Douglas Carswell's Blog

27 NOV 2015

On Short money, the Government is following UKIP's lead

This week, George Osborne proposed a 19% cut to Short money - public funding for Opposition parties. Taxpayers will now pay less to subsidise politics. This is a direct result of what UKIP has done in Parliament.

As the only MP for a party that got almost 4 million votes, I was entitled to a vast amount of public money. We felt that taking the full whack simply wasn't right. Instead, we decided to reduce the amount we received unilaterally.

We proved it is possible to do more with less. We showed the Government that other Opposition parties can do the same.

Of course, the other parties don't agree. Not the Lib Dems. Not the Greens. And certainly not Labour. New politics? We're the only party doing anything different.

The Commons will probably have to vote on the cut. If so, I'll be voting for it. It looks like most other Opposition MPs will vote against. Once again the Westminster cartel will try to take as much money from the taxpayer's pocket as it can get.

Opposition parties are furious with George Osborne for this. They accuse him of being underhand. But it isn't the Chancellor who needs to explain himself. It's them. Opposition MPs need to explain why they expect working people across Britain to fork out more hard-earned cash for spinners and spads in Parliament.

Is politics really as expensive as these politicians make out? Do spin doctors really need six-figure salaries at the taxpayer's expense? The comrades Chairman Corbyn has been hiring don't even believe in private property.

Cutting the politics subsidy is a little Christmas bonus for the taxpayer. You'd have to be a turkey not to vote for it.

26 NOV 2015

Immigration control? This government isn't even pretending to try

Today, David Cameron wants to talk about Syria. He would like the media to focus on whether or not he has the numbers in the House of Commons to authorise military action.

I happen to think there is a case for military action, but I respect that there is an honourable argument the other way. I'm open-minded.

But what I think we all have a right to resent is that we are being asked to focus on what the government should or should not do in the eastern Mediterranean, rather than asking why the government has failed to secure our borders here at home.

On the very same day that Mr Cameron has got us talking Syria, shocking new immigration statistics show that this government has comprehensively failed to control our borders.

Over the last year, 636,000 people immigrated to Britain - mostly to settle. Net migration hit 336,000 - the highest on record. While non–EU immigration rose only slightly, immigration from within the EU jumped by 42,000, or 19%.

David Cameron was elected to office on a promise to reduce net migration to under 100,000 per year. But in the last year, the increase in net migration alone was 82,000. The truth is he made his pledge just to return to Number 10. He had no intention of keeping it. Now he wants to change the subject and talk about something else.

Secure in Downing Street, with the looney Labour party on a long march to Maoist irrelevance, Cameron has give up even pretending to try to control immigration.

Statecraft should entail securing our own borders before we talk about going to war. Before we talk about sending tens of thousands of Western troops into Syria, why don't we debate how to control the hundreds of thousands of people who are freely entering Britain?

26 NOV 2015

Blair is back

The Labour party has now lurched so far to the left that George Osborne has decided to take on the mantle of Tony Blair. There is no other way to understand yesterday's Autumn statement.

Labour's shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has – bizarrely - started quoting Chairman Mao. Really. This has created the space for George – the master of political tactics - to shift left.

And like Blairite budgets before, this one sounded pretty good – but the numbers don't add up.

Osborne announced he was scrapping cuts and going to reduce the deficit. Like Blair, he seems to be over-committing unearned tax revenue before it's even come in.

The real significance of this financial statement is that yes, there will be some fiscal leeway to play around with due to economic growth. But George has, like every other left of centre administration since the Second World War, decided to use the leeway he has to expand the state, not cut taxes.

Billions that could be spent on tax cuts will go on the Chancellor's favourite hard hat projects. The consequences of this choice will be profound.

It means that those who want lower taxes and less government no longer have an ally in a corporatist, Heathite Tory party. George's Conservative party is patrician and interventionist. He even said we needed an industrial strategy.

Here's a final depressing thought: with George at the helm, this year our government will spend more on overseas aid than on the entire Home Office budget, including the police.

Perhaps all this creates the space for a low tax, small government, patriotic non-Maoist alternative?

25 NOV 2015

Cut spending, empower Parliament

Today, George Osborne will deliver the Autumn Statement. He might use clever clogs words to hide it from us, but things aren't going well. Government spending keeps going up. The national debt is still increasing. The deficit is getting wider. In fact, the only thing that's falling is the Chancellor's popularity rating.

David Cameron correctly styled himself the heir to Blair. George Osborne has been less keen to admit he is the heir to Brown. But his record speaks for itself.

Like Brown, Osborne has presided over an unprecedented rise in public debt – which has doubled since he took office. Like Brown, he is borrowing during an economic boom. Like Brown, his spending plans are based on constant economic growth – the illusion that he has abolished boom and bust.

Osborne is deliberately disingenuous about controlling spending. But to be fair to him, no modern Government has managed to make cuts – not even Margaret Thatcher's.


Because the executive has a vested interest in increasing spending. Every Government department always wants more money. So ministers sitting at the Cabinet table invariably lobby for more funding for their departments.

But it hasn't always been this way. The budget wasn't always written entirely behind closed doors in the Treasury. Parliament used to be able to amend the text. In fact, the enormous twentieth-century expansion of the State can be traced to the point in the 1930s when MPs lost the power to amend budgets. Since then they can only boo or cheer. Often MPs won't even understand the tax and spending as they do so.

Look at countries that keep spending in check: Switzerland, Australia, South Korea. They have powerful legislatures that do their job of controlling public spending. The United States may have serious debt problems, but they would be even worse were it not for the power of Congress. Twice in recent years, the legislature has pushed through budget cuts against the will of the President.

Imagine what we could do here if Parliament had the same power. What if each government department had to have its spending plan scrutinised and approved by a select committee of MPs? What if select committees had the power to veto departmental budgets?

The Autumn Statement is a ritualistic sham. The Chancellor's statement to Parliament gives the illusion of accountability. In fact, Parliament is powerless to do anything but rubber stamp his plans. Unsustainable spending is possible because there are no real checks on the Treasury's dominion over taxpayers' money. The solution is to empower Parliament.

24 NOV 2015

LEAKED: Labour Party social media code of conduct

The Labour party is about to get its members to sign up for a code of conduct for social media, apparently. Here is a draft copy of the leaked memo outlining the soon-to-be-compulsory dos and don'ts:

1. Do remember that in the new politics the party whips are much more relaxed – so always tweet on message

2. Don't be disrespectful to others - unless you're referring to Simon Danczuk or Tristram or Blair. Or anyone not in Momentum.

3. Don't use hate speech – unless you're talking about #Toryscum. Remember someone need not be a Tory to be #ToryScum

4. Do broadcast your support for foreign terrorist groups – especially if you're a party spin doctor

5. Do express your opposition to evil multinationals using an Apple, Samsung, or Sony device, and where possible free Wifi provided by Starbucks

6. Do use Facebook to complain about how Facebook doesn't pay enough tax

7. Should you lose a debate or election among real voters, do retreat into your Twitter timeline to have your prejudices reinforced.

8. Jeremy Corbyn is the New Politics - so do not disagree

9. Don't forget that in the new politics likes are more important than votes

10. Use a hashtag to signal your virtue and differentiate you from #ToryScum

23 NOV 2015

We need new defence thinking to fight the new wars

Today, the Government launches the Strategic Defence and Security Review. This is an opportunity to rethink our strategic assumptions, and it is all the more essential that we do so in light of the recent Paris attacks.

Put simply, jihadist terror blurs the boundary between external defence and internal security. Our secret intelligence agencies are as much on the front line as our troops serving in northern Iraq or Cyprus. Defence spending must reflect this.

We need to strengthen our partnerships with democratic allies around the world, not merely those members of NATO with whom we joined forces to counter the old Soviet threat.

With unprecedented pressure on our public finances, and some extraordinary new and demanding security challenges, now is the time to rethink how we convert money into military muscle. The brutal truth is that we have not always been very good at getting bang for our buck.

That tended not to matter during the post-Cold War interlude when we could all sleep safely at night under the protection of the American hyper power. Long may the Pax Americana continue - but even Uncle Sam was not able to avert the Paris atrocity.

We face what academic Mary Kaldor has termed "new wars" – asymmetric threats waged between a combination of states and non-state networks. This is not a reason to carry on with clumsy Cold War era defence procurement, but all the more reason to ensure that we are nimble in developing and researching new weapons.

For too long, UK defence procurement has been plagued with problems. Major projects routinely come in late and over budget. Some, like the Nimrod MRA4 spy plane, never get off the ground at all. Complications in these projects and others have left us without key military capabilities.

UK defence procurement elevates the vested interests of defence contractors above the national interest. Elements of the defence budget have been spent as if they were part of a job creation scheme. This needs to stop.

Even in World War II, we relied on our allies for key munitions and equipment. Britain's defence industry today would not function without collaboration with foreign manufacturers.

Successive governments have consolidated the UK defence industry. In doing so, they sought the advantages of scale. What they also did was constrain supply.

In any market where supply is constrained, the seller sets the terms of trade. So, too, in defence. This is just one of the reasons why "defence inflation" is so high. Its also explains why despite having the fifth largest defence budget in the world, our armed forces are often ill equipped.

Ministers need to move towards more "off the shelf" procurement. Yes, there are certain weapons systems that we need to manufacture entirely ourselves. But there are many bits of kit that frankly we should buy off allied countries.

Various governments have tried collaborative production of different weapons systems – with mixed results. We ought to do more to try joint purchasing to shift the terms of trade away from contractors and drive down costs.

Thanks to the UK's absurdly complex procurement system, the UK defence budget currently has to pay for more than 10,000 officials to manage different contracts. Think of it as PFI gone mad.

Yet in the last Parliament, the regular army was cut by 20,000. Ministers last week announced an additional 1,900 intelligence officers. How many more we might we yet have if we did not have such a cumbersome procurement system?

The West faces serious threats. We do not have the luxury of misspending. Now is the time to change.

This article was first published by The Telegraph.

23 NOV 2015

It is not enough to be right. You need to be seen to have the right motives

How on earth does Jeremy Corbyn keep getting away with it? He and his coterie of supporter now running the Labour party could not be more wrong-headed.

They deny that government has overspent, advocating that we spend even more. They dither over whether the police should be allowed to use lethal force against armed terrorists. Perhaps forgetting that the attack on the Twin Towers happened before the Iraq war, they appear to blame Western policy makers for attacks on the West. One has even seemed to suggest that Mi5 and the security services be disbanded.

Wrong, wrong and yet more wrong.  Yet they are still on 27 percent in the polls.  Remarkably, around one in four are still apparently prepared to vote for them.

How do they get away with it?

Motive. Or rather the perception that some people have as to the motives of Comrade Corbyn and co.

"Yes", many of the 27 percent will say. "Jeremy might be wrong about this or that. But he means well."

Don't misunderstand me. I do not believe that Jeremy's motives are any more elevated than those of any other party leader. My point is that as long as some people trust his motives, they will support him – no matter how wrong he may be.

The converse is also true.  No matter how right you might be in politics, people will not support you if they do not trust your motives.

Immigration, Europe, the economy, energy; you can win the argument on all the big macro issues of the day. But you still will not get the votes if folk do not trust why you are saying what you are saying.

21 NOV 2015

Osbrown's debt disaster

George Osborne has been telling us for five years that he is closing the deficit. Today's borrowing figures are so bad, it is almost as if Gordon Brown was still in charge.  

While telling us he has been dealing with the national debt, on George's watch the national debt has doubled. This is a serious problem – and not just because we are saddling future generations with an enormous bill. The bigger the debt gets, the harder the deficit is to close.

Look at the Government's spending figures for the last few years. Departmental budgets have been cut. But there is one item that keeps getting bigger: debt interest. Currently we are paying £1 billion every week to the Government's bondholders. We have been spending more on debt interest every year than on education and police combined.

This situation will only get worse. The more we borrow, the higher the interest bill will be. The more our taxes will fund creditors instead of public services. The less impact departmental spending cuts will have. The worse our public services will be.

The Left will tell you that we shouldn't worry about borrowing. That spending cuts are unfair and cause inequality. In fact, they are the ones promoting inequality. Promoting borrowing means that the British people will increasingly work for the benefit of a rentier class. They are advocating a two-tier society.

The only way to secure public services and reduce inequality is to balance the public books before it's too late. After five years, the Chancellor needs to follow through on his promises.

20 NOV 2015

The new politics is digital

Politics is changing. Across the democratic world, establishment elites are losing the trust of the people. Insurgents – from Donald Trump to Alexis Tsipras – are on the rise. But real change won't come from messiahs, but from modernity.

Innovators in California have launched a new website that gives a taste of the future. Called Crowdpac, the site uses data from voting records, speeches, and political donations to give a comprehensive picture of the stances of American politicians on a range of key issues. Voters can use Crowdpac to match their views to the candidate they most agree with. It's the political equivalent of online dating.

Crowdpac is not the first website to match voters with politicians, but it offers new depth. In particular, it highlights the influence of lobbying. By digging down into the political interests of rich donors, it gives a much greater guide than other sites as to the likely policy positions of the candidates they support. Its aim is ambitious: to "help end the stranglehold of big money donors and special interests on the political system."

Cronyism rightly angers electorates more than anything else. It's why many don't trust politicians. Voters know that partisan journalists won't give them the facts either – which is why many don't trust the media. Instead, voters are turning to outsiders whom they believe - or hope - can't be bought. In many cases, they will be disappointed.

Crowdpac offers a better way. By providing data directly to voters, it gives the public an insight into whom their elected representatives are really serving without the intermediation of any media spin. It will make politicians much more transparent - and much more accountable as a result. Crowdpac will help to restore trust in politics in the only way possible: by giving politicians an incentive to be trustworthy.

I believe Crowdpac is only the start. Three years ago, in my book The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, I predicted that the digital revolution would transform politics for the better, and restore power to the people. It's already happening. And it goes to show: progress – not pessimism – will defeat the political cartel.

19 NOV 2015

Our current account deficit is as worrying as our budget deficit

Britain is a chronic borrower. Not just the Government, but the whole country. We are buying more than we sell, and making up the difference with debt. This is unsustainable.

Our current account deficit – the amount that the value of our imports exceeds the value of our exports – is the largest of any developed country as a share of GDP. In the last quarter, it was equivalent to 3.6% of national income, or £16.8 billion. Think about that for a second: we spent £16.8 billion more than we earned just this past summer.

The amazing thing is that 3.6% is an improvement. Last year, Britain's current account deficit was 5.5%, or £97.9 billion – an all-time record. But if you think we're moving in the right direction, don't get your hopes up: this quarter, it is set to widen again.

Buying more than we earn is made possible by enormous borrowing. It means that people across Britain are drowning in debt.

It is also funded by the sale of British buildings and businesses to foreign buyers. Wondering why foreign investors are allowed to buy London properties and drive up house prices? That's part of what's paying for our imports.

High borrowing is the result of low productivity. Exorbitant energy costs, caused by green taxes, are making our exports uncompetitive. Lax monetary policy is pumping money into assets instead of innovation.

We are also held back by being tied to the world's only declining trading bloc: the EU. During the recent visits of the Indian and Chinese leaders, the Government touted our trade with the far east. But non-EU Switzerland, with a population eight times smaller than ours, exports almost twice as much as us to China, and over four times as much to India. Switzerland also has a bilateral free trade deal with China, and is in the process of negotiating one with India – something that we, as EU members, can't do.

The EU is holding us back from doing what we're best at. Britain specialises in services; yet EU diktats make exporting services to the rest of the world much more difficult than it needs to be.

Politicians often talk about "rebalancing the economy." But balance won't boost our exports. What we really need is to do is focus on our strengths, and exploit our comparative advantage. To do that Britain – not Brussels – needs to be in control.

18 NOV 2015

The Closing of the American Mind?

What is the role of a university? Is it a place of free inquiry, which expands the bounds of knowledge, and rigorously scrutinises the orthodoxies of the day? Not anymore. Instead of promoting freedom of thought and speech, universities increasingly restrict it.

In The Closing of the American Mind, the American philosopher Allan Bloom warned about what was happening on campus. Relativism, he wrote, had replaced critical inquiry. Universities increasingly indoctrinated students with contempt for the past, and for the West. As a result, students learnt only to subscribe to a set of lazy cultural doctrines.

Bloom published his book in 1987. The situation has only got worse since. Students today actively work to restrict free speech. Any dissent from left-wing political norms is condemned on the basis that it is a form of oppression. Those who disagree face trial by the mob.

The campus inquisition has recently reached extraordinary proportions. At Yale, academics who questioned an e-mail calling for "cultural sensitivity" in Halloween costumes faced a gang of students demanding their resignations.

Here in Britain, it is no different. At Oxford last month, students claiming to be oppressed by a statue of Cecil Rhodes protested to insist the university remove it. "No platform" policies are used ban certain people – like members of a party that recently won 3.8 million votes - from speaking.

Students used to protest against the Establishment. Now they have become part of it. They collude with culturally Marxist academics to enforce orthodoxies, not challenge them. In the battle for truth and progress between Galileo and the Church, today's students are predominantly with the Church.

Freedom of thought and speech is indispensable to our society. It's what creates the innovation that propels economic progress. It's what differentiates the democratic West from the countries that millions are now fleeing. It is irresponsible for us in Britain to allow radical censorship to flourish at our public universities.

But the biggest losers from the campus inquisition, I suspect, are a large silent minority of students. Young, inquisitive people – like many I spoke to at Warwick University a few weeks ago – who don't agree with the left-wing consensus, but are too intimidated to say so. If we're going to worry about oppression on campus, they are the people we should be thinking about.

17 NOV 2015

When GP shortages are normal, healthcare needs a rethink

There is a chronic problem with GP access in my constituency. Many of my constituents cannot get an appointment to see a GP. This problem is not unique to Clacton; it is systemic. It requires a policy rethink.

We are used to living in a world of choice. In most walks of life, service providers compete for our custom. Yet when it comes to our health, we increasingly have no choice at all. In fact, for the residents of Tendring, it is patients who have to compete to see a GP.

This problem is not confined to Tendring, because it springs from national policy. Part of the reason Tendring has a GP shortage is that GP contracts are centralised, and are paid based on the size of their patient list, not necessarily the size of their workload. GPs are often disincentivised from working in areas where demand for healthcare is higher.

The practical result for many is that they bypass the GP altogether, and go straight to A&E. This in turn puts enormous pressure on hospitals. By any metric, this is a failure.

Believe it or not, in Germany and France, people don't have to go to a GP as their first point of call. Instead they often get their primary care straight from specialists. We are chaotically sleepwalking into something similar in the UK. Perhaps we need to take lessons from Europe and think about how we could make a non-GP-based healthcare system work.

The Government is supposed to be reforming healthcare to increase patient choice. As my constituents can testify, it clearly isn't working. Britain's population is aging; our healthcare system must be flexible if it is going to cope. We need to start thinking outside the box.

16 NOV 2015

The jihadist threat blurs defence and security. Will the SDSR reflect that?

Next week, the Government will publish its Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Paris attacks are a reminder that external defence and internal security can no longer be considered separate.

We think of national defence in terms of standing armies, air bases, and battleships. It is a structure that hasn't changed for as long as anyone can remember.

But as last week's attacks testify, the threat we face has changed. Since September 11th, the main danger to citizens of Western countries has been groups of terrorists with links to a global jihadist network. A handful of jihadis travelling through Europe can now threaten Western capitals more immediately than any hostile standing army.

At the same time, jihadist groups have carved out territory in failed states. Recruits are drawn from countries all over the world using social media. Most major conflict is no longer between states, but pits a state against jihadist groups, or jihadist groups against each other. Unconventional warfare has become conventional.

The change in the threat needs to change our assumptions about strategy. We probably can no longer look at our armed forces and our security services as separate. When IS and other jihadists work as united actors across borders, our defence services cannot make a distinction either.

We also have to be able to adapt quickly. Less time passed between the last British cavalry charge at Omdurman, Sudan and the first British tank charge in World War I than has now elapsed between the collapse of the Soviet bloc and today. Yet in our generation we have not been nimble enough in refocusing and adapting - not just our equipment, but our tactics and strategy.

Power projection remains necessary. We still need fast jets to target threats abroad. But fast jets wouldn't be much use against gunmen on the streets of London. It would be a mistake to privilege one weapon in our armoury over others. We can't be stuck with cavalry when our enemies are advancing in tanks. We mustn't end up trying to fight today's threats with yesterday's technology.

New threats require a new approach. Adaptive change is our ally in preserving our security; we cannot be afraid of it. I hope that will be reflected in the SDSR. 

15 NOV 2015

Islamism cannot be appeased

The Paris attacks are not a new phenomenon. Islamists have committed many similar murders in Europe, America, East Africa and most of all in the Middle East. Too often we have talked ourselves into believing the problem is our foreign policy, or our cartoons. It is time to realise these attacks are not a reaction. They are the implementation of a violent, imperialist ideology.

Islamism in Europe is on the rise. But in the Middle East and parts of Africa, it is already dominant. It fills ungoverned space, from Libya, to Somalia, to Yemen, to Gaza, to Iraq/Syria. It is state-sponsored in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Qatar. It is the motivating force behind both Sunni and Shia when they meet on the battlefield.

A day before the attacks in Paris, over 40 people were murdered in Islamist attacks in Beirut. The Lebanese capital – a place I have visited several times - used to be known as the Paris of the East. Yet the battle between the Shia Islamists of Hezbollah and the Sunni Islamists of ISIS and Al Nusra is steadily consuming Lebanon in Syria's civil war.

Islamists are reducing the Middle East to ruin. They are not the victims of aggression. They are the perpetrators. Their goal is total supremacy. They cannot be appeased.

What can the West do to counter Islamism?

Military action is one response. Thinking that if we leave Islamists alone, they will leave us alone is self-deception. Islamist ambitions are global. They must be met with force. We must not be deluded by wishful thinking to believe otherwise.

But force alone is not enough. We cannot ignore the fact that Islamist terrorism in the West is often home-grown, or that one of the Paris attackers may have successfully posed as a refugee. The Government is attempting to counter Islamist radicalisation in schools and communities. Liberal rationalism needs to get a lot more muscular and unapologetic. The Islamist threat also needs to be a factor in our immigration policy.

For too long Western foreign policy experts have buddied up to regimes in the Middle East that export, if not overt terrorism, a virulent, extremist terror-inducing ideology. We cannot remain allies of these governments unless they stop funding and exporting extremist creeds.

We need to stay to true to our ideals of liberal democracy. Our way of life is extraordinary and precious. We must not take it for granted. And yes, the West will need to fight to protect it.

13 NOV 2015

When Sweden reimposes border controls, the European project isn't working

Yesterday Sweden – the poster nation for open-door immigration – reintroduced border controls, in defiance of the Schengen Agreement. Swedish ministers say the volume of migrants entering the country has left them no choice. Austria, Germany, and France have already done the same. When even Europe's overtly integrationist states are placing national interest above federalism, the European project is in serious trouble.

Sweden claims the border checks are "temporary." But when they effectively abandoned the Scandinavian currency union, they said the same thing. That was a hundred years ago.

In fact, Euro elites think Schengen may be unsustainable. "Saving Schengen is a race against time," warns European Council president, Donald Tusk. "If we do not find a European solution for the migration crisis... then Schengen's dead," panics Luxembourg's foreign minister.

Yet the migrant crisis has shown that there can be no European solution, because European countries don't have a common interest or outlook. Sweden and Germany blame everyone else for not taking their "fair" share of migrants. But other countries don't see why they should pick up the tab for unilateral decisions to accept a million people taken in Stockholm and Berlin. Hungary, for one, refuses to be shamed into accepting any.

If anything, Sweden and Germany are now following Hungary's lead. Angela Merkel's popularity has plummeted as her immigration policy descends into chaos. Sweden's governing socialists are looking over their shoulders at the insurgent, Eurosceptic, and electorally successful Sweden Democrats. Swedes are increasingly concerned about social breakdown in Malmö and elsewhere, which many see as the result of mass immigration.

The gradual collapse of Schengen must inform our debate on the EU in Britain. Europhiles talk about staying in the EU as if it is static. But in reality the EU is in flux. Euro-elites – as usual - are pushing for more integration, but nation states are increasingly pulling in the other direction. Come what may, the status quo is over.

12 NOV 2015

Broadband and rail need competition, not nationalisation

How fast is your broadband? Vodafone claims it sells much faster broadband in Portugal, Spain, and Italy than consumers can access in the UK. Why? Because here, BT has a virtual monopoly.

In most of Britain, if you want broadband, you need to go through BT. Even if you buy it through another company, you'll most likely still be using BT's cables, because BT owns the only national network. Consumers have no real choice at all.

BT's monopoly is a big reason why many people find their Internet so slow. Most of BT's network is outdated copper cable. Even where fast fibre-optic cables have been installed, connections to individual houses and offices are still copper. But what incentive does BT have to upgrade its infrastructure? It has no competition.

The railways have the same problem. Like BT, Network Rail owns the only national network. There is no competition to drive down the cost of the infrastructure. Costs to consumers keep going up, but service stays slow.

Think the problem is privatisation? Think the solution is to nationalise our infrastructure?

Network Rail is a public monopoly: the rail network was never properly privatised, even as Railtrack - a supposedly private business. Dependent on government fiat and finance, Railtrack/Network Rail has morphed into becoming a branch of the State. BT is a private monopoly made possible by a heavily regulated telecom market, rigged by the State. Nationalisation isn't the solution; it's the problem.

The real solution is to break the monopolies. We need to think of ways to introduce competition, and give consumers a real choice. That might mean allowing other telecom companies to install their own fibre-optic cables along BT's routes. It might mean reuniting train and track, allowing both to be leased or bought together by a private operator.

Either way, if we keep restricting consumer choice, we'll only ensure that our infrastructure never gives us what we want.

11 NOV 2015

Trades Union members deserve the right to choose where their money goes

Yesterday I tabled an amendment to the Trade Union Bill to permit individual trade union members – instead of union barons – to choose which political party their dues support. In a world where individual choice is the norm, this reform is long overdue.

All of us take free choice for granted in our daily lives. Trades unionists are no exception. Yet the current rules prevent them from exercising free choice in their unions.

Under the current system, union barons get to decide which party members' political contributions fund. All members – no matter their own political opinions – are forced to support the same party.

The problem with this one-size-fits-all funding model isn't just that it denies individual members a choice. It also conflicts with the essence of the trade union movement. The purpose of unions is to allow workers to stand up to bosses. So why should workers defer union bosses on which party their donations support?

My amendment would empower union members to choose for themselves. It would give them the power to send their political fund contributions to a party directly. Those members who wanted to continue funding the party chosen by the union bosses could still do so. But those who wanted to send their money elsewhere would no longer be compelled to bankroll a party they do not support.

10 NOV 2015

Dave's New Deal is a dud

So there it is. The Prime Minister's grand new plan to redefine our unhappy relationship with the European Union.

Except it's not so new, is it?

First, the PM says we need binding safeguards so that the block of 19 Eurozone countries cannot out vote the rest. Good luck with that. If 19 of 28 are in a common currency, the Euroblock will have a massive gravitational pull. It is in the nature of power that they will exert that gravitational pull. The only way not to be subject to rules written and rigged against us is to leave.

Mr. Cameron talked a lot about improving EU competitiveness. Just like Tony Blair did circa 2000-2001.

For all his talk about deregulation and scrapping rules, he also talks about the need to "deepen the single market" for services. You cannot have both. If we extend the single market rule making, we smother more sectors of the economy under job-destroying red tape. If you doubt me, look at the destructive impact of the EU's VAT rules on small Internet businesses.

Then the PM talked about public disillusionment with the EU. Rather comically, he seems under the impression that removing the words "ever-closer union" will fix the problem.

He can change the preamble to whatever treaty he likes, the acquis communautaire will still apply, and as a result European court rulings will continue to rule in favour of more Europe. The ratchet will keep turning. The PM, I'm sure, knows this, yet he chooses to pretend that amending the preamble to the treaties is a solution.

Then Dave outlined his idea of national parliaments being able to veto EU rules. If enough national legislatures got together, they could force a rethink. Sounds good, eh? Except it would formalise the subjugation of our parliamentary system. Looked at the other way, it would mean that those we elect would be conceding that they could not decide things without the permission of other European institutions.

Far from sorting out the issue of our self-government, it would recognise its demise.

Perhaps the saddest thing about Dave's New Deal is the idea that it boils down to in-work benefit claims. If the PM really thinks that paying people who happen to live in Warsaw differently to those who happen to live in Walsall will resolve our EU problems, his New Deal is going nowhere.

10 NOV 2015

The EU's latest boost for British trade: ruining British ports

If there is one thing Britain has always relied on for international trade, it is our maritime ports. So guess what the latest British victim of EU regulation is going to be?

The EU's new Port Services Regulation is designed to impose internal competition on big, nationalised, uncompetitive continental ports. Yet it won't just apply to Rotterdam and Antwerp; it will hit Harwich and Hull as well.

British ports are nothing like those on the Continent. They are smaller, private, and consequently much more efficient. Our ports are major contributors to our economy, and require no subsidies from the taxpayer. They manage 95% of our trade in goods, and employ some 100,000 people.

But thanks to the new regulation, all that is set to change. Forcing internal competition on our ports will raise their costs and deter investment. Far from making them more competitive, the EU is jeopardising their future.

So what is the Government doing about it? After telling us for two years that they would fight to stop the regulation or get us an opt-out, a few weeks ago our political leaders gave the shipping industry their final answer: British ports will just have to live with it.

The BSE campaign constantly tells us that the EU is essential to Britain's trade. How can it be when it is about to ruin the one industry we really need?

But the bigger lie is that EU membership increases our influence as a trading power on the world stage. When our vital interests are ignored by the other member states and our objections overruled, it is obvious we have no influence within the EU, let alone outside it.

09 NOV 2015

Innovation - not regulation - will break the energy cartel

This winter many people will again be unable to afford to heat their homes. Every year, many old people die as a result of energy poverty. We have a moral duty to put a stop to this. But successive Governments have been making the situation worse.

Listen to the Establishment parties on energy: you'll find they're all saying the same thing. They all support green taxes that cost British households and industry £46 billion last year. They all back a rigged energy market, which restricts consumer choice and prevents genuine competition. And then they all blame the energy companies for driving up prices.

The truth is that energy prices have been driven up by politicians – and they have done it deliberately. In their obsession with global warming, they have designed a system to cut energy use by raising prices. 

What the political class and their bureaucratic buddies in Whitehall don't get is that the way to increase energy efficiency is not to restrict the market, but embrace it.

A new report by the Adam Smith Institute points the way forward: disruptive innovation can reduce energy consumption and energy prices at the same time. 

07 NOV 2015

Brexit or not, America wants to trade with us

Remember the American bureaucrat who claimed that the US would never do a free trade deal with the UK post-Brexit? His credibility took a hit when it emerged that he used to work for the European Commission, and so did his wife.

Now it has taken another, thanks to presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

"Great Britain is a sovereign nation, and they must make this decision about their relationship with Europe on their own," the former Florida Governor told Breitbart. "As President, if Great Britain made that decision of course the U.S. would work with them on a trade agreement."

Jeb Bush may not become president. But I suspect he speaks for the American people more than the State Department when he says the constitutional arrangements of a sovereign nation are no one else's business. That's the idea America was founded on.

Back in 1776, Americans felt the same toward London as many Brits feel toward Brussels today. They didn't understand why they needed to be taxed, regulated, and governed by a remote elite that didn't represent them. They believed they could just as well govern themselves.

Like Britain today, some pessimists believed they could never make it outside the British Empire. An independent outpost in a world dominated by European great powers seemed like a fantasy. But the optimists won the day, and the United States went on to become the most prosperous country the world has ever seen.

The idea that the US wouldn't do a bilateral free-trade agreement with the UK when it has happily done deals with a host of other countries is absurd. But the pessimistic prediction that Britain can't prosper outside the EU's red-tape curtain totally misses the lessons of history. Government by remote bureaucratic superstate is what holds nations back.

If we need an American to tell us about the consequences of independence, let's make it George Washington.

06 NOV 2015

Banking is still broken. The political Establishment still doesn't get why.

After waiting for over 2 hours, I finally got to speak in yesterday's debate about the sale of the taxpayers' shares in RBS. Listening to my colleagues reminded me why banking is crisis. Many stood up to criticise RBS, only to ignore the monetary framework that caused its collapse.

I spoke about the real reform we need: curbing the excesses of fractional reserve banking, and ending the glut of cheap credit. It's all in my paper, After Osbrown: Mending Monetary Policy.

Watch my speech – and read on!

05 NOV 2015

The CBI doesn't lobby for business - it lobbies for lobbyists

The corporatists at the CBI are inexplicably surprised that Comrade Corbyn doesn't want to meet them next week. If I were in his sandals, I wouldn't go either.

The pretence that the corporatist clique that calls itself the Confederation of British Industry represents British business is wrong. I wonder if perhaps the CBI should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act?

The CBI in my view represents not free-market capitalism, but crony corporatism. It seems to favour more regulation, higher subsidies, and bigger Government. If I am not mistaken, the CBI supported a prices-and-incomes policy in the 1970s, the ERM in the 1980s, and joining the Euro in the 1990s. In other words, they have a history of getting things seriously wrong.

I wonder if the CBI really represents those that produce and sell things in the companies that back it. I recall once attending a so-called business visit to Brussels some years ago. Many of the firms on the trip were household names.

"Yippee!" I thought. "I would get a real insight into what the wealth producers thought".

How wrong I was. It turned out that virtually all the representatives of all the big businesses on the trip were in fact from their Corporate Affairs departments. In other words, they were in-house lobbyists. They spent all the time chatting about who was being hired by which PR firm, and who was who in lobbying.

Perhaps it's much the same in terms of those who represent big firms at the CBI? Maybe they too come from the Corporate Affairs side of the business too? I think we can all see why lobbyists love Brussels. It's made for and by people like them.

Maybe that's why the CBI commissioned such a questionable poll on business attitudes to EU membership? Even the British Polling Council seems to have acknowledged that there is some doubt about the poll's methodology. All a bit Volkswagen, perhaps?

When the CBI tells us what business thinks it is really telling us what it thinks. And it is not quite the same thing a business.

I'm with Comrade Corbyn on this. If the CBI ever invited me to address them, I think I'd say a polite "no", too.

04 NOV 2015

Meet Osborne's new EU: same as the old EU

George Osborne's big speech in Germany was finally meant to reveal the Government's demands for "renegotiation" of Britain's relationship with the EU. Instead, he confirmed that the Government is not just backing the status quo, but supporting more Euro-integration.

Osborne's "key demands" will change nothing. Open-door immigration? That's a keeper. £350 million every week in EU membership fees? No change there. Common Agriculture Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, Common Foreign & Security Policy? No reform in sight.

In fact, Osborne made it clear today he wants more Europe. He is asking for "principles embedded in EU law" to "support the integrity of the single market." He is calling for treaty change to further entrench the failed euro project - "the stronger Eurozone we want you to build." He is backing more British exposure to Eurozone collapse under the new Capital Markets Union.

