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Douglas Carswell's Blog

31 DEC 2011

The power of the web

According to research by Hanover Communications, the Labour backbench MP Tom Watson had a higher media profile in 2011 than every shadow minister, except for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

Even a few years ago, the idea that a mere backbencher would have a higher profile than, say, the shadow Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary, would have seemed bizarre.  Today it is a fact. 

Why?

Many will put it down to the phone hacking scandal, in which Watson had a starring role exposing wrong-doing, and think no more of it.  But I suspect something more is happening.

One clue lies in the fact that Watson is an ex-blogger, and a prolific tweeter.

On the Tory side, too, many backbenchers have a far higher media profile than many  ministers. 

And what do many of the most high profile backbenchers have in common?  Louise Mench posts some wonderful  tweets. John Redwood writes brilliant blogs.  Nadine Dorries does both.  Grant Shapps, who has the highest profile of any MP not in the Cabinet, does so too.

Several years ago, after reading Chris Anderson's The Long Tail, I realised that I'd have to start blogging.  Why?  Anderson's book is ostensibly about the impact of the internet on retail, but as I read it I started to see what the internet might do to politics, too.

The internet is democratising communication.  It has smashed that old hierarchy of party press officers and lobby correspondents who once got to decide not only what was news, but who the rest of us listened to.  

Today MPs can get their views out there directly.  Daily blogs have taken over from press releases. Tweets can get the message out there while party spin doctors are still discussing "the line to take".

Back in the early 1990s, Peter Mandelson apparently got to decide which half dozen MPs would speak for Labour in response to requests from the media for interviews.  This ability to decide the message and the messenger gave him tremendous influence.  In the age of twitter, parties simply cannot control the message - or the messengers - that way.

Some MPs understand how the internet changes the way parties need to communicate.  I am less certain that political parties have.


30 DEC 2011

Who pulled the greatest u-turns of 2011?

Rarely do those in politics change their minds because they see the light. More often it is because they feel the heat.

Actually I think it is a jolly good thing to be able to change your mind.  Rather than criticise those who move with the facts, we should praise them instead. Here are my favourite u-turns by those who saw the light in 2011:

1.  The people on electoral reform: When the AV referendum campaign started, it looked as if there was a majority in favour. As the public got closer to the day of the poll, they reached for the brakes and pulled a u-turn, rejecting AV overwhelmingly.

2.  Danny Finkelstein on Europe: Having spent the first few years of David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative party telling the rest of us not to bang on about Europe, Danny began to bang on about Europe.   

Shortly after 81 Conservative MPs voted in favour of an EU referendum, Danny – who just a few days before the Commons vote was fiercely critical of it – started to write brilliantly telling us all about the dangers of the EU.  

Actually, you might say that it was the commentariat that pulled a u-turn on Europe in 2011 .....  others who also saw the light include Max Hastings, who renounced years of faith in federalism with this superb column.  So, too, did Matthew Parris – one of the country’s greatest writers – who it seems is now an advocate of a referendum on our membership.

3.  Britain on Libya: Britain’s Foreign Office mandarinate spent the past decade pushing for a rapprochement with Gadaffi. Millions of ordinary Libyans were less keen on the idea, and overthrew the tyrant of Tripoli. But Britain deftly turned 180 degrees, backing the rebels.

4.  David Aaronovich on the Euro: I admire David greatly, and once when we shared a platform to discuss political reform I was delighted to discover that we seem to have a number of ideas in common. But not, it would appear, when it comes to the Euro. 

David once described those of us who had reservations about Britain joining the Euro a little uncharitably. Yesterday, however, he wrote a column in which he appears to have ditched his support for joining Euroland - and was demanding that we join the United States instead

Hummm .... up to a point, David. The idea of being independent is that you don’t subsume yourself into any bloc. The idea is to be self-governing instead (albeit with free trade agreements all round) just like many of the most successful nations around the planet. 

5.  The government on solar energy: Generous solar subsidies might have seemed like a good idea for individual households, but once large commercial enterprises moved in to harvest the subsidy, it looked more like an expensive way of generating electricity. 

Hopefully the government’s about turn signals a more fundamental rethink of our energy policy; how to supply the needs of British businesses and households, rather than meet the demands of the supranational eco bureaucracy.

6.  The Treasury on bailout-and-borrow: This time last year, the Treasury was merrily drifting along with the bailout-and-borrow consensus. As they threw billions of pounds to try to prop up a currency we choose not to join, ministers spoke of the need to defend the Euro rather as ministers once spoke of the need to remain in the ERM.

