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Douglas Carswell's Blog

05 FEB 2016

More power to the sheriffs

Perhaps it's because it's the term I used when I first proposed directly police chiefs over a decade ago. Maybe it's because there's something a little bureaucratic and pedestrian about the word "commissioner". Whatever the reason, I still think we should call Police and Crime Commissioners sheriff.

When locally elected sheriffs .... sorry .... Police & Crime Commissioners were introduced in 2012, they were met with a lot of cynicism. But four years on, PCCs have proved their worth. The Home Secretary's new plan to give them more power is a step in the right direction.

The idea behind elected sheriffs / PCCs was to make police services accountable to local people, and put a single person in charge. Experience shows they have succeeded. The Home Affairs Select Committee's PCC report confirmed: "PCCs have provided greater clarity of leadership for policing."

PCCs have also had one big success: overthrowing the Association of Chief Police Officers. That means policing now reflects local priorities, instead of national, top-down directives from unaccountable officials.

Of course, not all PCCs have been brilliant. But that's the beauty of electing them: commissioners who fail to serve local people properly can be turfed out in elections this May.

Critics of the PCCs said they would politicise the police and disempower the professionals. But recent reports of historic police scandals and cover-ups show how important accountability is. It's not enough just to trust the professionals: institutions need to be responsible to the people they work for.

Yesterday, the Home Secretary not only confirmed that PCCs are here to stay, but announced plans to increase their powers over criminal justice. This is good news: the Crown Prosecution Service is as closed to the public as the police were. It would be fantastic if PCCs could hold it to account.


04 FEB 2016

When the electorate's angry, you need a smile to win

For months, everyone has said Donald Trump is way ahead in the Republican race. The liberal media – his top publicists - built him up as a bogeyman. But in the Iowa caucus, something else happened: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio stole his thunder. Authenticity and optimism trumped anger.

Cruz and Rubio show that successful anti-politics isn't about playing the electorate's anger back to them. Both got elected to the Senate in the anti-Washington Tea Party wave, but both channelled the frustration of the electorate into real political programmes. Cruz is campaigning as a conviction conservative and Constitutionalist. Rubio as a free-market optimist.

In Iowa, Cruz showed the Establishment can be beaten. He ran on an anti-subsidy platform in an ethanol-subsidy state. Political practitioners say that can never work. The state's governor even campaigned against him. But he went on to win the caucus anyway. Iowans showed the Establishment they can't be so easily bought.

Marco Rubio – who came a close third to Trump's second – surged in Iowa at the last minute because he campaigned on a vision for the future. He gave voters an optimistic alternative to Trump's abuse and vitriol.

Far from the anti-Establishment crusader he pretends to be, Trump could turn out to be the Establishment's alternative to Cruz. Mainstream media and Republican elites are starting to support him because he is much less of a threat than Cruz to the crony corporatist cartel. Trump's protectionism, Big Business background, and indifference to Big Government would continue the status quo politics Washington insiders love.

But real supporters of anti-politics should feel positive. Iowa showed that the people have more wisdom than sneering Establishment elites believe. Authenticity and optimism are what will make America great again.


03 FEB 2016

New EU deal? We don't even have our hands on the emergency brake

David Cameron's deal with Donald Tusk was meant to show Britain's relationship with Brussels could be reformed. Instead, it has proven the EU is incapable of change. The only way to keep Britain safe from the broken European project is to vote Leave.

We always knew the "tough renegotiation" was just spin, designed to mask the fact that the PM hadn't really changed anything. But the emptiness of the deal has surprised even Eurosceptics: there really is no substance to it at all.

Take the so-called "emergency brake" – the PM's signature moratorium on in-work benefits for EU workers. It's hardly a massive change, but he couldn't even secure that. Instead, any benefits restriction could only happen in exceptional circumstances, and at the sole discretion of the European Council. We don't even have our hands on the brake.

The same is true of the "red card," which was supposed to allow national parliaments to veto EU legislation. In practice, it means 55% of legislators across 28 member states would have to agree to block legislation, and that would only trigger a "comprehensive discussion" in the European Council.

This "renegotiation" was supposed to show that we could bring back control from Brussels without leaving the EU. Instead, it has proven we can't. There will be no repatriation of powers, no restoration of Parliamentary sovereignty, no national supremacy over borders, courts, trade, energy, employment, tax, fish – the list is endless. The bureaucrats in Brussels are still in charge.

So the British people have a simple decision to make: do we stay in this unreformed, undemocratic, reactionary political project? Or do we take back control of our country and our future?

There is only one sensible choice: we need to vote Leave.


02 FEB 2016

Mortgaging Whitehall to the Gulf sums up Osbornomics

The Department of Health is subject to sharia law. You read that right: to turn London into the "Islamic finance capital of the world," George Osborne secretly made three Whitehall buildings the property of Middle Eastern banks under an Islamic bond scheme, so they are now governed by Islamic law. The question is: why?