Osborne mentioned only one specific change to the status quo: cutting in-work benefits for EU citizens. If this is the sum total of the Government's big reform, it's truly pathetic. It is also absurd. Think about how it would work in your local factory: are we really suggesting different salaries for two people doing the same job because one comes from Walsall and the other from Warsaw?

What this shows is that if you want petty, small-minded parochialism, look no further than the pro-European British elite. For decades, the Establishment has been trying to smear Eurosceptics as Little Englanders. But we are the ones calling for Britain to join the rest of the world. It is the Euro-integrationists who can't shake the mean-spirited xenophobia that underpins the world's biggest protectionist club.

On top of that, we've heard it all before. Everything Osborne said today, Cameron said in his Bloomberg speech two years ago. Think about that for a second: in the past two years, Apple has launched a computer in a watch; Samsung has invented a phone you can roll up like a newspaper; Lockheed Martin claims to have created a nuclear fusion reactor. But all our political leaders can deliver in two years is the same speech calling for virtually no change which they may still never get.

Britain can do better. While we stay locked into EU inertia, the global marketplace is leaving us behind. A whole world of opportunities is out there waiting for us. What are we waiting for?

03 NOV 2015

Don't fall for the fearmongering: Leaving the EU won't mean punitive tariffs

Project Fear has gone into overdrive over the last week. Officials, pundits, and pressure groups – some of whom have curious connections to the EU payroll - have been making out that Brexit is a leap into the unknown, as if Britain has never been an independent, sovereign, trading nation before.

Here's the problem with the scaremongering: it's nonsense.

British Eurosceptics have consistently called for a post-Brexit relationship with the EU based on free trade and friendly cooperation. Given that we buy much more from the EU than we sell, they have every incentive to negotiate a trade agreement with us.

"But what if they don't?" You may ask. "What if they want to raise trade barriers against Britain to teach us a lesson? What happens in the worst case scenario?"

The truth that the BSE campaign won't admit is that the EU couldn't raise punitive barriers against British goods even if it wanted to. Britain post-Brexit would resume her seat on the World Trade Organisation, and WTO rules prevent members raising discriminatory tariffs or non-trade barriers against each other.

In its detailed report on Brexit, Business for Britain calculated the average rate of export tariffs without a new UK-EU deal at 4.4%. That would cost us £7.4 billion per year – almost £4 billion less than our current annual net contribution to the EU.

"Ah," you object. "But they're Eurosceptics. They're biased."

Okay; well listen to what the House of Commons Library researchers said in their report on Brexit this year:

"The maximum tariff would be that applied to the MFN [Most Favoured Nation]. The EU's MFN tariff has generally fallen over time, meaning that in this particular context the 'advantage' of membership has declined. In 2012, the EU's MFN tariff was 2.6%."

2.6%! Just over half the worst-case-scenario rate forecast by Business for Britain. Hardly crippling.

Of course, looking at our trade with Europe only tells a fraction of the story anyway. Europe is a shrinking market - and a rapidly declining destination for British goods. As a proportion of our total exports, we sold less to the EU in 2014 than ever before – despite the EU holding us back in the global marketplace. Post-Brexit, we would have the freedom to negotiate our own trade agreements with non-EU countries: think what that would do for our exports.

Succeeding in the 21st-century global economy means adapting how we do business to new circumstances. We know what we would get if we stay in the EU: Jean-Claude Juncker's managed decline. We also know that leaving will bring us new opportunities – we just don't know quite how many. Let's vote leave, take control - and find out!

02 NOV 2015

Adoption: today the PM is going in the wrong direction

It all sounds so sensible, doesn't it? Today, the Prime Minister said he wants to cut adoption waiting times, and stop children being sent to live with relatives they don't know. "Quite right too", I hear you say.

But there are dangers.

If we accelerate the adoption process, we need to ensure it is still subject to proper scrutiny. Taking children away from their parents by force is a big deal, and we need to get it right. Evidence needs to be tested in an open court and the evidence of experts open to challenge. This does not happen today.

Setting targets means unintended consequences. 70,000 children are in care, and not enough are adopted. Yet setting adoption targets puts pressure on the system to break up families. It means more easy-to-place infants and toddlers being taken off mum, not necessarily more adoptions of challenging teenagers.

The Government is proposing to speed up adoption without due legal process: "We want to see more early placement for adoption, so children move in with their prospective new family sooner, without having to wait for the full process to complete." Might this lead to more cases like that of the Coxes? These cases happen because the process is sped up.

The PM's plan to clamp down on Special Guardianship Orders – designed to place children in care with relatives like Granny and Grandpa as a first resort – will only intensify this outcome. UKIP's adoption policy paper specifically recommends more SGOs as a means to reduce forced family break-up – and make it easier for Granny and Grandpa to adopt.

"Children to be placed with relatives who are most able to look after them, and not distant unsuitable relatives they have never met," says the Downing Street press release announcing this policy shift.

But who is suggesting that children should be sent to live with distant relatives? Social services should consider relatives but reject them if they're not right. It's a fatuous point that Number 10 is making.

"Ministers will look at proposals so that where adoption is the right thing for children, social workers and courts pursue this." Of course, but how do you know that if the evidence cannot be tested?

The PM's plan to restrict the consideration of relatives to those with an existing "strong bond" with the child is not as simple as it sounds. It begs the question how that bond will be defined, and who will define it. Will it be the same social workers who are currently placing children with distant relatives when it is inappropriate? What is to stop them turning down loving grandparents who don't fit the social workers' idea of a "strong bond"?

I believe the PM's plan is profoundly wrong. UKIP has proposed a better way. Our first Parliamentary policy paper – published last week – proposes to open up the family courts to proper scrutiny, and increase the number of Special Guardianship Orders, not cut them. That is the reform the adoption system needs.

01 NOV 2015

The Political Establishment is robbing the young

Two recent stories illustrate how bad the financial prospects for Britain's young have got. First, house prices in the capital are inflated far above income. Second, falling wages since 2008 have primarily affected young working people.

These stories are the tip of the iceberg. There is a deeper issue with state pensions: young people are not paying for their own retirements, but for the pensions of current retirees. 25-year-olds who won't be able to retire at 65 themselves are paying into a welfare system that barely sustains an ageing population today, and will leave nothing for the future. This is a direct transfer of wealth from the young to the old.

Why is this happening?

Because of irresponsible monetary and fiscal policy.

Cheap credit created by the Bank of England – designed to create the illusion of sustainable economic growth – has deliberately inflated house prices above wages. But that wasn't enough for the Chancellor: he chipped in with Help to Buy, which is really Help to Borrow – incentivising young, first-time buyers to take on vast mortgages they cannot afford.

The Chancellor and the Bank of England have colluded to create a new 2007-style subprime bubble, and enrich established homeowners at the expense of young people struggling to get on the housing ladder.

The situation with pensions is even worse. As the Chancellor allows state pension liabilities to become increasingly unsustainable, the Bank is driving private pension funds into insolvency. Seen the Treasury's patronising adverts telling young people to pay into workplace pensions? Osborne and Carney are preventing pension schemes from making any money anyway. The Chancellor is taking with one hand, and taking with the other.

Student protest movements like Occupy can see that young people are losing out, but they can't see quite how dysfunctional the system is. They complain about corporate greed, and blame bankers' bonuses – but then they call for more government. They don't see that it is the Government and the Bank of England that make Too-Big-to-Fail Finance possible. More government means more corporatism and more inequality.

Cameron and Corbyn are both committed to the same thing: more spending and more monetary activism. They are both perpetuating inequality. There is only one route to real social equality: sustainable public finances and sound money.

31 OCT 2015

Blockchains will be big - and make government small

Who do you trust? Politicians? Bankers? Government bureaucrats? Police chiefs? Or, none of the above?

Bitcoin – the digital currency – hit a new high this week. At first glance, it may seem surprising that so many people are willing to invest in a piece of digital code. But there is one very good reason why: they trust it.

As the Economist explains, the remarkable thing about Bitcoin is not the currency itself but the blockchain technology behind it. Blockchain is a public database of transactions which every user can view but no single user controls. One information has been entered in the blockchain, it can never be erased.

Unlike with fiat money, there is no one person or authority in charge of Bitcoin. No central bank can debase Bitcoin at will by printing more. No creative accountant can falsify the books. No government authority needs to supervise it.

Blockchains allow us to have self-organising systems, with no central control.  And no risk of central authority gaming things for its own advantage.  Bad new for politicians and parasites.  Good news for everyone else.

Bitcoin allows people who don't trust banks, the government, or even each other to trade without fear of being ripped off. No wonder the price is rising: the more people lose faith in mainstream institutions, the more sought after Bitcoin will be.

What Bitcoin highlights is how the ruling elite have systematically undermined public confidence in the economy in their efforts to promote it. Bailing out the banks and guaranteeing deposits was meant to shore up confidence; yet all it has achieved is to paper over the cracks of an overleveraged, dysfunctional banking system, and throw good money after bad.

The Political Establishment may not understand this, but people don't trust what they know is dishonest. Propping up systemic malinvestment to try to avoid a correction, and manipulating the price of capital to create the illusion of growth has only intensified the danger of a serious crisis, and made people rightly cautious to trade and invest.

Bitcoin shows the alternative: the way to build economic trust is to keep government out of it.

30 OCT 2015

Poll shows the public sees through the political cartel

Comres's new poll for the IEA should be a wake-up call for the political Establishment. It shows that the British public can see not just that Westminster isn't working, but that the only people who benefit from the status quo are the ruling elite themselves.

The figures are damning: 77% of the British public feel they have little or no influence on the decision-making of their elected government. 81% feel the same about the EU. 75% think that politicians propose legislation to favour special interest groups. Only 8% believe that politicians act in the best interests of the country.

People can see the problems with public services too. 59% believe the welfare state is "not fit for purpose," and 75% agree that it needs substantial reform. 80% think that laws and regulations fail to achieve their goals, and 79% that they often create new problems instead. Most importantly, 65% think the main consideration for public services should be quality, and only 9% think it should be who runs them.

Disaffection with government and politics doesn't come as news – at least not to UKIP. The unpopularity of the big-government, high-tax, open-door-immigration state Labour and the Tories have built is what won UKIP nearly 4 million votes in May, and keeps us climbing in the polls.

The amazing thing is that the Establishment parties are oblivious to public concerns. Look at what's happened in politics just this week: unelected Labour and Lib Dem peers blocking tax credit reform; the PM ditching any pretence of renegotiation of our EU membership and defending the status quo; the Comrades' ludicrous obsession with renationalising the steel industry.

What about our unfunded social security liabilities, which would put Bernie Madoff to shame? What about the EU regulations that are suffocating businesses? What about the regressive green taxes that are impoverishing families and destroying industry?

The public can see that the big issues aren't being dealt with. The political Establishment is blind to it.

Westminster and Whitehall need to wake up. The people won't tolerate failing public services and a government that doesn't address their concerns. I'm pleased that the IEA's new Paragon Initiative will be offering imaginative ideas about how to provide effective public services for the long term. The first step is to break the political cartel.

29 OCT 2015

Want to rein in public spending? Empower Parliament

Governments that spend more than they earn all have one thing in common: they tend to bypass the elected legislature.

What's happening on Capitol Hill at the moment is a case in point. A Democratic President and a pliant Republican Congressional leadership are rushing through a budget deal that will raise spending by over $100 billion and suspend the debt ceiling, so that the Federal Government can borrow as much as it likes. Congressmen who oppose the new deal are being excluded from the legislative process.

But things are poised to change. Congress is about to nominate a new Speaker – Paul Ryan – who won the support of the fiscally sound Freedom Caucus by promising to change the legislative process. If he is true to his word, major legislation will no longer be imposed top-down by a cosy cartel of party leaders but will instead be generated bottom-up by legislative committees. Representatives elected on a popular mandate to sort out the public finances will be empowered to block it.

British supporters of fiscal sanity should take note. One of the reasons Britain can't balance the books is that backbench MPs have no input into the budget. George Osborne pretends he can cut spending by fiat, but he doesn't even follow his own rules – just like Gordon Brown before him.

We will never rein in public spending if we keep giving the Chancellor free rein over our money. Changing Parliamentary procedures might seem arcane. But giving Commons committees and backbenchers real input and scrutiny over the budget – like we had until the 1930s - would go a long way toward restoring fiscal responsibility.

Be under no illusion: our massive fiscal deficit is a direct result of our massive democratic deficit. The vast expansion of the State – on both sides of the pond – has been made possible by the centralisation of power in a tiny, self-serving elite. The chattering classes calling the Freedom Caucus "extremists," and the Corbynista Comrades relying on unelected peers to block spending cuts are part of the problem. They are actively working to deny the taxpaying people control over their own money, and keep power confined to the crony cartel.

UKIP is different. Our councillors across Britain already govern by backbench committee rather than centralised cabinet – and are creating real, functional bipartisanship in the process. Congress is about to follow suit. Why can't Parliament?

28 OCT 2015

The CPS needs to stop prosecuting its ridiculous agenda, and start prosecuting criminals

Back to the Future II was right about 2015. We may not have all the high-tech gadgets it predicted, but we do have innovations beyond the wildest imaginations of even Hollywood executives 30 years ago – from smart phones to 3D printers. In fact, the film only got one thing wrong: the 21st-century, technocratic State won't let us use them.

If Marty McFly tried to use his hoverboard in London today, he would be stopped by the police. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, "self-balancing scooters" are illegal to ride anywhere in public. In fact, the CPS deems hoverboarding on the pavement "an offence under Section 72 of the Highway Act 1835" – a law which predates the invention of the bicycle.

As Boris Johnson says, banning hoverboards while permitting mobility scooters is absurd. In fact, so the Mayor tells us, this ban is so preposterous that even TfL "experts" – no strangers to banning new technology – recognise it.

But the real issue is not with the ban itself but the people issuing it. In 1835, traffic law was made by elected legislators in Parliament. How did we end up giving the power to make our laws to unelected bureaucrats in an unaccountable government agency?

The CPS was founded in 1986 with one purpose: to bring criminals to justice. In my constituency, it's doing a pretty shoddy job – and it's no different elsewhere. Research by Policy Exchange in 2012 found that the CPS won barely half of its prosecutions in court, yet refused to bring charges against actual criminals – like the 2011 rioters – for fear of criminalising them!

Instead of applying the law, the CPS consistently spends its time trying to make it.

Earlier this year, the CPS blocked a private prosecution against gender abortion on the grounds that it "wasn't in the public interest." Since when does a quangocrat cartel speak for the public?

Six years ago, CPS head Keir Starmer – now a left-wing Labour MP – tried to change the law on assisted suicide, despite Parliament explicitly refusing to do so. At least he ultimately stood for election to push his agenda.

There is only one way to have an accountable, efficient public prosecution service – and that is to elect local public prosecutors.

There is also only one way for the law to reflect the public interest – and that is for elected lawmakers in Parliament to legislate. We knew that in 1835. It's about time we went back to the future.

27 OCT 2015

UKIP PRU launches first policy paper: "Opening up the family courts"

This morning, I joined UKIP Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans and former Lib Dem MP John Hemming to launch the UKIP Parliamentary Resource Unit's first policy paper, aimed at ending the injustice of forced adoptions.

Too many children are removed from their birth parents by the State without due cause – as a result of secret proceedings in the family courts. We need public scrutiny of forced adoptions to stop the State breaking up families unfairly, and hold those responsible to account.

Here are our proposals to introduce transparency and end the forced adoption scandal:

1. Promote more extensive use of Special Guardianship Orders, particularly where a child is made a ward of an extended family member, such as a grandparent.

2. Open placement and adoption order proceedings to the media on the same basis as other family law proceedings.

3. Introduce a presumption to allow reporting of Family Court proceedings on an anonymised basis (e.g. Child A, the mother of Child A).

4. Mandate publication of all judgments (those from district judges on application and subject to a fee), except where the presiding judge seeks and obtains a contrary order from the President of the Family Division.

5. Mandate that all local authority witnesses, including social workers as well as expert witnesses, be identified by name and position(s) held.

6. Require expert witnesses to list previous court cases in which they have given evidence, on application and subject to administrative costs.

7. Publish, on an anonymised basis, all statements of case, skeleton arguments, case summaries and other documents prepared and exchanged by the advocates in a case.

8. Allow media access to expert reports on an anonymised basis, with reporting restrictions imposed only in exceptional circumstances.

9. Allow unrestricted access to expert reports to academics for peer review on the condition that any research papers written as to the quality of reports are anonymised.

Read the full paper here!

27 OCT 2015

Portugal's EU Coup

Earlier this month, the Portuguese people voted to kick the government out. The centre-right, pro-Euro-austerity coalition lost its absolute majority in parliament. The Socialist opposition agreed to form a majority coalition with radical left-wing parties, on a democratic mandate to reject the austerity measures imposed by the EU and the IMF. But last week the Portuguese President promised to do everything in his power to prevent the elected majority taking office.

Why is he overruling the people? Because the EU doesn't like their choice. "Never in 40 years of democracy," the President said, "have the governments in Portugal relied on the support of anti-European political forces."

Sound familiar? It's the classic EU approach to democracy. If the people give the answer you don't want, ignore the people. Portugal was the backdrop for the EU's last undemocratic coup, when the Lisbon Treaty brought in the EU constitution rejected in referenda by the peoples of Europe. Eight years on, the EU is denying democracy in Lisbon again.

But the fact that this latest EU coup is happening in Portugal is especially distressing – and not just because she is the UK's oldest ally. Portugal joined the EU only fifteen years after the end of Salazar's dictatorship, on the promise that the European project would help consolidate democracy. Now we know how hollow that promise was.

Don't get me wrong: I'm no fan of Communists in government either. No ideology has been more destructive over the past century. And the idea that governments can ignore fiscal reality and spend money they don't have is madness. But thwarting the democratic will of the people isn't the solution to the rise of left-wing radicalism; it's the cause.

Across Europe, Eurosceptic parties are gaining support as people realise that they are being ruled by a new oligarchy. The recent elections in Poland and Portugal have produced polar opposite results, but they have one thing in common: both reject the federalist agenda of Europe's political Establishment.

Doubt what's happening in Portugal is an Establishment stitch-up? Portugal's current pro-EU president – Anibal Cacavo Silva – was the prime minister who took the country into the EEC thirty years ago. One of his successors as PM – Jose Manuel Barroso – later became President of the European Commission. Portugal's political class has long relied on Brussels as its core constituency.

The Euro Establishment thinks it can continue to rule the nation states of Europe like fiefdoms. It is blind to the lessons of history. Reactionary, centralised, undemocratic regimes in Europe met with popular revolts in 1789, 1830, 1848, and 1917. Britain avoided this fate by recognising that the status quo was untenable, and liberalising. Yet the EU thinks it can get away with not only ignoring the people, but centralising even more.

We need a new model for Europe - based on peace, friendship, and free trade between independent nation states. We need to end neo-oligarchic government from Brussels. We need to vote leave, and take control.

26 OCT 2015

Where does UKIP stand on tax credit reform?

I'm supporting Frank Field's proposals on tax credit reform. Why?

Firstly, because Frank's proposals mean that we still get the changes to the tax credit system that we need.

Tax credits were introduced as a way of topping up the income of those on low pay. But it has ended up as an excuse for employers to pay people low wages – in the knowledge public money will be used to top it up. What started as a way of trying to help those on low incomes has become a system of corporate welfare. Big business gets the taxpayer to subsidise their payroll.

I suspect one of the reasons Frank has come up with a sensible middle way suggestion on the issue of tax credit reform is precisely because Frank knows that you cannot talk about controlling immigration and not, at the same time, also look at the issue of in work benefits.

If there is one issue UKIP has campaigned on consistently it is immigration. UKIP cannot ignore the impact that tax credits have had on drawing labour in from outside the UK. To reduce immigration, yes we need an Australian-type points-based system. Yes, we need to properly control our borders. But we also need to accept the need to reform the in-work benefits system that currently acts as a subsidy for labour migration.

George Osborne does not emerge from these tax credit reforms with his reputation enhanced. Just like over Child Benefits in 2013, the Chancellor has introduced a change without thinking through its consequences.

On that occasion, Mr Osborne woke up to the fact that his measures would mean a cliff edge for some people, and allowed what is known as a taper, so that the measure would take effect more gently.

With his tax measures due to kick in in one swoop next year, something similar is now needed to phase in the changes – preferably as the Living Wage rises and the labour market generates higher wages.

As happened with Child Benefits, the House of Commons now needs to step in and correct the minister's mistake. But at the same time ensure that welfare reform goes ahead.

"Why not just oppose the government?" I was recently asked by a journalist. "You could embarrass them and hit them hard."

This is about doing the right thing, not scoring points. It is fundamentally wrong that we subsidise low wages and thereby keep wages low.

It's also bad politics. There was once a third party in this country that tried to be all things to all people. They were called the Liberal Democrats, and they showed what happens you ditch any pretence at principle and do whatever you think makes you look good. You end up looking like Nick Clegg.

23 OCT 2015

Never mind the leaders: Leave has drawn level!

/>The talk about the latest Brexit poll has focused on the impact of the party leaders. But the real story is how narrow the gap now is – and which way the trend is moving.


Leave is now neck and neck with Remain – despite being several points behind just two months ago. It seems like our campaign's optimistic belief in Britain's global future is winning people over – particularly in light of the downbeat defeatism served up by the Inners.

What is remarkable about the most recent poll is actually how little difference the leaders' opinions make. But then why should anyone be surprised? People are sick of the political cartel – they no longer trust elites in Westminster and Whitehall to make their decisions for them. Besides, the point of the referendum is that the people decide.

The whole idea of a referendum is anti-politics. That's why the political Establishment spent so many years trying to block it. That's why the Establishment parties are all campaigning to keep decision-making confined to a remote elite in Brussels, as far away from the people as possible. That's why we are campaigning for the British people to vote leave and take back control.

The really interesting statistic in all the polls is that 20% of people surveyed have yet to make up their minds. This is a reminder that, for all the discussion about national identity and our place in the world, many people see the referendum as a pragmatic question about how a Brexit will affect their daily lives.

Those of us backing Leave have to answer practical concerns with practical arguments. We need to keep making the case that when it comes to jobs, trade, and business, the EU is only holding us back. We need to highlight the technological forces that are bringing the world closer to us, and leaving Europe behind.

One thing is for sure: the referendum will be a close fight – and we can win!

22 OCT 2015

Memo to Public Health England: Cutting the fat begins at home

"In the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves." Or so presumed Fabian elitist Douglas Jay in his 1947 manifesto The Socialist State.

Today, as people used to making consumer choices in every aspect of our lives, this view sounds absurd. What is amazing is that our professional bureaucrats still believe it.

Alison Tedstone is one such – in fact, one of 5,000 at Public Health England. People are too fat for her liking, she told us yesterday. So she wants to tax, legislate, and above all patronise us to the weight she considers acceptable.

She demands a duty on sugar, a ban on "supersized" portion sizes, and regulation of cartoon characters in advertising - starting with public enemy number one: the Coco Pops monkey. "Things like those Coco Pop monkeys," she informed the Commons Health Select Committee, "do engage children and affect food preference and choice."

Don't adjust your sets: this is not 1947, when Britain still had food rationing. Dr. Tedstone seriously thinks people will tolerate nanny-state planning by the gentleman in Whitehall today. She really believes cartoon characters are a national priority. She actually expects taxpayers to keep paying her to patronise them.

At a time when the demand for healthcare is stretching NHS budgets to breaking point, we are paying over £300 million a year to be lectured by Public Health England. When hospitals are in financial crisis, we are allowing PHE to spend £48 million on infantilising "health marketing" campaigns fronted by B-list celebrities. When junior doctors are facing pay cuts, PHE's chief executive, Duncan Selbie, is making over £285,000 annually.

I suspect that people don't want to be lectured on obesity by well-fed technocrats living off the fat of the land. They don't need to be told to trim the excess by the pointless parasites of the rent-seeking class. After seventy years of statism, they have learnt the hard way what happens when they blindly trust the experts – on everything from immigration to interest rates. That's why so many don't trust them anymore.

On the other hand, I know that people do want efficient healthcare. Taxpayers do want their money spent properly.

If we really want to improve health outcomes - if we really want to cut the fat – then forget the Coco Pops monkey. Public Health England is the place to start.

21 OCT 2015

Business for Brexit

We are constantly told by the EU-funded CBI that business wants Britain to remain in the EU. In fact, many big British companies – facing crippling EU regulation and tariffs – are increasingly iffy about it.

I visited one such company – Tate & Lyle - earlier this week. T&L's refinery has been processing cane sugar since 1878. It is one of the largest industrial employers left in London. The company has survived depression, world wars to become the largest cane refiners in Europe. Yet now the EU threatens to shut T&L down.

Why? Because nineteen EU member states produce beet sugar. So the EU openly rigs the sugar market against cane.

Since 2009, the EU has restricted cane refiners to importingraw sugar cane from 5% of the world market. EU import duties for sugar cane from the other 95% are staggering: €339 per tonne. Even within the accessible 5%, duties and quotas still apply.

Unlike cane, the EU is progressively deregulating beet sugar. From October 2017, there will be no quotas or levies on sugar beet production – with prices set to fall by 15%. But beet producers – used to receiving guaranteed prices under the quota – will be subsidised to counteract any price drop. Cane refiners, meanwhile, will be driven out of business.

The conspiracy against sugar cane is discrimination not just against T&L but against the UK. The single market that the Peter Mandelsons tell us is essential for Britain to wield influence as a trading power is, in fact, systematically undermining British trade and British businesses on the whims of bureaucrats and lobbyists. This isn't a free market, it's protectionism.

Brussels masquerades as seat of high minded internationalism. In reality it's home of grubby, dishonest corporate fixes. Markets and the rules that govern them are systematically rigged. To help rig them are an army of lobbyists, which is why lobbying is one of Europe's few growth industries.

The EU's cane tariffs have already cut jobs and production for T&L. Since 2009, T&L's annual sugar output has fallen from 1.1 million tonnes to 600,000. It could well be unable to survive after 2017.

Curiously, 2017 is also likely to be the year of the EU referendum. The corporatist cartel will keep telling us that business wants to stay in. The truth is that the only way to save businesses like Tate & Lyle is to vote Leave.

20 OCT 2015

The problem isn't China's steel-dumping. It's our failed energy policy.

The British steel industry is in crisis. As the UK currently faces an inflow of Chinese steel, many are pointing the finger at China. But the real problem isn't Chinese policy. It's ours.

British steel producers have been struggling to compete in global markets for years: the value of the UK steel industry has declined by 42% since 1990. And one of the main things holding the industry back is the Government's energy policy.

For an energy intensive industry like steel production, raising the price of energy has an enormous impact on the cost of production. Yet – in their quixotic quest to cut carbon emissions - this is precisely what successive Governments have done.

The Government's green obsession costs energy consumers billions of pounds a year. Last year, we paid a record £46 billion in green taxes. Ed Miliband's 2008 Climate Change Act alone intentionally raises the cost of energy for British consumers by an average of £18 billion every year.

Green taxes are regressive. They harm everyone, but hurt the poorest most of all. As we approach winter, they will be the direct cause of many people being unable to heat their homes.

But industrial producers suffer most of all. Because of green taxes and regulation, industrial electricity prices in Britain today are over 50% higher than those in other major EU economies.

To understand the impact of energy policy, just consider how cheap energy should be. Thanks to American shale, wholesale energy prices should be falling in the UK – like they are in the US. Right now, British industry has a plentiful and cheap source of energy readily available, but can't make use of it – all because of green legislation. The Government has simply broken the energy market.

Yet – astonishingly – the Government can't even see the problem. When I joined UKIP last year, the first backbench debate I triggered was on energy policy. I quoted DECC's own figures to show that the State was systematically driving up energy prices by requiring energy producers to increase the proportion of electricity they generate from renewables. But the Minister responsible - contradicting his own department - told the House that wholesale energy prices are "beyond the control of any government."

We need a government that will set our energy market free. Government price-fixing is not just costing jobs in industry, but the lives of pensioners who can no longer afford to pay their heating bills. But the Establishment parties have all colluded with Big Green to rig the energy market against the interests of the people.

If we want to break the energy cartel, we need to break the political cartel first.

20 OCT 2015

The GDP Smokescreen

What does it mean to create wealth? Politicians like to talk about "growing the economy," using the metric of increases in gross domestic product (GDP). But – as Liam Fox highlighted yesterday - GDP doesn't tell the real story.

The GDP metric seriously misrepresents the economic value of government spending. Whereas the contribution of a business is assessed in terms of what it sells – by the value of what consumers have purchased from it. But the Government's contribution just based on what it spends – as if it is another consumer, not a producer.

So if the State spends more on wages – even if the staff do no work and produce no output - it has increased its contribution to GDP. If the State spends taxpayers' money on planes that don't fly, guns that don't fire, or tanks that don't exist, all of its pointless outlay counts towards GDP. Who really thinks that is economically valuable?

Moreover, Government spending is not like other consumption. The Government can only spend money that it either takes out of the people's pockets through taxation, or borrows for the people to pay back – at exorbitant interest – later on. The more the Government spends, the less individuals, families, and businesses can spend.

The Government doesn't put wealth into the economy. It takes wealth out of the economy. Yet the GDP metric allows governments to create the illusion of economic growth simply by increasing spending.

A better metric for economic growth is what Liam Fox calls gross private product (GPP): total GDP minus government spending. Looking only at private spending and investment shifts the focus to the productive sector of the economy.

For many years preceding the crash in 2007, our GDP grew while our GPP shrunk. What this shows is that the economy was not really growing during this period, whatever Gordon Brown was telling us at the time.

In fact, not only was the productive sector of the economy contracting but the unproductive sector of the economy – i.e. Government – was expanding. The financing of Government was becoming more and more unsustainable. Ever wondered how we ended up with a public sector debt crisis? That's how.

It is only by growing the productive part of our economy – the private sector – that we can both increase our prosperity and fund our essential public services. This Government pays lip service to real growth and sustainable public spending, but is still borrowing at unsustainable levels while campaigning to stay in the suffocating EU regulatory system that is holding British business back.

Only UKIP will set Britain free.

19 OCT 2015

Sound Money

Sound money. Now that's a term you might not have heard for a while. That's because we've not had it for many years.

Hats off to Liam Fox for putting the subject of how we manage our money on to the political agenda with a talk at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

For years, the Osbrown economic orthodoxy has engaged in a policy of print-money-and-pray.

Facing a fall in the economy's output? Throw lots of cheap credit and hope people start buying stuff. Tank the banks? Don't worry, hose them with money that you conjured out of thin air, and hope they start lending.

To every economic problem the Osbrown consensus has been easy money.

"But" I hear you say "those central bankers must have been doing okay. There's been no inflation"

Really? I'd say there has been the most enormous inflation of asset prices. Houses, shares and other assets classes have rocketed in value.

The reason why consumer goods have not shot up in price has little to do with central bankers. The addition of millions of extra workers to the globalised economy in China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere has kept consumer good prices down.

The single biggest driver of income inequality in Britain today is a monetary regime that drives up the value of the assets of the haves, yet does little to secure the economic security of the have nots.

For too long all establishment partied in Westminster went along with the Osbrown insanity. Today I hope they are starting to consider the alternatives.

I set out my post Osbrown ideas in this paper.

16 OCT 2015

Devolution Powerhouse

The second reading of the Cities and Local Government Bill in the Commons this week brought communities one step closer to gaining control over their public services. UKIP strongly advocates empowering communities rather remote officials in Whitehall, which is why I was pleased to support this bill in the Commons. The question is, does the Treasury feel the same?

The impact that this new legislation stands to make really is significant. By removing restrictions on the composition of combined local authorities, expanding eligibility for and functions of elected mayors, and – crucially – allowing powers currently exercised by national public bodies to be transferred to local authorities, the Bill would give local communities much greater power and scrutiny over their public services.

So is the future for devolution bright?

Not exactly. While Greg Clark is working to devolve power, George Osborne – with his "Northern Powerhouse" agenda – is pushing in the other direction. Instead of bottom-up government, allowing the people who live and work in northern cities to decide what kind of infrastructure and investment is right for them, the Chancellor is imposing top-down plans devised hundreds of miles away in London.

For decades, every government and every governing party – Conservative, Labour, and Lib Dem - has paid lip-service to devolution while doing the opposite. The Chancellor's northern vanity project shows he is no different. Don't be fooled by the "powerhouse" rhetoric: the prospect of picking winners from the Treasury empowers no one but George Osborne.

Centralising power and money in Westminster and Whitehall elites is not only undemocratic but inefficient. Economic planning by technocratic elites only ever leads to malinvestment. Real growth in the North and across the UK will only come from economic democracy: allowing individuals to decide where and how to invest their money, liberating businesses from burdensome regulation, and giving local communities control over local economies.

The Establishment parties may never support real devolution. UKIP will.

15 OCT 2015

What could we do with our money if we did not send it to Brussels?

The UK currently sends £350 million per week to Brussels. Does that make you or your family better off?

Every penny we send to Brussels is money we can't spend on our public services. Just think what one week's worth of EU fees could pay for:

· A year's salary for over 950 more GPs,

· ...and 2,300 new nurses

· Plus lifesaving breast cancer drugs – blocked by NICE over cost - for 500 patients

· 7 new free schools

· ..along with annual wages for over 2,200 new teachers

· Upgrading East Anglian rail lines and building a new rail terminal in East London or expanding Liverpool Street station

· And saving 15 police stations and 190 police jobs in Essex

Or we could reduce borrowing by £18 billion per year, and immediately cut the deficit by 20%.

Alternatively, we could let the EU spend our money on what it wants. £350 million almost pays off the UK's annual bill for the EU's corporate PR. Or goes towards essential projects like lifts to nowhere, airports for ghosts, and homeopathy for farm animals.

Don't expect the Prime Minister to "renegotiate" our membership fees either. This is the man who last month paid a £1.7 billion bill to Brussels that he described as "appalling". In fact, as we cut our public spending across the board this year, our EU contributions are projected to rise. This Government really believes that taxpayers' money is better spent on Brussels than Britain.

The only people better off from Britain's EU membership are the Eurocrat elites collecting our cheques. The EU is not only holding us back from growing our economic links with the rest of the world but wasting public money that is desperately needed at home.

It's time for British taxpayers to take back control over their money. We're better off out.

14 OCT 2015

Deficit-Denying Diane

Labour is not having a good time. Having lost their reputation for economic competence when they tanked that banks in 2006-07, Labour is still in denial mode.

It was the world economy's fault, they claim. That chronic budget deficit that Gordon Brown ran up? It was investment, they insist.

The denial turned a bit comical this week when Diane Abbott was sent in to defend Labour's u-turn on the Fiscal Charter.

Asked why John McDonnell, Labour economic spokesman, is now against a Charter he said he supported only two weeks ago, Diane said Labour had always been consistently Keynesian.

If this is consistent Keynesianism, it would be news to John Maynard Keynes.

Keynes argued that public spending should be counter-cyclical, not fiscally incontinent. Governments should run surpluses during economic booms and deficits during busts. Which is, in fact, precisely what the Fiscal Charter says.

Rejecting the Fiscal Charter is not remotely Keynesian; on the contrary, it is a repudiation of one of Keynes's core principles.