After successive Commons votes gradually whittled down the Coalition’s majority on the issue, Treasury ministers began to see the light and say they have ruled out any further bailouts.

I hope to welcome many other u-turns in 2012.  Perhaps from Ed Balls, or if we are really lucky all those Keynesian economists who said we could spend our way back to prosperity ...


29 DEC 2011

2011 was a good year for ....

1.  Tom Watson MP, who tenaciously banged on about phone hacking until everyone else eventually started listening. To Tom, that is, not to other people’s phone messages. Many of the things Tom said would happen seemed to happen. Much of what his critics said turned out to be nonsense.   

2.  Adam Holloway MP and Stewart Jackson MP, who both resigned as PPSs because they wanted to be free to honour the promises they made to their constituents and vote for an In / Out EU referendum.  History and the country are on their side.    

3.  Select Committee chairmen, like John Whittingdale MP, Bernard Jenkin MP and Keith Vaz MP, who in their different ways each showed that select committees now have real clout. Time to give them the power to confirm ministerial appointments and veto departmental budgets?         

4.  John Bercow, who is helping restore purpose to Parliament. Ministers must now come before the House to answer urgent questions. Amendments that inconvenience the front benches get called.

Not surprisingly the whips and the Westminster old guard hate it. They much preferred it when Parliamentary democracy was stitched up through “the usual channels”.   

But do not believe the anti-Bercow spin. The Speaker is an ally of everyone who believes Parliament – and the people - should control government, rather than government control Parliament. For precisely this reason, Bercow has quietly built up a strong support-base on all sides of the Commons – particularly among the newer sort of MPs.   

5.  Parliament, which is slowly getting off its knees and might even have started to grow a bit of backbone in 2011. 

Whether it was the health Bill or votes on the EU or the IMF, once again it matters what Parliament – and by extension the people – think. The technocratic elite, who for years have mismanaged this country - relying on ministerial mouth-pieces to defend their disastrous decision-making - are beginning to have to answer outwards to the rest of us.


28 DEC 2011

2012 - the year of the Austrians?

No, I'm not suggesting athletes from Vienna will scoop all the London Olympic gold medals. I'm talking about a deeply unfashionable economic theory. You might even call it the anti-theory, seeing as how Austrian economists, unlike monetarists or Keynesians, don't go in for trying to engineer economic growth.

I think we're about to see a revival of interest in this long ignored school of free market thinking.

Why? Well ponder what's happened over the past four years...

2008 was the year the West turned a artificial credit bubble into a very real credit bust.

2009 was the year we turned that credit bust into a banking crisis.

2010 was the year we turned that banking crisis into a sovereign default crisis for peripheral Eurozone economies.

2011 was the year we drew most of Europe into the sovereign default crisis.

Watching the European Central Bank lending billions of Euros it does not have to try to fix the debt crisis, part of me wonders if 2012 be the year we manage to turn a sovereign default crisis into the collapse of a fiat currency?

The only prediction I'll be making for 2012 is that Austrian - or honest money - economics will be more mainstream in twelve months time than it is today.


26 DEC 2011

My book of 2011

A number of friends are spending Boxing Day reading William Blacker's superb Along the Enchanted Way, which I included in several Christmas stockings.

 

It is a charming book about Blacker's life in rural Romania. He pitches up in a small village soon after the collapse of communism. He joins in as the villagers gather in the harvest, and several years later he is still there. After one or two less than successful courtships, he ends up married to a Gypsy.

Parts of the story are extremely funny. I especially like the account of how he tries to cash a cheque at a provincial bank. The manager refuses to believe that the person dressed as a Romanian farmer could possibly be an Englishman, so won't serve him.

Parts of the story are touching. Blacker tells us of a world disappearing with the advance of modernity.

According to a recent piece in the Telegraph by Charles Moore, Blacker spoke at Patrick Leigh Fermor's recent memorial service. Like Leigh Fermor, Blacker writes brilliantly and his books are far more than just travel writing.

I strongly recommend you add this book to your 2012 reading list.


23 DEC 2011

Government slashes red tape - again

The government has announced that every business will have to comply with new regulations when charging customers who pay by credit or debit card.

Meanwhile, how do you suppose the Coalition's deregulation agenda is coming along?

However irksome it might be to get charged when purchasing things, the trade that occurs as a consequence is usually to the advantage of both buyer and seller. And presumably if folk are not allowed to charge people for certain kinds of transactions, they'll be less inclined to offer those kinds of transaction. Who does that benefit?

I strongly suspect that today's regulations actually emanate from Brussels and an EU rule heading our way. And because ministers have no choice in the matter, they prefer instead to present it to us as their initiative to give customers protection.

