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Douglas Carswell's Blog

31 DEC 2010

Will 2011 be the year of local TV?

According to Guido Fawkes "decentralisation of our broadcasting culture would really create a more plural media."  Aye to that.

And with a bit of luck, 2011 could see Jeremy Hunt's vision of a properly local TV network achieve take off.

Creating a framework that allows local TV to flourish - and without public funds - would give a real boost to localism.  A patchwork of local TV stations across the country would help folk keep tabs on their ever more autonomous council - and their directly-elected police commissioner and mayor.

Besides, it would, as Guido suggests, give us a more decentralised, more plural media.


31 DEC 2010

My 2011 predictions: the wisdom of the crowd

I was about to do a blog called "Predictions for 2011". 

Top of my list was going to be: 

1.  Inflation will increase

2.  European countries will eventually discover that you can't borrow your way out of debt

3.  The internet will continue to disperse power and open up hierarchy in weird and wonderful ways

.... At which point I thought I should practice what I preach.  I've spent all year arguing the people are wiser than their political leaders and that the wisdom of the crowd is greater than that of the few.  So, why not crowd-source my forecasts for the year ahead? 

Over to you.  What do you think is likely to happen in the year ahead? 

The comment thread is yours (even if you might have to wait a short while for the moderator to approve your posts!) ....


30 DEC 2010

The Coalition rhetoric is radical. But where is the beef?

In his very first question as Prime Minister, I asked David Cameron about reforming the House of Lords – and got an answer that really pleased me.

Pushing for a fully elected upper House, I asked if he would confirm that “he will bring forward proposals in the next 12 months to make all our law-makers accountable through the ballot box?”

In his reply, David Cameron said “ there will be a draft motion, by December, which the House can vote on.”

December is now almost over. Did I miss that motion?

Perhaps, like, so many other areas of political reform – open primaries, recall votes – the radical rhetoric has yet to be matched by actual change. Sir Humphrey has got his talons into ministers.   

Westminster-based journalists tell each other that the government is being radical. But looking at what has actually been done, rather than said, the evidence suggests otherwise.   

Every few days, I seem to field a 'phone call from a BBC researcher inviting me to make rude noises about the Coalition – preferably in angry, reactionary terms (Indeed, the latest one as I wrote this ...) They are invariably disappointed when I explain that my concerns with the Coalition are not that they are failing to be traditionally Tory, but – as with Lords reform – they are failing to be radical enough.


30 DEC 2010

Defence contractors working in MoD

Big defence contractors have employees on secondment working inside the Ministry of Defence.  Read the Parliamentary answer here.

The fact that some of MoD's largest suppliers have their people working inside MoD could, some people might think, suggest that the relationship between customer and supplier is perhaps a little blurred.     

Perhaps it is this blurring of interest between defence customer and defence supplier that helps explain why Britain pays over the odds for equipment for our armed forces?


30 DEC 2010

Next BBC chief must be approved by Parliament

Ivan Lewis, Labour spokesman on such matters, has written to Jeremy Hunt requesting that the Commons select committee confirm the appointment of the next BBC Trust Chairman.

However much I’d prefer not to admit it, Lewis is absolutely right. 

It is simply wrong that the executive arm of government alone can make such appointments. Now that we have freed Commons select committees from the obsequious-inducing grip of party whips, MPs on such committees ought to be capable of acting as members of a legislature, rather than cheer leaders for their respective front benches.

Under the existing selection system, a panel of dreary quangocrats are responsible for recommending a shortlist of quangocrats wanting the job. Culture Minister, Jeremy Hunt, is then expected to choose from a short list of two – with perhaps a little help from Number 10.

Yet if David Cameron is serious about “new politics” he should give the Commons the right to approve – or not – the preferred candidate for the role. 

A Commons select committee confirmation hearing held in public is 100 percent what the BBC Trust needs. It would give the next chairman greater legitimacy – with regard to both the BBC and the government. It would show the Minister was confident that his candidate for the job was the right man or woman, and help ensure the best candidate for the job gets the role.

But it would also restore purpose to Parliament. And if it meant that the quangocrats who really run Britain realise that they are going to face real public accountability, they might start to respect the views of the public a little more, too.


29 DEC 2010

Time for an international revolt against supranationalism?

Universal jurisdiction is one of those ideas that sounds marvellous. 

Allowing courts in one country to claim jurisdiction outside their own state's boundaries, and prosecute wrong-doers regardless of nationality, means that Tyrants and Bad People can be brought to justice. Hurray! 

But hang on a second. In doing so, universal jurisdiction seeks to trump the notion of national jurisdiction. With almost imperial presumption, advocates of universal jurisdiction claim authority over nation states’ own jurisdictions.

It is curious how lefties, who a generation ago championed national self-determination against wicked, Western imperialism today want (predominantly Western) jurists to sit in supranational courts adjudicating over those same supposedly sovereign lands.

And who gets to determine who is, and who is not, a Bad Person? 

Thanks to universal jurisdiction, Israeli officials run the risk of arrest when visiting Britain. If Israeli officials can be hauled off ‘planes at Heathrow, why not American (Iraq) or Chinese (Tianamen)? Claiming universal jurisdiction will have big, big consequences. Are the rest of us aware of where the jurists who advocate a universal writ are taking us?  And when in the past decade or two were the rest of us asked if we wanted our jurists to claim global jurisdiction?    

The government claims it will fix this problem with an amendment to the Police Bill in the New Year. Their solution is to treat a symptom of the problem, rather than deal with its cause.  They suggest that we give the head of Public Prosecution, or the attorney general, the final say on each case. 