UKIP supports government living within its means. I have voted for cuts to public spending. I am backing the Fiscal Charter too, because it is right to support the principle of balanced budgets.Labour's commitment to ever-expanding government borrowing is not just irresponsible but deeply immoral. How can it possibly be fair or right to leave for us to spend money now and leave our children to pay for it?

Of course, having doubled the national debt and borrowed throughout a boom, the Conservative Government is no closer to economic credibility than Labour. Britain is currently running a higher budget deficit than almost every other country in Europe – even Greece is borrowing less than we are.

I agree with George Osborne that borrowing forever is a "threat to the economic security of working people." When will he put his own principles into practice?

12 OCT 2015

Wrong then, wrong now

The launch of the Remain campaign this morning was a comeback reunion for the discredited Euro-lobbyists of the past. The same people who told us we had to join the Euro – Peter Mandelson, Ken Clarke, Roland Rudd, Martin Sorrell – are now telling us we have to stay in the EU. Yet it isn't just the same people on show, but the same failed arguments.

The campaign launch this morning confirmed that the Remain will be based on the same bankrupt ideas that the Europhiles used to advocate the UK entering the disastrous single currency.

Stuart Rose warns that leaving the EU would "risk our prosperity, threaten our security, and undermine our standing in the world."

"Britain on its own would resume the decline which continued through most of the 20th century," writes Ken Clarke.

Leaving Europe would make us "notionally independent" but "less influential" says Peter Mandelson.

"Britain would lose its influence within Europe if it left," protests Martin Sorrell.

"Brexit is economic madness," according to Roland Rudd.

Sound familiar?

Fifteen years ago, they said the same thing about being about the Euro.

"Until we come off the fence over joining the Euro, we will slip backwards in Europe," Peter Mandelson told us then.

"Business leaders appreciate the success of the Euro," agreed Roland Rudd.

"Public opinion is already changing as people can see the success of the single currency," claimed Ken Clarke.

"If the Government rules out membership of the Euro, it will be damaging for British-based business," warned Martin Sorrell.

Fifteen years after they told us we couldn't survive outside the Euro, the same corporatist cronies are back telling us we can't survive outside the EU. The battle lines for the referendum have been drawn: ex-ministers and corporate lobbyists vs. entrepreneurs and the people.

The polls show how closely fought this campaign will be. But wouldn't it be wonderful to defeat the Europhiles again, and be freed from the patronising propaganda of this self-serving elite?

09 OCT 2015

VoteLeave launched!

Watch my Sky News interview on the new VoteLeave campaign:

09 OCT 2015

Inequality? It's a consequence of government policy, Mr Cameron

"I want us to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in our country today," David Cameron said yesterday. Isn't it wonderful to live in a country that is more tolerant and open than ever before?

But what did the Prime Minister mean by "real equality"?

The Prime Minister spoke about tackling wealth inequality, yet his record so far is hardly promising. During his five years in Downing Street, price inflation has outstripped wages, raising the cost of living for the poorest. House prices have rocketed, preventing young people from buying a home. The single biggest driver of economic inequality in Britain today is a monetary policy that drives up the value of those with assets, and leaves those without behind.

This is happening as a direct consequence of the government's fiscal and monetary policy. Artificially low interest rates have stoked asset price inflation, while £375 billion of quantitative easing has pumped public money into failed banks – debasing the currency, and transferring wealth from the poor to the rich. At the same time, the Chancellor has doubled the national debt, unfairly leaving the next generation to foot the bill for his overspending.

Without monetary reform, the next five years will be no different from the last. House and stock prices will keep rising, benefitting those who already own assets, and freezing out those who don't. Productivity – the real engine of prosperity – will continue to stagnate. Unsustainable, debt-fuelled economic growth will continue enriching the elite at the expense of the majority. As long as credit stays cheap, Cameron's words will be cheap too.

Subsidies for certain sectors, and crony corporatism, have helped create vested interests and rent seekers. If you think that the Private Finance Initiative helped enrich various corporate interests with a claim on future tax revenue, wait until you see what the new Infrastructure Commission gets up to. Lobbyists are already rubbing their hands with glee.

Greater equality means tackling head on the cosy cartels that have rigged the corporate banking sector, the energy market and much else. We need a return to sound money and balanced budgets. And we need to break open the greatest cartel of them all – the political cartel in Westminster which has rigged our politics like the bankers rigged Libor.

08 OCT 2015

Home-owning democracy?

It is deeply worrying that so many young people cannot afford to buy a home. We desperately need a Government that addresses the gap between house prices and wages. Unfortunately this Government is doing the opposite.

The basic reason houses are unaffordable for so many young people is that house prices have risen inexorably while wages have stagnated. This is the result of years of artificially cheap credit: by setting negative interest rates in a bid to create the illusion of economic growth, the Bank of England has incentivised borrowing and inflated asset prices.

But the Chancellor is to blame too. He has not only backed the Bank's monetary activism, but also added his own cheap credit through Help to Buy. Encouraging more mortgage lending without building any more houses can only ever have one consequence: price inflation. Far from making houses more affordable for first-time buyers, Help to Buy has only served to place them further out of reach.

Nor is that the only policy pushing up house prices. The Government promises to deliver 200,000 homes a year to account for population growth. But even it met that target, the new homes wouldn't even cover population growth just from net immigration, which currently stands at over 300,000 per year. As long as immigration outstrips housebuilding, prices must continue to rise – and we can't control immigration while we remain in the EU.

At the same time, planning regulations prevent desirable housing development. Regulations on building design produce regimented, identikit houses and flats that people don't want to live in. New developments are imposed on local communities from the top down, without concern for the impact on local infrastructure and services.

Affordable housing requires more sound money and less regulation. We need to liberalise design – encouraging innovative construction that produces not just houses but homes. We need to localise planning, enabling local councils to choose where to build and keep the resulting tax revenue. We need to retake control of our borders, so that housebuilding can keep pace with sustainable population growth.

Above all, we need a Government that is actually serious about tackling our country's enormous debt burden.

07 OCT 2015

Influence or outcomes?

"I have no romantic attachment to the European Union," David Cameron claimed today. "I'm only interested in two things: Britain's prosperity and Britain's influence."

Sounds sensible, doesn't it?

When ministers talk about wielding influence in Europe, it sounds as if they mean the attainment of defined objectives. In reality it means something rather different. Influence really means the ability to lobby the EU machine, rather than necessarily get the things we want.

Take for example the PM's claim to be the driving force behind the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. If Britain really wanted free trade with the United States, we could have it – if we had control over our own trade policy.

But we don't. Europe decides for us. So we are left lobbying Brussels to get the kind of deal that we want – and when it kind of begins to get us where we want to be, we claim we have influence.

Doing trade deals as part of the EU means, of course, that the deal making takes much longer. Not only do we have to try to square the interests of Italian shoemakers or Spanish textile companies. By doing a Single Market type trade deal with the US, we end up not actually striking a free trade agreement at all, but negotiating a permission-based trade deal.

Firms in the UK won't be able to produce and sell goods freely to America – and vice versa. Firms will only be able to produce and sell if they do so in compliance with standardised regulations drawn up at the behest of lobbyists.

Influence? I can see why lobbyists might like it, but not the rest of us.

Instead of seeking influence over how we are governed, it would be nice to have a Prime Minister who actually governed.

05 OCT 2015

The new capitalism? It's even more capitalist and free market

City AM recently reported that the value of equity crowdfunding has doubled in the last year, rising to £146 million in 2015. "The growth of this new form of finance has been so strong," the paper says, "that researchers have struggled to catch up with the speed with which the entrepreneurial finance market is changing."

This is good news not just for entrepreneurs, but for all of us.

Crowdfunding is revolutionary because it democratises investment. It takes away the middleman – allowing people to invest without going through a broker. It widens access to capital for entrepreneurs – allowing start-ups to reach people beyond the confines of the City. It gives ordinary people – rather than billionaires – the opportunity to be venture capitalists.

In a financial system warped by malinvestment, crowdfunding is a welcome antidote. Technology is transforming our way of life, increasing productivity and prosperity. Of course, high-tech is not immune from the misallocation of resources – as the DotCom crash showed – but it beats inflating asset bubbles. Lowering the cost of living demands more investment in innovation, and less money pumped into the housing market.

Most importantly, crowdfunding shows that finance is more than the banking system as we know it. It gives the lie to the banks that claim that the world cannot exist without them, but can no longer survive without taxpayer subsidy. In bypassing traditional funding streams, entrepreneurs are proving that there is are other ways to do investment. We should not be afraid of abandoning a model that has failed.

To fixing our broken banking system, we need to allow people to choose where to put their money. For too long we have undemocratically subcontracted that choice to central bankers and governments, and allowed elites to get rich at the expense of the people. This is the root of social inequality today.

Crowdfunding shows market capitalism as it should be: economic democracy. Bring on the free-market financial revolution.....

02 OCT 2015

Britain's Corporatist Foreign Policy

"For Osborne, foreign policy is strictly business," complained the BBC, following the Chancellor's trip to China. "Economics trumps everything else, be that old alliances or any notion of a universalist, ethical foreign policy."

But is Britain's foreign policy actually good for British businesses and consumers?

Osborne's deals with China's dirigiste bureaucrats are a classic example of government failure in business: UK taxpayer subsidies to foreign companies that will raise energy prices for British consumers.

But the Chancellor's vision of foreign policy is hardly new. In fact, he is staying true to a tried, failed, but stubbornly retained British foreign-policy tradition that is not pro-business, but pro-corporatism.

We live in a global economy, and have done for hundreds of years. Trade between people thousands of miles apart –whether following the Silk Road, the Via Maris, or the Spice Route – has been happening for millennia without any need for government intervention.

In fact, when governments have intervened in international trade, it has usually been to restrict it: by imposing tariffs to protect vested interests and enrich political elites at the expense of consumers. Centuries of benefits from free trade have done nothing to dampen government enthusiasm for opposing it. Just look at British government support for the world's biggest protectionist club.

The Foreign Office claims to promote trade. But its trade missions and delegations are actually designed to stitch up contracts between Big Business and foreign governments, and freeze out real competition. The fact that the FCO focuses on kowtowing to authoritarian regimes should come as no surprise. From Saudi Arabia to Iran to China, it is the countries where trade is the co-opted the most by political elites that provide the biggest opportunities for cosy backroom deals.

This isn't international trade; it's international cronyism, or neo-mercantilism.

Trade must be a key part of any country's foreign policy. UK foreign policy should aim at the very least to secure our borders and allow our goods access to foreign ports. Recent weeks have proved that this Government can't even manage that.

The best trade policy should mean getting government out of the way.

01 OCT 2015

UKIP Conference: My speech in full

Here is the full text of my speech in Doncaster last week:

"I stood on this spot exactly a year ago. I had just joined UKIP, and called a by-election.

Looking around, I see lots of familiar faces. People who came to help in that by-election. Activists who campaigned in the General Election.

So I wanted to start by saying "thank you." Thank you for all that you did – in the by-election and afterwards. I could not have done it without you.

It wasn't my victory. It was yours. It was UKIP's victory.

We could not have got a staggering four million votes at the last General Election without your hard work.

All that campaigning can be quite an experience. Knocking on all those doors, you get to see human nature in all its rich tapestry.

Let me tell you about this one day. I was out campaigning in one of the smarter parts of my constituency. Lots of large Victorian houses. Wide lawns. Long gravel drives.

I walked up one of those gravel drives to the door of this big house. The front door, I noticed, was slightly open. I could hear the sound of music inside.

I knocked and waited. I knocked again and waited.

Eventually this hear bobbed around. A young lad – in his teens – peering up at me from around the door.

He was wearing, I noticed, what appeared to be a smoking jacket – several sizes too big, the sleeves rolled up.

Between his little fingers I could see what looked like a small cigar. In his other hand, he held what looked to me suspiciously like a glass of brandy.

"Are mum and dad at home?" I asked.

"Does it ruddy look as if they're at home?" He replied.

"What's it like being UKIP's only MP?" I'm often asked.

I might be UKIP's only MP, but being an MP for UKIP is much more fun than it was being a Conservative.

For a start, meetings of the Parliamentary party are a lot shorter. There tends to be unanimity. Mostly.

But I wish more of us were there in the Chamber.

It can be immensely frustrating.

Sitting there on the green benches, I find myself surrounded by a sea of Scottish Nationalist MPs.

We got three times more votes than they got, yet there are fifty something of them, and only one UKIP MP. How can that be fair?

We got more votes than the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Ulster Unionists, and the Green Party combined.

I know how unfair our political system is in this country. I sit next to it every day.

Politics is a cartel. The rules have been rigged to remove the threat of choice and competition to insiders.

There is a mood of real restlessness out there amongst the voters. Almost four million voted for us. Tens of thousands of comrades voted to make Comrade Corbyn Labour leader.

Anger at the injustices of the corporatist economy are simmering away not far below the surface.

There is a mood of resentment directly towards the political cartel in Westminster.

Europhiles will smear and jeer. They claim that UKIP is a rejection of the modern world. No, we're not. Far from rejecting modernity, modernity has made the emergence of UKIP as the third force in British politics possible.

Instead of implying that there is something wrong with voters for feeling disaffected, the question is what is wrong with our political system.

Historically, the established parties in this country represented different sectional interests. Labour, as the name suggested, once represented the interests of organised labour. The Conservatives once represented the interests of business.

Today, the sectional interest those two parties most clearly represent is that of career politicians.

Far from ensuring voters get a choice, the cartel parties diminish voter choice.

They select the same kind of candidates, drawn from the same narrow background, with the same sort of outlook.

Too many trod the same path from special adviser to safe seat. From backbench toadying to front-bench blandness. MPs becoming MPs because they worked in the offices of MPs. It's a cosy club.

Of course, there are good people in all parties. I know lots of people on both sides of the House full of good intentions.

But if you only ever follow the whips through the voting lobbies, how can you know that you are doing the right thing?

Westminster encourages group think.

And it's group think that has run this country for too long... and run us into the ground.

It was group think about banking and credit before 2007 that helped cause the financial crisis.

We've only had more group think ever since.

The single biggest driver of income inequality in Britain today is a monetary system that has artificially driven up the value of assets. This has widened the wealth gap between haves and have nots. At the heart of the "capitalist" system, central bankers, not the market, fix the price of capital. That's not the free market. It's crony corporatism.

And both establishment parties are happy to go along with it.

Then there's the adoption scandal. Group think means more and more forced adoption, hidden from public view. More and more grandparents find their grandchildren taken off them by force. Secrecy in the family courts. Expert evidence unchallenged.

Both establishment parties are unwilling to change things. None of them is willing to end the blanket secrecy of the family courts.

It's group think that took us into what became the European Union all those years ago – and it's the group think of the Westminster tribe that keeps us there.

It's groupthink that led us into the Exchange Rate Mechanism in the 1990s.

It's group think that has tied us to the world's only declining trade block. Group think cannot see that our future prosperity means joining the 93% of people on the planet who don't live in the European Union. We need to leave the EU.

We need political reform to break the cartel, to end the group think that is holding us back.

That means a proper Right of Recall, allowing voters to trigger by-elections.

Too many MPs come from safe seats. They answer not to voters, but to party whips. We need a right of recall so that local people decide who represents them.

But we also need electoral reform to abolish the idea of a safe seat altogether.

I am so pleased to see Katie Ghose from the Electoral Reform Society here. I was a supporter of electoral reform while I was still a Conservative. I sponsored meetings of the Electoral Reform Society long before I joined UKIP.

Katie, it is a great honour to have you and the Electoral Reform Society here with us today. Thank you.

What kind of electoral reform system do we need? It's not up to me.

It'll be for you, our members, to decide.

But I would simply say this. The first-past-the-post system we have today is not a longstanding British tradition. Like so many things we think of as ancient integral pieces of how we're governed, it's a late Victorian invention.

Until the 1880s, we didn't have first-past-the-post. We had first-two-past-the-post. Most constituencies returned two MPs to Parliament. Having two MPs per constituency meant more choice and competition.

It was only in the 1880s, around about the time they gave the ordinary working man the vote, that they had to devise a monopolistic electoral system to try to control whom the working man might elect.

If UKIP is to win, we must be a force for change. And in order to carry a convincing message of change, we must radiate optimism. A belief that tomorrow can be better than today.

Optimism is infectious.

The world is getting better. Yes, there's plenty we don't like about the cartel politics and the corporatist economy. That's why our party wants change.

Most people in this country are living longer, happier, and healthier lives than ever before.

Infant mortality is not only falling in sub-Saharan Africa. It's down dramatically in this country too.

Yes, people are right to be concerned about crime. Knife crime in my Clacton constituency remains stubbornly high. But overall violence is in decline. There's less binge drinking amongst the young than a decade ago. Diseases that could only be managed a generation ago can today be cured.

Britain is a more tolerant and open society today than ever before. Let's never blame outsiders for the problems caused by political insiders.

Technology is giving us greater choice and opportunity than seemed imaginable just a couple of decades ago. Blockchains and other innovations are about to open up a whole new world of possibilities.

But there's one great, stonking reason – above all others – for UKIP to be cheerful. We are finally going to get that In/Out referendum. The thing we've all campaigned for, for so long, is going to happen.

We've all been involved in the struggle for this referendum. Many in this room deserve a medal.

David Cameron once flatly ruled it out. Not anymore. We won that argument, and it's down to many here now.

But it will all be worthless if we do not now win the referendum.

The only question that should really count is, "how can we win it?"

We need to put our country first. This is not about who wins democratic elections. It's about whether we remain a self-governing democracy at all.

We must be prepared to work with anyone – left or right, politician or undecided. All backgrounds, all faiths, all colours, all people.

There are good, honourable, patriotic members in all parties. We must work with them all.

It is not enough to win by offering opposition to Brussels. Our challenge is to show how Britain outside the EU can prosper.

It's an honour to have joined UKIP a year ago. I have made many friends and been warmly welcomed. Together we have the great referendum battle ahead. Let everything we do be about winning it. Let's do it."

30 SEP 2015

Cheer Up!

So often so much news is so glum. Here, on this bright autumn day are some reasons to be cheerful.

1. It's an Indian summer: England is bathed in stunning sunshine (just look at the view from my office!). In my corner of Essex, the autumn weather has been glorious, with a bountiful supply of blackberries and fruit.

2. Diseases are being cured: Medical advances are not only helping us live longer but curing conditions thought to be untreatable. Just in the last few weeks the World Health Organisation has backed the global rollout of antiretrovirals to treat HIV, new immunotherapy drugs are bringing new hope to sufferers of melanoma in the UK, and British doctors have pioneered stem cell surgery to reverse the effects of macular degeneration. There have been more medical advances in the last twelve months than in most of the last 10,000 years of human history.

3. Technology is taking off: Driverless cars - set to be tested on British streets next year – herald a future of lower congestion and higher safety in our cities. 3D printing is revolutionising manufacturing in everything from circuitry to cooking – bringing production to the people. The Internet of Things is transforming the home – allowing you to control heat, light, water, power, even pot plants from your smart phone. We are living through the greatest age of innovation since the industrial revolution.

4. Power to the people: The digital revolution may change even politics for the better. Blockchain technology, the basis for digital currencies like Bitcoin, has created the potential for companies, political parties, and public services to run without top down control – taking control away from the elites, and giving it to the voters.

5. Corbyn mania is just hype: Listening to Comrade Jeremy yesterday was nothing new. In fact the speech was recycled from the 1980s, and the ideas were regurgitated from the 1960s. He had lots of clichéd phrases, and little to say fresh about the condition of our country today. His poll ratings are negative – and that's in his honeymoon period. It's an existential problem for socialism, I'm pleased to say – see point 4 above.

6. UKIP rising: There is now an enormous opportunity for a forward-looking, free market party that challenges the elites and offers genuine reform. A party which understands that tackling inequality requires sound monetary policy, preserving democracy demands taking power back from Brussels, and ensuring the prosperity of everyone in Britain means breaking up the cosy corporatist cartel of Big Government and Big Business. UKIP is that party – and the latest polls show our message is getting through.

7. And if that's not enough... Christmas is only 85 days away!

Unless you dislike sunshine, hate Christmas, and have an insatiable need to tell other people how to live their lives, there is every reason to be cheerful!

28 SEP 2015

UKIP conference in Doncaster



UKIP is committed to working with any group that stands a reasonable chance of being designated the official Leave campaign by the Electoral Commission. 

Doing so ensures that UKIP is central to the official campaign - whichever group gets the designation. 

Working with everyone is in UKIP's best interests - and it maximises our chances of winning the referendum. 

25 SEP 2015

The Future's Bright, the Future's Global

David Cameron's tête-à-tête with François Hollande this week showed – once again - that his promised EU "renegotiation" is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Six decades of ever-closer union have demonstrated beyond doubt that the European project knows only one direction of travel. A reformed EU will never be an option.

But Britain must not be afraid to quit the unreformed EU. In fact, we have everything to gain from leaving.

Britain is uniquely placed to benefit from economic cooperation with the rest of the world - if we break free from the world's only declining trading bloc. As Business for Britain's excellent Change, or Go report observes: we already have global reach in financial services; our language is the lingua franca for business worldwide; and our legal system is shared and emulated by countries across the globe.

Yet the EU is holding us back from globalisation. Instead of promoting trade, it prevents it – by raising tariffs and other barriers against countries outside Europe. Instead of making it easier to do business, it makes it harder – by undermining the global competitiveness of British companies with pointless regulation.

Moreover, the costs of staying in vastly outweigh any benefits. Even in the worst case scenario, the future cost of potential tariffs for doing business with the EU is nowhere near the current cost of EU membership. At the same time, the cost of our exposure to an ever more likely Eurozone collapse will be far greater if Britain is still chained to the sinking European ship when it happens.

Britain has been a global trading nation for 300 years. It has been part of the Single Market for only 40. There is every reason to believe that Britain can and will prosper outside the EU, and no reason to expect the EU to recover from its continual downward trajectory.

Let's not be 'little Europeans,' shackled to the failed protectionist orthodoxies of the past. There is a whole world of trade opportunities waiting. It's time for us to take them.

24 SEP 2015

Is this the age of political easy answers?

Earlier this week, I participated in a Discuss debate in Manchester, speaking against the motion, 'This is the age of political easy answers.' I argued that this is the age of political insurgency - and it needs to be taken seriously:


23 SEP 2015

Britain's productivity puzzle - what needs to be done

Listen to Government bravado, and you'd think our economy is in rude health. New productivity figures tell a very different story.

The Office for National Statistics records that UK output per hour lagged behind the G7 average in 2014 by 20 points – "the widest productivity gap since comparable estimates began in 1991." In fact, there is only one G7 country with lower productivity than the UK: Japan.

Why is our productivity so low? The answer lies in what the UK and Japan have in common: easy credit.

Our economy can't kick the addiction to cheap money. Like Japan, the UK has kept interest rates artificially low to prop up effectively insolvent banks: zombie companies that would otherwise fail.

Socialising the losses of a broken banking system is a bad idea in itself. Yet the broader consequences of negative interest rates are worse still. Because it is cheap to borrow, consumers borrow to spend instead of saving to invest. Money flows into speculative asset bubbles, instead of innovation. In short, the result is malinvestment: the misallocation of resources to unproductive sectors of the economy.

We are living on not just borrowed money but borrowed time. We are relying on consumption-fuelled economic growth, made possible only by an ever-growing inflow of foreign capital, and ever-widening current account deficit.

But foreign lenders will not finance our profligacy forever. They know that if we are chronically incapable of earning as much as we spend, then we won't be able to pay them back. Sooner or later the markets will react: the cost of borrowing will grow, the value of sterling will fall, the price of imports will rise – and households across Britain will suffer.

What can we do to avoid this? One thing we cannot do without is genuine banking and monetary reform – and UKIP will be putting forward practical policies to achieve this.

But other reform is necessary too. We need to reform the tax credits system and stop incentivising companies to rely on low-paid workers instead of capital investment to increase their efficiency. We need to take back control over our borders, with a points-based immigration system that doesn't discriminate in favour of cheap labour from Europe at the expense of high-value-added labour from the rest of the world.

The only way to increase our prosperity is to improve our productivity. Human history gives us every reason to be optimistic about economic progress: we can look forward to working less and earning more. Only bad public policy is holding us back.

22 SEP 2015

Osborne's Subsidy for Failure

George Osborne is in China this week, proving that politicians can't do business. Yesterday he announced £2 billion of public subsidy for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point - to be built by French and Chinese state energy firms. He calls it "another move forward for the golden relationship between Britain and China." But who gets the gold?

Government subsidy makes nuclear energy vastly more expensive than the alternatives – and taxpayers and consumers foot the bill. The Government estimates the minimum price it will pay for energy from Hinkley Point at £89.50/MWh – double the current average wholesale energy price of £44.72/MWh. To quote the BBC's Robert Peston, Hinkley Point energy looks "scarily expensive."

But it gets worse. The Government is relying on France's state-backed EDF Energy to deliver the new power station on time and on budget. Yet EDF has a track record of failure. Its new nuclear plant at Flamanville in France, scheduled to open in 2012, is now more than three-times and €7 billion over budget, and still isn't running. EDF's tie-ups with its partners in China aren't going smoothly either, with serious concerns arising over safety.

Moreover, the Chancellor is effectively handing over our energy production to foreign governments. We will now be relying on France and China – both going through economic crises - for our electricity. So much for our energy independence and security.

Yet misguided nuclear subsidies are not enough for the Chancellor. He also backs subsidies for all varieties of renewable energy – some costing taxpayers and consumers over £300/MWh. All the while, the price of oil has fallen to under $50 per barrel and looks set to stay low.

Household energy prices should not be an issue right now. They have been kept high by cross-party collusion with Big Energy. Since Ed Miliband's 2008 Climate Change Act – supported by the Tories – UK consumers have been forced to fork out up to £18 billion every year for inefficient energy providers.

Government subsidies are the kiss of death for any industry: whether cars, or banks, or food. They remove any incentive for producers to compete, and ensure that they will never be able to survive without taxpayer support. Energy is no different. By supporting massive subsidies for renewables and nuclear, the corporatist consensus at Westminster ensures that they will never be a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

UKIP is the only party that stands against subsidy, and for lower energy prices. As such, UKIP is also the only party that is truly in favour of renewables and energy diversity.

Time to cut the cords of corporatism, and set energy free.

21 SEP 2015

The Injustice of Secret Courts

Too many grandparents never get to see their grandchildren again. Why?

Because the state takes their children's children into care – and then has them adopted. The key decisions are made in secret family courts.

Don't get me wrong. Most of the time, I have no doubt that the decisions made by family courts are the right ones. You need the wisdom of Solomon to make these kinds of judgements.

But too often I fear wrong decisions are being made. Perfectly loving grandparents, who are perfectly capable and willing to provide of home for the grandkids are being ignored and overruled by a system that invites collusion between the experts and the professionals.

Family court proceedings are closed to the public, and the testimony and identity of local authority witnesses is protected. As a result, local officials and expert witnesses responsible for the break-up of families are immune from public scrutiny and accountability.

Intervention to put a stop to genuine cases of child abuse is a necessity. But the lack of accountability has led to other abuses. In many cases, children have been removed from their birth parents unnecessarily, causing enormous emotional distress. Instead of being protected, some have suffered abuse in foster care that they would never otherwise have encountered.

In 2008, The Times's Camilla Cavendish wrote a series of articles documenting the failings of social services. In some cases, injuries to children had been improperly diagnosed. In others, recommendations were given by professionals who had never met either parents or children.

In response to the Cavendish campaign, Gordon Brown's government drafted legislation to allow media attendance in court and the identification of professional witnesses. But following an inquiry by the Commons Justice Committee in 2011, the legislation was never implemented.

It is time to put this injustice right, and UKIP in Parliament will be bringing forward some new ideas to do this.

19 SEP 2015

Corbynomics is OsBrown's cousin

According to Bank of England chief Mark Carney, Jeremy Corbyn's plan for people's quantitative easing would "hurt the poor". Osborne and Cameron have called him a "threat to our economic security". They're right, of course. Trouble is, they're not much different.

Osborne and Carney have pioneered "print money and pray" economics. Between 2009 and 2012, the Bank of England made asset purchases (translation: printed) in the sum of £375 billion. At the same time, it has kept interest rates effectively negative since 2008. Since Mark Carney took over as Governor in 2013, the Bank has postponed raising the base rate every month for two years. Mark Carney may disingenuously claim prices have been stable, but price inflation outstripped wages – and decreased living standards – for six straight years.

Moreover, the newly printed money has flooded into assets and created new bubbles. Not only has the stock market seen enormous rises, out of all proportion to wider economic growth, but house prices nationwide have continued to rise in spite of the recession, and in London have outstripped wages by over 15%.

This is the single biggest driver of inequality in Britain today.

Osborne supported Gordon Brown's bank bailout, one of the largest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich in human history. He has backed the Bank to the hilt – proudly describing himself as a "monetary activist." His Help to Buy mortgages incentivise young first-time buyers to take on unsustainable debt, and promote the same subprime lending that led to the crash in 2007. At the same time, he has almost doubled the national debt, leaving the UK catastrophically unprepared for the next crisis.

Young people in Britain who cannot afford to buy a home and will spend the rest of their lives paying off their parents' debt have Osborne and the Bank to thank.

Don't misunderstand me: Corbynomics are disastrous. But they are merely an extension of OsBrown economics: inflationary, corporatist 'Soak the Poor' policies that enrich the elites at the expense of the British people.

Britain needs a real alternative: sound money, sustainable public finances, fair taxation, and free enterprise. An economy run by the people, for the people – not by the Westminster elites for their cronies.

The alternative is UKIP.

18 SEP 2015

Small Business is not for staying

We are constantly told that business wants Britain to stay in the EU. But does it?

The FSB's new survey of small businesses in the UK suggests no such thing. Look behind the spin, and the figures are startling: less than half (47%) of small businesses surveyed support staying in, and under 35% believe the EU is good for their individual business.

Meanwhile, over 40% are in favour of leaving the EU.

But should this be a surprise? Most of what small businesses produce and sell isn't for the single market at all, but instead for domestic consumption or non-EU markets. Yet whether or not they sell to the EU, small businesses still have to comply 100% with EU red tape.

Why should a coding company doing business in India, or an agri-business selling to Russia and Latin America, or a hairdresser serving customers in Clacton have to conform to rules introduced under the auspices of the Single Market? Is it any wonder many want out?

More revealing is that many small businesses don't feel informed about the EU and its impact on Britain. They are told that we need to be members of the EU to trade with it.

But common sense shows otherwise. Non EU Switzerland exports 5 times more per person from outside the Single Market than we manage from within.

If the Stay spin machine can't even get business onside, then the submit-to-EU campaign is really in trouble.

The challenge for the Leave campaign is to show how leaving the EU is better for business and trade. We are making that case - and the polls reflect it as the deep scepticism of the FSB members shows.

17 SEP 2015

Credible Opposition v. Corbynomics

On Tuesday, I voted for fiscal responsibility, supporting a proposal to reduce tax credits.

Inevitably this prompted howls of protest on Twitter. "How heartless!" one insisted. "You're letting people down" declared another.

Really? What is compassionate and virtuous about a system that permanently keeps working people in low pay?

Tax credits were introduced by Gordon Brown to reduce poverty. Far from lifting people out of poverty it has ended up keeping many people there. If big business knows that the taxpayer is going to top up low wages, they have every incentive to keep on paying low wages.

It is odd that the party Keir Hardie founded cannot see that. Tax credits on the current scale are part of the corporatist economy that is holding people back. What the Left wants us to believe is a subsidy for big corporate payrolls ends up helping working people.

At the same time, if tax credits are too high, they incentivise companies to rely on cheap labour, and disincentivise them from capital investment to increase their productivity, which would ultimately enable wages to rise. As the Telegraph's Jeremy Warner has written, 'there is little incentive for employers to improve their productivity, and therefore their wage levels, when labour is subsidised to the degree it now is from general taxation.' Hence the worrying stagnation in the productivity of our economy.

Jeremy Corbyn and the comrades support a welfare wonderland that would not merely make us a basket case like Greece. They support measures that would actually pay to prevent us getting more productive and competitive.

UKIP will always support fiscal responsibility and fair taxation. The Government's reforms to the tax credits system are a step in the right direction. There is plenty that this government is doing that needs opposing. Labour's support for Venezuela-economics precludes them from doing that job. UKIP will – with a sensible approach to economics.

Welfare reform is economically essential – and, thanks to the good sense of the voter, widely popular.

11 SEP 2015

UKIP's chance

"Labour is ... running off to the Left" suggests Fraser Nelson in today's Telegraph, and "the Tories must now run towards them."

Anyone else spot the gap in the political market? 

If Fraser is right and the two main Westminster parties canter off to the left, there is a massive opportunity for a politicial upstart - or start up - rooted on the center right, with a radical reformist agenda based on choice and competition.

"Impossible!" scoff many Westminster insiders.  Traditional Labour voters can only be scooped up with traditional leftwing policies, they presume.  

Really?  Over in the US, Donald Trump's stuborn success in the primary contest suggests that many traditional Republican voters might not actually be that into the political philosophy that guided many Republican leaders.  Digital disintermediates politics in all sorts of weird and wonderful way, including in some cases by separating insular leadership from the base.  

I just don't believe that traditional Labour voters are animated by Fabianism idealism anymore. (See Ed Miliband for details).  They are up for something fundamentally different.

About half of Labour's traditional vote may be up for grabs, Fraser informs us. And he is right.

But does anyone seriously think that many of those votes will migrate to David Cameron's Conservative party over the next five years? In whole swathes of the north of England, one thing that has helped keep an atrophied Labour party office has been the repellant power of the Tory brand.

Yes, those Labour votes are up for grabs, but they are unlikely to go to the Conservatives. The story of the last election was of Labour voters moving to UKIP. Not unlike the 1920's, I believe a process of realignment is underway.

The same research Fraser refers to suggests that Labour switchers to the Conservatives are uneasy with their new choice. Those that switch to UKIP don't look back.

The Conservatives must, according to Fraser, be the opposition to their own government. Given the extent to which many ministers in this administration are run by their mandarins, that will indeed be the case.

David Cameron has "long been fusing the best of New Labour with the best of Conservatism", according to Fraser. The Cameroons, he tells us, have picked up where Blair left off.

I don't disagree. Soft right Tory governments are almost indistinguishable from soft left Labour one's. Its what voters means when they say "all you politicians are the same".

Like New Labour, the Conservatives are pursuing the same corporatist economic agenda, with credit rationing and massive stimulus spending. And like the Blairites, they are fond of the same sort of patrician social improvement programmes. (See Kids Company for details.)

There a growing market for a radical alternative, based on breaking open the political and economic cartels that run this country in their own interests.

If Cameron chases Corbyn to the left, there'll be plenty of space on the stage for UKIP.

09 SEP 2015

Brussels is strangling the digital economy

Europe needs to change, insists David Cameron. It has to become more competitive. We need to complete the Single Market, he tells us.

This sounds plausible. But take a look at what this actually means.

In the name of completing the single market in digital services, the EU has changed the rules on VAT.

