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Douglas Carswell's Blog

31 DEC 2008

Jeremy Hunt engaged - a great start to 2009

My old friend, Jeremy Hunt, texts me from Xian in China to tell me the good news ; he's celebrating his engagement to Lucia.

It's such happy, exciting news! Many, many cheers.

Once, when trying hard to woo a certain lady (who is now my wife), Jeremy played a crucial role helping matters along by inviting us to stay at his holiday home. It provided the perfect backdrop.

All the more reason I'm so thrilled by his latest news.


30 DEC 2008

The infantilisation continues

Our State-funded broadcaster reports how government officials want .... Um ... more government. This time the cry is for speed-limited cars.

Surely, the way to make us safer drivers is to make responsible adults behave responsibly. Putting government into your car takes away responsibility. And when you take responsibility away from folk, you make them less responsible.

When will government funded experts ever call for less government? And would the BBC ever report it?


29 DEC 2008

Why your heating bills are high

Polar bear This winter, many of my constituents - especially older folk - are anxious about being able to pay their heating bills to keep warm.  Affordable energy is fast becoming their top priority. 

It's no good blaming high prices all on Russia or the Middle East.  Government policy over the past decade has very deliberately pushed up the cost of energy. 

All around Clacton are plans to build expensive wind farms - both on shore and off shore.  Where do you think the money to pay for these has come from?  From your heating bill, of course.  

It is through higher heating bills that the hidden subsidies are passed on to the energy companies to pay for wind farms that would not otherwise be built.  That's right.  Local pensioners are left with higher bills today to pay for the vanity projects of the political establisment. 

And why?  All because fashionable opinion asserts that man-made global warming is a fact.  Setting aside the growing evidence that global warming is not primarily caused by human activity, to what are these monstrous wind turbines the answer?

Surely if CO2 emissions need to be reduced, the answer must be nuclear power?  It's cheaper and more relible that wind.  It's safer than coal with far fewer fatalities and accidents. 

And if government had invested in new nuclear power stations - like they have in France - over the past decade, our energy bills would all be lower.  It's time for a coherent and sensible approach to energy.


28 DEC 2008

Gaza air strikes - who is to blame?

So far, so predictable.  Those who were already anti-Israel, blame Israel.  Those who sympathise with the Middle East's only liberal democracy, point out that the air raids followed months of provocative rocket attacks.  Often the reaction of commentators tells us more about their prejudices, than about who might actually be to blame for the bloodshed.

Might it be that in fact it's neither Palestinian nor Israeli that is primarily to blame, but Iran?

It is a striking fact about the Israel / Arab conflict that Israel has been willing and able to come to peaceful terms with those of her neighbours run by governing authorities in a position to negotiate.  Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, even, perhaps, the West Bank.  All have been able to come to some sort of understanding - however brittle - with Israel. 

Yet two territories, Gaza and southern Lebanon, are not controlled by governing authorities subjected to the usual domestic constraints and pressures.  A government in Amman or Cairo, like all governments, has to weigh up competing priorities.  This mitigates towards pragmatism and has acted as a constraint – and helps explain why eventually such governments have preferred to find a negotiated solution.

Yet thanks to the pernicious influence of Iran, neither Hamas nor Hezbollah is constrained by ordinary pragmatism.  Iran’s influence seems to be the defining factor in explaining when and if there is peace between Israel and her neighbours.  In building proxy armies on Israel’s borders, Iran has helped build up proxy authorities whose raison d'etre is to reject Israel.   

Perhaps I'm wrong.  Maybe Iran's influence over Hamas is marginal.  But part of me thinks that if the people of Gaza and south Lebanon were free from the influence of Tehran, they'd eventually want leaders - like those in Cairo and Jordan - who were able to find some sort of accommodation with their neighbour - not yet more endless, bitter, destructive violence. 


28 DEC 2008

Politics is about ideas

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Matthew d'Ancona compares the challenges that the centre-right faces today with those they faced a generation ago. 

He claims that "The Conservative Opposition of the late Seventies had it easier in one crucial respect: they had a route map ..... Thirty years later, the aspirant Tory successors to Thatcher, Howe and Joseph have no such manual to hand, no off-the-shelf philosophy to espouse."

D'Ancona is absolutely right in one respect; Conservative success, both in seeking office and in using office for good ends, depends on having a coherent philosophy and a plan (Indeed, I made one or two suggestions along these lines in a book I wrote in 2008 called The Plan).  When a party has neither a coherent philosophy nor a plan, it ends up looking like John Major's administration, or Gordon Brown's Labour government.  

However, I disagree that those 1970s Conservatives that clustered about the think tanks - the IEA or the CPS, or the ASI - were somehow handed a ready-made route map.  They drew it themselves.  With lots of intellectual heavy lift.  Much strategic - as opposed to merely tactical - thinking. 

Having read their Hayek and Friedman and Wealth of Nations, carefully they developed a coherent critique of the state that Britain was in.  No inner cliques, constructive rivalry saw some of the brightest minds sparking off each other.  Thus were they able to forge a genre of policies that became Thatcherism.

Adam Smith and Hayek are still in print and selling well.  The IEA, the CPS and the ASI are all still there, you know.  The state of Britain in 2009 could look every bit as dire as in the late 1970s.   

So where is the next Keith Joseph?  