But surely that merely defers the problem? Visit Britain - and the application to arrest and prosecute you will be heard by a slightly grander official. Enjoy your stay, while the DPP decides if you’re going to be able to leave.

Meanwhile, it is encouraging to learn that in Kenya, MPs have just voted to quit the International Criminal Court. One MP declared that having won her independence from Britain, Kenya was not going to fall down before a “colonial imperialist court”. Indeed.


28 DEC 2010

A step towards Direct Democracy

The government has said that if over 100,000 people sign a petition, it could lead to a debate in Parliament

Good.  Instead of having to hope that someone in the Westminster village shares your concerns, you now have a formal mechanism to get them to respond to issues that matter to you.

Our Parliamentary system evolved in an age when the fastest thing in the country was a horse.  Democracy meant deferring to elected representatives, who would head off to Westminster to make decisions on their electorates behalf.  It is absurd that in the age of YouTube we should have no more say over how we are governed than the right to vote every five years. 

When Edmund Burke defended representative democracy on the basis that folk in Bristol could not possibly have heard the debate that took part in Westminster, he could not have imagined a world in which the radio or internet not only allows people hundreds of miles away to listen, but to actually take part.   

"But surely direct democracy would lead to populism?" mutter the grandees.

If by populism you mean politicians addressing the concerns of the voters, then indeed.  But is that so wrong?  It is worth remembering that in the last Parliament - the rotten Parliament - MPs spent far more time discussing how they might exempt themselves from their own Freedom of Information law and their expenses, than they did on topics that really mattered to most taxpayers.

What direct democracy would not do is lead to mob rule.  If you give adults responsibility, they tend to behave not only responsibly, but in a fair-minded, liberal way.  It is worth reflecting that the death penalty has more often been abolished by plebiscite, than it has been introduced.

My only concern with today's announcement is that it does not go far enough. 

So what if 100,000 people force MPs to debate an issue?  Perhaps what we really need is the kind of idea Dan Hannan and I put forward in our book, The Plan, which called for popular initiative to force Commons votes.  Those half dozen or so People's Bills with the most signatures should be included in the Queen's Speech.  MPs would be free to vote for or against popular Bills, but would be forced to address the concerns of the people. 

If people had a direct input into the content of the Queen's Speech, Parliament might be more a place of purpose, as well as pageantry.  


27 DEC 2010

How's that fiat money experiment working out?

It was only forty years ago that the US$ (and by extension £ sterling) became a 100 percent fiat currency. 

Until then, government could not issue quite as much money as politicians and officials might have found convenient.  Rather, they needed some measure of gold reserves to back it up (or due to the Bretton Woods agreement had their currencies linked to those who did).  The last tie between the US$ and gold was cut in 1971.

Since that time, the only real constraint on the amount of money government issues has been government.  

Many other public policy innovations from the 60s and 70s - such as child-centred learning, or housing people in tower blocks - have since been discredited (if not necessarily discontinued by our sclerotic state).  So, forty years on how is the experiment in 100 percent fiat money working out?

 

Here is a graph showing the value of paper currency US$ relative to gold over the past forty years. Notice anything?

 

By debauching the currency (inflation targets), some might suggest that government has managed to transfer vast amounts of wealth from the private to the public sector - and in a way that would never have been tolerated if undertaken through more straight forward taxation.

 

Looking back, cou ld the way we run our currencies have anything to do with our diminishing propensity to save and produce things, and our growing overconsumption and over indebtedness? Just wondering.


26 DEC 2010

Radicalism needs ideas, not speeches

The Guardian informs us that the Downing Street policy team will be beefed up in the coming year with the appointment of more civil servants.

Phew!  What a relief.

For a moment there might have been a danger of involving those we elect to the House of Commons to determine policy. Much wiser to draft in some young Sir Humphreys, the sort who never have to justify themselves to angry voters in marginal seats.

We keep being told that the coalition is “radical”. Even journalists, who read each other’s articles on the subject, keep writing about how bold this government is.

But is it? The rhetoric is radical.  The concept of the coaliton is still novel.  But is the policy reality quite as bold as often thought?  

Cutting the deficit?   That’s not what the numbers are saying. Last month the government’s year-on-year monthly borrowing increased by a third compared to where we were under Brown last November. The bloated British state borrowed more money in November 2010 than in any month since the 1690s.  Like pretty much every other post-war government not held in check by an effective legislature, this one will seek to plug any fiscal gap with tax hikes, over spending cuts.   

Political reform? Been boiled down to a referendum on AV. Recall votes to sack wayward MPs? In the hands of a committee of Westminster grandees, old chap. The Great Repeal Bill? Morphed into a Bill that promises to ban things. Open Primaries? Quietly dropped. 

More accountability in Whitehall? Ministers might have their “to do” lists on line, but much of the accountability agenda has seen officials answering inward, rather than outward.

Localism? Yes. But please don’t mention the money. 

Defence? Novel, in that we had a strategic review without a strategy. But nothing as rash as to, say, examine the small print on those equipment contacts. 

In area after area, the rhetoric of change has yet to be matched by the reality. Perhaps what is needed in 2011 is a beefing up of ideas, rather than the policy unit payroll?

As I say in an article in the Mail on Sunday "The last really radical Government, under Mrs Thatcher in the Eighties, did not have to keep telling us how radical it was being. Instead it just got on with decentralising control over economic matters.

Radicalism today should be about decentralising control over public services and politics. The Coalition certainly talks about decentralization and localism. But the problem is that the inner circle has not necessarily worked out how to make it happen.”  

No army of junior Sir Humphrey types is likely to change that.


25 DEC 2010

Merry Christmas!

.... to all my blog readers.

Normal service resumes tomorrow.


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