Many people will find the idea that an external legal code applies to the heart of British Government disquieting – and rightly so. But there is a more disturbing question: why is the Chancellor using public assets to prop up a bond scheme? Or put it another way: if the scheme were viable in the private market, why would he need to subsidise it?

The truth, I suspect, is that this is classic Osborne corporatism. Like his dodgy tax deal with Google, and his Northern Powerhouse subsidies, this stinks of favouritism for Big Islamic Banks and oil sheikhs that may benefit the Chancellor but sells British taxpayers short.

But if you're outraged about a few buildings being mortgaged to powerful foreign interests, just think about the public finances more broadly: the Government is totally dependent on borrowed money. We're still running massive deficits every year. Total declared public debt is over £1.5 trillion. The whole country is being mortgaged.

If just £200 million of debt means the Department of Health has to be sharia-compliant, what kind of leverage over Britain do you think £1.5 trillion buys?

Debt and corporatism led Britain to financial ruin in 2007. But instead of changing course from Gordon Brown, Osborne has kept on going. To be a successful sovereign country again, Britain needs to change course: that means balanced public finances, free markets, and sound money.


01 FEB 2016

Trust in technology

Tech sceptics often fear the Internet is inhuman. We're so wrapped up in the global village, they say, we're forgetting how to build real human relationships. Turns out it's not true: technology is actually helping us to trust each other.

The Internet – as Wired explains - is building new networks of trust. Yelp tells you if you can trust a restaurant. Uber allows you to track the stranger who drives you home. Dating apps allow people to get to know each other before they meet in person.

"But hold on," you say. "Aren't all these open to abuse?"

Obviously the Internet isn't vice-free: it provides a platform for anonymous trolls, scammers, and stalkers too. But here's the thing: the Internet is providing much greater accountability than what it has replaced.

People used to put their faith in big, central institutions. The Gentleman in Whitehall was meant to keep us safe. But we've seen that was all a mirage: Parliament, Government, the media, the regulators, the church, the police have all been exposed for scandals, cover-ups, negligence, and corruption. Popular faith in national institutions is at an all-time low.

So instead of trusting institutions, people are starting to trust each other again. How? Through technology. The Internet enables open data and transparency, so that people can make informed decisions instead of putting blind faith in a remote bureaucrat to decide for them.

Amid the bad stories that get reported about Uber or Airbnb, let's not lose sight of the overall good story: technology is gradually restoring our faith in each other.


29 JAN 2016

America's Presidential primaries have lessons for our democracy

Next week, the Iowa caucuses kick off the US Presidential race in earnest. So far, British coverage has been transfixed by Donald Trump. But the Presidential primaries are much more interesting for what they can teach us about democracy.

Different states' electoral systems embody different models of democracy.

The Iowa caucuses are relatively restrictive: only party members can attend, and there is only one caucus location per precinct. As a result, turnout tends to be low, and the candidates that do best will those that appeal to a narrow, self-selecting group.

At the other end of the spectrum, fifteen states – from Alabama to Wisconsin – have open primaries. Anyone can cast a vote – not just party members. That means the winning candidate is more likely to be someone with broad appeal.

A big problem with our democracy today is that a narrow, zealous minority gets to choose who is in office, while the vast majority are so fed up with the political class, they are totally apathetic. Democracy has been subverted; as William Butler Yeats put it, "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

The aim should be to do the opposite: energise the best people to come out and vote, and ensure the winner has a real democratic mandate. The answer already exists in fifteen states: open primaries.

But what do we have in Britain? The Iowa caucuses are a free-for-all compared to the selection process for candidates here. A tiny minority of voters pick their party's local candidate for Parliament. Many candidates are special advisers parachuted in by the central party machine. Parliament has become a self-selecting cartel.

If we want to restore our democracy, we need to burst the Westminster bubble: open primaries are part of the solution. The rest is all part of The Plan.


28 JAN 2016

Don't panic about Apple's slowdown: that's how capitalism is meant to work

Apple's slowing sales have made a lot of people panic. But for consumers it could actually be good news: Apple is selling less because other manufacturers are catching up. Capitalist competition is what makes producers more creative and consumers better off.

One of the big myths about capitalism is that it allows a stable, wealthy elite to line their pockets with profits. But that's not how it works: in a free market, a company that makes a groundbreaking new product will face massive competition from others who see an opportunity to imitate it. As they catch up, its profits will consistently decrease. The only way to stay on top is to keep creating and innovating.

Don't believe me? Think about some of the world's most successful corporations today: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Walmart. Where were they 30 years ago? Google didn't even exist. Now think about some of the biggest corporations then? IBM, DuPont, Bethlehem Steel – which has long since disappeared.