Remember that next time ministers tell us about cutting red tape.

Incidentally, if government only wants businesses to charge punters the "at cost" price of credit and debit transactions, perhaps the rest of us should insist we only pay the "at cost" price of public services, without all those overhead charges officialdom adds to the tax bill ....


21 DEC 2011

Ronald Reagan would know what to do. Does Ron Paul?

I saw Ron Paul on the Jay Leno show the other day.  Wow.  If I was an American I think I'd vote for him to be President.  The audience clearly loved him, giving him spontaneous standing ovations.

Something about the way Ron Paul makes the moral case for smaller government reminds me of Ronald Reagan.

Here is a 1964 clip of Reagan endorsing Barry Goldwater's run for the White House.  If you have a spare 20 minutes, I strongly recommend you watch it.

Ronald Reagan knew what to do to put things right.

I suspect that the 2012 US Presidential contest is a choice not between Democrat and Republican.  It is a choice between Ron Paul or a dozen different shades of more of the same ....  


20 DEC 2011

Changing our relationship with Europe must begin with change at home

One of the reasons Britain gets such a duff deal from Europe is that we've such appalling deal makers. 

Britain’s top diplomats don’t seem to see their role as pressing Britain's case.  At best, they appear to regard their job as splitting the difference between what British ministers want and what the Eurosystem will allow. 

At worst, these top mandarins seem to be supporters of ever more EU integration.

You think I overstate my case?

Well read what Sir Humphrey says when he is retired and able to speak freely.

Today, two of the UK's most senior former EU negotiators demand we support the Euro. In a letter to the Telegraph, they insist that it is in the national interest that we "remain at the top table".

It does not seem to occur to them that diplomats seating arrangements might not be the most important consideration for the rest of the country. Faced with a choice between being part of Europe’s mutual suicide pact or staying outside the room, being outside might actually be the smart place to be.     

Today’s letter in the Telegraph helps us understand how we ended up committing billions of pounds supporting a currency we chose not to join.  And why we're part of a fisheries policy that doles out our dwindling fish stocks.  And why we are subject to financial regulations that stuff the City and red tape that strangles small businesses.

There is only one remedy.  Those who speak for Britain in the corridors of Europe must be made to answer to the country for what they say, rather than to other Whitehall grandees. That means public, televised Parliamentary confirmation hearings for our senior diplomats before they get the job.

Let us start with Sir Jon Cunliffe, the new head of UKREP.  I am sure that he is a very nice chap.  But the current administration’s decision to install Gordon Brown’s chief EU advisor as “their man in Brussels” does not mean that he speaks for either Parliament or for the people. 

Some try to assure me that Cunliffe helped keep us out of fiscal union. “Tough as teak ... one of us .... blah blah”.  Others see him is the hopeless architect of the deal done two years ago which dragged Britain into the bailout fund and a system of pan-EU economic governance.

So let him come before the people's tribunes so that we might find out. 


19 DEC 2011

Lobbyists for more Europe

2011 was the tipping point.  It was the year when it became obvious to anyone with eyes to see that Europe cannot be arranged successfully by grand design. 

The consequences of trying to organise the lives of millions of European's according to the heady schemes of the Brussels elite has proved disastrous. 

Europe's share of world trade and wealth is plummeting.  The currency union has become a debt union.  Far from imposing discipline on member states, it has transferred fiscal folly across the EU, penalising prudent states and rewarding the feckless. 

Earlier in the year, a Westminster commentator hectored me for daring to suggest we need to have an EU referendum.  Last time I read one of this pieces, he seemed to have switched and was calling for much the same.

It seems to be left to certain lobbyists to defend the EU project.  

Those lobbyist who grow rich by graft and deal making are defending those Eurocrats who impoverish the rest of us with their deals.  I wonder why?      

What is it about big business regulation Brussels that attracts the support of corporate lobbyists in the first place? 


17 DEC 2011

When is a veto not a veto?

We say an emphatic "no" to a new European Fiscal Union treaty. If the others want to go ahead with one, we wish them well - but they'll have to do it separately from the European Union.

But then we agree to remain part of the on-going negotiations. "Our Foreign Office people think we ought to remain in the room, Minister".

Then it slips out that the other 26 can broker their new deal within the structures and arrangements of the EU. Far from being separate from the EU, the new Fiscal Union takes shape within it.

The institutions of the EU - including the federalist courts - will become those of the FU.

If that turns out to be the case - and right now it is a big if, with contradictory statements from ministers - in what sense have we vetoed anything?


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