27 DEC 2008

This man thinks he knows what's best for you

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham says internet sites could be given 'cinema-style age ratings'Andy Burnham MP, our very own Minister for Culture, wants to rein in the internet, and, according to today's Telegraph, "censor some websites". 

Does Andy's internet regulation scheme mean having some sort of a regulator?  Rather like OFSTED or OFWAT or OFGEM, perhaps the new regulator could imaginatively be called OFWEB?  Maybe it could set minimum standards, educate people on what's appropriate, clamp down on irresponsible bloggers, blah blah blah?    

The internet can be a rather wild place.  Just as cheap paper and the printing press spawned all sorts of dodgy pamphlets in the 1700s, there's lots of dodgy stuff on-line today. 

But surely with a little common sense, personal responsibility and the use of parental controls, it's perfectly possible to avoid anything horrid?  As the internet evolves, various websites are evolving brands that guarantee certain standards anyhow, in much the same way that newspapers have.       

Besides, how effective would any imposed system of regulation be?  OFSTED, the quango regulator responsible for ensuring that Baby P's social workers were doing their job properly, gave Haringey social workers a good approval rating shortly before Baby P died.  That's right - the regulator failed to do its job properly.  With catastrophic consequences.

Why would quangos and officials be any better at patrolling the internet?  

Andy Burnham's proposals are based on an assumption that a remote official is better at deciding what is and what is not good for you.  They aren't.  You are.


26 DEC 2008

Will we become the new Iceland in 2009?

The BBC's Robert Peston makes an interesting comment on his blog: "if the perceived credit-worthiness of our banks - with their trillions of pounds of assets and liabilities - were to deteriorate further, that would have an impact on the perceived credit-worthiness of the state."

Think about that. 

The liabilities of some of these quasi-state owned banks exceeds our entire annual GDP.  I remember reading someplace that one such bank alone had liabilities several times Britain's 2007 output.  If they go bad, you and me and everybody else becomes liable for all that bad debt.  Each of us will pay for it - with higher taxes, lower pensions and less public services.  For many, many years to come.

Remember that next time someone tries to convince you that Gordon Brown's rescue plan has all been a genius master stroke.  Turning private debt into a public liability might have looked like a smart move in late 2008.  I doubt it'll look quite such a smart move in a year or two.

We'll look back at the initial public policy response to this crisis and see quite how cack-handed it's been.  Interest rates that discourage savings don't help build up credit.  Nor does a glut of public expenditure - designed to raise aggregate demand - which itself soaks up whatever credit there is in the system.  We're still fighting a debt crisis as if it was a problem with aggregate demand.


26 DEC 2008

The appeasement of evil

I'm reading a history book about Persia / Iran.  She is clearly an ancient civilisation and a great country.  Yet her people deserve better than to be ruled by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yesterday, Channel 4 used your money to allow him to deliver an "alternative Christmas message". He spoke about a return to "human values".  What about respecting "human values" with regard to those killed at the bombing of the Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires?  Until those within the Iranian government involved in the massacre have been brought to justice, there should be no encouragement of Ahmadinejad - let alone promotion of his views.    

Shame on Channel 4.  Shame on those at Channel 4 who decided to give this man a platform.  And shame on us for allowing Channel 4 to use our money to broadcast a lecture from a truly evil man.  Today I feel deeply ashamed as I wonder what people in Argentina must think of our country, Britain, for giving this man airtime.


25 DEC 2008

Merry Christmas!

Father Christmas seems to have been busy in the constituency last night.  Today will be spent singing carols in Church, having Christmas lunch and doing all sorts of Christmas things. 

So no more blogging today ... Merry Christmas!  


24 DEC 2008

Who's been lobbying against localism?

Last week, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that long-awaited plans to make local police more locally accountable were to be scrapped.  The move represented a success for those powerful vested interests fiercely opposed to more democratically accountable policing.

The Association of Chief Police Officers seems to have disliked the idea that Chief Police Officers might be made more directly accountable.  Obviously.  The Association of Police Authorities – equally predictably – dislike the move because turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas. 

More surprisingly was the opposition from the Local Government Association.  According to the blurb on their website, the LGA “calls on central government to push decision-making to the lowest possible level”.  So why did they so actively oppose the first real opportunity to devolve power for a generation?  Indeed.  You ask them.   

There’s nothing wrong with any such bodies representing the views of their members – however much one might disagree.  Indeed, the LGA and Association of Police Authorities were pretty up front in the evidence they gave to the Home Affairs select committee. 

I do, however, note that shortly after I introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill on directly elected Justice Commissioners / Sheriffs, I got a call from a charming voice claiming to be from lobbyists, Connect Public Affairs.  Connect is very open about the fact that their list of past and current clients includes both the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities.  Nothing wrong with that.   

They also list something called the Campaign for Local Policing.  Is that “local” as in run from the Home Office?  Whatever.  There's nothing wrong with running such a campaign, either.   

For me the question is has public money - directly or indirectly - changed hands in order to employ lobbyists to run a campaign designed to quash moves to make police more democratically accountable?  Perhaps the lobbying is done for free?  I merely ask, rather than infer.  Yet, I do think that if the services of professional lobbyists have been engaged, by organisations whose funds ultimately come out of the public purse, inorder to influence public policy matters - like how we are policed - we should at least be told.  

Nick Hurd, Conservative spokesman on these things, has suggested that there be some sort of restrictions on public funds being used to lobby government.  I’m beginning to see why.


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