'll be able to spend the money we currently send to the EU on our public services at home. But why not let individuals – not bureaucrats – control their own share of spending on health and education?

Yes, we'll be able to decide our own product regulations. But why not empower consumers to choose between goods regulated to different – competing – standards?

Yesterday, Theresa May talked about building a fairer Britain – to spread wealth. But financial inequality doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's the result of oligarchy. The way to spread wealth is to spread power.

Prosperity increases when oligarchy is overthrown. We need to Rebel.


29 MAR 2017

Cheer up! Liberal Brexit starts now

Throughout my time in politics, I've campaigned for a liberal Brexit. Today, the Prime Minister is making it happen by triggering Article 50 – and I couldn't be happier.

As a founding member of Vote Leave, I'm heartened that the government has opted for our vision of Brexit: taking back control from the supranational regulatory system misleadingly referred to as the single market, and embracing free trade, outside the EU's protectionist customs union.

The government is right to be ambitious about the trade deal it will now negotiate with the EU. For all the tough talk from top Eurocrats, the key figure in the negotiations will be the German Chancellor, who will take a much more pragmatic approach.

Crucially, Theresa May has made clear that she is prepared to leave without a deal. She mustn't waver on that. Not just because trade on WTO terms is workable – after all, facilitating trade is the entire purpose of the WTO. But because being prepared to take a deal at any price will result in a bad deal. David Cameron proved that last year.

But Brexit isn't just about our future relationship with the EU. It's also about the kind of society we want. Restoring parliamentary sovereignty means giving voters a say over policy that they have been denied for decades. Power is returning to the British people.

So cheer up! Democracy is coming home.


28 MAR 2017

Don't buy into the big man myth

How often do we hear that all we need is a new leader? Whether it's Donald Trump, Barack Obama, or Tony Blair, we're assured that all our problems will be solved just by changing the big man at the top. That myth is at the root of what's wrong with politics.

The more popular leaders are on entering office, the more they inevitably disappoint. How could they not? No human being is a god.

Yet every few years we seem to go through the same charade. Forget that the last messiah didn't work out, or the one before that. Just have faith that the next one will.

This idea isn't just absurd. It's dangerous. Right now, voters who have lost faith in established saviours are turning to insurgents instead. But what happens when the insurgents fail? The danger is that people will lose faith in democracy itself.

Rather than obsess about the people at the top, we should be focusing on everyone else. The most prosperous and successful nations are those where power is dispersed. What matters is not the personalities, but the systems.

The solution is to take power away from big-man elites, and restore it to individuals. Read my new book Rebel to find out how.


25 MAR 2017

Job done - thank UKIP!

It has been an extraordinary achievement. UKIP, my party, which was founded in 1993 in order to get Britain out of the European Union, has now achieved what we were established to do.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister is going to trigger Article 50, beginning the formal process of withdrawing our country from the EU. By April 2019, Britain will no longer be a member of the EU. After twenty-four years, we have done it. Brexit is in good hands.

UKIP might not have managed to win many seats in Parliament, but in a way we are the most successful political party in Britain ever. We have achieved what we were established to do – and in doing so we have changed the course of our country's history for the better. Make no mistake; we would not be leaving the EU if it was not for UKIP – and for those remarkable people who founded, supported and sustained our party over that period.

Our party has prevailed thanks to the heroic efforts of UKIP party members and supporters. You ensured we got a referendum. With your street stalls and leafleting, you helped Vote Leave win the referendum. You should all be given medals for what you helped make happen – and face the future with optimism.

Like many of you, I switched to UKIP because I desperately wanted us to leave the EU. Now we can be certain that that is going to happen, I have decided that I will be leaving UKIP.

I will not be switching parties, nor crossing the floor to the Conservatives, so do not need to call a by election, as I did when switching from the Conservatives to UKIP. I will simply be the Member of Parliament for Clacton, sitting as an independent.

I will leave UKIP amicably, cheerfully and in the knowledge that we won.

At the hundreds of meetings and action days I have attended as a UKIP activist across the country since I joined in August 2014, I have met some truly remarkable people. You are heroes! Thank you and well done. I wish you all well.

When first elected to represent Clacton in 2005, I promised to do all I could to help ensure that Britain left the EU. To the consternation of my then party whips (some of who, I'm delighted to see, are now ministers helping make Brexit happen), I made my intentions on that front plain in my maiden speech. Job done.

