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Douglas Carswell's Blog

31 DEC 2012

Glory be to dappled things ...

Stour wood on a winters day. 

It is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins might have put it, full of dappled things


30 DEC 2012

Cheer up! The world is getting better

We Conservatives are sometimes full of doom and gloom. We talk as if the world is going to the dogs. It isn't.

Sure, the national debt is set to double over the course of this Parliament. And on many of the key issues of the age – climate change, energy policy, Europe – the politico-mandarinate class are simply wrong. But despite all that, things were still much better in 2012 than they were in 1971, the year I was born.

Here are half a dozen random things that I think show the world is getting better:

1.  Internet broadband allows us to watch and listen to whatever TV and music we want, when we want. I love being able to look anything up on Google in an instant. Back in the old days, it was Encyclopaedia Britannica, four TV channels and Radio 1 – or nothing ....

2.  Less deference – there is much less deference to politicians, media pundits, officials and other "experts". After all the dreadful public policy choices that "experts" have made on our behalf, I think this is a thoroughly good thing.

3.  Mobile cameras – Years ago, I'd be lucky to have a 24 picture film in my camera. As a consequence, my camera was locked away and only taken out on special occasions. Today, I have a phone camera with me all the time, and take zillions of photos of friends, family, the three year old and the puppy.

4.  24 hour supermarkets – being able to go to Tesco any time of day or night is one of the miracles of the modern age.  If only the things government ran were as customer focused .... 

5.  Good news from Africa – I grew up in one of the poorest countries in Africa. All the key socio-economic indicators were moving the wrong way. Of course, Africa still has enormous problems.  But the news is no longer consistently bad. In fact, in terms of infant mortality, education and security, things are vastly improved. Each year, millions of Africans join that vast global network of specialisation and exchange.

6.  Britain is less boozy – This has happened so recently, few seem to have noticed - particularly politicians, who are still thinking in terms of minimum pricing and other ways to nanny us. Yet the facts show clearly that alcohol consumption in Britain amongst young people has fallen dramatically over the past decade.  Why? Who knows. My own theory is that young people stopped drinking quite as much around about the time that internet broadband gave young people an alternative to going down the pub (see 1. above).

7.  Cheap travel – The price of air travel has come down. Despite the best efforts of politicians and officialdom to not build new airport capacity and to tax tickets, it remains possible to fly around the planet for a fraction of what it cost a couple of decades ago. Glorious.

8.  Cleaner environment – despite some of the loopy claims of the eco fundamentalists, the environment is actually cleaner than it was. Fewer nitrates in the water table. More otters and cormorants. Hopefully GM technology will allow us to produce more for less, to the point where we might even be able to set aside a lot of land for conservation, rather than farming.

What is it about the world in 2012 that you think is getting better?  Blogs?  Blog comments?  Over to you ....


29 DEC 2012

Three cheers for Sir Richard!

He should, of course, have become Speaker of the House of Commons. That, at least, is what I thought when I voted for Richard Shepherd to be Speaker following the resignation of Michael Martin.

Sir Richard is everything that an MP should aspire to be. He has diligently served his Aldridge-Brownhills constituents since 1979. At a time when Parliament became supine and spineless, he has again and again shown principle and backbone.

That he lost the whip over Europe, because he could see where a single currency was going to end, is a compliment to him.

While many MPs spend their time in Westminster ingratiating themselves with ministers and the front bench, Sir Richard has done as an MP should; holding the executive to account. Perhaps more than anyone I have met in SW1, he understands what Parliament is for.

Knighthoods so often go to Westminster toadies and yes-men. Not in this case, I am delighted to see.


28 DEC 2012

On Frinton beach

A wintery, watery sunset on Frinton beach this afternoon, with a cold wind blasting in across the North Sea. 

Glorious.


27 DEC 2012

Bank reform? What bank reform ....

Remember how the banks went belly up - and we all had to rescue them? Remember how politicians promised real reform, as they handed over billion of pounds in bailouts?

Several years on and frankly not a lot has changed. Many banks remain zombies, dependent on vast state handouts. And as for reform, there's been a lot of talk ... and not much else.

The Vickers report recommended some kind of separation between retail banking (where ordinary folk put their money) and investment banking (the supposedly more high-risk kind of banking).

The idea behind a Vickers-style division is good - your money, put for safe-keeping in a bank, shouldn't be at risk from all that other stuff that bankers do.

Yet how complete a separation should this retail / investment split be?  Almost total, think most MPs, according to today's FT. A sort of separation, say the Treasury team.

I'm unconvinced either way. Why?

A retail / investment banking split is basically about trying to safe-guard small retail customers from the worst excesses of fractional reserve banking - that process that allows banks to lend endless multiples of credit against actual deposits.

Any effort to rein in the excesses of fractional reserve banking will fail unless it deals with the legal ambiguity that lies at the heart of our banking system; is the money you pay into your bank a loan or a deposit?

Instead of a distinction between retail and investment banking, we should look to draw a clear line between money that you place in a bank, expecting the bank to look after, and money that you give to a bank against which they might conjure up credit.

It is the fact that banks can conjure up credit multiple times, against the money that retail customers pay into the banks, that means that retail customers need protecting in the first place.