The big names have changed, and they'll change again. Who knows what Apple will be doing in 30 years' time? Maybe they won't exist. Maybe they'll focus on Apple Pay and become a bank. Either, way disruptive innovation will change the market - and transfer wealth from elites to consumers.

It's the industries in which the big names haven't changed that should make us suspicious: big banks, energy, American car manufacturers. Too often, the reason they survive is because they have colluded with Government to rig the rules and keep out the competition. Too often, the taxpayer bails them out – transferring wealth from ordinary people to the corporate elites. That's not capitalism; that's crony corporatism.

I hope Apple meets the competition with wonderful new innovations. But if its competitors pick up the baton and out-innovate Apple, so much the better! Market-driven innovation is what makes all of us better off.


27 JAN 2016

Fed up with big corporate tax avoidance? Vote Leave

Google is in the news for avoiding UK corporation tax. It's not the only multinational to do it: Starbucks and Apple have done the same. So how come our Government can't do anything about it? Because of the EU - and for two key reasons.

First, EU law allows multinational corporations to pay tax on European revenue in whichever EU member state they claim to be based. So companies obviously pick the state with the lowest tax rates. This is a tax loophole the EU intentionally created.

So, despite having thousands of employees in the UK, Google denies having a 'permanent establishment' in the UK, instead claiming it is a UK 'branch' of its Irish operation. It therefore avoids tax in the UK.

Second, EU law prevents the UK clamping down on tax-avoidance. One wheeze is for a company to move intellectual property offshore. It then pays licence fees to that offshore entity, shifting its profits from the UK to a tax haven. UK law seeks to prevent this by levying a 25% withholding tax on licence fees transferred to a tax haven.

However, Holland does not apply any such tax and EU law stops the UK applying a withholding tax on transfers to a Dutch company. Therefore multinationals set up Dutch companies to channel licence fees from their UK company to whichever tax haven holds their intellectual property, thereby avoiding UK tax.

Here's the key point: for as long as Britain stays in the EU, we can't close Google's tax loophole, or Starbucks', or Facebook's. Our Government is bound by EU law, and is powerless to change it.

We cannot demand that Google pay its fair share of UK tax unless we take back control of our tax law from Brussels. The British people have the power to change the rules: the solution is to vote Leave.


27 JAN 2016

Low interest rates make pensioners poorer to keep bankers rich

British people are living longer, healthier lives. That's fantastic! But we're also facing a problem: the Bank of England is making it harder to save for retirement than ever before.

Mark Carney recently announced he would be keeping interest rates at record lows of 0.5% for an eighth consecutive year. Borrowers will see that as good news. But it's very bad news for savers – and people with pensions most of all.

Artificially low interest rates are making it far too hard for private pension funds to get a return on investments. Years of low yields mean many funds are in crisis – or have had to stake their customers' retirements on higher-risk assets. Either way, savers suffer.

Low interest rates hurt insurers too, for the same reason. If investment returns are lower, premiums have to be higher - meaning policy holders have to pick up the tab.

In every case, the debasement of currency transfers wealth from ordinary people to wealthy corporate elites.

At the same time, the State pension is in crisis. We know pension liabilities are unfunded in the long-term. Where's the security for retirement there?

Pension funding should be a policy priority. Instead it's being brushed under the carpet. As the pressure on State pensions grows, it's all the more important for people to be able to save independently. It's time to stop putting bankers first, and raise the rates.


26 JAN 2016

British business will boom after Brexit but suffer if we stay

More and more businesses are debunking the BSE myth that Brexit will damage our economy. The question we should be asking is not about the risks of leaving the EU, but the risks of staying.

Today, Unilever became the latest major manufacturer to say that Brexit would make no difference to its future plans in Britain. Toyota and Nissan have already stated the same.

"That's all very well," I hear you say. "But what about the businesses that want Britain to stay?"

That's true: there's Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Bank of America - the bankers who brought us the last financial crisis, and are now trying to buy the referendum. There's the super-rich elites David Cameron was trying so hard to impress at Davos. Are these really people who have Britain's best interests at heart?

The reason parts of Big Business love the EU is that the EU is a cosy corporatist club. It enables a tiny clique to rig the rules and suffocate the competition.

The people telling us Britain can't survive Brexit are the same people who said we couldn't survive outside the euro. In fact, the then CEO of Unilever, Niall Fitzgerald, told us, "Britain will ...lose influence, investment, jobs, and economic growth." But look at Britain – and Unilever – today, and then look at Europe.

If European economic union is such a good idea, why are Continental countries in a state of economic emergency? Why is Eurozone unemployment sky-high? Why are EU migrants queueing up to work in Britain?

The European project has proved to be an economic disaster. Shackling Britain to more European integration would mean Britain faced the same economic future as Greece, Spain, and France. Tell me again how that makes us better off?


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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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