Each time a business sells a digital good to a customer, VAT needs to be paid. Previously the amount of VAT in a transaction depended on the VAT rate where the business was based.

But, of course, VAT rates vary and businesses found it more advantageous to base themselves in low VAT member states. In other words there was tax competition.

For all Cameron's talk about competition and the EU, when faced with a bit of internal tax competition - which might actually make Europe as a whole more competitive - EU officials moved to stop it.

Since January, VAT is no longer calculated on where the business in any transaction is located, but the customer.

Now there are 27 different VAT jurisdictions across the EU. Businesses selling digital goods to customers in the 27 EU states have to calculate VAT, and process VAT payments to different tax authorities, 27 different ways.

Smaller firms cannot cope, even if big corporates get by. However much Cameron and co want to associate themselves with everything Tech City and digital, on their watch the digital economy has been massively disadvantaged by these EU rules. Many digital businesses around the world amply won't sell to the EU now.

Of course David Cameron is not stupid. He can of course by now see the damage. But he's powerless to change it. He can only offer empathy and words.

It's always like this with the EU. More Europe is supposed to make things new and bright and shiny. It's all meant to be the future, which only reactionary retros oppose.

But in reality the EU leaves us less able to face the challenges of the modern world.

Our digital economy would benefit from Brexit.

03 SEP 2015

BBC's Simon McCoy virtue signals

"We have a moral duty to act" over the refugee crisis, I began the interview.  

"There are genuine asylum seekers" and we could do more to help them, I continued, as I made the case for doing more.  

Got that?  UKIP MP saying government should do more to help Syrian refugees?  

Pretty middle of the road stuff, I'd have thought.  If there was any angle to put on it, I'd have thought - at the most - it would be to point out that even UKIP thinks the government should do more.  

Not according to the BBC's interviewer, Simon McCoy.  Clearly told to expect his UKIP interviewee to make all sorts of outrageous points, he tried his best to confect a bit of outrage.

Watch it for yourself.  He seems at times to be literally clawing around to find something objectionable that I've said.    

This interview reveals more about the prejudices of BBC presenters than it does about the migration crisis, or how we might respond to it.   

03 SEP 2015

Cromwell remembered

Oliver Cromwell, that great East Anglian, died 363 years ago today.

To many, he was the hero of the English civil war. Thanks to his tenacity, the tyrant Charles I was defeated. Continental-style absolutism was overthrown. The rights of free born Englishmen and women safeguarded.

To others, he was the butcher of Drogheda. A military dictator who savagely crushed those proto libertarians, the Levellers, at Burford church, and in doing so set back the cause of English liberty.

To me, Cromwell is both – and as such, perhaps suggests that we English had our revolution a century too early.

Having defeated absolutism, we had no idea with what we should replace it (as the rather overblown Putney debates rather suggest).

If only we had had our revolution after the works of Polybius had been rediscovered in those dusty archives. Revealing, as they did, the inner workings of the Roman republic, they showed us how power might be constrained. It is no coincidence that when our American cousins had their revolution a century later, they therefore created a Senate and built a Capitol on the banks of the Potomac.

In Cromwell's time, we had no such example to guide us. So we lapsed back into despotism. Until of course, in 1688 we hit upon the idea of restraining the monarchy by putting a Dutch variety on the throne. Which worked. Sort of.

Perhaps if the works of Polybius had been rediscovered before the civil war we might now have a consul or two in Downing Street instead. And more constraints on sofa government. Or may be not.

Anyhow, spare a thought for Cromwell today. Hero or tyrannt, I hope you will agree that we still need to find better ways of holding those with power to account. 

02 SEP 2015

Passport to Britain? Once issued with one of these, a migrant can come into our country

Imagine that you are the government of Hungary. Or the head of a municipal authority in Italy.

Tens of thousands of migrants have just turned up in your jurisdiction over the past few weeks, and you haven't the resources to cope. At the same time, the migrants that you are struggling to feed and house don't really want to be there anyhow. Most are keen to press on north, into Germany, Scandinavia or the UK.

At first, perhaps you turn a blind eye if any of them clamber aboard a train heading north. Or maybe you issue a rail warrant to encourage them on their way.

How long before you do something more drastic and begin to issue migrants with official documentation that will allow them to travel freely across Europe?

The debate about how many asylum seekers we should accept from Syria is a side show. Last year, 636,000 people came into Britain. A mere 12,000 people were offered asylum.

The real issue is how many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants coming into Europe will get the right to come to Britain. So long as we remain in the EU, they will all eventually have the right to come.

Rather than focusing on the 5,000 migrants camped around Calais, we should be thinking about the 800,000 migrants who have just arrived in Germany. As soon as they get official status in Germany, they will have the right to come to Britain – and there is nothing David Cameron can do to prevent it.

As long as we remain in the EU, our borders are not controlled by British officials at Heathrow, Harwich or Calais. The ability to cross our borders is today in the hands of any official in any EU memberstate minded to issue a migrant with an ID card or passport.

At the moment, EU nationals can travel to Britain with just an ID card. These ID cards, with which one can enter the UK, are issued in many EU countries by local municipal authorities. What is to stop some local authorities in Italy or elsewhere issuing ID cards as a way of getting migrants to move on? 

I suspect it is only a matter of time before this happens.

From monetary policy to migration policy, the EU seems to export public policy failure from one member state to the next. We need to leave.

24 AUG 2015

Where is the serious thinking in government?

It was one of those watershed moments. Rev Paul Flowers, chairman of the Co-operative Bank, was asked by the chairman of a Commons committee if he knew the total asset value of the Co-operative Bank.

About £3 billion, he ventured. In fact, the total asset value of the bank over which he presided was £47 billion.

Before that moment, you would have been forgiven for assuming that those who sit on the boards of the big banks knew what they were doing.  Afterwards, it was obvious that corporate governance was not merely a problem at the Co-Op bank.

Far from being wise and competent, what if City board rooms were full of people who looked and dressed the part, but thought and talked in clueless cliché?   Those we once assumed to be capable and competent started to seem anything but.

I wonder if we will have a similarly revealing moment in politics, too.

Just like with banking, we take it for granted that those at the top in Westminster know what they are doing and why they are doing it. They are, after all, at the top. It is their job to think hard about public policy. So they must have done so, right?

A couple of days ago, the Times wrote about a new book, Inside the Nudge Unit. It is the story of the Whitehall behavioural insights team. Housed in the heart of government, this team has been able to improve the way we are governed. One of its big successes, the Times told us excitedly, has been to change the wording on letters sent out with tax returns. This has improved the rate of returns by several percentage points, apparently.

Great. But where is the new thinking about the big picture issues? Where is the unit in Downing Street thinking about how we might respond to the mass mass movement of people across the Mediterranean? What, besides more fences for Calais, do ministers propose we actually do?

Like the Co-Op board, government seems to have detailed policies on issues of relatively minor significance, but little grip on some fundamentals.

The economy is growing again. The politicos who preside over us are keen that we should thank them for it. Yet, just as we have done for decades, the increase in output is largely driven by consumption. It is a rise in output conjured up with cheap credit. We continue to live beyond our means by issuing IOUs.

Several years after the banking bubble burst, who in government is giving serious thought to monetary alternatives and real bank reform? Ministers are keen to dress in hard hats, but are they prepared to ask the kind of questions that will need answering if we are to actually rebalance the economy?

Corporate governance means scrutinising those who run things.  Just as a bank needs good corporate governance, so does a country.

If the chairman of the bank does not know the total asset value of the business, why even talk about banking ethics? If ministers cannot control our borders, why are they worrying about being able to control sea levels?

The business of government has become too big and bloated. Government needs to de-clutter. Ministers need to understand the core business of government.

Giving an additional £3 million to embattled charity, Kids Company, would not help "deliver the outcomes for which the department is funded by Parliament", the head of the Cabinet Office warned ministers recently. It did not stop them handing out the money.

Perhaps ministers need a far sharper sense of the outcomes government is there to achieve – and then some grown up thinking about how to achieve them.

20 AUG 2015

800,000 migrants arrive in Germany

Germany, we were often told, is losing people. The birth rate is so low, according to the experts, that there will be many fewer Germans in the decades ahead.

Early this year, a report by the World Economy Institute projected that the population of Germany will fall from 81 million today down to 67 million by 2060. Others talked about there being eight million fewer Germans by 2050. An official think tank produced proposals about managing demographic decline.

That was all before the summer.

Now we learn that almost 800,000 migrants are expected to arrived in Germany this year alone.  Those reports that were just a few months ago talking about 100,000 new arrivals each year are looking a little redundant.

It could be that this year is a one off. An exceptional year for migration. Demographic projections are notoriously unreliable. Alternatively, this scale of migration might turn out to be a new normal. We cannot be sure.

I suspect that in 2050 – and indeed 2060 – there will be more people living in Germany than there are today, despite what the expert think tanks once told us.

19 AUG 2015

Cheer up! Digital does not mean mass unemployment

Computers, it has become fashionable to say, are taking over. Its not just that they allow us to shop or bank online. They are, we are told, able to do more and more things that were once done by humans.

It is not merely a matter of automated checkouts and driverless cars. Ever more sophisticated digital technology means that computers may one day be capable of doing some of the things that solicitors and doctors currently do.

The techno pessimists seem cheered by the thought of mass redundancy. Technology, which has for so long raised living standards, will put us out of work, they imply. Nonsense.

Of course new technology is going to be disruptive. It will destroy jobs – and cause hardship and upheaval for those affected. But people will do what they have always done when technology increases our productive capacity; they'll find work doing something even more productive.

Here in my corner of rural Essex, a handful of combine harvesters have been getting in the wheat and the barley. A dozen or so men have been busily doing what once every villager would have laboured long and hard to achieve.  Indeed, the local schools did not start again until mid September, once the harvest was in, so that children could help out, too. 

When agriculture was mechanised many jobs went, including the one's that meant having youngsters labour in the fields. At the time it might have seemed that farm labourers might not easily find more work. But they did - and their descendants work in shops and offices doing less backbreaking work, with longer leisure hours.

Machines destroyed the job of charcoal burner, blacksmith, miller and candle maker, too.  Most of the jobs that existed in rural Essex a century or so ago have gone. Yet there are more people working in this part of Essex than ever before.

The digital doomsters cannot imagine what everyone might do for a living in the future. That tells us less about the future than it does about the difficulty they have imagining it.

In thirty years time, more people will be working in more productive jobs, sustaining an even higher standard of living than today. (Unless, of course, Jeremy Corbyn gets in). Cheer up!

17 AUG 2015

Crony corporatism makes Corbyn more credible

Corbynism is a reaction to Osbrown economics.  We must not let it be seen as the alternative.

Jeremy Corbyn, we are told, wants something called "People's QE".   Instead of using QE – or Quantitative Easing – to give hand outs to the big banks, Mr Corbyn wants to use this magic money tree to build things. People's QE, it is suggested, would be used to build better transport links and hospitals.

And why not, many might say?   If money can be conjured out of nowhere to give large City institutions massive subsidies, why not do the same for road and rail links?  If monetary policy is to be used as a form of stimulus, why not do it by building things the public actually needs?

The arguments against "People's QE" are perfectly sound. The trouble is that they are going to be rather hard to make given that the people who will be making them will have spent much of the past decade cheerfully advocating QE for the banks.

For those on the centre right, this is part of a bigger strategic problem. You cannot achieve small state, free market ends through big government, interventionist means.

This has not stopped successive Tory administrations from trying. A generation ago, Conservative ministers created the national curriculum in order to ensure teachers taught the way that they wanted. I would argue it had the precise opposite effect, allowing leftist dogma from teacher training colleges into every class room in the country.

Conservative ministers justified QE on the basis that it would "save the banks" and "rescue capitalism" blah blah blah. What it has actually done is make banks dependent on state hand outs and give capitalism a bad name.

Worse, it has created a mechanism that will allow a future leftist government to conjure out of nothingness a balance sheet that it can spend. If you have "People's QE", why even bother asking those that we elect to approve what Treasury officials wish to spend?

Again and again, Conservative party leaders make concessions to big state intervention and corporatism. All they do is enable their opponents to push the agenda to the left.

Despite being governed by those that talk right, successive administrations have taken us to the left.  George Osborne is no exception.  

If Corbyn does ever start to sound credible on Question Time, its because corporatism makes him seem that way.  

The alternative to Gordon Brown and George Osborne's "print more money and pray" economics is not Corbynism.  It is time for an unapologetically free market, small state alternative. UKIP.  Here are some ideas on what that free market alternative might look like.

14 AUG 2015

Grass roots growth

The media narrative has switched to Comrade Corbyn and Labour's leadership saga.  The professional pundits are spending their summer trying to explain a phenomenon they failed to see coming.  

The idea of politics as an authentic, grass roots activity, guided by a coherent philosophy is something they find baffling.

Meanwhile, here in Clacton last Friday evening over 110 local residents paid £10 a head to come to a fish and chip community supper.  The event was so popular, we had a waiting list.

The theme of the evening, on which I gave a little talk, was "Why we all need to cheer up!".  Think of it as Hayek and von Mises for everyone.  Optimistic, libertarian, unapologetically free market.  The world is getting better thanks to freedom and free trade.  In the era of ebay, Amazon and smart phones assembled through globalisation, these ideas have never been easier to articulate.

Of course, as everybody in SW1 knows, politics informed by a coherent philosophy is a complete no no.  Which is why most politicans keep patronising voters with empty soundbites.  

On the subject of empty, I gather there were spare seats at Yvette Cooper's big event yesterday.  Maybe they would have been filled if she had something to say?  

13 AUG 2015

The death of the Left?

Labour faces wipe-out, according to Tony Blair. If the cyber comrades really do elect Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, warns the former Prime Minister, Labour will suffer catastrophic electoral wipe out.

I reckon he's right.

For years, Labour has been run by politicians who never quite said what they meant. Triangulation and spin became such common currency in the upper echelons of the party, no one ever seemed to know what the Labour front bench stood for – least of all those on the front benches.

Craving something more authentic, and uninspired by the mediocrities standing for the leadership, the leftist tribe appear to be ganging up on line to elect Comrade Corbyn.  Lost in that echo chamber called twitter, the left simply cannot see how toxic their authentic socialism will actually be to swing voters in marginal seats.

Yet this is not merely a crisis of the Labour leadership.  This is an existential problem for the whole of the left.  

Being on the left has always meant wanting to do things by top down design. Whether under Attlee or Blair, Wilson or Clegg, the left in this country has in its DNA an assumption that human social and economic affairs are best be organised by blue print.

Comrade Corbyn's grand plan – with its aim of renationalising industry – might be a little grander than the Yvette Cooper / Andy Burnham blueprint – which will merely want to tell us how much sugar we should eat and how to raise our kids. But they are all in the business of bossing us about.

The trouble for the left is that the assumption that human affairs are best arranged by grand plan is coming to an end. Digital means the democratisation of decision making. Its not just on Spotify or iPlayer that we will be able to decide things for ourselves. Self selection is becoming a cultural norm. Public services will increasingly be personalised, to the point where it won't really matter what Yvette Cooper or Andrew Burnham think.

Corbyn's cyber comrades might believe that the banking crisis shifted politics leftward. To the rest of us, its just another piece of evidence to undermine the leftist assumption that "experts' – in this case central bankers – know best.

A handful on the left see the danger. The rest seem to be gearing up for vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn, of course, wants to reinstate Labour's Clause 4, which talks about putting the "means of production, distribution and exchange" into the hands of the people. Of course, in the age of Amazon, additive manufacturing and bitcoin, the means of production, distribution and exchange are indeed increasingly in the hands of the people. Only not quite the way the left intended.

To me, the catastrophe of British politics happened in the 1920s, when the Liberal party was displaced by Labour. From then on, political discourse was about the extent to which the apparatus of the state should run things. From that, all subsequent disasters followed; nationalisation, currency debasement, the expansion of the state, EU membership, the rise of corporate parasitism.

But what if we could undo the tragedy of the 1920s? What if UKIP, with almost 4 million votes to Labour's 9 million, were to displace them? What if politics became a contest between a patrician market Tory party and a properly radical, genuinely reformist, free market alternative?

Vote for Corbyn, comrades!

12 AUG 2015

Would a Corbyn manifesto be allowed under EU law?

What if Comrade Corbyn wins?  Just imagine what might appear in the next Labour manifesto.

A Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party would promise to take over the energy industry. The trains, they tell us, would be run by the state. Oil and gas companies would face nationalisation, the banks (re) nationalisation.

Those that rented houses, it has been suggested, would be given a legal right to buy their homes.

First under Tony Blair, then David Cameron, private providers have been allowed to deliver select NHS services and education. These reforms would be reversed, the state reinstated once more as the monopoly provider.

But hold on a moment.....  Would these changes be allowed under EU law?

European Union rules say that there has to be competition in certain sectors. Nationalisation would remove that. With non-UK companies and capital involved in everything from UK energy to banking, surely any efforts to expropriate such assets could be stopped as a violation of UK treaty obligations?

Even if a Corbyn-led Labour party won an election, much of its manifesto might be vetoed by Brussels.

Surely, you'd think, that is a reason to be in favour of Brussels?  At least the EU would save us from socialism.

Except it won't.  It is the EU that is giving out dated lefties a new lease of life right across Europe.

Far from being pro-free market, Brussels is a corporatist scam. Everything is run for the convenience of big business and big bureaucracy.

Under the Brussels system, profits are made by rentiers able to lay claim to public revenues. Capital is locked up in pursuit of subsidy. Amassing wealth is less about innovation in the pursuit of contented customers, and more a matter of gaining regulatory permission denied to rivals.

This, of course, gives capitalism a bad name. Which in turn is what makes Corbyn and co credible.  His policy prescriptions might be 180 degrees wrong, but there is an element of truth in Owen Jones' critique of The Establishment.

If the social and economic affairs of millions of Europeans can be organised by blueprint, why not, voters might ask, make it a socialist, rather than a corporatist, blueprint?  Brussels corporatism makes socialism more plausible.  If energy companies can be told how to generate energy, why not tell them at what price to sell it?      

When Britain joined what was to become the EU, we were told it would guarantee the free movement of goods, services and capital. The free market system, it was suggested, would be somehow locked in.

Except it isn't.  The single market is not a free market.  The EU is has produced a grisly corporatism, which is generating precisely the sort of retro socialism we struggled so hard to escape.

10 AUG 2015

This is how the NHS isn't working in Clacton

Several days after hitting her head and passing out unconscious, my constituent still had not received any medical attention.  It was not through lack of trying.

Her husband did what he was supposed to do, calling 111. Advised to attend her local hospital, she then sat there ignored for several hours, eventually feeling so unwell she gave up and went home.

When they tried calling 111 again, they only got an answerphone.

It gets worse.

When my constituent asked me to get involved, I wrote to the health minister, Jeremy Hunt.

I know that you cannot look into every individual case, I explain in my letter to Jeremy, but what is happening on the ground and what your officials tell you is taking place are two separate things. Here in our part of Essex, someone who knocks their head and is rendered unconscious cannot get medical attention for several days. Could you make a few enquires to find out what is going on?

So I get a letter back from someone called Lord Prior of Brampton. This unelected member of the House of Lords is apparently in charge of these things. Except he's not, according to his letter.

It's the responsibility of the local CCG apparently. Or NHS England. Or anyone but the NHS minister.

Lord Prior, a former MP rejected by the voters of North Norfolk, went on to become Chair of the CQC.  He served on the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard Strategic Advisory Group.  He has been chair of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.  

It seems to me as if Lord Prior has done rather well out of the NHS.  My constituent cannot even get seen by a doctor.

No medical attention for her head injury. No follow up or diagnosis. No one in charge. A former quangocrat minister who won't accept responsibility.  

This is how our country is run today.

07 JUL 2015

Human Progress

It's bad news, isn't it?

Greece is poised on the verge of economic ruin. Half a million desperate migrants are likely to have crossed the Mediterranean this summer. A quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria.

These things are all truly awful. Yet when you consider the overall state of human kind, many things have actually got better.

I recently discovered Human Progress, an amazing new website that uses lots of facts and figures to show how much better things are today.

Think the world is getting more dangerous? Not so. We are living longer, safer lives, in a world that is notably less violent than it once was.

Concerned that we live in a world of injustice and inequality? Things are far from perfect, but the developing world has made remarkable progress within a few decades. Most folk around the world are much better off than their grandparents.

Fearful that the world is overpopulated? In fact birth rates are plummeting.

What really messes up the world are efforts by people to try to organise human affairs by grand design. Don't.  Stop it.  Left to human action, the world keeps getting better.

06 JUL 2015

If Greece can afford to reject more Europe, Britain cannot afford not to

This isn't how it was supposed to be. Decades of bungs from Brussels to the Greeks was supposed to create a grateful euro citizenry.

For years, EU money was lavished on Athens. New roads and construction projects were built. Massive agricultural subsidies were paid out. At one time, almost a tenth of Greece GDP was accounted for by such EU generosity.

Yet instead of showing their appreciation, the stubborn Hellenes now loathe the euro system. By a crushing majority the Greek people have rejected the hated Troika regime and what it has done to their country. Euro flags in Athens are today more likely to be burnt than waved.

What has happened in Greece is not just a run of the mill EU crisis. No council of ministers quick-fix can solve this one. This time it is existential.

Why? Because of what this crisis reveals about the viability of the European project that Jean Monnet and Jacques Delors, the two chief architects of EU integration, built.

The Monnet-Delors European ideal is based on the notion that by doing things together, Europe can do things better. The Greek crisis demonstrates how wrong that assumption turns out to be. Instead the European project has allowed public policy errors in one member state to be exported to the rest.

Greece, to be sure, is in a mess first and foremost because successive Greek governments have lived beyond their means. But it is the euro that allowed them to carry on doing so for so long.

Having showered Athens with handouts throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, as the EU prepared to take in new members in the east, a significant slice of Brussels largesse moved with it. But rather than rein things in, having developed a taste for living beyond her means, Athens was able to carry on with the good times by simply borrowing in euros.

The euro created a system of beggar-thy-neighbour economics. Borrow in the Balkans, and pass on the bill to everyone else. It's not just fiscal and monetary folly that the European project exports from one member state to the next.

Can't control your own borders or coastline? Don't worry, you can literally shunt the problem off to Calais. Suffering because your own industrial base is sclerotic and uncompetitive? Fear not. Thanks to the EU, you can create a level playing field by making everyone else in the EU equally uncompetitive too.

According to that old joke, the perfect European country would be one in which the chefs were French, the policemen British, the artists Italian and the officials German. What the EU project actually produces are Greek levels of fiscal irresponsibility, French attitudes towards free enterprise and an Italian system for controlling borders.

The Greek referendum result is crushing defeat for the European elite. Having used every sort of scare tactic imaginable to frighten the people into voting for the Troika deal, the people overwhelmingly rejected it.

This too reveals something terminal about the nature of the Monnet-Delors project. The European house the Jean and Jacque built has fundamental design flaws. It cannot much longer stand.

With no European people, or "demos", the founders of the EU project set out to deliberately create a system that co-opted support for their grand plan from local elites in each member state. The Brussels bung to Athens were not incidental, they were key to expanding the EU empire. 

By giving politicians and officials in each country a vested interest in more Europe, the architects of the EU hoped to create a momentum towards closer integration that public opinion could not stop. This explains why, in every member state including Britain, the ministers and mandarins are always more pro-EU than the people they are supposed to serve.

Yet Greece shows that that does not ultimately work. Without democratic legitimacy, no amount of collusion with local elites will hold the Brussels system together. In Greece – and perhaps soon too in Britain - local political leaders who play the role of Brussels' poodle, may not find themselves local leaders for very long.

The centre cannot hold. The house that Jacques and Jean built will fall apart. Grexit looms. So, too, does Brexit. Sometime next year there is almost certain to be a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

Like the Greeks, we, too, will find the EU elite, and their local satraps, trying to frighten us into voting for more Brussels. Already lobbyists with a stake in the Brussels system are pouring money into a nascent In campaign.

Unlike Greece, Britain – mercifully - never joined the euro. We have our own currency. Our economy grows, exports rise and trade with the wider world soars.

If even bankrupt Greece can afford to reject more Europe, Britain cannot afford not to.

03 JUL 2015

Greek poll won't change the laws of maths

Unless it is somehow able to change the laws of mathematics, the Greek referendum this weekend will not change the fundamentals.

This weekend Greece is being asked to vote to approve or reject the creditors demands. Pro Brussels pundits are lining up to cheer on a "Yes" vote.

Yes or No will not change the fundamentals.

Greek debts are now growing faster than Greece's ability to repay them. Only yesterday the IMF was talking about another €50 billion overdraft increase.

Maths means that Greece's debt to GDP ratio is only going to go one way - unless Greece defaults on the debt. No poll or politics can change that.

A Greek default means repaying creditors in a post-Euro Greek currency. It means higher taxes in Greece, most notably inflation tax, where by government prints too much money in order to transfer wealth from citizens to the state. It is not a case of wanting any of this or not wanting it. It is what will come to pass.

Greek governments have lived beyond the means of Greece taxpayers. They have done so for many years, and they were able to do so because European monetary union allowed Greek governments to borrow far in excess of what was sensible.

The poll this weekend cannot change any of that. It merely influenced how long this sorry saga must play out ahead of a default and abandonment of monetary union with the rest of the EU.

Greece might be the first Western state in modern times to have discovered that you cannot live forever beyond your means. She will not be the last.

02 JUL 2015

Osborne economics means £12 debt for £1 growth

Imagine if for every £12 you spent doing something you got only £1 back. If your aim was to make yourself richer, I hope you would soon have enough sense to stop doing it.

Not so if you are the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Over the past eight years since the financial crisis, successive administrations have tried to stimulate the economy by spending. For all the talk of "austerity", since 2007, government has spent £839 billion more than it has taken in tax.

The past eight years have seen, by definition if not by Treasury description, the biggest Keynesian stimulus in British history.

How much growth extra output has all this fiscal stimulus generated? £71 billion more.  Got that?  £71 billon more output for £839 billion more debt.  

A 130 percent increase in debt has been used to generate a 4.1 percent rise in output. Doh

Britain may well be the fastest growing economy in the G7. But we are the only economy daft enough to have spent £12 of debt to purchase every £1 extra prosperity.

Things might not feel so bad right now. But we can't go on like this.

01 JUL 2015

Northern power house does not mean more power in the North

It's not been a great week for the Northern Power House, has it?

First fracking. Despite sitting on enough natural gas to fuel the kind of industrial revival seen in America, it is proving almost impossible to get the stuff out of the ground. Why? It's not the laws of physics that are different on this side of the Atlantic, but the laws of regulatory restraint.

The gas must remain underground. Any dream of a northern industrial revival on the back of cheap energy must remain precisely that.

Then the rail upgrade between Leeds and Manchester got scrapped.

A day after this much heralded investment in northern transport infrastructure got cancelled, we learned that either Heathrow or Gatwick is going to get an extra runway. So much for regional rebalancing.

Despite all the talk of a Northern Power House, the economy in the north of England is barely back to where it was before the financial crisis.

The economy of London, meanwhile, surges ahead, the financial service sector fuelled by subsidies from central bankers and lashings of easy money. Quantitative Easing (QE) has been a great boon for corporate banks in the south of England.  

If you handed out free flour to bakers it would be a massive subsidy to the baking industry.  QE does something similar to banking, with easy money handouts to the banks.  No wonder the London economy is roaring ahead, while the north struggles.

Far from rebalancing the UK economy, government policy is exacerbating differences. Rather than empowering the north of England, George Osborne's wheeze makes the north of England ever more dependent on the whim of those inside the Treasury.  

30 JUN 2015

Technological innovation needs protecting from politicians

There is nothing inevitable about innovation. In fact, for most of human history there has been a striking lack of it. For most of the past hundred thousand years, one generation of Homo Sapiens lived with the same misery-inducing level of technology as the one before.

When new technologies do come along, what stands out is how often attempts are made to suppress their wider application.

Ming China restricted the use of printing technology to official texts. Efforts were made to curb the use of new spinning machines during the industrial revolution in England.

Often it is not so much an outright ban that is the problem, but regulatory restriction. 

Rather than welcoming newly invented motor cars, MPs in the late nineteenth century passed the Locomotives on Highways Acts. Amongst other things, this required a man with a red flag to walk in front of any motorised vehicle on the grounds of what we would today call "health and safety".

It's a relief to think that we are far to sophisticated and tech-savvy today to go in for any of that sort of reactionary nonsense. Except we are not.

We have been putting lots of men with red flags in front of technological innovation to slow it down.

Yesterday, councillors in Lancashire voted against a fracking development.  A new technology that would enable us to access billions of cubic feet of gas trapped in rock beneath our feet, cannot be applied because government has put in place dozens of regulatory obstacles.  

Of course, no one has actually banned shale gas extraction.  Instead we have created a red flag regulatory system that makes it practically impossible to get any of the stuff out of the ground.  

Medical science is making some extraordinary advances. A whole new range of drugs, based on our understanding of genetics, are being developed. Yet EU clinical trial rules and data protection insanity have put a series of red flags in front of their practical application.

Technological innovation means that cheap air travel is increasingly accessible to millions. Yet we put red flags ahead of aviation capacity.

In France yesterday it wasn't just a case of red flags slowing down innovation.  French officials actually arrested a couple of executives working for the taxi app Uber. (How is that new, competitive dynamic Europe thing coming along, by the way?)

Ours may be the most technologically advanced generation to have ever existed.  If we want innovation to keep happening, we need to ensure that politicians and vested interests are not able to prevent its further application.

26 JUN 2015

Dave's new deal means no real change

The rest of Europe knows that David Cameron is bluffing.  

Whatever new deal they offer him, they know that Mr Cameron wants to lead the referendum campaign in Britain to persuade the rest of us to accept it.  Not really a great negotiating position to be in, is it? 

Read my Telegraph blog which elaborates on the disaster that is Dave's new deal ......

25 JUN 2015

Nothing too grand for the Eurocrats

I popped over to Brussels this week to meet team UKIP in the European parliament.

One thing that struck me was the sheer scale of the EU's imperial ambition. It is reflected in the architecture of the parliament building, with its sweeping glass and chrome façade. It is moulded in the art that litters the corridors. It is etched on the faces of the Euro grandees that strut around the coffee bars and corridors.

If only folk back home could see this, I kept thinking.....

So here are a few photos that try to capture that atmosphere of Euro entitlement.

With so many vested corporate interests embedded in the EU corridors of power, there are special signs for lobbyists (Hat tip Steven Woolfe).

The coffee counter has two separate queues; one for mere mortals, the other for Euro politicians.

Outside the parliament building were several thousand Euro lefties on strike. They were protesting that they, too, should be allowed to live at someone else's expense.

The productive base in Europe today is no longer big enough to sustain a bloated welfare burden. And the EU grandees are too encased in their chauffer driven world to do anything about it.

No wonder Europe's economy is such a mess .....

18 JUN 2015

The left is dying

What is the point of the Labour party?

I don't pose the question to offend. It is what I found myself asking as I followed the turgid Labour leadership "debate" last night. What is Keir Hardie's party for?

The original purpose of the Labour party was, as the name suggests, to stand up for the interests of organised labour. Socio economic change means that we are no longer defined in quite the way that we once were. If the old sectional interest that the Labour party once represented has gone, what sectional interest does the Labour party in Westminster now stand for? That of career politicians, I'd suggest.

The contemporary Labour party is a cartel. It exists to sustain its MPs in office and its staffers on the payroll.

Perhaps the most extreme example of Labour as a self-serving cartel was Scottish Labour. Remember the Falkirk selection row? A small clique were accused of fixing the party's selection process.

That, I suspect, was just the tip of the iceberg. For decades Labour ran its Scottish seats as fiefdoms. The result was that some deeply unimpressive MPs were sustained as MPs in "safe seats".

Yet without choice and competition, pressures built up, erupting in a political Krakatoa in May.

But surely the triumph of the SNP, who replaced Scottish Labour, suggests that the left is alive and well?

I'm not convinced. It might not seem that way right now, but the SNP appears to me to be an aberration sustained by the Barnett formula. It is the by-product of a McPolitical system north of the border in which everyone gets rewarded for complaining about injustice, but no one needs to take responsibility for paying the bill.

Once the Scottish government has to live within a Scottish tax base, the centre of gravity in Scotland will shift dramatically. Give Scotland fiscal responsibility, and the land of Adam Smith will indeed be reborn – if not quite the way that uber lefty SNP MPs intend.

What happened to Labour north of the border could happen further south.  It is not simply that my own party, UKIP, achieved four million votes to Labour's nine million.  Nor is it because we are a close second in many northern seats. Something more profound is going on.

We live in a world of self-selection. From Spotify to our career decisions, making choices for ourselves has become a cultural norm. Who, in such a world, is going to vote for a party that offers only blue prints for how we organise society?

Twenty years ago, a sizeable slice of the electorate had memories of wartime rationing. They had grown up in a mid-twentieth century world in which the state presumed to know best. That has faded away. The last vestiges of mid twentieth century state rationing that remain have become by-words for delay and dissatisfaction.

On all the major topics of the day, the political pundits have shifted their stance dramatically over the past decade – and they've not moved to the left. Governments, they recognise, cannot keep spending money they don't have and call it investment. Uncontrolled immigration, they are willing to concede, is not always an unqualified blessing. Even (Lord) Danny Finkelstein is now willing to accept the need for an In Out EU referendum.

The left's crisis is existential. The left was born of the idea that human social and economic affairs are best organised by grand design. Digital dooms such gigantism.

Politics was once an argument between the capital and labour. It is increasingly a dispute between corporatism and the free market.

Interesting new ideas – on banking and money, political reform, the future of the EU, the digital economy – come not from the left, but from the free market, socially liberal right.

The Labour leadership candidates have little new to say because the left no longer has much new to say.

18 JUN 2015

Default? Which MPs dismissed the idea as "Eurosceptic scaremongering"?


Which MPs saw a default coming - and which ones dismissed it all as "Eurosceptic scaremongering"?

Four years ago, MPs debated the prospect of a default in the House of Commons.

Some MPs could see what would happen - and spoke up.

Others, such as Jo Johnson, MP for Orpington and Claire Perry, MP for Devizes, dismissed the idea of a default as "Euro sceptic scaremongering".  "Highly, highly unlikely" said Jo.

Who's judgement will you trust when the referendum happens? 

17 JUN 2015

Why we can't afford to gloat over Greece

All eyes are on Greece. A grossly indebted country, with underlying structural problems, has been living beyond it means for years. Something is going to give.

But might the same not be said about the UK economy too?

On the face of it, there is no comparison. UK output is rising fast, while GDP has collapsed in Greece. More jobs have been created in the UK in the past decade than there are jobs in Greece.

Yet before we get too cocky, the UK economic performance is not as good as it might seem.

For several years, our economy has been on the receiving end of a massive stimulus, both fiscal and monetary.

Despite all the talk of austerity, the government has in mathematical reality spent billions of pounds more than it has taken in tax, thereby injecting massive amounts into the economy. In doing so, the government has approximately doubled the national debt while adding a few percentage increases to output in return.