I will be putting all of my effort into tackling some of the local problems affecting the NHS in our part of Essex, including GP shortages and the threat to our local Minor Injuries Unit. In that spirit, I called a Westminster Hall debate last week about the future of primary care in our part of Essex. Local comes first.

Cheer up! The days when small elites can try to arrange human social and economic affairs by grand design are coming to an end. Change is coming - Brexit is just the beginning.


24 MAR 2017

Secrecy in family courts must stop

New research on the family courts documents that, despite transparency guidance, only a tiny minority of proceedings are published. That's deeply concerning – because secrecy promotes injustice.

Sadly, children do sometimes need to be taken into care. Most of the time, I'm sure, family courts make the right call.

However, some families are broken up unnecessarily. In 2008, Camilla Cavendish wrote a number of articles for The Times, documenting serious mistakes by social services. In several cases, expert witnesses gave testimony without ever having met the families involved.

The problem is that we don't know how widespread these errors are, because the courts sit in secret. Adoption order proceedings are closed to the public and the press, and rarely published. Moreover, the identities of expert witnesses are protected. Secrecy allows injustice to be covered up.

It has long been recognised – by both ministers and judges – that more transparency is required. Yet efforts to increase it have fallen short.

Sir James Munby's transparency guidance, for example, left the decision as to whether to publish to judges' discretion. The new research by academics at Cardiff University reveals that very few judges have opted to do so – as a paper published by the UKIP PRU predicted.

The system needs much bolder reform. In our paper, we called for the publication of judgments to be mandatory, greater media access to both proceedings and case documents, and expert witnesses to be identified.

We also advocated greater use of Special Guardianship Orders, so that, if children do have to be taken from their families, they are placed at least temporarily with grandparents or other relatives, rather than total strangers.

Transparency helps ensure justice. It shouldn't be resisted.


22 MAR 2017

Monetary policy is hurting productivity

Andy Haldane, the Bank of England's chief economist, has admitted that ultra-loose monetary policy is a drag on productivity. So why won't the Bank change course?

Productivity is the key to prosperity. Increased wealth comes from producing more using less effort, time, and resources. If productivity stagnates – as it has in the UK – prosperity will follow suit.

One of the drivers of low productivity growth is cheap credit. Inefficient companies that would otherwise have failed, and replaced by better competitors, have been sustained by artificially low borrowing costs.

Haldane's case for record-low interest rates is that they prevented mass unemployment. Perpetuating zombie companies was worth it, he claims, to safeguard jobs.

That argument had some force in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Less so nearly a decade later. Keeping interest rates at record lows indefinitely means making low productivity growth the norm, while at the same time creating the conditions for another job-destroying financial crisis.

Cheap money is not the only reason for poor productivity. Another, which Haldane neglected to mention, is corporate welfare. Tax credits incentivise employers to use cheap (often imported) labour, rather than invest in new technology – as UKIP's Economy Spokesman, Mark Reckless, explains in a recent paper.

But the economic effects of artificially manipulating the price of capital shouldn't be underestimated. Experience has shown that official price controls create either gluts or shortages. Market prices always allocate resources better.

Capital is no different. Lower productivity is one of many dangerous imbalances caused by ultra-loose monetary policy. They need to be corrected, not excused.


21 MAR 2017

Give voters the right to sack MPs

Like so much of what the House of Commons does these days, yesterday's debate on MPs double-jobbing was mostly virtue signalling. That's because MPs don't like the real solution: recall elections.

In the United States, representatives can be recalled by their electorate. If enough local people sign a petition, they trigger a by-election. Voters then decide whether or not to renew their representative's mandate at the ballot box.

We could have had the same system here. In 2014, a Recall of MPs Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech.

But the title was misleading. Under the final legislation, voters can only trigger a by-election if a committee of grandees – or a court of law – has first found an MP guilty of wrongdoing. Rather than put voters in charge, the Bill let MPs act as a self-serving cartel.

Indeed, the government made sure Zac Goldsmith's amendments to the Bill – which would have led to a real right of recall – were rejected.

Now we see why. Would the former Chancellor would have taken on so many roles outside Parliament if a recall election in Tatton were a possibility?

The debate about MPs taking jobs outside Westminster in any case misses the point. The most common form of double-jobbing is the appointment of MPs as ministers. Voters should have a say on that too.