Two years ago, I presented a Bill designed to ensure not a vertical separation between retail and investment banks, but a horizontal separation between deposit accounts and loan accounts.  Two years on, I reckon it makes a lot more sense than anything proposed by Vickers or the Treasury.

Bank customers paying money  need to make it clear if the bank was able to conjure up credit against their money or not. Not only would this give punters security, but it would rein in the worst excesses of fractional reserve banking.

Banks that were badly run would find more and more customers declaring their accounts to be deposits, rather than loans, thereby forcing up the banks reserve ratio and preventing the bank from generating vast mountains of candy floss credit.

It is not a retail / investment banking split that we need, but a clear distinction between money paid to banks as a deposit, and money paid in as a loan.


26 DEC 2012

The price of being in the EU

How much does it cost us to be part of the EU?

There are, of course, all manner of hidden costs - red tape, high external tariffs, bad governance.  But one of the direct costs is the UK's contribution to the EU budget.

The EU elite would like to increase our net budget contributions to over £9 billion each year (the red block). 

That is much more than the entire police pay budget (£8.2 billion), or the amount we pay our armed forces (£7.5 billion).  It is not far off twice the amount we spend on special needs education (£5.8 billion).

Of course, we have had to largely freeze - or even cut - the amount we spend on police pay, the armed forces and education.  Yet the greedy Eurosystem keeps on demanding even more of our money. 

Why don't we just quit the EU? 


24 DEC 2012

Government will have to get smaller and more efficient

That, at least, is the conclusion of a paper by the Boston Consulting Group, Ending the Era of Ponzi Finance.

Highlighted by Kamal Ahmed in the Telegraph, the paper makes for some sober reading.  It is not just that the West is up to its neck in public and private debt. The West's entire Big Government model is bust.

We can't go on like this, you might say.

The trouble is that few politicians seem to know what to do about it – UK levels of public debt continue to soar. Few appreciate the link between unsustainable debt and our disastrous monetary policy.  Nor do they seem to have much of a clue as to what a slimmed down state might look like.

Many SW1 types still see the argument for a smaller state in terms of sentiment - something that we may or may not want.  Our politico-media class has yet to understand that that less officialdom will become a mathematical necessity. No one in Greece voted to reduce the size of the Greek state – yet it is happening anyway.

Here in the UK, government spent something like £30,000 commissioning public services for each family this year.  What if next year there was only £27,000 or £19,000 to spend?

In my book, the End of Politics, I argued that public administration could be made vastly more efficient if we allow a system of self commissioning for certain services.  The digital revolution could allow us to get more-for-less.

At some point, may be in 2014, perhaps not until 2018 or 2019, the bond bubble will burst.   The borrowing will have to stop. The money that government was expecting to be able to spend the following month won't be there.

They may not be big on small government in SW1. But how we manage with less government will be one of the big questions in the months and years ahead.

 


23 DEC 2012

Anti-politics in Italy

Last week, Italy's Corriere della Serra ran a feature on my new book, The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy. I've been taken aback with the response.

Amongst those getting in touch was something called Movimento 5 Stelle - or the Five Star Movement.

What is Five Star? I'm not sure, to be honest. 

Spear headed by popular blogger Beppe Grillo, Five Star seems to be part online popular protest movement and part experiment in direct democracy. Perhaps it is what would happen if Guido Fawkes were to start running candidates?

Like Germany's Pirate Party, Five Star might turn out to be another flash-in-the-pan manifestation of popular disenchantment with old school deferential democracy. Having selected via online primaries a hundred or so parliamentary candidates for Italy's pending elections, Five Star may get nowhere. It will be intriguing to see how their candidates perform.

Yet here is a thought; why do we have political parties?

First and foremost, to aggregate votes and opinion.

But what if the internet allows us to aggregate votes and opinions without the need for conventional political parties? 


22 DEC 2012

Winter solstice

Only six months to go until mid summer! 

I can understand what made our ancestors in our pagan past want to party at this time of year.  Once the solstice has passed, we are through the worst.  

Sure, there may be snow and ice to come.  But at least the days are now starting to get longer.  Only a couple more months before the first hints of spring. 


19 DEC 2012

Today's Energy Bill is a disaster in the making

Today the House of Commons will be debating the Energy Bill.   It is a disaster in the making – both economically and electorally.

Having signed up to renewable targets during the boom years, the governing classes realise that we will never meet those targets without massive subsidy. So rather than repeal those renewable targets, today's Bill puts in place a system of expensive subsidies. 

No longer will energy companies compete to produce energy at a cost that customers are willing to pay.  Instead, customers will have to stump up more money to allow big corporations to produce what the man in Whitehall thinks is renewable.  Credit bubbles, shale gas, Euro disaster - is there nothing the Whitehall elite don't accurately foresee?  

Forget the economic madness of further increasing energy costs at a time of declining Western competitiveness.  Set aside the system of crony corporatism that the Bill puts in place. In purely electoral term this Bill is daft.  

Far from helping strivers, today's Bill hits them with a massive hike in living costs.   

Adding a few hundred pounds a year to one's bill might not seem much to the SW1 elite.  But it is a lot of money to many of the folk I represent, who are struggling with fixed incomes and rising prices.

This might look like a smart move amongst the smart set in London. They won't see it that way in marginal seats in a couple of year's time.


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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