UK debt has grown faster than the economy. This is not the economics of a sustained recovery but of the credit card debtor.

Then there is the monetary stimulus. Governments have hosed cheap money and credit around to stimulate growth. Again, output has increased but, in the context of such a massive stimulus, not by much.

To get a sense of the economy's underlying strength, imagine if the stimulus stopped? What if the government ran a balanced budget? What if interest rates were back at the kind of level that incentivises savers to lend?  

House prices continue their dizzy upward spiral, especially in London. Savings ratios remain far too low. Household debt continues to rise. And our current account deficit – the difference between what we sell to the world and what we buy from the world – grows.

All of this, to me, suggests an underlying problem of chronic malinvestment: House prices rise not merely because of supply constraints, but because candy floss credit keeps being poured into bricks and mortar. Savings ratios are low because saving does not pay.

Household debt rises because monetary policy madness stimulates overconsumption. And the current account grows because monetary stimulus encourages us to live beyond our means, while the malinvestment it generates constrains the ability of companies to innovate and export. Oh, and malinvestment might also help explain Britain's chronic productivity problem too.

If the underlying UK economic problem is malinvestment, then one day that candy floss credit will have to come out of the system. It won't be pretty.

16 JUN 2015

The free trade case for Out

In 2006, 65 percent of UK exports went to the European Union. Last year, that figure had plummeted to 46 percent, according to ONS data.

Europe grows less important with each new set of trade statistics not merely because of the Euro crisis. Something more profound is happening to world trade.

Back in the 1990s, international trade meant developed countries buying and selling things from other developed nations - with a little bit of import and export with the less developed nations on the side. As late as 1990, trade between less developed nations was minuscule, accounting for a few percentage points of total global commerce.

This has changed dramatically in little more than a decade. Today, over a third of all global trade is between developing / emerging economies. It's happening without the old advanced Western countries involvement at all.

International trade in 2014, according to Liam Halligan, was worth $18,500 Billion. Of that, $6,000 Billion was trade between the developing world.

Africa's most important trade partners are no longer European or North American, but Asian. As late as 2000, Chinese trade with the whole of South America was worth less than $10 Billion. By 2013, it was worth $280 Billion. In 2009, China overtook America as Brazil's premier trading partner.

Of course the EU is becoming less important for the UK.  Our trade deficit would be in an even worse state it that were not the case.

Rather than sitting comfortably inside the world's only declining trade block, Britain needs to look to do deals with the parts of the world that are growing. Trade between the old industrialised states has been virtually stagnant for since 2007.

Being in the EU means we are stuck behind a common external tariff.  Worse, every British business is subject to a burdensome regulatory framework.  And we can't make trade arrangements with the parts of the plaent where the growth is.

"Being part of the EU means we have clout" insist the Brussels lobby. "It allows us to negotiate favourable terms".

On the contrary. Being part of the EU means not having trade deals at all. Outside the EU, Switzerland now has a trade agreement with China. When might we?  Due to various vested interests in Brussels, Britain does not even have free trade with India – despite the fact that Jaguar Land rover, a highly successful UK based business, is owned by an Indian parent company!

The idea that we need diplomatic clout to trade with the world is based on a misunderstanding as to why trade happens. Trade occurs when someone in one country wants to buy from someone in another. It's a question of mutual advantage between buyer and seller, not how many diplomats you have sitting at the top table.

For trade to happen, officialdom needs to get out of the way. That requires mutual standard recognition so that if it is legal to produce and sell product X in one country, it's legal to buy it in another.

When UK trade ministers (who despite all the first class air travel are famously bad at boosting trade) talk about negotiating favourable trade deals, what they really have in mind is more regulation. Their idea of a trade deal is to make it impossible to produce and sell product X in any country unless it conforms to a uniform regulatory standard. Big vested corporate interests tend to encourage this kind of arrangement, since they get to decide those single regulatory standards.

If Britain left the EU, we could, under Article 50, offer the EU genuine free trade. If it was legal to buy and sell a product or service in Colchester, it would be legal to buy and sell it in Cologne or Copenhagen too – and vice versa.

Of course, the EU might reject such a trade deal, insisting that if we wanted to sell to the EU we would have to comply with Single Market rules. But we have to do that already today.

If we only had to comply with Single Market rules when selling to the Single Market, we would be free from much of the harmful EU regulation when seeking to sell to the world. Given that almost 60 percent of our exports are now to the rest of the world, it makes little sense to bound 100 percent by every Single Market regulation.

If the EU rejected real free trade, and insisted that when selling to the Single Market we had to comply with Single Market rules, fine. There would be nothing to stop us going on to negotiate genuine free trade with the parts of the world that are prospering.

Given that the EU accounts for a rapidly diminishing share of our total exports, the case for being free to trade with the world beyond Europe grows every day.

15 JUN 2015

Europe's response to the Greek crisis - years of debt and delusion

Soon after the 2010 General Election, European leaders got together to discuss the Greek problem.

A decade of Euro membership had allowed the Athens government to borrow vast amounts of money off the banks. The debt, in Euro denominated bonds, was so vast, Athens could barely service the debt, let alone repay it. What to do?

One idea would have been to write off the debt. When a person or a country gets so into debt that they can't pay off what they owe, the least worst thing is often to make it the lenders problem.

A Greek default would have meant decoupling from the Euro, and re-establishing a Greek currency. All those debts could then be paid back, but in low value Drachmas, rather than Euros.

The consequences would have been painful. Output in Greece would contract. Credit would contract. Unemployment would rise. The banks that lent Greece all that money would have lost it.

But economic resources would have been rapidly reshuffled in the real Greek economy. As Argentina discovered after devaluation, or Britain found out after leaving ERM, growth would resume. Five years on, Greek output and living standards would be on the up.

Yet what did the people that preside over Europe do instead?

Almost unbelievably, they increased the size of the Greek debt through a series of catastrophic blunders they called "bailouts". Contrary to what the term implies, the bailouts did not alleviate the debts. Each one meant lending Greece more money, pushing Greece further into debt.

Secondly, the European governing classes used the bailouts to turn the Greek debts owed to private - often German – banks, into public liabilities. Foolish lenders were rescued from the consequences of their own idiotic fixed income investment strategies – and everyone else was left to pay.

Five years on, Greece is thirty percent more in debt than she was. The Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter. Millions of young Greeks have spent all that time with few prospects.

Yet here's the real tragedy;  For all that, Greece is still going to end up having to default, decouple and devalue all the same. But because the debts are that much bigger and the economy that much weaker, things will be even worse.

Europe's delusional elite, obsessed to the point of madness with their grand Euro projects, have spent five years making things worse.

The irony is that Greece is now looking to non EU Iceland for a solution. Far from passing private liabilities on to the public, Iceland told foolish bankers to take a hike. Some banks went bust. The currency devalued. The reshuffle started. Growth resumed.

Five years on, Iceland is doing pretty well. The next generation in Reykjavik will do better than the one before. How many Eurozone countries can say the same?

10 JUN 2015

How EU membership killed off UK clinical trials

How are we Better Off Outers to make our case? How do we show those undecided voters that Britain would do better if we left the European Union?

It won't be easy.

Brussels trade rules might be holding us back from dealing with the world. But it is hard to show something that's not happening. EU regulation might be stifling innovation. But how do you point to something that isn't there?

What benefits there are to being inside the EU - the grants and handouts - are tangible. The costs and lost opportunities are often dispersed and hidden.

Then along comes the EU Clinical Trials Directive.

Back in 2000, Britain lead the way in medical research. Six percent of all clinical trials world wide took place here.

This was good news for UK universities, hospitals and scientists. It was also great for those patients who benefited from pioneering treatment, too.

But the EU Clinical Trials Directive, whose regulations came into effect in 2004, put an end to much of this vital medical research.

Thanks to the Euro regulations, by 2006 a mere 2 percent of all patients entering into clinical trials were in the UK. By 2010 it was down to 1.4 percent. Medical innovation did not stop. Like HSBC is about to do, it merely moved to another non-EU jurisdiction.

Between 2007 and 2011, the number of clinical trials in the UK fell by 22 percent. According to Cancer Research UK, those cancer clinical trials that still take place in Britain take 65 percent longer to set up. Britain dropped from being the third most important place in the world for clinical trials, to an also ran. Beneath a blizzard of red tape, we slipped into mediocrity.

"But" defenders of the Euro system will say "those old EU rules are about to be replaced by bright new regulations which won't stifle clinical research".

Perhaps. But why must it take a decade of disastrous over regulation to get the rules changed? Why, for a decade, did all those trials not happen, those patients go untreated and those jobs and innovation have to move away?

If those that made the rules were meaningfully accountable to those affected by the rules, we could get it right right away.

If Britain was to determine our own rules for clinical trials we might become a world leader once again.  And what applies to clinical trials applies to almost every area of public policy.

If Britain was free to decide policy for ourselves, then from trade to technology, energy to the environment, we could innovate and adapt. 

Free from the corporatist clutches of Brussels, Britain would thrive and prosper because we would be open to innovation and the world.

03 JUN 2015

Explaining how I vote each time in Parliament

Digital is overturning many of our assumptions about size and scale. In terms of political communication, digital means that you no longer have to be big to get your message across.

As UKIP's sole MP in Parliament, I will be using digital technology make sure that UKIP gets heard.

Starting from this week, I will post on to my Facebook page every time that I take part in a Commons vote or debate – with a short explanation as to why I have voted the way that I have.

Many MPs hide behind the herd as they tramp through the division lobbies. They meekly vote the way the whips text tells them, the weekly whipping instructions  remaining a closely guarded secret.

I'll be putting an account of why I vote the way I vote on line each time.  That way, everyone gets to see what I am doing.

I be voting in what I beleive to be the best interests of my constituents.  I'll also aim to vote consistently for less government, lower taxes and for personal freedom. Oh yes, and for free trade – the great engine of human progress.

Do please link up to me on facebook.... 

26 MAY 2015

EU renegotiations; right not to rush

Exhilarating, isn't it?  A referendum on Britain's continued membership of the European Union is at hand. For the first time in a generation, there's a real possibility that Britain might leave.

With that prospect so tantalisingly close, it's tempting to want to rush ahead. "Bring it on!" many regular readers will say.

Hold on. Let's make sure we maximise our chances of winning.

Like it, or not, a great many voters - despite all that Brussels red tape and all those ghastly EU commissioners – have yet to be convinced that we should leave. If you think that winning over fifty percent of the votes is easy, just cast your mind back to election night in your constituency ......

For almost forty years, we Brits have complained about Europe. We've found the over regulation irksome and the arrogance of Brussels officials overbearing. We have muttered and grumbled.

But every time we have started to contemplate the alternatives, the political elite have bought us off with the promise that things are about to change.

Maastricht, we were told, was the high-water mark of federalism. Deregulation, Tony Blair insisted, would make Europe globally competitive. Subsidiarity would close the democratic deficit.

Of course, none of it ever happened. But the idea that things would be different has been used to keep us in. Let's not fall for it again.

That is why we should allow David Cameron time to negotiate his new deal.

Show us what different looks like, Prime Minister. Take your time. Don't rush things with Jean Claude Juncker. Why just a weekend at Chequers? Invite him to stay for the summer, if it helps....

The longer that the Prime Minister takes negotiating his new deal, the more evident it will become that there is no fundamentally new relationship with the EU on offer. Indeed, the Prime Minister is not even pushing for it.

The primary purpose of Mr Cameron's new deal is not to change our relationship with the EU, but to keep us in - just like Harold Wilson's faux deal all those years ago.

Once it becomes apparent that things are not fundamentally going to change unless we leave, many of those undecided voters will decide that enough is enough.  The only way to get the trade-only arrangements with Europe is to vote to quit the EU. 

Another brandy, Jean Claude?

22 MAY 2015

Grexit? The two facts that tell us all we need to know

Since 2007, general government debt in Greece has risen by 30 percent. Over the same period of time, the size of the Greek economy has declined by 25 percent.

Forget all the blah blah from the expert pundits. Ignore all the shenanigans about what one politician said to another. Those two bald facts are all you need to know.

Greek debt has increased with every bailout (a bailout does, after all, mean assuming more debt), and the ability of Greece to pay it back has diminished.

At the very outset of the crisis, some of us said that the least worst option would be for Greece to do the three Ds; Default, then Decouple from the Euro and then Devalue. If that had happened five years ago, Greece today would no doubt be well on the road to recovery, with a competitive currency and with all that malinvestment out of the system. 

Instead our government, along with the rest of them, went ahead with a rescue plan that was specifically designed to save banks from their own exposure to Greek debt - but not actually rescue Greece from any debt.

Thanks to this disastrous approach, five years on, Greece has acquired five more year's worth of debts, making the inevitable crunch when it comes all the more painful.

21 MAY 2015

UKIP economics

The UK economy is growing – and rather fast compared to other Western states. Great.

But so it should be given the size of both the fiscal and monetary stimulus.

This year, the government will spend £ 75Bn more than it will take from the economy in taxes. For all the talk of austerity, the government been engaged is a massive Keynesian spending stimulus for almost a decade now.

To put it into perspective, this spending stimulus has ranged between 5 and 11 percent of GDP for seven years in a row. That dwarfs the sort of spending stimulus we saw in the 1960s and 1970s, the supposed heyday of Keynesian orthodoxy.

At the same time, the economy has been hosed with cheap credit and Quantitative Easing.

What would be remarkable, given all this stimulus, is if there had not been any growth.

"But" I hear you say "if there's really has been so much stimulus, where's the inflation?"

Of course the prices of some things, such as houses and other assets, are rising. The prices of various consumer goods, however, are not. Might this not have something to do with the massive expansion in productive capacity that has occurred as Asia and the rest of the world industrialise?

There are limits to what stimulus economics can achieve. Sooner or later policy makers will discover that growth needs something else.

First, we need supply side reform. That is to say, instead of creating growth by making people spend more, we should make it easier for wealth producers to produce wealth. Sajid Javid's arrival at the department of Business, Innovation and Skills could, potentially, be very good news – if the EU rules allow him to deregulate.

Supply side reform also means making it easier for energy producers to generate cheaper energy. We need to break the energy cartel and replace it with a functioning market.

Secondly, we need to put some serious thought into the impact of in-work benefits.

Gordon Brown created a Byzantine system of tax credits, which in effect subsidise low wages. If you subsidise low wages, wages stay low.

There is a growing clamour for a "living wage". Might it be that many people are on less than the living wage because the state is actively subsidising their employers to keep paying them below the living wage in the first place?

As well as keeping wages low, could in-work benefits also explain poor productivity growth? Might it not have some impact on migration, too? Surely that is worth asking on the day that net migration tops 318,000?

Flush with their recent success, the Conservatives (Sajid and one or two others aside) seem in no mood to question the corporatist orthodoxies they find in government. Labour, faced with an existential crisis, can't. It is up to UKIP to develop a coherent, credible alternative to the government's carry on corporatism.

19 MAY 2015

Red UKIP? We are not Poujadiste

UKIP will, I fervently hope, displace Labour. We could do to Labour south of the border what the Scottish Nationalist have done to the north.

Impossible?  If the recent election results are anything to go by the signs are pretty encouraging.

UKIP polled almost four million votes to Labour's nine. Before the last election, dozens of Conservative MPs feared losing their slender majorities. Today they are back in Westminster with bigger majorities. Why? Because their local Labour vote went UKIP. That's where UKIP's future lies.

Does displacing Labour mean some sort of "red UKIP" strategy?  Not at all - and here's why.

Labour today is a party of statism. The shape of the blue print envisaged for society might vary. To what ends the levers of state control should be tugged will be debated by different Labour leadership contenders. But Labour is hooked on the idea of top down control.

Labour might have abandoned socialism, but Labour is a corporatist party, on the side of vested interests; PFI, which gives big business a guaranteed slice of future tax revenues. Energy targets, which mean subsidies for big energy companies paid for by ordinary householders. Bailouts for bankers, tax breaks for a favoured few.  Look at the lobbyists who hover around the party like files ....

Labour once stood up for ordinary people against the interests of the powerful. Today Labour sides with remote EU functionaries and well-renumerated Human Rights lawyers.

Keir Hardie's party today shows a patronising distain for the very folk the party is supposed to represent.

UKIP can offer an alternative to Labour not by apeing the left, but by offering something radically different.

UKIP believes in dispersing power. We want political reform to make government accountable to Parliament and Parliament answerable to the people. We don't merely seek to return power from Brussels to Westminster, but to push control from Whitehall to the town hall.

We want to disperse economic power, too. The way to do that is not through corporatism, but via honest markets.  Real markets that work for customers, as well as producers.

What would dispersing economic power look like?

From education to health care, digital technology allows us to have public services provided to the public with a degree of personalisation that was once the preserve of the private sector.

It would mean real bank reform. Instead of reining in the worst excesses of fractional reserve banking with top down regulation, and bail outs, we need to make the case for comprehensive bank reform.

Osbrown monetary policy has transferred wealth from those with savings to those with assets. Hosing cheap credit at the housing market has inflated house prices, putting homeownership beyond the reach of many in their twenties and thirties. Sooner or later we will need a different approach. (See: )

We need an energy market that encourages innovation and pushes down energy prices. At some point the PFI taps will need to be turned off.

Instead of spending the defence budget in the interests of contractors, we need to see it spent in the best interests of our armed forces.

Here is the outline of an agenda for UKIP that is both free market, and popular – not Poujadiste.

11 MAY 2015

Good reasons for UKIP to be cheerful

The delight I felt in the early hours of Friday morning having won my Clacton seat soon turned to dismay. First came news that my good friend Mark Reckless had lost in Rochester. That was followed by despondence at the news of Nigel's defeat in Thanet.

In seat after seat, so much effort had been made by so many people – and all for so little.

So what next for UKIP?

We should not despair. In terms of seats won, election night might not have gone well. Looked at another way, it was an amazing result. Almost four million people voted for us, making UKIP Britain's third party.

As many people voted UKIP on Thursday as voted for both the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party combined. The shocking failure to convert votes into seats is less a failure of UKIP's campaign strategy than it is a failure of our dysfunctional political system.

However infuriating we might find the Commons arithmetic in this new Parliament, take heart. David Cameron, with his slender majority, is likely to find it even more annoying.

Over the next five years, Parliament is going to really matter. Ministers will really need to make their case every time - and cannot automatically assume that they will get their way.

Beyond Westminster, UKIP – and the factors that explain our rise - are not going away.

As long as Britain remains bound by the European Union, politicians might be able to win votes by promising things. They won't be able to deliver when so many of the decisions that affect our lives are made for us by Brussels.

Far from abating, the mood of anti-politics that fuels UKIP will only grow. We need to become a champion for change; giving voters the power of recall, so that local constituents can sack wayward MPs, open primary candidate selection and electoral reform.

UKIP might have only finished first in a single seat, but we finished second – often a tantalisingly close second – in 120 seats. That bodes well for our future.

Our candidates, often standing for the first time, have gained valuable experience. This means we now have a cadre of campaigner's right across the country.

With David Cameron in Number 10 and Labour in turmoil, the opportunities for UKIP to present a credible alternative are going to be enormous. To do so, Ukip needs to reach out beyond the four million people who voted for us last week.

Many of the seats where UKIP finished second are in the north of England. Far from being a party of Tory ultras, UKIP's future lies in extending our appeal, and not simply geographically.

While the Scottish National Party can only stand candidates north of the border, the disaffection with the Labour party that has fuelled their rise reaches right down towards Manchester and the midlands.

Study a map of support of UKIP, and you will see deep purple patches in the old Labour heartlands. Like much of Scotland, these are often constituencies where the Conservative party has only existed on paper for at least a generation. At the same time, voters in such seats have begun to tire of a Labour party that regards them as their private fiefdoms.

The idea of displacing the Labour party is not fantasy. Ed Miliband's party got slightly over 9 million votes. At almost 4 million, the UKIP tally is not impossibly far behind even now.

Positioning ourselves as an alternative to Labour does not mean that we should imitate Labour. Ed Miliband has neatly demonstrated the folly of offering the voters retro 1970s socialism. Not even Ed Balls former constituents were convinced about the would-be chancellor's high tax and regulation approach.

Years of bank bailouts and cosy deal making between big government and big business has started to give capitalism a bad name. First under Blair-Brown, then under Cameron, Britain has shifted away from the free market towards a form of crony corporatism. There is a massive gap in the political market space for a new popular, democratic capitalism, which works of ordinary people.

In the age of Amazon, the case for free trade has never been easier to make. Ukip should be making it. In a world where in work benefits are subsidising low wages – and thus keeping wages low – we need to be prepared to advocate alternatives. Poor productivity growth is not just something that should concern policy wonks. It is harming people on every high street.

Nigel Farage has been an inspirational leader. Like hundreds of thousands of other people, he inspired me to leave the comfort of by previous party, and join him. I was prepared to resign from Parliament and fight a by election in order to do so. I feel gutted that he is no longer our leader.

But I will not stand to be leader of UKIP. Why? Because I can think of half a dozen figures in UKIP who could do the job better; Suzanne Evans, Patrick O'Flynn, Stephen Woolfe, Paul Nuttall or Diane James.

Every anti-establishment movement in history suffered set backs. But the successful one's were those that united, regrouped and carried on. UKIP's next leader will do so, too.

Ukip's next leader needs to be someone that recognises our party exists first and foremost to get Britain out of the European Union. We should take heart from the fact that there now appears to be, for the first time in a generation, a Commons majority in favour of holding an In Out referendum.

We could be two or three years away from achieving the very thing our party was founded to achieve all those years ago.

Everything that our new leader does over the coming months needs to be directed at securing a majority in favour of leaving the EU. Given than 87 percent of people did not vote Ukip at the last general election, Ukip needs to campaign in the coming referendum as part of a wider movement. Yes, we might be passionate about the need to leave the EU. We should recognise that we might not always be the best people to make the case to undecided voters.

We need to recognise that the case against our continued EU membership is not simply a matter of immigration, but of a better kind of Britain for the future.

Ukip must not make the mistake made by the SNP in their recent referendum. We should not equate support for leaving the EU with support for our own party. Do that, and the European Commission in Brussels would be delighted.

Between now and 2020, UKIP needs to focus on selecting good local candidates in key seats – and selecting them early on. Our candidates need to be local champions, as passionate about safeguarding the local maternity unit or police station as they might be about immigration or defence.

UKIP used to worry about getting noticed. What matters now is that we are listened to - and that means speaking more softly. And when we do speak, we speak to all Britain - and all Britons. Politics is about bringing people together – literally, in order that as many as possible each place their cross on the same part of the ballot paper.

Cheer up UKIP!  Ultimately in politics optimism works. From Clement Attlee to Ronald Reagan, presenting a brighter ideal for the future is an essential ingredient for electoral success. Ed Miliband today probably wishes he spent a little more time outlining not what was wrong with Britain, but what he would do about it to make things better.

28 APR 2015

Clacton candidates' hustings

Last night was the candidates' debate in Clacton – and it was very enjoyable.

About 350 residents came along – and the number one issue seemed to be the council's plans to allow 12,000 extra houses in our area.

I explained why I feel the council has got this wrong. Things got a little heated between some of the panellists and the audience when the panellists tried to justify extra housing.

All the other candidates came out in favour of increasing Britain's overseas aid spending to over £12,000,000,000 a year. I explained why I felt that the aid budget needed to be cut.

I also highlighted the need for more GPs - and touched on the action I have taken to recruit more locally.

There is clearly overwhelming support to keep open Clacton police station, and I am pleased that on that issue, at least, we have cross party support.

I think it is fair to say that one or two had probably decided how they were going to vote before the meeting started. The audience was certainly lively and seemed to enjoy it!

10 APR 2015

What were they thinking?

How clever it must have seemed. What a wheeze! When the ad agency unveiled this poster at Conservative campaign HQ a few weeks ago, I bet they chortled at their own brilliance.

"Yeeess!" the assembled aides would have agreed. "Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond's pocket. Ha! Doesn't it just show why people need to vote Conservative!"

To me this poster shows something rather different. It illustrates quite how detached the political classes, who design these sort of things, have become from actual voters.

Standing in front of one of these posters here in Meredith Road, Clacton I got talking to passers-by about it. Many simply did not recognise Salmond. Some thought it was Gordon Brown. My impromptu focus group, like me, simply could not see what point the poster was trying to make.  It is far too SW1.  

There is nothing in the poster that speaks to ordinary folk in Clacton worried about a shortage of GPs. It has nothing to say to someone struggling to get by on wages that have flatlined for six years.

But, of course, no one at that meeting in Conservative HQ would have seen it that way. That's because politics to them is not about the real concerns of ordinary people. It's a game of clever-dickery. With people like George Osborne running their party, it's all about clever tactics and cunning wheezes.

This poster tells us how tepid the Tory party has become. The party that once produced Thatcher is, under the Cameroon clique, reduced to saying "Vote for us, or you will end up with someone even worse. Ha!".

Indeed, this poster is so bad, I feel free to break that political rule about not flagging up your opponents election material. I hope more folk get to see it in Meredith Road.

09 APR 2015

Guess what we got up to yesterday?





Something to please David Cameron?  Carswell's head on a stake all over Clacton.

08 APR 2015

Clacton campaign diary: Less overseas aid means more for our armed forces

Today we begin putting up garden boards. The great news is that lots and lots of them have sprung up already.

Here is a photo of Connaught Avenue, Frinton, yesterday afternoon. Folk keep coming into the office asking for window posters – so much so that we have had to order a second print run.

Over the past three years, the government has massively hiked up the amount of money we spend on overseas aid. So much so, in fact, that the Department of International Development was – according to some accounts – struggling to spend the money fast enough.

While we send £1 billion a month overseas, our own armed forces are underfunded.

If that was not bad enough, we face renewed global threats. Terror groups have a toe hold on the southern and eastern Mediterranean. Putin, in my view, spells trouble.

Any sensible government, you'd have thought, would recalibrate spending to reflect these new dangers. Alas, Ed, Dave and Nick all agree on the need to spend 0.7 percent of national income on overseas aid. They even joined forces to pass a law to insist we meet that overseas aid spending target.  They refuse to make any such committment for defence spending. 

Only UKIP is willing to commit to spending 2 percent of GDP on defence.

Can you imagine what it must have been like running election campaigns before we had mobile phones?

Mobiles mean that no one ever gets lost when out leafleting. It also makes campaigning much more fun, with photos and tweets. Yesterday, I even used an app to tell me how far I walked knocking on doors. Just over nine miles, apparently ....

07 APR 2015

Clacton spring







Spring has sprung in Clacton. It is a joy to be out knocking on doors.

The daffodils and magnolias are out – and my window posters are going up.

Yesterday we almost completed the delivery of my early leaflet. With around 35,000 to deliver, that's a lot of letter boxes. But with dozens of local volunteers, it's more or less done.

Mid-afternoon a car pulled up alongside me. Two Jehovah's Witnesses wanted to help too. Unable to vote, they asked if they could take some leaflets to give out to friends and neighbours. A wonderful moment in so many ways.....

Back in the office for a quick tea break, a London-based journalist came in to do a short interview. The questions were almost identical to the ones asked by the previous London journalist, and the one before that.

First comes the suggestion – sorry, question - that UKIP is extremist. I point out patiently that it wasn't a UKIP candidate that tried to cut a deal with the racist English Defence League. It was a Cameron "A list" Conservative.

Then there come the set of questions that are really an attack on UKIP immigration policy. I gently suggest that there is nothing unreasonable in wanting to control our borders or limit the right of 400 million people to settle here.  Australia does it. 

Not for the first time, I am struck by how many journalists working for national newspapers don't seem to be in the business of reporting what they see and hear.  Particularly during an election campaign, they seem to be fishing around for quotes and observations that they can insert into a story they had in mind before they left London. Perhaps their editor instructed them on what sort of piece to write?

"Why" ask some of the more reflective ones "is this mood of anti-politics so strong?"

Perhaps, I suggest, it is not simply a revolt against out of touch Westminster politicians. It is a rejection of a smug, self-regarding commentariat, which has for too long sought to define for the rest of us the parameters of public policy debate.

I'm not sure they always get that last point.

Today we start leaflet number two .... Week two, and we are ahead of schedule here in Clacton.

01 MAR 2015

Watch the Conservative candidate calling for 12,000 extra houses

The Conservative candidate has made it clear that he is in favour of 12,000 extra houses in our area. 

26 JAN 2015

Greece suggests Mr Cameron cannot get a meaningful renegotiation

How different it all seemed when the Euro was launched a decade and a half ago. It was meant to mean a new era of prosperity. A single currency would, we were told amid much fanfare, strengthen the free market and underpin the liberal order across Europe.

Not much sign of that in Greece right now.

The ultra-leftists, Syriza, have been elected to office on the back of a popular revolt against the Troika. An assortment of odd balls and extremists could now hold the balance of power.

Alex Tsipras, Greece's Prime Minister elect, will now attempt to tread a fine line. On the one hand he is committed to negotiating a new deal for Greece, based on debt reduction. On the other hand, he does not want to be so demanding that he gets Greece thrown out of the Euro.

In other words, Alex Tsipras is in a not altogether dissimilar position from our own Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Like Tsipras, Mr Cameron wants a new deal, but does not want to get thrown out of the club. In fact, he's made it pretty clear he is keen to stay in.

Like Tsipras, the Prime Minister has made a lot of pre-election noise about a new deal.

It will be interesting to see what new deal, if any, Tsipras gets.

Bizarrely, given that Britain is a net contributor to the EU budget and one of the largest economies in the world, Greece stands a better chance of getting the concessions it seeks than David Cameron.

For a start, Tsipras been consistent and clear about what he wants; debt cancellation, continued bailout support and a looser fiscal policy. David Cameron has given all manner of vague and contradictory hints. Indeed, his officials have almost given the impression to their EU counterparts that Mr Cameron is not that serious about his new deal.

One of the curious features of the European Union is the way that it exports public policy failure from one state to another. Countries that manage their finances sensibly get punished. Those that run up reckless debts get rewarded. Those economies that grow get fined by Brussels. Those that flounder receive ever large hand-outs.

The Euro system will be far more willing to make concessions to a Greek Prime Minister wanting the re-write the rules in order to prop up a dirigiste state, thereby deepening its dependence on Brussels, than it would concede anything to a UK Prime Minister seeking less Europe.

If Tspiras does not get more than paper concessions, it further undermines the credibility of those in Downing Street who want the British electorate to think they are serious about change.

Perhaps the key difference between Britain and Greece is that if Greece leaves the Euro, it will be because the Brussels elite call time on membership. If Britain quits, it will be because the people say enough.

21 JAN 2015

The case for wind is running out of puff

A Ten Minute Rule Bill to outlaw public subsidies for wind farms has just been voted through the House of Commons. It squeezed through with 59 MPs in favour, and 57 against, the support of UKIP's two MPs proving decisive.

This wasn't just a victory for UKIP in the Commons. It was a defeat for the subsdised scam otherwise known as the wind energy industry.

Generating electricity from wind is an inherently costly thing to do. Unlike solar energy, which thanks to technology is becoming vastly more efficient, wind is - and will remain – a far more costly way of producing power than the alternatives.

Nor is it reliable. The other day, as Allister Heath points out, as UK electicity demand hit 52.54 gigawatts (GW), wind contributed just 0.573GW. That is to say about 1pc of the total. It was left to good old gas and coal to contribute the lion's share of 71 percent.

If wind is not an effective way to generate electricity, why have so many wind turbines been built? Because of the subsidy. Billions of pounds have been deliberately diverted away from more efficient ways of generating energy into wind farms.

Why did politicians and experts decide to plough so much into such a duff way of generating power? Partly it is because they failed to foresee technological change. Policy makers plumped for wind because they assumed that oil and gas would become more expensive. They failed to see the shale gas revolution coming.

At the same time, UK policy makers subscribed to the whole renewable energy shtick. Wind, they persuaded each other, had to be the answer in order for us to meet our renewable energy targets.

This has been a disastrous way of deciding energy policy. We need to scrap the renewable targets. Allow capital and technology to find innovative ways to generate energy. And scrap those subsidies.

Today was a step towards that.

15 JAN 2015

Can Britain be more prosperous than America? Not if we are run by cartels

"There is no reason why Britain cannot be the richest major economy in the world" George Osborne has declared.

In a sense, the Chancellor is absolutely right. Britain ought to be booming.

We are witnessing the emergence of a global middle class around the globe. Each year, tens of millions of people join a sprawling network of innovation and exchange. Britain, with our global ties and outlook, ought to be thriving as never before.

Yet for all that, there is one central, thudding reason why Britain is definitely not the richest major economy in the world: government policy.

With an election looming, Mr Osborne wants to "talk up" the economic mood, with heady suggestions that Britain might become richer than the United States within the next fifteen years. For that to happen, we will need to see some fairly radical changes, and fast.

Over the past decade, governments of all three parties have deliberately increased the cost of energy. Why? In pursuit of various "renewable targets". Yet burning fossil fuel remains the cheapest way of generating energy. Shale gas technology means that the costs are likely to be even lower.

While Mr Osborne's government has been pricing British businesses out of world markets by pushing up energy costs, the United States – awash with cheap shale gas – has been re-industrialising (In 2012, gas prices were 55 percent lower in the United States than in Britain).

If the Chancellor wants us to be richer than America, we will need to be as productive as the Americans. Yet on Mr Osborne's watch, the opposite has happened. In the United States productivity has risen. In the UK, it has deteriorated. Why? Perhaps it has something to do with a tax credit system that subsidises low wages at public expense and provides disincentives against productivity gains.

Since the advent of the European Single Market in 1992, Europe's economic growth has been slow in both relative and absolute terms. North America's NAFTA has created many more jobs, attracted more investment, and raised the living standards of hundreds of millions of people ever higher.

Why the difference? Because Europe's Single Market does not mean more free trade. On the contrary, it means that an entrepreneur can only produce and sell something if they do so in compliance with what the regulator permit. Why else do you imagine that a supposedly free market block requires an endless blizzard of regulation and red tape.

Perhaps the real reason why Britain is unlikely to be as prosperous as we could be is down to politics. Again and again, our sclerotic political system fails to offer us a broad range of public policy answers. Instead we get the same cliché-addled politicians and their Westminster group-think.

Imagine how we might flourish if we changed that?

13 JAN 2015

George Osborne's budget irresponsibility

Today the House of Commons debates the Charter of Budget Responsibility. Had MPs been doing their job properly, perhaps they might like to impose a bit of real budget responsibility on ministers instead of merely taking about it.

Having meekly given the power to control what government spends to Treasury officials, MPs will this afternoon pay lip service to balanced budgets without lifting a finger to make it happen. Successive Parliaments have approved budgets that have been anything but responsible.

First under Gordon Brown, then George Osborne, the ratio of public debt to GDP has increased from 40 percent to 90 percent. Under the past four years alone, debt has almost doubled to £1.4 trillion.

Ironically, it is the Office of Budget Responsibility that helped make this fiscal car crash happen.

Initially, the OBR made a series of overly optimistic growth forecasts. Once the economy had bounced back to 3 percent growth, they seemed to suggest, lots of extra tax revenue would come flooding in.