Until a century ago, they did. Prior to the Re-Election of Ministers Acts (1919 & 1926), MPs had to face ministerial by-elections to join the Cabinet. They could only become ministers with their constituents' consent.

Consent wasn't always given. Between 1895 and 1926, there were 127 ministerial by-elections. On eight occasions, the ministers-designate lost.

The way to keep MPs in check isn't to empower a toothless regulator. It's to let their constituents hold them to account.


20 MAR 2017

Politicians and press have become indistinguishable

George Osborne's appointment as Evening Standard editor says a lot about the state of the press. It ought to be perverse for a politician to be a journalist. But, when many so-called journalists do little more than push a political agenda, what's the difference?

The idea of journalists as brave, independent scrutineers of politics may be appealing, but it's not accurate. The relationship between the Fourth Estate and the political class is actually far too cosy.

Because politicians trade access for positive coverage, many journalists end up going native. Instead of exposing the governing elite, they act as its cheerleaders.

"That's nothing new," you might think. "Newspapers have always had a clear bias."

Of course, there has always been an editorial point of view. The difference now is that there is little but opinion. Subjective analysis now masquerades as news.

During the referendum campaign, for example, it was striking how both print and broadcast media reported George Osborne's Project Fear narrative as objective fact. No matter that none of it has turned out to be true.

Pundits frequently make out that established media are losing market share because consumers are now more interested in fake news than truth. The people, we're told, are at fault.

The reality is the opposite. People are losing faith in established media because they see through the false pretence to objectivity. There's a market for truth which the press is failing to deliver. Rather than cater to the public, pundits have joined the oligarchy.

Osborne will no doubt use his perch at the Standard to push the same spin he did as Chancellor. Far from being unqualified, he's taking up an all too familiar role. That's the problem.


17 MAR 2017

The Bank of England should follow the Fed's lead

Ultra-loose monetary policy is one of the biggest risks to the global economy. Belatedly, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates this week. The Bank of England should follow suit.

There is no justification for record low interest rates. They were supposed to be temporary measure, in the wake of the financial crisis. Instead, they have become permanent. Indeed, the Bank cut them even further last August.

The consequences of artificially cheap credit are disastrous. It encourages consumers to borrow too much, banks to take excessive risks, and companies to buy back shares rather than invest in improving productivity.

Moreover, it transfers wealth from the asset poor to the asset rich. It is stoking a housing bubble that is preventing a generation from buying their own homes. 

Central banks are reluctant to raise interests because they fear the only thing keeping the global economy afloat is consumer borrowing and spending. Yet they must know that is an unsustainable model.

Eventually, borrowers will default, and contagion will spread to the entire system – just as it did a decade ago. Compounding the problem with more debt will only make the ultimate correction all the more painful. (For more on this, see my paper After Osbrown.)

Yesterday, Kristin Forbes, one of the nine members of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, dissented from the majority decision to leave rates unchanged, and voted to raise them. Let's hope she persuades the rest of her colleagues next month.


16 MAR 2017

Forcing U-turns is Parliament's job

Pundits see the government's decision to scrap its planned rise in NI contributions for the self-employed as the Chancellor's failure. Perhaps it should just be seen as Parliament doing its job.

Politicos have become so used to budgets being nodded through by MPs that they have come to believe Parliament is supposed to work like this. But it's not.

Prior to the 1930s, backbench MPs could table amendments to the budget resolutions. The national government changed the rules to prevent it. Since then, Parliament has tended just to rubber stamp hundreds of billions of pounds' worth of spending and taxation.

Yet opposition from MPs has now forced a volte face on the centrepiece of the budget after only a week. Perhaps Parliament isn't quite so powerless after all.

It will be interesting to see how the Chancellor now replaces the ditched measures.

In autumn 2015, George Osborne backtracked over tax-credit reductions without replacing them with alternative cuts. Instead, he conjured up an extra £27 billion from nowhere – based on conveniently revised borrowing projections. In effect, he simply borrowed more money.

By contrast, Hammond has hinted at a broader rethink of the treatment of the self-employed in the tax system – so as to achieve the same ends by different means. That suggests self-employed people shouldn't celebrate just yet. Alternative tax rises may be coming in the autumn.

That's the wrong approach. Rather than tax – or borrow – more, government needs to spend less.

Parliament has demonstrated that cross-party opposition can block tax rises. Now we need cross-party support for spending cuts.


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