"No need to cut spending significantly, Chancellor" they seemed to suggest. "More growth means lots of extra tax, which will balance the books".

Except of course the Chancellor's conjuring trick has been a bit of flop. There has been less growth and lower tax revenues. With less budget restraint than was wise, the deficit remains stubbornly high, and debt has doubled. The inappropriately named Office of Budget Folly helped make this happen.

Instead of simply talking about budget responsibility, MPs might actually do it. How? Cutting overseas aid by £9 billion would eliminate the deficit by a tenth. Ending the renewable energy scam would cut the total extra energy subsidies by another £9.8 billion by 2020.

Instead, I suspect MPs will prefer to preen, posture and talk.  As MPs talk in the three hour debate, public debt will increase by another £23 million.

08 DEC 2014

We need an honest energy market

UKIP will be triggering their first ever House of Commons debate this week.

Our Westminster Hall debate this Wednesday won't be on Europe or immigration. Instead we will be discussing something of immediate concern to thousands of people up and down the country: energy bills.

With the colder weather, people have had to turn up the heating, and many are discovering quite how costly energy bills have become. According to consumer group Which? household energy bills rose by over half between 2003 and 2012, from £790 to £1,200 a year.

Rising energy bills, you might think, are just a fact of life. More people plus more industry – of course the costs of energy go up.

Except there's nothing inevitable about higher prices, and certainly nothing inevitable about higher energy prices.

If you stop and think about it, the relative cost of many things keeps falling. Air travel is cheaper today than it was a couple of decades ago. In relative terms, mobile phones, clothing, cars and computers all cost less now than they did in 2003. Where ever capital and innovation are able to meet freely, costs for the consumer tend to fall. So why not with energy?

Actually that is precisely what has happened over in North America. The solar and shale gas revolutions across the Atlantic are pushing down the price of energy, and triggering an industrial revival. While households in Essex, England paid over 50 per cent more to heat and light their home this year compared to 2003, households in Essex, Massachusetts pay relatively less.

It is not that the laws of physics are any different over here. The problem are the rules that govern the energy market.

Instead of an honest energy market, where producers compete to supply customers, UK energy producers have to generate energy to comply with quotas. Government officials have decided the best way to generate energy, and in order
to meet renewable targets they have insisted that companies generate energy using supposedly sustainable sources. It is far from clear how sustainable wind turbines would be without the massive cross subsidies.

The established parties in Westminster both agree on the need to impose renewable targets. They both colluded to pass the laws that are now pricing people out of being able to heat their own homes. It is Ukip that is challenging the cosy little consensus on energy in Westminster.

02 DEC 2014

Gordon Brown's eighteenth Autumn Statement?

Four years ago, David Cameron and Nick Clegg "came together in the national interest". Or so they told us at the time. The dire state of the public finances demanded it, apparently.

How have they been getting on with sorting it all out?

Tomorrow will be George Osborne's fourth Autumn Statement - and by any objective yardstick he has failed get a grip on our public finances.

Debt, the House of Commons library's briefing paper baldly puts it, "continues to rise". Far from paying down debt, this administration has been accumulating ever more of it.

This year, the government will spent £100 Billion more than it takes in taxes. Borrowing in the first six months of 2014 was 6 percent higher than over the same period the year before.

Behind anything else the chancellor might choose to tell us tomorrow lies one undeniable fact; Public sector net debt will increase yet again to almost 80 percent of GDP.

Things are not getting better. That magic money merry-go-round of low interest rates and Quantitative Easing just makes it feel that way.

Tomorrow's Autumn Statement will be full of Brownian-style bluster. Statistics intended to mask the true state of our public finances will be cockily bandied about. Clever wheezes and gimmicks will be scattered in the direction of the press gallery.

But remember, for most of the time he was chancellor, Gordon Brown was seen by many of the pundits as a genius. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see how recklessly he ran this country's finances.

So, too, with George. Osborne's continuity Brown approach to public finances means that the Coalition will incur more debt in five years that Gordon managed in thirteen.

Tomorrow will be George Osborne's fourth Autumn Statement. In many ways, it will be Gordon Brown's eighteenth.

24 NOV 2014

Britain is run in the interests of vested interests

UKIP is to politics what Aldi and Lidl are to supermarkets.

For years, British shoppers have been paying over the odds for everyday groceries. And because most of the retailers were at it, no one seemed to see it.

Then along came Aldi and Lidl. Two decades after they started to show customers what good value looks like, they have reached a tipping point. The established players aren't just losing market share. If they don't adapt fast, there's even talk they may go under.

Cartel politics has not just left us out of pocket. It's a lousy way to run a country.

For decades, voters have never been offered the full spectrum of public policy options. It's a fix. Faux debates rage between the frontbenches, but on the fundamentals, ministers meekly defer to mandarins. Government-by-Sir-Humphrey has led us inexorably towards national decline.

Public debt has doubled in five years. The banks are unreformed. Immigration remains uncontrolled. Opportunities for new trade agreements with Asia and Africa have been squandered. Does our country still have a foreign policy?

So much of Britain is now run in the interests of vested interests. From energy and banking, to politics and PFI contractors, the rules seem to be written by those on the inside, with no reference to the country outside.

A system of crony corporatism has incrementally replaced free market capitalism - which explains why the economy might be growing, but not the living standards of ordinary folk.

Neither of the two established parties can even see this because they are part of the problem. Career politicians in SW1 are another to the vested interests running our country in their interests.

The Conservative party has been run by an out of touch clique for the past decade. Labour has been run that way since Tony Blair's lot took over. One gives us Matthew Parris, the other produces Emily Thornberry.

UKIP stands for fundamental, far reaching change in the way our country is run. We need to bust open the cartels in the energy markets and banking, public procurement and PFI – and yes, politics, too.

18 NOV 2014

Why the Coalition can't fix the public finances

The Coalition came together to fix the deficit. After four years, the deficit is still running at over £100 Billion a year.

Rather than narrowing, the gap between what the government spends and what it takes in tax actually grew in the first half of this year.

Why? Because like every other post-war administration, the Coalition counted on being able to balance the books not so much by cutting back on state spending, but through higher tax revenues.

Fixing public finances on the back of more tax take only works if you are able to take more tax. In the first half of 2014, tax revenue grew less than expected, leaving government borrowing £5 Billion higher than over the same period the previous year.

Lower than expected tax revenue is because of higher tax thresholds, according to some. Although there are more workers, many of the new jobs pay less, suggest others. I don't disagree with any if that.

But might we be seeing something else happening, too? Could the fact that tax revenues are not increasing the way the Treasury assumed herald a more profound change in the nature of the tax base itself?

If a government wants to raise resources, it needs to tax wealth creation. In the last century, wealth in Western economies – to put it crudely – came from factories. So the state tended to tax factories and the vast payrolls of employees who worked in

In the twentieth century, wealth is increasingly a question of intellectual property. And how do you tax that?

A factory in the mid twentieth century was relative immobile.  It was pretty difficult – but not impossible - to relocate a manufacturing operation from one high tax jurisdiction to another low tax jurisdiction. Intellectual property tends to be as mobile as an email.

This year in Britain, almost 30 percent of total income tax revenue will be paid by 1 percent of the population. And rather like IP, that 1 percent tends to be pretty mobile, too.

Could it be that we are starting to see a change in the nature of the tax base? Instead of thinking of the tax base as something solid and dependable, might it be something that can flow across the boundaries of tax jurisdictions?

Governments will, in the short term, respond to this by trying yet more transnational tax arrangements to try to stop the tax base moving. I suspect that in the longer term, we might need to respond to this by changing the way that we tax. Instead of taxing production, we may have to shift the burden of taxation towards consumption.

If we are to balance the books in future, governments might need to rely less on raising the tax take, and instead try to live within their means.

13 NOV 2014

Britain needs a new business model

How is Britain to pay its way in the world? Carry on as we are, and we won't.

Its thirty years since the UK government last ran a balanced budget. Since then our governments have piled borrowing upon borrowing. Public debt has doubled over the past four years, with the Coalition incurring a further £100 Billion this year alone.

Britain today is better at buying things that other countries produce than at producing things others want to buy. Our balance of payments data – the difference between what we import and export – looks dire. Selling off London real estate to balance the books won't work forever.

We need to change Britain's business model.

Hosing cheap credit at the economy might create growth. But it is growth based on over consumption and debt. It means we build lots of shopping malls but not enough factories.

UK plc's business model today depends heavily on importing cheap labour. So much so, in fact, that per capita GDP has been falling.

This cheap credit / cheap labour model is subsidised by the state. Government not only conjures up cheap credit for the banks, they use the tax credit system to publicly subsidise low wages. The government is borrowing billions in order to help big corporate interests keep wages down.

This is not free market capitalism, but crony corporatism.

If we are to maintain our living standards in the years ahead, things need to change. The massive pull of capital and productive output to Asia and elsewhere could be an opportunity for us. It means tens of millions of middle class consumers willing to buy things from us.

Instead of a crony corporatist energy market, we need to allow capital and innovation to cut the cost of energy, as has happened in North America. We need real bank reform and a government willing to take on the vested corporatist interests holding Britain back. Rather than remain inside the world's only shrinking trade block, we need free trade deals with the world.

Our future prosperity depends on it.

11 NOV 2014

Commons farce - and a diminished government

It was when government ministers started mouthing insults across the Commons chamber that I knew they were in trouble.

Yesterday's extraordinary scenes in the House of Commons might not have shed much light on the European Arrest Warrant. They did reveal some uncomfortable truths about the way we are governed.

Thirteen days ago, the Prime Minister solemnly promised that our elected representatives in the House of Commons that "there will be a vote" over the European Arrest Warrant. He made it clear that this would happen "before the Rochester by election" on 20th November.

Yesterday was the day that that was supposed to happen. Except it didn't.

Mr Cameron's own whips engaged in a straight forward deception – and were brutally caught out.

Rather than allow a vote on the European Arrest Warrant, the government whips put forward a meaningless motion to facilitate a lot of hot air discussion. But without any vote on European Arrest Warrant. How the government whips must have chortled at their own cleverness as they thought up that wheeze, eh?

Since the House of Commons no longer has the power to decide if we sign up to the European Arrest Warrant, whips decided to avoid having such a vote at all. Cunning, eh?

But then Speaker Bercow, doing precisely what a Commons speaker ought to do, made it clear that the Commons had been had. The vote that might follow, said the Speaker, would not be about the European Arrest Warrant. There was uproar. A contemptuous fury was directed at the government benches by their own side.

As Theresa May's share price visibly plummeted, Yvette Cooper's soared.

If, she told the House, ministers could not be honest with MPs about the business before the House, let us vote down the business of the House. In the vote that followed, the government came within five votes of defeat.

Yvette wasn't finished yet, either. Clearly one to do her homework, she used a Commons device to try to close down Theresa May's Mickey Mouse "debate".

Caught on the hop twice in the same debate, government whips scurried in and out of the chamber. They were panicking, desperate to get everyone back to the Commons. They even summoned the Prime Minister back from a banquet.

Thus did David Cameron hurry back to the House of Commons to quash debate on a subject where only a few days previously he had promised a vote.

This administration is not in trouble because it nearly lost a vote. Nor because its ministers mouth insults across the chamber when they fear defeat. Nor even because David Cameron can no longer be taken at his word. Nor merely because of the whips office's serial deception.

They are in serious trouble because are unable to see that any of this is wrong.

05 NOV 2014

We should be wary of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

What should one make of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP?

"Hurrah!" was my first reaction. What could be better than free trade between hundreds of millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic? Think how much better we might all be if that network of specialisation and exchange called the free market were to stretch from California to the Carpathians.

Alas, as so often where big government is concerned, things aren't quite what they seem. You see TTIP isn't really about free trade.

If it were, then there would be remarkably little to negotiate. If it was legal to sell something in Idaho, it would be legal to buy it in Essex. No regulation. No tariffs. Such a trade agreement could be done and dusted in a day.

Instead what TTIP does is extend the European Single Market model to transatlantic trade. This would mean that rather than freeing up trade, rules would be introduced whereby it is only possible to produce and sell things if they comply with a single standard.

Far from greater economic freedom, under such a system producers start to need permission to produce things. Note how every aspect of economic life the European Single Market touches gets swathed in red tape.

Worse, since permission is needed to produce and sell things, every vested interest begins to lobby to have the rules written to their advantage. Instead of big businesses trying to persuade willing customers to buy their products, they spend their marketing budgets paying lobbyists to rig the rules against the competition and the customer.

It is precisely because the various vested interests are trying to cut cozy deals behind closed doors through TTIP that the negotiations are taking ages.

TTIP is not about free trade. It is crony corporatism at its worst.

Of course, if Britain was to leave the EU, and the cozy corporatist cartel called Brussels, we could have genuine free trade agreements. Not only with the EU and the United States, but with China, India and much if the rest of the world.

"But we need to be in the EU to strike such deals", claim the various vested interests. Nonsense. Trade does not depend on the might of your public administration or the grandeur of your technocrats.

Trade happens when a person in one country produces something that someone in another wants to buy. That holds true weather you are in a country of over one billion people or under a million. And it explains why tiny Iceland now has a free trade deal with China.

04 NOV 2014

This Chancellor is all talk

The European Union is in danger of "pricing itself out of the world economy", George Osborne.

I agree. But what has our Chancellor of the Exchequer done about it?

One reason manufacturing firms in Britain and the EU find it harder to compete is due to rising energy prices. The EU has imposed an energy policy which encourages energy companies to generate so called "renewable" energy. Because this cannot be done as cheaply as burning fossil fuels, renewable energy has had to be subsidised, pushing up energy costs in the round.

Far from trying to stop this, the Chancellor and his neighbour in Downing Street, have been at the forefront of calls for more stringent renewable energy targets. Only last week, the PM reiterated his commitment to a policy that will push up energy costs.

Another reason why European business is struggling is the blizzard of red tape and regulation. Has the Chancellor done anything about this?

On the contrary, George Osborne has been pushing for the Single Market to be extended. Given that excessive regulation has been introduced under the auspices of the Single Market, extending the Single Market to services will increase the regulatory
drag on UK firms.

The Chancellor might complain about the extra burdens imposed on business. It is, of course, his own department that has been forcing firms to act as unpaid tax collectors. Even relatively small firms are now required to report their tax returns in real time. Great for a tax hungry Treasury. Not such good news if you are a firm trying to keep your costs down.

As so often with this administration, the Chancellor seems to think that it is all about making the right noises. 

For four years, the Chancellor has relied on cheap credit and a fiscal stimulus to generate economic growth.  Thus far he has done almost nothing to address the problems of competitiveness that he now pays lip service to.  

30 OCT 2014

Heir to Blair? This lot are more Ted Heath

Not since the 1970s has Britain had such a mediocre government.

Cast your mind back to that sun-lit May morning four years ago. What was it that the Coalition promised us, and what has actually happened?

"We'll come together in the national interest to sort out the public finances", Clegg and Cameron told us. Since that press conference in the Downing Street garden, our nation's public debt has almost doubled. If getting government borrowing under control was really what brought them together, they have taken their eye off it. Government borrowing last month was ten percent up on the year before.

Ministers pushed through costly NHS reforms. None of it has actually improved health care. Many folk cannot get to see a GP, and no one seems to be in charge.

Energy policy continues to be built on expensively subsidised renewable targets. To meet our renewable obligations, poorer people have been priced out of heating their homes. Businesses have been made less competitive and there are fears a winter blackout.

Instead of cutting immigration, it's back up to where it was under Gordon Brown. Our armed forces remain over stretched and under resources. Localism, which was supposed to give local people decide on planning, turns out to be a sham. Using the language of the free market, ministers intervene in the economy in the interests of crony corporatism.

"But what about the government's welfare reforms?" you ask. "And what about Michael Gove at education? Surely ministers have got some things right?"

To be fair, not even Ted Heath's government got everything wrong. Yet a lot of this administration's welfare reforms were in fact pioneered by that uber Blairite minister, James Purnell. Much of the rest, such as universal credit, has yet to actually happen.

As for Gove at education, he is no longer at education. Rather like Ted Heath and the unions, this government runs shy of vested interests.

Just as Ted Heath promised a radically new approach to the economy, Clegg and Cameron promised a different kind of politics. Last week we saw government whips use the same old Westminster tricks to sabotage the Recall Bill. A measure designed to allow voters to hold MPs to account will do nothing of the sort.

On Europe, at least Ted Heath had the virtue of consistency, even if he was consistently wrong. Mr Cameron has flipped from Heathite acquiescence to mere flops.

First ordered his own MPs, on a three line whip, not to vote for an In Out EU referendum. Now he puts the prospect of an In Out vote, and the faux offer of real change, at the heart of his re-election bid.

A few months ago, Number 10 told us they were opposed Jean Claude Junker as European Commission President. A couple of weeks ago, he ordered his MEPs to vote for the Junker Commission. How long before he tells us he was against Euro Arrest Warrants all along?

Of course, there is one big difference between this administration and that of Ted Heath, and that is the economy. Output is up and unemployment is down. But so it seemed under Ted Heath during the Barber boom, too.

They might not call it that, but with the government spending £100 billion a year more than they take in tax, we are living through the largest Keynesian spending stimulus in our history. Record low interest rates mean a massive monetary – as well as fiscal – stimulus. Like the Barber boom, will it last?

Osbrown economics may yet turn out to be little more than reheated Heathism.

26 OCT 2014

European Arrest Warrant - justice and credibility on the line

MPs will soon be asked to vote on whether to opt back into the European Arrest Warrant.

Although European Arrest Warrants have been use since 2004, due to the way that various EU treaties have been revised since, it is necessary for the House of Commons to vote to keep us in. Failure to do so will mean an end to Euro Arrest Warrants in Britain.

It is vital that MPs vote against opting back into the Euro Arrest Warrant.

Why? First and foremost, it's about justice.

Extradition between countries is a good thing. It is in the interests of justice that someone suspected of committing a crime in another country can be sent to that country to face trial.

But before they are extradited, surely it is right that a court considers that there is a case to answer?

We would be appalled if someone could be held on remand in Britain without evidence of wrong-doing. So why are we prepared to have someone carted off to another country without giving a UK court the chance to take a look at the basic evidence?

As one of my constituents has discovered, the Euro Arrest Warrant means that once an application to extradite is received, the process rolls along more or less automatically. You can, for example, be hauled off to France to face trial for crimes you were supposed to have committed there without having actually been to France.

"But" insist Home Office apologists "we need these extradition arrangements to fight terror".

Really? It was perfectly possible to extradite terror suspects before we had Euro Arrest Warrants.

While the use of Euro Arrest Warrants has sky rocketed over the past ten years, only a tiny, tiny fraction of those arrested under the EAW have been accused of anything to do with terror. My local constituent, for example, was carted off because he was believed to have been involved in tax fraud.

Far from being the end of everything we hold dear, opting out of the Euro Arrest Warrant simply means that we would have to revert to the kind of extradition arrangements that existed before, and which we have with all sorts of non-EU states.

Of course the Commons vote won't simply be about justice. It will also be the credibility of those voting that will be on the line.

When the idea of Euro Arrest Warrants was first mooted a decade ago, the Conservative party in opposition opposed the idea. Now in government, many Conservative ministers have, of course, been captured by the mandarinate.

Any Conservative MP who fails to vote against Euro Arrest Warrants cannot make an credible claims to be Eurosceptic.

01 OCT 2014

I don't miss the party whips

I gave up going to Conservative party conferences several years ago. Why? There never seemed to be many Conservatives. The lobbyists outnumber the activists. The fringe debates seemed so sterile.

Compare that to what I found at UKIP's gathering in Doncaster. There was a real buzz. Supporters from all over the country, and all kinds of backgrounds, were genuinely enjoying each other's company. New friendships were being formed all around me. Not a lobbyist in sight.


"What do you think of Grant Shapps?" asked a journalist, hoping I might say something rude. I like him, and I've made no secret of my admiration of him in the past. If he has had to say some fairly strong things as Conservative party chairman over the past few days, he is doing it because he is Conservative party chairman.

I know Grant is a thoroughly decent person and have always enjoyed his company. I might have changed parties, but I'm not going start pretending that everyone that wears a blue rosette is bad. Grant is one of the good guys.


Government used to be accountable to Parliament, and Parliament once answered to the people. Slowly but surely this has changed.

MPs have lost the power to amend budgets or meaningfully control what ministers do with our money. The executive controls the legislature, rather than the other way round. Political parties have "safe seats", which they treat as fiefdoms to reward A listers and insiders.

The result is that we are governed by tiny cliques, each competing to sit on the sofa in Downing Street – and none of them much in tune with the country over which they preside.

Not so very long ago, to make such observations might have seemed a little wonky or obtuse. Dissatisfaction with the way Westminster works – or fails to work – is now so widespread, even Westminster is waking up to it.


Each week, as a constituency MP, I would pick a couple of streets at random – and go and knock on the doors.

"Hello. I'm Douglas, your MP" I'd say. "I'm in the neighbourhood and wanted to introduce myself". I got to make a lot of new friends and drink an awful lot of tea.

During this by-election I've been knocking on many of the same doors again. I've had to say many a polite "no" to tea this time, but the friends are still there.

The internet and iDemocracy will overturn many of our assumptions about politics. But not perhaps the way some pundits imagine.


A big part of the problem with Westminster is the whipping system. Party whips hold far too much power. Instead of answering to the electorate, too many MPs end up answering to whips.

Whips are able to influence MPs in all sorts of ways. But their power stems from their one ultimate sanction; they can withdraw the whip.

Withdrawing the whip from an MP means, in effect, that the MP has been sacked. Unless they grovel, they are out and cannot run as a party candidate again.

What if instead of whips being able to sack MPs, MPs were able to sack their whips?

23 SEP 2014

Political apathy? Not in Essex

Big political meetings are a thing of the past, we are told. They might have done politics like that yonks ago, but not any more, they say.

Really? Tomorrow in Clacton there will be a full house at the biggest venue we could find. Over 700 people are coming – and they are all local residents.

It won't be some sort of choreographed rally of the party faithful. These are ordinary people, coming to take part in a grass roots meeting.

All 700 places went within the first day – and we could have filled the venue twice over.

Political apathy? Not in my part of Essex.


For decades, fashionable opinion formers liked to imply that society was going to the dogs. Modern life is more atomised, they would say. Folk are more lonely and isolated than ever before.

Not in my experience. Over the past few years as a local MP, I've noticed how many community groups have been reenergised.

Why? I suspect it has a lot to do with the internet. Things started to change around about the time we got broadband. Email and social media make it easier to do things together. Administration gets simpler. It's much more straightforward to find out about what's happening in your neighbourhood too. Connections can be made via google, not just serendipity.

Far from bowling alone, Holland on Sea bowls club, as I discovered when I dropped in for tea on Saturday, has lots of new members and is thriving.


For years, politics has been dominated by big corporate parties. Why? Only they could generate the brand recognition. They alone could aggregate votes and opinion.

The internet, as I suggested in my book on iDemocracy, is going to change this. The digital revolution creates the space for nimbler start ups. Not only does campaigning change. Many assumptions about messaging are turned on their head.

I am, you might say, trying to put that theory into practice in my corner of Essex. There is still an awfully long way to go until polling day, but thus far I have been struck by how mid90s the Westminster party machines have been on the ground.


Our campaign office in Clacton is bang opposite the train station. This means we have a constant flow of MPs and ministers wandering past. My team was rather amused to see one minister arrive in Clacton on the quarter to train – before racing to get back on to the five past back to London.

18 SEP 2014

Essex V the Westminster machine

Whichever way the Scots vote today, things will never be quite the same again.

Either Scotland votes to become an independent country, or – in order to save the Union – Scotland will have been promised what amounts to internal self government, or devo max.

Back in 2009, Daniel Hannan and I co-authored a book called The Plan, which suggested giving each of the different parts of the United Kingdom a form of devo max. What a pity that the option was never even included on the ballot paper.

My old party, the Conservatives, paid lip service to localism, but did little beyond toying with these ideas. By not making the changes, they have rather lost the ability to shape the change when it happens. How very sad.

Herds of MPs and ministers are now wandering around Clacton. Balloons are being handed out. Local residents are being told, in friendly yet firm tones, that their views matter.

My own campaign team is made up of the "little platoons". Older folk from Holland-on-Sea take the bus to pick up leaflets. Sixth formers from Frinton put up window posters.

We seem to be holding our own against the big, corporate parties who have descended on us from Westminster. But we need more help. If you are reading this, and are a supporter, please come to Clacton this Saturday.

MPs in Westminster, as we all know, are beholden to their party whips. Whips decide who gets made a minister. They select who sits on various committees.

Yet the whip's power ultimately comes from their ability to remove the whip from an MP. Lose the whip, and unless you grovel and get it back, you forfeit the right to stand for your party.

But what if MPs could sack the whips, rather than whips sack MPs? Suddenly the whips might lose their ultimate sanction. Shock, horror – MPs might then begin to represent those that elected them, rather than do the whips bidding.

Come to Clacton – help take on the whips!

The jam making season in Essex is here again. I've not, alas, had much time to think about blackberries and pectin.

I have given a pot of last year's quince jelly to help raise funds for my new party at their conference in Doncaster. The label proudly says "Made in Essex".

The Scottish referendum campaign also seems to mark the moment when the whole of the United Kingdom at last woke up to a stark, uncomfortable possibility; perhaps that cozy, complacent clique in Westminster, whose business is to govern us, aren't that good at it?

Those in SW1 ignore big public policy questions for as long as possible. Then, when forced to, they make key decisions on the hoof. They fail to think things through. Tactics are mistaken for strategy.

Surely we can do better than this?

16 SEP 2014

Change is in the air in Clacton

The past few days in Clacton feel unlike any campaign I've experienced before.

There is a freshness and enthusiasm in the air. As summer turns to autumn, there are hints that perhaps the political season is changing, too.

We've had to do a second print run of window posters to keep up with demand. Folk who would never previously have even considered voting Conservative are now cheerfully helping former Tory party members deliver leaflets calling for choice and competition in politics.


When I was first elected to Parliament in 2005, I was horrified to discover the extent to which Clacton's sea front had been neglected.

Maintaining the sea wall and beach had once been the responsibility of the old Clacton town and district council. During the out-of-season winter months, local building firms would be commissioned by the town council to repair and restore the sea wall and the beach groynes. The arrangements worked well.

Then, of course, Ted Heath restructured local government, abolishing the old town council. The old arrangements, like the rotting groynes, abandoned.

Slowly but surely the beach was washed away. The sea wall started to collapse. Holland-on-Sea was on track to become Holland-in-Sea.

Then in 2006 I called a meeting in the town hall, backed by the local beach hut owners and others. That led onto a meeting with ministers and Environment Agency. They eventually found the money.

Work began this summer on a £36 million project restore the sea front. It will give us some of the best beaches in England.


Talking of beaches, I found a fossilised shark's tooth on the beach at Walton on the Naze on Sunday. On a family walk with the dog, I at last spotted something I have been on the lookout for for years. They are not uncommon in these parts – but until Sunday I'd never managed to find one.

Still razor sharp, I held it in the palm of my hand contemplating the tens of millions of years that separate us from the fearsome creature that produced it. It puts certain things into perspective.


Thursday marks three weeks until polling day. The halfway point.

Perhaps it is a sign of middle age, or maybe it's just the sheer intensity of a by-election, but it can be exhausting. At the same time, I have found the past few days exhilarating. There is a massive appetite out there for real political change.


The big, corporate parties like to talk about election "battle grounds". They send out "battle buses" to fight them and coordinate it all from "war rooms".

Why such aggressive language? Politics ought to be an act of persuasion, not combat. To win an election you need to bring people together, no?

I suspect that the school boy language tell us about the school boy mind set of many of those that run the big political parties.

Here in Clacton we don't have a "war room". We have an open office, and we give people warm welcomes and big smiles.

09 SEP 2014

UKIP is fun, cheerful and optimistic....

I struggled to even get into my Clacton campaign office on Saturday. The crowd of people outside was so big, it took a while to get past all the handshakes and hellos.

Two hundred and fifty people came along to help me get my next leaflet out. A lady who had come on the bus from Frinton went off to do some leafleting with some lads who had come on a coach from Manchester. I feel humbled by all the help and warmth I have had from so many different people.

Over the past few decades, so many things have got so much better. Britain is more tolerant and open. Most people are for the most part more prosperous.

Medical advances mean we are living longer and healthier lives. There's more choice in the supermarkets. We can access our bank details from our own home. Instead of having to save up to phone relatives in Australia as a Christmas treat, we have facetime and skype.

Imagine if we were to have a little bit of change and choice when it comes to our politics?

UKIP is not an angry backlash against the modern world. Modernity has raised our expectations of how things could be.

I wrote a book – The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy – setting out the sort of changes I would like to see to the way we do politics.

A local GP surgery had, until very recently, a single doctor trying to serve 8,000 patients. Predictably, the latter ended up having to compete to be seen be the former.

That meant pensioners in their 80's standing on a pavement, in the rain, at 8am trying to get an appointment. Disgraceful.

Having pressed local NHS bosses to act, there has been some improvement. But what riles me is the response from Whitehall. "Nothing to do with us, Guv" sums up their attitude.

If you can log in to your bank account on a mobile phone, surely it ought to be possible for people to get the health care they have a right to expect, without having to queue in the rain?

Who isn't being very modern, minister?

It is not true that our Clacton campaign office has now instigated a "Matthew Parris prize", awarded each day to the volunteer who delivers the most leaflets. That would be unkind.

Pride of place as you walk into our Clacton office is a quote by Mahatma Gandhi; "Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony".

05 SEP 2014

What a busy week its been!

It's been quite a week. This time last Thursday I was pacing anxiously around St James' park, readying myself for the coming press conference. I'd decided to leave the Conservative Party and join Ukip.

Why? As I was about to tell the assembled throng, I no longer believe that the upper echelons of the party are serious about the change our country needs.

No one forced me to resign from Parliament and face a by-election. I just feel it's the decent thing to do. MPs should answer directly to those who elected them to Parliament. If I am going to make this move, I must get permission from folk in my part of Essex.

I walked into the press conference. Said what I believed. Things have been a bit full on ever since.

If I'd even the tiniest teeniest doubt about what I was doing, it disappeared the moment I got back to Clacton. Walking down Wellesley Road, I kept on hearing cars beeping. It took me a moment to realise that they were beeping me.

Lots of thumbs ups and grins. A van pulled up alongside and cheerfully asked why it had taken me "so b––––– long". When I opened my email inbox that evening, several hundred messages said much the same.

This isn't mainly about Europe. It's the failure to deliver meaningful political reform that drove me to do this. Read – if you can bear to – the Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto.

It's full of great ideas – which have not been implemented.

More localism, so locally elected councillors can decide on local planning. So why has a government official ignored what our local councillors decided, and imposed an extra 12,000 new houses on our area?

It promised to give local people the power to recall MPs and enable open primary candidate selection. Ministers stalled on recall, scuppering the idea over the summer. The last proper open primary – as opposed to an open meeting, or caucus- used to select a Conservative candidate was in 2009.

Politics is about cosy cliques. Too many MPs became MPs by working in the office of MPs. They answer to each other. We can change this, and we must.

I've made many wonderful new friends this week. Some wonderful people have dropped everything they were doing and rallied to help. I cannot thank them enough.

When we moved into our amazing new Campaign Office bang opposite Clacton railway station, dozens of people came to help.

It's the little things they do that touch me the most. A retired chap stopped me in the street, pressing a £20 note into my hand. "Here you are, Douglas. This is for your campaign."

My unofficial campaign HQ seems to have become McDonald's. When visiting journalists drop by, it's a great place to meet. And there's nothing quite like a McFlurry or a milkshake to keep the energy levels up.

04 SEP 2014

Quit making mischief over data smears ...

Tory HQ is apparently briefing that I have misused data belonging to the Conservative party. This is simply not so.

Any data that I might have helped gather for the Conservative party while a member of the Conservative party is rightly property of the Conservative party and must remain so.

At no point in my campaign will I, or indeed, UKIP use any data obtained from the Conservative party or from Merlin. It is mischievous to suggest otherwise.

02 SEP 2014

We need change to feel great again

Remember the London Olympics a couple of years ago?

Okay, so I admit it, beforehand I'd been a little grouchy about the whole idea. But then I saw that amazing opening ceremony – wow! It blew me away. I was hooked.

Within a few days, like most people I knew, I felt I'd become an expert on sports I hardly knew existed previously.

But far more than that, the Olympics made me feel so good about our country. It seemed to show the world what we could be. We could do amazing things when we come together as one.

"It's the best moment of my life" explained Mo Farah. "This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I'm proud." Me, too. I felt that intense pride in Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and our other athletes, too.  I also felt pride in the Olympic volunteers, welcoming visitors to London.

I found myself falling into conversations with perfect strangers about it all.

So why can't we feel that way about our country all the time? Why can't we feel that sunshine can-do, instead of the drip-drip pessimism?

Because of the way our country is run. Our politics is dominated by politicians. It's all about them, not the people they are supposed to answer too.

Things don't have to be this way. We can change things.

All of the major challenges we need to deal with together as a country – improving the NHS, reforming the banks, controlling our borders, changing our relationship with Europe, sorting out our public finances – we can sort out. We can make this country so much better.

But we will only be able to make them better if we have a government that answers to Parliament, and a Parliament accountable to the people. Politics must be more than a competition between two cliques to sit on the same sofa.

And that means real, meaningful political reform. I'm up for it.  If you are too, pop into my office in Clacton - bang opposite the station .... I need your help!

01 SEP 2014

What's gone wrong - and how we can put things right

For some people, it's the fact they can't get to see a local GP in Frinton and Walton. For other it's the way remote officials insisted our local council accept a further 12,000 new houses.

Others are concerned about benefit migration into Clacton. And the spate of knife crime in the town centre. And the decision by remote officials to switch off our street lights.

All of these problems can be fixed. But they can only be addressed if we have meaningful political reform.  Those who make public policy must be made accountable to the public.

Until government answers to Parliament, and Parliament answers to the people, we will never get a government that is on our side.

Too many decisions are made by little cliques in London. No one seems to want to take responsibility. When things go wrong
they hide behind process and procedure.

I didn't have to resign to fight this by election. But I believe that I owe it to local people here in our corner of Essex. 

You - not David Cameron - are my boss. I really meant it in my regular newsletters when I said that I answer directly to you!

There is nothing we can't achieve in Clacton or this country – but only if we have real political change. Those that make public policy must be made accountable to the public.

My new office opens at the Station Road / Carnavon Road junction in Clacton today. I'll be there. Please pop in to help our local team make the change – and help us make Clacton make history!

28 AUG 2014

It's time for change

I'm today leaving the Conservative party and joining UKIP.

This hasn't been an easy decision.

I've been a member of the Conservative party for all my adult life. It's full of wonderful people who want the best for Britain.

My local Conservative Association in Clacton is thriving. It brims with those that I am honoured to call my friends.

The problem is that many of those at the top of the Conservative party aren't on our side. They aren't serious about the changes that Britain desperately needs.

Of course, they talk the talk before elections. They say what they feel they must say when they want our support.

But on so many issues – modernising our politics and the recall of MPs, controlling our borders, less government, bank reform, cutting public debt, an EU referendum – they never actually make it happen.

All three of the older parties seem the same. They've swathes of safe seats. They're run by those who became MPs by working in the offices of MPs. They use pollsters to tell them what to tell us.

Politics to them is about politicians like them. It's a game of spin and positioning.

First under Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown, now David Cameron, it's all about the priorities of whichever tiny clique happens to be sitting on the sofa in Downing Street. Different clique, same sofa.

Few are animated by principle or passion. Those that are soon get shuffled out of the way. Many are just in it for themselves. They seek every great office, yet believe in so little.

Only UKIP can change this. Only UKIP can shake up the cozy little clique called Westminster.

I'm joining UKIP not because I am a conservative who hankers after the past. I want change. Things can be better than this.

I am an optimist. Britain's a better place than it was when I was born in the early 1970s.

We're more open and tolerant. We're, for the most part, more prosperous. More people are free to grow up and live as they want to live than ever before.

As the father of a young daughter, I've come to appreciate what feminism's achieved. Most girls growing up in Britain today will have better life chances than before thanks to greater equality.

There's been a revolution in attitudes towards disabled people.

What was once dismissed as "political correctness gone mad", we recognise as good manners. Good.

So much about Britain is so much better. Except when it comes to how we do politics.

UKIP is not an angry backlash against the modern world. Modernity has raised our expectations of how things could be.

We need change.

People have a right to expect a government that gets the basics right.

In a world of 24 hours supermarkets and instant access everything, it ought to be possible to make an appointment to see a GP. Yet in my Essex constituency patients have to literally stand in line and wait. They have to compete to been seen by doctors.

There is an alphabet soup of NHS quangos supposed to be in charge. But who takes responsibility?

People have a right to expect the government to control who crosses our borders. Tens of thousands of Londoners log in and log out of the London underground each day. Yet the government just wasted another £224 million on a system that failed to log people in and out as they cross our borders.

On the subject of immigration, let me make it absolutely clear; I'm not against immigration. The one thing more ugly that nativism is angry nativism.

Just like Australia or Switzerland, we should welcome those that want to come here to contribute. We need those with skills and drive. There's hardly a hospital, GP surgery or supermarket in the country that could run without that skill and drive. Real leadership would make this clear.

We should speak with pride and respect about first generation Britons.

But like Australia, we ought to have the right to decide who comes.

Ministers promised us a great Freedom Bill, which was going to repeal all that unnecessary red tape. It never seemed to

Ministers promised us real bank reform. They only seemed to tinker.

They don't think things through. They make one glib announcement after another – and then move on. On to the next speech. The next announcement. The next headline.

They promised to cut the public debt. In just five years of this government, public debt will increase by more than it did during thirteen years of Gordon Brown.

Clever word play about debt and the deficit doesn't conceal that fact that we're still having to borrow over £100 billion a year – and even then government is not getting the basics right.

We need change.

People have a right to expect a government that answers to Parliament, and a Parliament that's accountable to the people.

All three parties went into the last election promising to give local people a right to recall their MP. The Coalition agreement promised a system of open primaries, to throw politics open to those beyond SW1.

None of it has happened.  The whips spent the summer trying to undermine Zac Goldsmith's proposals for real recall. They're really not serious about real change.

We need change in our relationship with Europe.

When we joined what was to become the European Union all those years ago, we imagined we would be joining a prosperous trading block. In the early 1970s, it accounted for almost 40 percent of world economic output.

Today it accounts for a mere 25 percent. In a decade, its expected to be down to 15 percent.

Far from growing, the European Union has grown sclerotic. Indeed, it's the one continent on the planet that isn't growing.

Even a decade ago, we were told that we had to join the Euro because it would raise our output. It would bring prosperity.

Looking across the channel, no one seriously argues that any more.

Yet who in Westminster – who amongst our so-called leaders – is prepared to envisage real change?

To be fair, over the past four years ministers have at times done the right thing about Europe. They vetoed a treaty change. They refused any budget increase. And of course they agreed to an In / Out vote.

But on each occasion they only did the right thing because they had been forced to by their own side. On each occasion, they had instructed their own MPs on a three line whip to support the wrong thing.

With an election approaching, ministers most Eurosceptic boasts are about things they know that they were pushed into doing. It's not leadership. They've not serious about real change. They're only interested in holding office.

No one cheered David Cameron more loudly at the time of his Bloomberg speech, when he finally accepted the case for a referendum. He would, he claimed, negotiate a fundamentally new relationship with the EU, and put it to the people in 2017; In or Out.

But there's been no detail since.  That's because there isn't any.  Again, they've not thought it through.

Ministers have specifically ruled out a trade-only arrangement with the EU. The Prime Minister said so specifically at a meeting of the 1922. It won't even be on the table.

His advisers have made it clear they won't contemplate any deal with UKIP. They're more comfortable doing deals with Nick Clegg than with a party that wants real change in our relations with the EU.

His advisers have made it clear that they seek a new deal that gives them just enough to persuade enough voters to vote to stay in. It's not about change in our national interest. It's all about not changing things.

Once I realised that, my position in the Conservative party became untenable.

There is a world of change and opportunity out there. Tens of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty within my life time. There is a growing middle class in India, China and elsewhere.

Our future prosperity rest on being able to produce things that those millions of new consumers want.

Ministers are simply not up to giving us the kind of realignment that we need.


It is not enough that I leave the Conservative party and join UKIP.

As someone who has always answered directly to independent-minded Essex folk, there is only one honourable thing to do.

I must seek permission from my boss - the people of Clacton. I will now resign from Parliament, and stand for UKIP in the by election that must follow.

I don't have to do this. It would have been easy for me to have muddled along comfortably as a backbench MP. There are all too many who enjoy that convenient life. But that's not the sort of person I am.

I stood for Parliament in the first place because I believe in certain things. I still do. With greater determination than ever.

I just happen to know that principle in politics is more important than the career of an individual MP – even if that MP happens to be me.

Things don't have to be this way.  I'll be asking the voters of Essex to help me bring change. Let's do this together. Let's see if we can make history.

Thank you. I must now return to Clacton to prepare for what is to come.

29 JUL 2014

Ed Miliband can't be worse than Gordon Brown, surely?

It's quite something when Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, Damian McBride, attacks you as a Labour party leader for being ..... well ... a bit .... pointless.

After years of coveting the top in 10 Downing Street, Gordo was infamous for not really knowing what to do with it. Having finally prised Tony Blair out the door, Brown muttered something about values. Grinned foolishly on youtube. Wandered around Suffolk on his summer holidays pretending to enjoy it. And then lost the subsequent election.

No one really seemed to know what a Gordon Brown premiership was for, least of all himself.

Miliband's policies by contrast are a "great, steaming pile of fudge", says McBride.

Worse, the coterie that surrounds him are "dysfunctional". Perhaps that means that when they throw Nokia's at one another the way Gordo was alleged to have done, they keep missing?

It's not just McBride who doesn't think Ed Miliband is up for it. According to this rather amusing website, , dozens of Labour party members across the country are starting to ask what Ed Miliband is for.

"This is all just Westminster bubble silly season stuff" various left leaning pundits will say. "Its childish and puts people off politics" they will sternly inform us. "Time to focus on the real issues"

I'm not so sure. I have just spent the past week going from door to door in one of the more Labour leaning wards in my part of Essex. If there was one constant that keeps coming up its doubts about Ed Miliband from once Labour leaning voters.

No. I wasn't able to tell them what Ed's about either.

21 JUL 2014

Panic in Foreign Office as minister speaks of Out

They won't like it at the Foreign Office. Not only has the new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, given a straight answer to a straight question. He's said that he would be prepared to vote to leave the EU if things don't change.

Hammond is not just the first Foreign Secretary to say that exit is an option. Hammond has made it clear that the current terms of our EU membership are not in our interest.

There could be some interesting conversations with the Sir Humphrey's in his department this morning. It will be interesting to see if Hammond remains resolute, or if he begins to buckle to the views to the big Whitehall bureaucracy.

Ever since David Cameron announced plans for an in/out referendum in 2017, our Foreign Office has followed what you might call the "Wilson strategy". That is to say they intended to engineer a bogus renegotiation, like Harold Wilson in the 1970s. The Prime Minister, they hoped, could then wave this new deal at the public in 2017 – and then persuade them to vote to stay In.

At the same time, Britain's permanent representative in Brussels – Ukrep – has organised meetings for Tory MPs in Brussels, Paris and elsewhere to try to soften their Euroscepticism. Mixed results, apparently.

The failure to block the appointment of Jean Claude Juncker has caused real alarm in King Charles street. Stopping him was a key part of the Wilson strategy. "Look! We blocked that unreconstructed federalist! We can get a new deal", they wanted ministers to be able to say.

For the Wilson strategy to work, our government needs partners willing to go along with the smoke and mirrors trick. But by 26 to 2, the rest of the EU showed that they are not even willing to pretend to make concessions.

Philip Hammond's position has now become the default position for most Tory MPs: vote to leave, unless there is a substantially new deal.

Hammond, like most, is a little vague about the detail in any new deal. The Prime Minister has already specifically ruled out a Swiss type of trade only arrangement. Indeed, Mr Cameron has made it clear that he is not even seeking arrangements that would apply distinctively to Britain, but rule changes applicable to all.

Great. As Hammond says, without substantive change, the chances of exit grow. The longer there is a lack of detail about any new deal, the more mainstream the out option becomes.

This article first appear for the Telegraph.

16 JUL 2014

And now for some policies .....

With the reshuffle over, we now have in place the Tory team to take us into the next election. Good. But what about policy?

Attention will begin to turn to the manifesto this summer. Here are a few suggestions as to what we might put in it:

Education: The next Conservative manifesto should promise to give every parent a legal right to request and receive control over their child's share of local authority education funding.

If you are happy with the education your child is getting, fine – carry on. If not, you should be able to ask the state to give you direct control of your child's pot of money, and spend it at a school that is able to give your child an education that you are happy with. Think of it as self-commissioning, but for schools.

No, parents would not be able to fritter away the money on something other than education, since the pot of money could only be redeemed by an approved school. No, it would not mean subsidies for private school fees, since those paying top tax rates would be exempt.

Michael Gove's reforms have done a brilliant job of widening the supply of education. Now let's free up the demand. It is absurd and antiquated that we allocate school places using catchment areas. Give mums and dads real control – unless of course you don't trust them, the way one or two patrician Tories once argued that council tenants could not be trusted to own their homes...

Health: Patients need a legal right to control access to their own medical records. Don't try to build a giant, government-designed mainframe database. Don't require folk happy with how things are to change. Simply allow those who want to access their medical data digitally a right to do so.

The impact of this would be massive. GPs might have to compete for their patients, rather than patients compete to see a GP as currently happens. This idea is so Right-wing that even Labour's Ian Austin wants it in his party's manifesto.

Europe: Of course we Conservatives will give a manifesto commitment to an In/Out referendum in 2017. But how about making sure it is a choice between two known options?

The current Scottish referendum campaign strikes me as a contest between two unknowns – the blank slate of independence versus a vague sense of devo-max. Not a great template, I'd suggest.

The party needs to make a manifesto commitment to offer voters a choice between In (meaning David Cameron's new deal – or not so new deal) versus Out (meaning good relations with the EU as good neighbours – free trade et al). The manifesto should be the place to flesh out the two alternatives, giving voters some sense of what In or Our would look like.

After the frustration of coalition, drafting the manifesto could prove rather invigorating.

14 JUL 2014

Network Rail isn't working

Could there possibly be a worse way to run our railways?

The companies that operate the trains are all private businesses. But the entity that supplies the operators with the track on which to run their trains – Network Rail – is a government-backed monopoly.

This means that the former are utterly dependent on the latter. Yet the latter seems to have few incentives to raise its game.

In my corner of Essex, we have seen a series of unacceptable cock-ups in recent weeks. Weekend engineering work overruns into Monday morning, resulting in cancellations during peak commuting times. Over-head lines that ought to have been maintained properly have apparently not been maintained properly, resulting in massive delays.

Of course, everyone understands that accidents happen from time to time. And when they do there is no one more stoic and understanding than the British rail commuter. But it is a sense of serial incompetence that is really starting to get people's back up.

At the same time, public attitudes are shifting. Modernity has elevated people's expectations of what good customer service looks like. Folk simply aren't prepared to be fobbed off by big corporations who fail to deliver like they might have been in the past. "Why do the signals keep failing?", a fellow commuter recently asked

Network Rail is supposed to maintain a railway network for a living. It is what it does. Yet time and again they seem pretty hopeless at it. They have a board of grandees that oversee it, but who is there to speak up for the customers.

"Re-nationalise it!" one of my constituents suggested. Part of the problem, surely, is that Network Rail is already a de facto nationalised entity. It is backed by taxpayer cash and has little incentive to respond better to its customers. I am not convinced that ministers running the railways would make things better.

I am not sure what the answer is, but the current corporatist configuration is simply not good enough.

10 JUL 2014

Cheer up doomsters! The world is getting better

The OECD famously failed to foresee the financial crisis of 2008-09. That has not stopped this Paris-based think tank from publishing a report telling us what the world economy is going to look like in 2060.

According to the OECD, there will be less growth, more inequality, and lots of jobs are going to disappear.

If that wasn't bad enough, Channel 4's Paul Mason has now written a piece suggesting that the doomsters at the OECD are being hopelessly optimistic. Things, he suggests, will be even worse.

We should take this all with a large pinch of salt.

To be sure, many jobs will disappear over the next fifty years, just as lots of jobs disappeared over the previous fifty years. They will tend to be the more repetitive, menial ones, and they will generally be replaced with more interesting ones.

Many more people in 2060 may indeed be working part time. But that is because they will earn more for doing less.

Seen from the perspective of a dawn-to-dusk farm labourer in the nineteenth century, today's work patterns, with seven-hour shifts and two-day weekends, must seem pretty part time. And a very good thing too.

Far from slowing down, I suspect that growth will speed up. The internet will make us more interconnected, allowing ideas and innovation to happen faster. The network of specialisation and exchange that drives human progress will be even greater.

Far from being less equal, many of the barriers to individual success are starting to come tumbling down. Elite university courses, once the preserve of a privileged few, will be available online to the masses. Access to capital, without which would be entrepreneurs cannot succeed, is becoming ever easier.

Specialist knowledge, once the preserve of the powerful, is a mouse click away. Thanks to solar and shale gas, energy costs in 2060 will, I suspect, be a whole lot lower.

Paul Mason claims that the best of capitalism is over. What capitalism? Today we have a system of crony corporatism masquerading as the free market. It is about to get blown away by the real thing. A system of capitalism under which anyone can own the means of production, distribution and capital.

The world in 2060 will as a consequence be much more prosperous, better educated and more equal. Folk will have much more leisure time and vastly higher living standards.

One thing perhaps that won't survive is the twentieth century Western model of big government knows best that gave rise to today's creeking corporatism. But that really is about the one thing left that is holding us – or at least the Western part of humankind – back.

02 JUL 2014

A rotten way to run a country

It's no way to run a country. After reading the same sort of degrees at similar Oxbridge colleges, many MPs become MPs having worked in the offices of MPs. Selected for a safe seat, they then sit on the front bench – and prepare to govern us.

Many of those at the giddy heights of SW1 politics have got there without ever personally having had to depend on winning over swing voters in marginal seats. And it shows.

The ethos of Westminster today is that MPs answer to one another, not outwardly to the voters. Promotion comes by regurgitating the established line, not by challenging it.

Fundamental questions go unanswered because no one seems to even ask the question.

"At what point", wrote Charles Moore, recently "does the freedom to borrow, so necessary for wealth-generation, go too far?" Six years on from a financial crisis created by unrestrained fractional reserve banking, no answer. No solution. No fresh thinking. The candy floss credit machine simply revs up again.

"How can public services", he continues, "replicate the degree of choice and personal attention that a market-based culture has come to expect?" No one in SW1 is looking to give us playlists for our own personalised public services.

When I first arrived in the Commons, I assumed that somewhere across the road in Whitehall would be rooms full of wise, cool-headed experts. After considering important public policy issues from every angle, they would then present their recommendations.

Now I realise it's more like the Wizard of Oz. Draw back the curtain and you find a rather befuddled, middle-aged man (it usually is a man) making it up as he goes along. On everything from energy policy to overseas aid, public policy is made on the basis of ingrained departmental assumptions that are often years out of date.

Our system of democracy isn't working. On everything from EU policy to defence procurement, it has a Byzantine capacity to stifle essential reform and reinforce failure.

It wasn't always like this.

In 2014 many more people – thankfully – have the right to vote than they did in, say, 1914. But that does not necessarily mean we have become more democratic. Many more have the right to vote, but the ability of those with votes to hold those with power to account has steadily diminished.

A hundred years ago, it was not simply MPs who decided which MPs got promoted. If your local MP was appointed to the government, they had to resign their seat, come back to the constituency and get your permission in a by election for them to join the government.

There were no A list party favorites and think tankers, to be parachuted into safe seats. Until remarkably recently, candidates were selected by genuinely autonomous, mass membership branches.

Until the 1930s, those we elected decided how much the government spent. MPs could table amendments to the budget. Since then, MPs are only allowed to rubber stamp what Treasury officials have decided – and government largesse with taxpayer money has increased dramatically.

If we are to be well governed again, we need profound, far-reaching change. Government needs to be made accountable to Parliament, and those who sit in Parliament must be made properly answerable to the people.

23 JUN 2014

Chuka is wrong. Voters are angry because they are online

Lots of voters are angry and disconnected, according to Labour's Chuka Umunna, because they can't send emails and have no idea how to use the internet. These techno-illiterates would feel a lot less alienated, continued the sage of Streatham, if only they had better digital skills.

Chuka has it 180 degrees wrong. Many of the angriest, most alienated voters that I've come across feel that way precisely because of time spent online.

Firstly, the internet has democratised opinion forming. Instead of a small clique of BBC-type pundits telling folk what to think, people can now source comment and opinion from blogs and Twitter. This has left many voters feeling a lot less deferential towards smug opinion formers – and their smug, self-satisfied opinions.

Voter dissatisfaction is a product of modernity, not a rejection of it. If you are used to the idea of Tesco being open 24 hours a day, you feel less than happy about GP services that shut at the weekend.

As more people do more things online as part of their everyday life, public attitudes and expectations are beginning to shift. Once you are used to things being hyper-personalised around you and your requirements, as they are online, you feel a little underwhelmed by politicians offering you nothing but generic public services offline.

If millions of commuters are able to log in and log out of London's transport network each week, you might start to ask – as one of my constituents did recently – why no government is able to log people in and out when they cross our borders.

If you listen to music through Spotify, self-selection starts to feel like the norm. So what are you to make of a political party that imposes candidates and shortlists on you?

What are you to think about a political system that produces identikit candidates, who speak and think in cliché?

Far from being a rejection of modern Britain, voter disillusionment arises out of a sense of how else things might be. It is precisely because more voters are plugged in to the modern world online that they are feeling disillusioned with the retro offering from Chuka and co in SW1.

The internet has not cut voters off from politics, but politicians off from voters.

18 JUN 2014

Juncker in the top job? What next

It looks as if it might be Jean-Claude Juncker after all. Despite the best efforts of Downing Street to block his appointment as next President of the European Commission, I reckon that next week this uber-federalist is going to get confirmed in the role.

Not since Jacques Delors will we have had a head of the Commission so personally, and explicitly, committed to the grand project of European integration.

What might be the consequences?

David Cameron opposed Juncker on the basis that he is "a face from the Eighties", unsuited to reform. Indeed. If the face from the Eighties gets the job, the chances of there being any serious efforts to tackle Euro-sclerosis or the growing political disaffection spreading across the continent are pretty much nil.

I doubt there would even be the sort of token reforms – minor concessions on who can claim benefits, lip service to national parliaments – that the Foreign Office has been angling for.

Having Juncker in the role will make it harder for the Whitehall establishment to concoct some sort of bogus new deal in order to try to hoodwink the public in the 2017 referendum. Which would be a good thing.

Juncker is such a committed federalist, he would do almost anything to preserve his grand project. Even if that means letting Britain go. Indeed, he has already hinted at giving the British some sort of associate, trade-only membership. That might terrify the political tribe in SW1, but not the folk in Essex.

Juncker getting the top job in Brussels will be a wake-up call in Whitehall. Having cheerfully signed away the right to decide who becomes the Commission President in the Lisbon treaty, only now have ministers and mandarins woken up to the implications. "Did we really agree to that?" one can hear officials saying. "Cripes!"

Almost 20 years ago, John Major vetoed the appointment of Jean Luc Dehaene as Commission president. Today, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom no longer has the power to do even that. This is what surrendering your sovereignty feels like, chaps. Not nice, eh?

A Juncker win next week makes it clearer than ever that we need a coherent Europe strategy. For too long Europe policy has been all tactics; Turning up to Brussels ready to cut a deal with the French president over financial services regulation, but ending up vetoing a treaty when he wouldn't play ball. And then pretending that was your intention all along.

Opposing an EU budget only after losing a Commons vote. Saying you want less Europe, but then opting back into the European Arrest Warrant. Saying you don't want Juncker, but not lining up an alternative candidate. Saying you want a new deal, but not spelling out any meaningful details.

We need not only a strategy, but strategists. Too many of those officials in Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office that I have come across are too clever by half. All tactics, they lack any sense of strategy. They are federalist to their fingertips.

If Juncker gets the job, it might be time to ... you know ... appoint some officials who have a sense of Britain's national interest. And who can talk about us having a distinctive national interests without rolling their eyes and smirking? Yes, "cripes!" indeed.

10 JUN 2014

Where are the Thatchers, Attlees and Reagans to show us the sunlit uplands?

It was only when I discovered how to order contact lenses online that I realised what a bad deal I had been getting previously from my optician. Once a little bit of choice and competition came along, the terms of trade between punter and provider changed.

So, too, in politics.

For years, we have had two (and a half) providers in politics. This meant that politics was played out as a game between politicians.

Those wanting to win elections did not have to ask what was right or what was in the national interest. Instead, they only needed to ask where they stood in relation to the other side. It was all about positioning – preferably as close to the middle ground as possible, but just short of where the other lot stood.

The two and a half parties came to be seen as pretty indistinguishable to many outside Westminster.

Now it seems that some in SW1 are starting to wake up and recognise that the two and half providers – rather like my old optician – haven't really been serving the punters as well as they might have.

With all that emphasis on a tiny number of swing seats, a large swathe of the electorate has come to feel neglected. All that clever-dick positioning has left many wondering what the parties really stand for. The subjects and values that animate the SW1 tribe might not, it seems, do it for all the folk beyond.

These voters – the great ignored – might be angry, but they are not, in my experience, reactionary. In fact, many seem up for some far more profound change than anyone in Westminster is willing to contemplate.

At a community supper in Clacton the other evening (full to capacity, organised entirely online) people were anything but anti-modern. On the contrary, they wanted to know why we manage to have 24 hour super markets, yet they can't get to see a GP when they need one.

Far from being ill at ease with the world, they wanted to know what was keeping public services and the politicians behind.

"Millions of commuters use oyster cards each day to log in and log out", said one. "The system knows who they are and has all their details". "So why", he continued, "can't the government keep track of people, logging them in and out, when they cross our borders?"

Many of the most politically disaffected seem that way precisely because modernity has raised their expectations of how things might be. It is the full-time politicians that have failed to keep up. Anyone who thinks that it is the voters fault for losing touch with politicians, rather than the other way round, has spent too long in SW1.

If the great ignored are at times a little pessimistic, whose fault is that? Where are the Clement Attlees, the Margaret Thatchers and Ronald Reagans showing them the sunlit uplands?

04 JUN 2014

Recall - it should be local voters, not MPs, who trigger it

In her speech today, Her Majesty the Queen announced a recall Bill. This could have been the most significant change in decades to the way that Britain does politics.

For far too long, politics in Westminster has been done for us by a clique of career MPs, most of who come from "safe seats". Secure in the knowledge they can only be sacked if they lose the party whip, most MPs tend to answer primarily to other MPs. Politics in SW1 has thus become a game played by politicians and pundits, without much reference to the people.

Recall ought to overturn this cosy way of doing things. It's wildly popular: over 150,000 people signed up to 38 Degrees' superb campaign within the first two days. (Please add your name here.)

Recall could make the customer – rather than the whips' office – king. But will it?

I suspect that when we see the small print, it won't actually mean more direct democracy.

The SW1 gang, terrified of the implications of letting the people back into politics, will ensure that the trigger for any recall mechanism remains safely in their hands. Local people will only be allowed to vote to confirm what political insiders have decided.

Done properly, recall must be triggered by local voters, not a committee of Westminster grandees. And it must also involve an actual recall ballot – should your local MP be recalled, yes or no?

We trust juries to decide if someone has broken the law, rather than pass a verdict on whether they agree with the law. Similarly, recall means trusting local constituents to decide if the behaviour and conduct of their own MP is acceptable, not if they happened to vote for them last time round.

It is a sad reflection of our political system today that so many in Westminster balk at the very idea of allowing their electorate to make that kind of decision. I suspect most MPs would get a fairer hearing from their constituents than they ever would from a committee stuffed full of whips'-office placemen, under pressure from the lobby pack in full hunt mode.

Giving local people the power to recall their representatives, it is sometimes said, would lead to vexatious attempts to unseat MPs. What makes you think SW1 insiders cannot be vexatious?

Local people would be far better at deciding what was and what was not a legitimate complaint about their local MP. When the Tories triggered a judicially sanctioned recall ballot in Winchester in 1997, it backfired spectacularly. Seen as sore losers, they managed to turn a Lib Dem majority of almost zero into a Lib Dem majority of over 20,000.

"I can't see the point of recall," scoff some pundits who have rarely spotted a swing voter in a marginal seat either. "What we should really be focusing on is whether Boodle will be promoted in the reshuffle rather than Doodle. And what was on the menu when the PM and the German Chancellor met for lunch?"

We Conservatives have long understood the importance of choice and competition in business. I fear we have missed a chance to extend that same principle to politics. 

02 JUN 2014

Which Euro grandee will be our President?

It makes no difference how you voted – the European Commission always gets back in.
Last week the British people voted overwhelmingly for Eurosceptic parties.
Today in Brussels we are left with a 1/28th say over which Euro grandee gets to call themselves "President of Europe".
Will it be Jean-Claude Juncker, favourite of the Brussels insiders, for his fervent advocacy of a single European State?
Or perhaps it'll be former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt. At least when he sneers at our country, he does so openly, as the video shows.
Perhaps, in the belief that he's just the straight sort of guy needed to soften up us Brits, the Eurosystem might decide to give the job to Tony Blair. "What influence we have", the Euro lobbyists will then shriek, "A Brit, at the top table!"
Given his record running this country, who better to teach the Europeans about massive, uncontrolled immigration? Who better to preside over EU wide bank reform, seeing how he handled the UK banking bubble?
President Blair might even be able to improve Europe's global competitiveness in the same way that he fixed ours. Last time Blair got the EU to agree to a reform programme intended to make Europe the most competitive part of the global economy by 2010, things didn't go quite the way he promised.
As a member of Better Off Out, I wish we could find a way for them to all take on the role.
Do we really want to be run by these sort of people? Surely we can do better than this. Are we really to have politicians doing politics without reference to the voters?
I don't think so. So let's vote to leave in 2017.

20 MAY 2014

Europhile Little Englanders

How many times have we heard it from the Europhiles? Britain must be in the EU so that we can trade freely. The case for Britain's EU membership, say the fed heads, is built on trade and investment.

But then look at what they do in practice.

When an actual case of free investment comes along – Pfizer wanting to buy AstraZeneca – the Europhile mob suddenly go all protectionists.

Listening to MPs in the House of Commons debating the deal, I was struck that it wasn't we Better Off Outers demanding that Britain pull up the draw bridge. It was Vince Cable, Ed Miliband and Chuka Umunna.

"We have to protect British jobs" declare Europhiles who have spent decades telling us that they support the free movement of people. "We must not let R&D move abroad", screeched those that tell us we need open borders.

Last week we could see Europhiles for what they really are: economic nativists. British ownership, implied these little Englanders, must somehow be inherently superior for the UK economy.

Of course it is nationalist nonsense to believe that just become something is owed by British investors, rather than US, German or Indian ones, it will be better run. See the amazing success story that is Jaguar Landrover.

Europhiles talk free trade but act protectionist. Don't expect the BBC or the FT to point out this glaring corporatist inconsistency any time soon.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which we are starting to hear so much about, is not really about free trade and investment at all. It is about giving people like Vince, Ed and Chuka more power to intervene and meddle in people's lives.

Next time you hear a politician telling you we need to be in the EU to benefit from a Transatlantic trade deal, ask them why they did not speak up in favour of free investment when it came to Pfizer?

14 MAY 2014

Techno illiterate Euro judges don't understand Google

Each time you do a Google search, who is it that you are asking?

Perhaps you imagine you are drawing down information stored and catalogued by Google on some giant database. Not really. Each time you google, you aren't asking Google, you are asking everybody else.

When you google, you are skimming the views of thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of people like you. Think of it as a market place, with the relative weight and prominence of what crops up largely determined organically, by the online community.

To be sure, as in any market, some will try to rig it. Search engine optimisation firms manipulate the search algorithms for their advantage. But the non sponsored links that appear when you do a Google search more or less reflects what fellow web users think. It's a product of organic design, not central cataloguing.

This did not stop the European court yesterday ruling that Google must be held responsible for what appears about each of us. We have, say the Euro judges, a "right to be forgotten".

"Bravo!" you say "A victory for the individual against the Google machine!"

Except it isn't. It is the precise opposite.

The Euro court ruling means that Google must remove links that appear even if the links are to data that is 100 percent accurate. That means you will no longer be free to read things that are correct and true.

Who do you imagine will benefit from that? You or the politicians and the powerful?

I can think of several politicos who might already be penning their demands to Google to have them make sure no embarrassing references to their past crop up. Google might be made to remove any reference to that awkward criminal conviction thingy. Or perhaps the Lib Dems will ask them to remove any of those annoying references to any pre election promises.

Insisting that Google manipulate search engine results to remove embarrassing facts is a bit like the demand that producers only charge a "fair price". It sounds superficially attractive.

But of course a price is normally an expression of what other folk like you are willing to pay. And what appears onGoogle is normally a reflection of what people like you, not any techno geeks in California, are thinking.

The Euro court ruling is techno illiterate and a threat to the free market in ideas that the internet gives us.

We are all familiar with the story of the printing press. While the elites in Ming China and the Ottoman Empire restricted its use, the same thing could not happen in Europe. With no central political authority, there was no Euro officialdom to inhibit the application of the new technology.

Now, of course, Europe does have central political authority. And they are beginning to seriously restrict the application of new technology.

12 MAY 2014

Allowing the taxman to take from people's bank accounts is simply wrong

It is all so un-Conservative and illiberal. Yet the Conservative-Liberal Coalition is allowing it to happen.

Tax officials are about to be given automatic powers to take money from your bank account, if you don't pay what they feel you owe them. Thank goodness for Andrew Tyrie and his select committee for taking the Treasury to task over it.

No doubt we'll be told these powers will only be used in extreme cases: "When dealing with fraudsters or organised criminals, you understand." Don't you believe it.

My surgeries are regularly visited by ordinary folk who are on the receiving end of HM Revenue and Customs incompetence – I've yet another one due in later today.

We are told that money will only be taken from people's bank accounts if they fail to respond to multiple demands for payment. I wonder if that applies to the constituent of mine who has regularly – and incorrectly –been sent demands for thousands of pounds he is supposed to owe in VAT. He has never run any sort of business in his life.

Given that HMRC freely admits that millions of people are routinely charged the wrong amount of tax, surely it would be insane to give them the power of what they call "direct recovery".

If the taxman believes he is owed money from someone who is refusing to pay, he should do what everybody else does and seek a court order. As with the BBC and their licence fee, we should strongly object to giving semi-official agencies privileged rights to demand payments from people. There was a time when most liberals and Conservatives – and indeed liberal Conservatives – would have understood all this automatically.

What I find extraordinary about this whole sorry saga was the response from the Treasury yesterday: we need to "reduce the deficit so that we deal with our debts. It is therefore important that people pay the tax they owe on time."

I am sure that the Emperor Commodus, whose extravagance and waste left Rome bankrupt, might have said much the same. Public debt back then was caused not by the pesky people failing to hand over their cash fast enough, but by his propensity to spend.

What the Treasury's response really tells us is who is in change. We are no longer governed by executive organizations, in accordance with predetermined rules set down by Parliament, and able to seek redress from courts when we feel those rules have been set aside. We are increasingly run by an "extra executive" state. Quangocrats at HMRC write the rules and act as final judge, jury and bailiff. Accountability through ministers in Parliament becomes a fiction.

And we wonder why the fire of anti-politics burns ever more fiercely.

This blog first appear on the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly.

09 MAY 2014

Helping Help for Heroes - and Only Cowards Carry Knives!

Help for Heroes sold hundreds of cakes on Christmas Tree Island in the centre of Clacton to raise funds for injured service men and women.

I turned up to show support - and scoffed lots of cake!

Three cheers to Paul Ballard, Help for Heroes local organiser, and his magnificent team!

Also attending was the Only Cowards Carry Knives team, and their cookie monster.

I bought a Help for Heroes hat, which I shall use when gardening.

09 MAY 2014

Cheer up! The world is getting better

I know that Tory backbenchers like me are supposed to be pessimists. We're meant believe that the glass is half empty. But it isn't. Life today is so much better than before.

Since 1971, the year I was born, Britain has become a far more open, tolerant and interesting place to be.

We're almost all materially better off. In the early '70s the average household spent around a quarter of their disposable income on food. It's down to 15 percent now. And it's much better food, too.

Back on the 1980s, families once saved up in order to be able to spend a few precious minutes talking to relatives on the phone in Australia at Christmas. Today we have Skype.

We have much more entertainment. Instead of having to make do with three or four TV channels, we have iPlayer and Spotify.

Even the little things seem so much better designed these days. Suitcases now come with wheels (why did no one think of that when I was dragging luggage around as a kid?). Tin openers mean you can now open tins without having to lift the jaggedy lid with your finger tips.

For years Conservatives have lamented social breakdown. Modernity, we told ourselves, was leaving society atomised and fragmented.

Not any more. Social media, and sites like are weaving a new social tapestry. Local online communities are springing up, introducing neighbour to neighbour. (I know because I have witnessed it first hand in my Clacton constituency, and it is magnificent) We're becoming richer in a civic, not merely a material sense.

Britain isn't going to the dogs. In fact, thanks to better nutrition and veterinary care, even our pets are living longer.

But there's one area where things have not improved quite so dramatically. And they are the things run by government.

We might have 24 hour supermarkets, but it is still impossible for most people to see a GP at a weekend or evening. Your children might have a Spotify playlist at home, but there is not enough personalised learning in schools that adhere to a top down curriculum.

Government isn't just bad at customer service. Government often makes things worse.

New technologies, such as solar and shale gas, ought to have reduced the cost of energy. Instead, thanks to ham-fisted intervention by government, we are subsidising medieval windmill technology and 1950s nuclear technology - and pushing up the price of electricity.

Instead of letting us enjoy an abundance of cheaper air travel, government taxes it, and at the same time manages to faff around, creating bottle necks of indecision where airports ought to be.

Perhaps government hasn't got much better for the simple reason that our political system hasn't changed? With seven out of ten Parliamentary seats a 'safe seat', MPs aren't as responsive to the taxpayer as they ought to be.

Britain would be even better if we had the kind of choice and competition when it comes to choosing our politicians as we take for granted elsewhere.

06 MAY 2014

Britain grows rich because we are open to investment and ideas

US company Pfizer wants to give £50 to anyone in Britain who owns a share in UK pharmaceutical business AstraZeneca, in return for said share.

Is this a good deal? I think we ought to leave it to those that own the shares to decide. According to to latest reports, AstraZenca's board does not think it a good deal. But we shall have to see if the folk that own the company concur.

What is not right is that it should be for people like Lord Heseltine to have the final say.

Having got so many of the big macro questions of the 1980s and 1990s wrong (Industrial policy, Westlands, the Tory leadership, joining the euro) Lord H was back on the air waves the other day explaining why this takeover was a bad deal for Britain.

I am not sure we would want to live in a country in which politicians decide what works. I can't help notice that in all the time Hezza has been in public life, it's the things not run by politicians that have got vastly better. It's the things run by politicos that aren't up to scratch: think coal mines, think NHS.

It is not, after all, Britain that owns AstraZeneca, but the shareholders. Many of whom are British. What the protectionists want is the power to stop those that own the business from selling it. Should we let them?

The UK overall is a massive beneficiary from the free movement of capital. Think of the UK car industry, and how it has massively gained from all that foreign investment and take overs? Since an Indian firm took over Jaguar Landrover, it's started to sell overseas successfully again.

And what about the foreign takeover of UK shoe manufacturers? Twenty years ago, shoe firms were on their knees. Today UK shoe companies export more shoes to China than ever.

Would the protectionists have prevented that too? No one could have foreseen the British successes that overseas investment and acquisition produced.

Pundits complain that this takeover will harm UK research and development. They ignore the fact that the reason why Cambridge and others have become global leaders in technology is precisely because they are open – to foreign money, investment, ideas and – yes – people.

Plenty of respectable pundits like to sneer at Ukip immigration policies. Yet they seem perfectly happy to bar pesky foreigners coming over here and giving wads cash to AstraZeneca shareholders. Economic nativism is as daft as any other.

This article first appear at the Telegraph site, where Douglas writes regularly.

30 APR 2014

Britain is an "aid superpower". Why no celebrating?

Britain is, we're told, an 'aid superpower'. We have apparently become the first major nation to spend 0.7 per cent of our gross national income on overseas aid.

According to Ben Jackson, writing in the Times, who works for a network of aid organisations, 'this is a historic achievement and should be a source of national pride'. Perhaps he finds the lack of national celebration puzzling.

It is always easy to be generous with other people's money.

'How mean spirited!' retort those who want us to cheer this great British giveaway. 'You wouldn't say that about taxpayer money being spent on pensioners, would you?'

No, I would not. That is because UK pensioners are UK taxpayers. They have been paying into the system for years. The government of Malawi has not. UK taxpayers have a greater claim upon UK tax revenue than anyone else.

Britain's aid budget has grown so fast that the government only just managed to meet its target of giving our money away faster than anyone else. I understand something like 40 percent of the annual budget ended up being spent in the last quarter of the financial year. And it is so large that it buys all kinds of things.

Projects and initiatives. More projects and 4x4s. Subsidized largess from various bloated bureaucracies across sub-Saharan Africa, and, I gather, UK school fees for various UK officials posted on overseas assignments. Never forget that many of those who lobby for this extra money on overseas aid are what one might term 'Lords of Poverty'. It might sound a little uncharitable to say so, but they do rather well out of it.

Ben Jackson lays into what he calls 'populist onslaughts' against all this aid spending. Pesky people, eh? Worrying about how the elite are spending their tax pounds!

Surely it is not mere populism to point out that the one thing that all this aid money does not buy is sustainable development. It is a statement of the facts.

Over the past six decades, Western governments have spent $2 trillion on official development assistance in sub Saharan Africa. That is the equivalent of three times the size of the South African economy, just on aid.

For all that official aid, according to Rajan and Subramanian, there is no evidence that any of this has accelerated growth or development. Their research finds no evidence of a correlation between aid inflows and economic growth at all. None. Zilch.

Perhaps the real purpose of UK aid spending is to buy a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling amongst the chattering classes. Think of it as a sort of twenty first century equivalent of buying indulgences. Something the politico-media elite buy – using public money – to assuage any feelings of guilt?

The irony is that Africa seems to be developing rather well without our 'aid superpower' efforts. On my most recent return to Uganda – a part of the world I know rather well – I was struck by how much progress and prosperity there has been. Africa is doing well because of Africans and the internet. In so far as aid is helping, it tends to be private – mainly American – philanthropists that are making the difference.

This article first appear on the Telegraph site.

28 APR 2014

Politics and the dodo

For many a millennium, life on the island of Mauritius must have seemed pretty good for dodos. Surrounded by sun and the sea, they could potter about eating stuff. Not having any wings must have hardly seemed to matter.

And it didn't matter, until things turned up that could walk faster than they could waddle.

For many years life in Westminster was almost as insular. Seven out of ten seats was "safe", with very little chance of ever changing hands during a general election. That cut many MPs off from the views of the voters. Many on the island lost the ability to see themselves the way swing voters in marginal seats saw them.

Once on the SW1 island, most MPs fortunes rose or fell on the basis of what other people in SW1 – whips and journalists – thought about them.

Politics became for many a kind of private parlour game. A clever scheme to try and position yourself on the right side of the debate – according to everyone else on the Westminster island – and leave your opponents on what all the opinion formers told you was the wrong side.

This sort of political waddling was what counted – the trick being to make sure no one could waddle faster than you.

In a world where everyone waddles, why bother to remember what it is to fly? Thus did so much of our politics become so petty and pedestrian.

Then along came the internet. Like the arrival of Dutch sailors on Mauritius, it heralded a change in Westminster's insular ecology. Suddenly more creatures enter the political ecology.

It is no longer just the island's established pundits – the ones who told us Nick "nine points in the polls" Clegg had won the recent EU debates – who decide what is the right side of any debate. Opinion formers are displaced as comment is democratised.

All sorts of other beasts can aggregate ideas and opinion – and even perhaps votes.

Faced with a spot of competition as they peck around for votes, we discover some of the long established political players have all the elegance and aptitude of a dodo. They're just not very good at it. They might have seemed like "big beasts", but only when many of the others were the political equivalents of flightless pigeons.

We begin too to see quite how cosy and crass so much political reporting has been for so long. What should have been analysis turns out to have been an echo chamber. Thoughts, we discover, were for so long recycled clichés.

This internet thingy means that the barriers to entry in politics have gone. It is changing the political ecology forever. Some will adapt. Others, perhaps believing that they already know all that there is to know on the island of politics, will not.

They will go the way of the dodo. Or the old Liberal Party.

This article first appear on the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly.

09 APR 2014

Britain's export enigma

British exports to the world aren't rising, but falling. In February sales of UK exports were down 1.6 percent to £23.5 Billion.

This is the lowest level since November 2010 – despite the fact that the world economy is 5 to 10 percent bigger now than it was then.

What has gone wrong?

Mainstream economists have struggled to account for this export enigma. Despite all the best efforts of government to rebalance the economy, and make the UK less reliant on domestic consumer growth, we are today more reliant on domestic demand than ever before.

In my recent paper on monetary policy, I hinted at one possible explanation.

Years of ultra easy money – low rates, QE, cheap credit – have created lots of "zombie firms". According to some estimates, 1 in 10 UK businesses is now a zombie firm, in that they have debts that they are able to service – while rates remain low. But have little chance of ever being able to pay the debt back.

Zombie firms are undead. They are able to keep on going. Serving existing customers, but not expanding into new markets – as exporters would need to. They can carry on doing what they do, but not adapt or change.

Normally an economic downturn means that economic resources – capital, plant, people – are reshuffled. The process in painful, but leads to restructuring that ultimately leaves everyone better off.

Low interest rates in recent years might have prevented this process from happening. Much of that malinvestment, made during the Brown boom, is still there in the system. Like cholesterol, it continues to clog up our economic arteries.

Britain last ran a current account surplus in the mid 1980s – at around the time we abandoned monetarism. The massive trade current account deficit that now looms seems to me to be a clear indication that we are, as a country, living far beyond our means.

Years of using cheap credit to engineer growth has given us lots of shopping malls. But fewer factories producing goods that foreigners want to buy. It has encouraged overconsumption, not export driven production.

It is not a coincidence, in my opinion, that countries that have maintained a sound approach to monetary matters, like Germany, tend to have done better as exporters.

07 APR 2014

It's game over for the Association of Chief Police Officers

At a little-noticed meeting at the Home Office a few weeks ago something remarkable happened: England and Wales's 41 Police and Crime Commissioners confirmed that they had effectively voted to end Acpo, the Association of Chief Police Officers.

"So what?", you might think. "One branch of officialdom squabbling with another".

Except it isn't. Those Police and Crime Commissioners – however low turnout might have been in their first ever elections – are not officialdom. They are us. We elect each one of them directly to decide police priorities where we live.

By endorsing a report by Sir Nick Parker on the future of Acpo in January, our locally elected Police Commissioners not only sealed Acpo's fate. They overturned the idea that police rules and guidelines should automatically be determined from on high, and imposed uniformly across the country.

For years, policing policy has been decided by Acpo. Technically a limited company, Acpo was accused by its critics of ignoring Freedom of Information requests. They did not properly answer to anyone – either the public or Parliament. Yet they wielded enormous power.

It was Acpo that decided – unlawfully – that any DNA profiles, taken from anyone under almost any circumstances, would only be deleted in "exceptional circumstances". They played a key role in setting by the sinister Confidential Intelligence Unit, apparently.

Acpo's worst offence was not to sell data from the Police National Computer for £70 a pop – despite it costing them only 60p to access according to critics. Nor to market "police approval" logos to commercial anti theft devices.

The real problem with Acpo was that the policing "guidelines" they issued had a habit of becoming hard and fast rules. Acpo did more than any other organisation to promote a culture of centralised policing – one in which compliance with procedures coming from on high determined how a local community was policed. "It's Acpo guidelines" I kept being told.

With Acpo's demise, your locally elected Police and Crime Commissioners ought to have a far greater say in deciding how you are policed where you live. "Stuff Acpo, it's what the locally elected Commissioner has decided" is what I want to hear.

Acpo's demise proves that a single MP, if persistent and bloody-minded enough, can change the way we are governed. Mark Reckless, the Member of Parliament for Rochester, has for years waged a lonely campaign against Acpo. And now he has won. Not since David slew Goliath has something quite so big, bloated and grossly overrated been so magnificently felled.

The end of Acpo provides us Conservatives with an important strategic lesson, too.

For a generation or more, even when we have won elections, we have tended to lose the political war. Why? Because ranged against us have been structures and institutions – Acpo, the BBC, the Foreign Office – with outlooks and objectives inimical to ours.

What Acpo was doing to policing, the Foreign Office has done to Europe policy, and the BBC to public discourse. In fact the sprawling alphabet soup of quangos that preside over us has been doing it to Britain. Powerful corporate bureaucracies, pursuing their own agendas, without reference to the rest of us.

In order to ensure the public policy outcomes we want, we Conservatives need to recognise that we must put in place structures that will yield those outcomes. Elections are not enough.

Create a cadre of directly elected local Police Commissioners, and sooner or later they will begin to insist that they – not a remote bureaucracy – decide things. There could be something in this direct democracy after all...

31 MAR 2014

After Out: what do we want Britain to be like after the EU?

And so it begins. The In/Out referendum campaign is under way. The actual vote may not happen until 2017 – or even 2020 – but the big decision day on Britain's EU membership is coming.

It has been a long march for us Euro sceptics – during which we sang some beautifully sceptical songs. Yet as we enter this new, decisive phase, we must change our tune to sing something that chimes with the whole country.

It will not be enough that people resent the intrusion of Brussels into their lives. Instead of anger, people need uplift. Folk are going to need to know what an independent Britain will look like.

Voting to hand back our membership of the Euro club is not so much a vote to leave anything as to rejoin the rest of the world. When we signed up to the Euro club in the 1970s, we thought we were joining a prosperous trade block. It turns out to be a declining customs union. The EU is holding Britain back. Voting Out will allow us to trade more freely with the world.

"But what about the single market?" lots of perfectly sensible folk will ask. "Or those new free trade agreements Brussels wants to make with the world?"

In politics and plebiscites, people need to do more than merely agree with you. They need to know that you are plausible. There is only one plausible place to be when it comes to trade policy: in favour of liberalisation.

We Outers need to show that the single market is not in fact synonymous with trade liberalisation. Far from freeing us to trade – which is what we thought we were signing up for – the single market has become a vehicle for all that blizzard of red tape. Single market rules are created by vested interests to rig the market.

British firms, like Swiss, American, Australian and Chinese ones, should only have to comply with single market regulations when selling to the single market.

Far from giving us more clout when negotiating free trade agreements with America, India or China, the EU has dithered and delayed. The trade agreements the Eurocrats want to put in place are anything but free. It is precisely because Brussels wants deals based on quotas and red tape that it is taking forever. Tiny Switzerland now has more trade deals with the major economies of the world than the EU has managed. Vote Out for a Britain that trades openly with the world.

Immigration, many Outers seem to believe, is our strongest card. It links one of the public's number one concerns with the question of our EU membership.

Perhaps.  But the Out campaign must not descend into any kind of angry nativism. First and second generation Britons must feel as comfortable voting to quit the EU as those whose ancestors came over before William the Conqueror.

An independent Britain is not going to have no immigration. It will have democratic control over immigration – like Switzerland, where one in five workers is non-Swiss. Or Australia, where thousands of new arrivals become new Australians each year.

In the coming referendum, the Outers will be the insurgents. Ranged against us already are the established interests of Westminster, the CBI, corporatist lobby groups and the giant Whitehall machine.

To prevail, we must be more than just a guerrilla campaign, mounting hit and run attacks on the SW1 elite. We must prepare to hold and defend fixed positions.

Post-EU we want a series of sensible, coherent reforms that push power outward and downward. There is no point in returning powers from Eurocrats in Brussels, only to leave them festering with a narrow clique of special advisers in Whitehall.

We want open primaries and recall powers to make individual MPs properly answerable to their constituents – not just party whips. We want real localism. The smug, out-of-touch mandarinate in Whitehall – that sort that tell us we cannot leave the EU – need to be made answerable to the rest of us.

To win over small "c" conservative voters, nervous about what change might mean, we must show we have grown up plans to make Britain a better run country. The Out campaign must not simply pile high every expression of discontent with the modern world. We need a coherent, credible theme and philosophy.

For most of the last century, big was beautiful in business, economics and geo politics. Small countries were overtaken by big ones. The future seemed to lie in trade blocks. The EU is itself a creation of these residual assumptions about the needs for size and scale.

But many of those assumptions are becoming redundant. We want out because we see that the world is changing, and we want to change with it, not – like France or Italy – try to hold out against it.

Instead of mass marketing and mass production, the future lies in the niche and the nimble. With the world just a click away, a business in Essex can trade as easily with a customer in Canterbury, New Zealand, as with one in Canterbury, Kent. Future prosperity lies with start ups, not just the FTSE 100.

Vote Out not in defiance of the modern world, but in order to embrace it and shape it.

26 MAR 2014

Questions the BBC never seems to ask

Faced with a threat to their £3.7 billion-a-year licence fee, the BBC is going into overdrive to try to demonstrate to MPs how jolly balanced and fair it really is.

Not for one moment do I doubt that the BBC gives equal airtime to different political parties. But it is the lack of balance in terms of outlook and assumption that I find so appalling. Again and again, the premise behind so much of the BBC's output - not simply current affairs programmes - is leftist and corporatist.

With £3.7 billion to spend each year, you can ask a lot of questions. When did the following questions ever form the premise of any BBC programmes?

The economy: How can you call it austerity when the government continues to spend £100 billion a year more than it takes in tax? That's a spending stimulus, by definition, no?

Education: If your child can have a personalised music playlist on Spotify, why can't they have a personalised curriculum for their learning? Why have a national curriculum at all?

European Union: Why do otherwise rational people imagine that Britain would be better off being run by unelected officials in Brussels rather than by deciding things for ourselves?

Bankers: Instead of blaming "neo liberalism" for the banking crisis, wasn't it the incompetence of state-run central bankers, who stoked up a credit bubble with low interest rates?

Health: If supermarkets manage to be open 24 hours a day, why are most GP surgeries shut on weekends? Where is the consumer power?

International affairs: Why do we at the BBC always characterise baddies in Russia, Iran or any place else as being "Right wing"?

Middle East: In a region of turbulence and strife, what is it about the liberal democratic state of Israel that makes it such a remarkable success story?

Immigration: When considering the pros and the cons, shouldn't we look at more than just the economic implications?

Climate change: Isn't the climate in constant flux? And if the Roman or Medieval warmings weren't caused by industrial activity, why do we suppose that any contemporary warming, if it exists, must be down to human activity?

BBC: The BBC has the most extraordinary sense of self-regard, with changes in personnel within the corporation reported though they were stories of national significance. Yet strangely the Beeb never seems to find the time to ask why its top management trousers over a quarter of a million pounds a year each. Or why the same clique of opinion-formers seem to be commissioned to tell the rest of us what to think.

The digital revolution is making the world better in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. As well as dooming the licence fee, it is democratising the process of opinion forming. The priesthood of liberal-leftie pundits and commentators, so long used to telling the rest of us what to think, are being displaced.

I delight at the prospect of self-styled "progressives" raging against modernity and the implications of the digital revolution.

24 MAR 2014

Europe's missing mojo - how to get it back?

Venice has just voted to become an independent city state once again. Last week, an overwhelming majority of the two million or so people living in Venice and the surrounding region opted to break away from Italy.

The online poll is not, however, legally binding. Despite the overwhelming support, Venetian independence is unlikely to happen just yet.

But what should we make of this Venetian vote? Just another example of crazy Italian politics? Another daft turn from the country that gave us Silvio Berlusconi, then the Five Star Movement?

The idea of an independent Venetian city state is not as daft as it might at first seem.

Venice was, after all, an independent city state for around a thousand years – and a jolly successful one. Until the French dictator, Bonaparte, snuffed out the Serene Republic, Venice had not only existed as a free state for centuries, but she had flourished. A tiny mud bank off the coast of Italy, Venice rose to become a great power, as well as a centre of trade and commerce and learning.

"But that is all ancient history", you might think. "Today Venice would be too small to be a separate state".

Too small? Estonia has a population of a mere 1.4 million – and she seems to be doing pretty well. In fact, if you consider how her public administration has adapted to the internet, I reckon Estonia has a thing or two to teach us. Singapore is small and successful. So is Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Dubai. In fact if you look at the richest countries by GDP, they tend to be the smaller states.

For much of the past 200 years, geopolitics was all about size and scale. Bigger states eclipsed smaller states. The English eclipsed the Dutch, before in turn being overtaken by Prussia, America and Russia.

Modernity and mass production meant everything seemed to favour size. Economies of scale seemed paramount. It was on the back of such mid-20th century assumptions about the need for size and scale that Jean Monet and co founded what we now call the European Union.

I suspect that the digital revolution means that the era of bigness is coming to an end. Mass markets are giving way to niche markets. Mass production to tailor made, additive manufacturing. With the whole world just a click away, proximity to markets has never mattered less.

Underpinning the idea of big political units is often an assumption that human social and economic affairs are best arranged by grand design. Digital changes that. We cannot only do collectivism without the state. We do not need a big state arranging things for us.

There is growing evidence that smaller states are better governed because they have less government – and the governance that they do have is less remote, more accountable, and better able to adapt when things need to change.

Attempts to organise Europe by grand design – with a common currency and standardised approach to policymaking – are failing. After the EU, I hope Europe consist of lots of smaller, self governing units. Provided post-EU Europe manages to retain the free movement of goods, services, ideas and – with a couple of caveats – people, having more self governing units might give Europe back her missing mojo.

18 MAR 2014

Who will head the Defence Select Committee?

A secret ballot looms. MPs are being canvassed for the coming contest. Quiet words are being exchanged along the corridors.

I refer not to some idiotic idea of a Tory leadership contest (note to bored press pundits: there ain't going to be one), but to the ballot to decide who'll chair the Commons defence select committee.

There are some superb candidates to choose from. The list includes Julian Brazier, author of some good ideas about reservists, the uber-sound Julian Lewis, James Gray and Bob Stuart, the widely respected Keith Simpson, the excellent Crispin Blunt, Tobias Ellwood and Rory Stewart. It will be a genuine contest – thanks to some subtle tweaks to House of Commons rules that prevent the whips from rigging it like they used to. With MPs on all sides of the House voting, the winner will have powerful mandate to put the spot light on the government over defence.

So who to vote for? Here are four questions I will be asking before deciding:

1. Have you ever defied the government on a three-line whip?

It hardly matters whether it was over widgets or Syria, but at some point you really ought to have defied a three-line whip over something. The whole point of having select committees is to hold ministers and officials to account. The chair needs to be someone prepared to do precisely that.

2. Can you work with the other lot?

Consensus is a much overrated virtue in politics. You need to have a clash of ideas.

But to be fruitful, the clash and clang within any committee ought not be along party lines. If so, the debate becomes phoney and theatrical – and the ministers and mandarins get off scot free.

3. What do you think of the Defence Industrial Strategy?

As chair of the committee, you will be lobbied intensely by various defence contractor interests. They will present you with all kinds of arguments – sovereignty of supply, cyber security, skills – to justify the racket that is Britain's Defence Industrial Strategy.

Don't fall for it. The defence budget is not supposed to fund giant job creation scheme. It is meant to equip our armed forces with the kit they need, when they need it.

For a generation or more, many in the upper echelons of the Conservative party haven't just been on the wrong side of the argument over Europe. They got it seriously wrong over defence procurement, as well (think Westlands, think Nimrod, think Eurofighter). It is time to get it right, and ditch many assumptions about how we spend the defence budget.

4. What is defence policy for?

Many in SW1 use the term strategy when they mean tactics, and tactics when they talk of strategy. The next chair of the defence select committee needs a clear head, and a sense of strategic direction.

Defence policy is about more than equipment. How should defence policy tie in with foreign policy? What is defence policy for?

I am not sure I know the answers. Nor am I convinced that the mandarin machine in Whitehall really knows, either. All the more reason to have as the next chair of the defence committee someone who does.

17 MAR 2014

The campaign to keep us in the EU has begun

John Major was going to reform Europe. Oh yes!  Federalism has "reached its zenith", he said in 1995. There needed to be not inconsiderably less centralism. Reform would see powers "returning ... to the nation state". There would be less red tape and interference.

Then came the treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon, which passed ever more power into the hands of unelected and unaccountable Eurocrats.

Tony Blair also set out to reform Europe and make it more to our liking. After much lobbying, he got his fellow leaders to sign up to the Lisbon Agenda in 2000. These reforms would turn the EU into the "most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world" by 2010. There would be less red tape and interference.

Then came an economic crisis caused by the very integration and single market overregulation that was supposed to be Europe's salvation. Fourteen years on, Europe is the least dynamic continent on the planet.

Now David Cameron says he wants to reform the Euro club too.

There will be less centralism, with more power returning to the nation states, just like last time.

Those that we elect to national parliaments are, apparently, to have some sort of power to block Commission proposals. Some of the time.

Pan-EU immigration is to be controlled, or something. And there is to be less "unnecessary interference". And – as ever – the promise of less red tape.

Good luck with that, guys. Surprised you didn't throw in a line about subsidiarity, or closing the democratic deficit, too.

When the In/Out referendum comes, David Cameron and I will, I imagine, be on opposing sides. I will certainly be fighting the coming election as an Outter. The important thing we do agree on is that we should give everyone that In/Out choice in 2017.

Ed Miliband refuses to let you have a vote on our EU membership. By voting for the Conservatives, we stand a realistic chance of being out in 40 months' time. Or not, if all those powers have been returned to nation states, immigration brought under control and all that red tape scrapped.

12 MAR 2014

The Empire Strikes Back!

The magnificent Andrew Bridgen MP has tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill to make non-payment of the BBC license fee a civil, rather than a criminal offence. And quite right, too.

Now the £3.6 billion a year BBC empire has struck back.

In an unintentionally funny "briefing note" sent to naughty MPs minded to back the amendment, the BBC complains that "the BBC cannot turn off services for those who do not pay the licence fee".

Switching off services for those not wanting to buy said services is what normal service providers do - and not just in broadcasting. 

Switching off the service for those that do not pay for it, rather than trying to send them to prison, is called a subscription service.  In the era of digital technology, a subscription-based service, as opposed to a criminal conviction-based service, has to be the way forward.  It is a pretty straight forward proposition.

If you fail to pay a utility bill, you face civil sanctions. Yet fail to pay the BBC its fee, and you face criminal charges. 

The briefing note goes on to say that without the threat of criminal sanctions, the poor BBC might get less money.  Without the threat of criminal sanctions for non-buyers, all kinds of organisations get less money.  Inconvenient, I know, but it is the way things are done, chaps. 

Perhaps the BBC could stop squandering tens of millions of IT disasters instead? 

Or ease up on some of the £300,000 a year plus salaries that they pay their senior management

They might even need to look beyond the well-remunerated clique of talent when commissioning programmes, eh?  (No one has ever been able to explain to me quite how it works, or if anything ever gets put out to tender .....)

"Please don't do this to us" the briefing note seems to plead. "We will set up a working group of grandees to look at it". 

A little late for all that, don't you think? 

12 MAR 2014

What will Tory modernisation look like? The 2015 manifesto and beyond....

Do you like music?  I listen all the time. Thanks to Spotify, I've a playlist far bigger than any record or CD collection I ever owned.

But would you put up with it if I, an MP, was to decide for you what was on your playlist? Of course not. You would be appalled.

Even if you shared my taste in the Stereophonics or Shostakovich, you'd think it a bit of a cheek if I was to impose my preferences on you.

So why let people like me impose our preferences on you when it comes to education, or healthcare, or social protection? Having a tiny clique impose their preferences is pretty much the way we run the country.

Not so long ago it was how we did music, too. Most folk could only afford a few dozen records or tapes at best. So it was left to a radio DJ to select music for us.  Sure, we had a bit of choice between stations, and some enterprising producers allowed the public to phone up for a "record request". But basically, we had to make do with what was chosen for us.

One of the reasons I am so optimistic about the future is because I see big changes happening round the corner.  The digital technology that now allow us to select our own music is going to make self selection the norm over many other areas of our lives.

Instead of a national curriculum (a learning playlist, if you like), digital technology will allow us to hyper personalise learning. Each child will have a personalised curriculum designed for them.

Elite Ivy League type degree courses, once the preserve of a carefully chosen few, will be accessible to everyone.

Soon our digitalised medical records will be as secure and portable as our online bank details. Instead of patients being made to stand in line and wait at the convenience of the health care provider, those who wish to do so will have different health care providers queuing up in front of them.

The average English household stumps up an estimated £650,000 tax bill over the course of a lifetime. Imagine if you could allocate even a small portion of the £650,000 of taxes your household pays into a personalised account?  A personalised education account?
A personalised health care account, perhaps? Or a personalised pension pot, which isn't funded by IOUs like the government run one today? What would have once seemed prohibitively bureaucratic will soon be simple.

"But how will people know what is right for them?" you might ask. "It is all very well letting people chose their own music, but surely not their kid's education".

What makes you think MPs are better at spending your money than you are? For years, we've left it to politicos to spend zillions on our account – and not give us what we need or want.

If you aren't prepared to have politicians select your music playlist for you, why trust them with something really vital, like your child's education or your family's health care?

The future for the Conservatives, I suspect, lies in first refining – then articulating - this upbeat, optimistic vision of how things could be.

10 MAR 2014

Cheer up! Technology will create jobs, not destroy them

"Imagine the horror", our early ancestors might have thought. "A handful of those newfangled shepherds will soon be able to grow all the game needed to eat. No more need for hunting! What are we hunters to do with ourselves?!"

Technology has been disrupting established human behaviour for a very long time. And every time it does so, humans fear that it will put them out of a job.

The agricultural revolution must have ended the careers many hunter gathers. The mechanisation of farming put a lot of farm hands out of work. At the start of the industrial revolution, a lot of weavers fretted about the impact of weaving machines.

So, too, with digital technology. As Roger Bootle's column suggests, advances in robotics and digital technology could have some very disruptive consequences over the coming years. Should we despair?

If everyone is mobile banking, who needs so many bank tellers? If folk shop on line, what happens to high streets? Driverless cars are going to have enormous consequences on everything from car hire to freight transport.

Won't this make us redundant? No.

Each time technological advances have put humans out of work in one area, we manage to find something else to do that is even more productive. As well as being generally more enjoyable and rewarding – which is why living standards rise.

In so far as technology creates under employment, it is under employment in the sense that we no longer have to labour quite so long, for so little. Humans are no longer – in most countries, anyway – having to labour from dawn to dusk doing back-breaking work, with no leisure, no career choices and no respite, the way our ancestors did.

Which is why we can have things like leisure time and weekends. No longer forced to spend every daylight hour chasing gazelle or scratching out a subsistence living, we have time to read, socialise, better educate our kids, write software, try a spot of gaming or simply chillax.

Technological innovation means that Homo sapiens gets far more for far less. Digital technology means we will get even more for even less.

We will have more leisure time. More people will earn a living by thinking and imagining than ever before. Educational opportunities that were once the preserve of a tiny few will be available to everyone. Living standards will rise as the cost of so many things plummets (think of what happened to the cost of phone calls, but for all the man-made stuff in your house!)

There are no limits to human ingenuity. Free from drudgery, there are no limits on what we can spend our time doing. Relax. The future is going to be even better.

As I suggest in my book, digital might even mean we find a better way of doing politics and government ...

06 MAR 2014

Parliament is half asleep. It needs to wake up

The House of Commons is on a one-line whip today. It was on a one-liner from early afternoon yesterday, and it will be again tomorrow.

Last week things were hardly heaving. Nor the week before, or indeed before that.

To put it bluntly, not a great deal is happening in Parliament right now. Little primary legislation. Not much oversight.

Perhaps you think this is a Good Thing? After all, who needs meddlesome politicians thinking up new ways to boss us about? Maybe, like the Texas state legislature, which is forbidden to sit on more than 140 days each year, we should not judge our representatives on the basis of what they do, but what they stop officialdom from doing?

Perhaps. But if only our under-engaged MPs in Westminster were as effective as those on the Capitol in Austin at overseeing the activities of government. Instead, they seem to be reduced to telling people when they might smoke in cars. No longer holding government to account, bossing the rest of us about is about the only thing left for our MPs to do.

The House of Commons' current state of inactivity demonstrates why the Commons needs to take back control of its own timetable. Not so long ago, the Commons decided what the Commons debated and voted on.

Like so much else about our constitution, slowly but surely the old constraints have been subverted by the governing classes. Today it is a government committee of grandees that meets to decide what our elected representatives should be allowed to debate and vote on.

Thus there is never, apparently, enough time for a Recall Bill. That In/Out referendum Bill? "Not space for it, I'm afraid, old boy." That promise about Open Primaries, and the necessary change in the law to allow local people to petition returning officers? "No space."

A decision about the future of airports? "Bit busy right now. Let's set up a commission." So much in Westminster seems to be on hold. Is this the best way to run a country?

With Whitehall setting Westminster's agenda, it is hardly surprising that the Commons no longer does its job. Ahead of the budget, Commons select committees ought to be gearing up to approve – or veto – the budgets of the department they are supposed to shadow. Few MPs even look at the number, let alone understand them.

That army of quangocrats that really run the country should be required to appear before a select committee confirmation hearing. No chance.

In place of real decision making, our moribund Commons passes declaratory legislation designed to "send a message"

The Commons Order Paper is cluttered with meaningless Early Day Motions that allow MPs to do nothing but posture and preen. Meanwhile, the big decisions are increasingly made elsewhere.

No wonder fewer and fewer people bother to vote to decide who sits within it.

05 MAR 2014

Low interest rates are nothing to celebrate

Five years ago today, the Bank of England cut interest rates about as low as they can go: 0.5 percent. And there they have remained.

If rates have been rock bottom for five years, our central bankers have been cutting them for even longer. You need to go back almost nine years to find a time when real interest rates last rose. Almost a million mortgage holders have never known a rate rise.

And this is all a Good Thing, according to the orthodoxy in SW1. Sure, low rates might hit savers, who don't get such good returns, but for home owners and businesses, it's been a blessing.

Don't just compare the winners with the losers, say the pundits. Think of the whole economy. Rates were set at rock bottom shortly after banks started to go bust. Slashing the official cost of borrowing saved the day, they say.

I disagree. Low interest rates did not save the UK economy from the financial crisis. Low interest rates helped caused the crisis – and keeping rates low means many of the chronic imbalances remain.

To see why, cast your mind back to 1997 and Gordon Brown's decision to allow the Bank of England to set interest rates independent of any ministerial oversight.

Why did Chancellor Brown make that move? Fear that populist politicians did not have enough discipline. Desperate to curry favour with the electorate, ministers might show themselves to be mere mortals, slashing rates as an electoral bribe.

The oppostite turned out to be the case. Since independence, those supermen at the central bank set rates far lower than any minister previously dared. And the results of leaving these decisions to supposedly benign technocrats at the central bank has been pretty disastrous.

Setting interest rates low is simply a form of price fixing. Set the price of anything – bread, coffee, rental accommodation – artificially low and first you get a glut, as whatever is available gets bought up.

Then comes the shortage. With less incentive to produce more of those things, the supply dries up. So, too, with credit.

With interest rates low, there is less incentive to save. Since one persons savings mean another's borrowing, less saving means less real credit in the system. With no real credit, along comes the candyfloss variety, conjured up by the banks – and we know what happened next. See Northern Rock...

When politicians praise low interest rates, yet lament the lack of credit, they demonstrate an extraordinary, almost pre-modern, economic illiteracy.

Too many politicians and central bankers believe cheap credit is a cause of economic success, rather than a consequence of it. We will pay a terrible price for this conceit.

Low interest rates might stimulate the economy in the short term, but not in a way that is good for long-term growth. As I show in my paper on monetary policy, cheap credit encourages over-consumption, explaining why we remain more dependent than ever on consumer- (and credit-) induced growth.

Cheap credit cannot rebalance the economy. By encouraging over-consumption, it leads to further imbalances.

Think of too much cheap credit as cholesterol, clogging up our economic arteries, laying down layer upon layer of so-called "malinvestment".

"Saved" by low rates, an estimated one in 10 British businesses is now a zombie firm, able to service its debts, but with no chance of ever being able to pay them off.

Undead, these zombie firms can sell to their existing customer base, keeping out new competition. But what they cannot do is move into new markets or restructure and reorganise. Might this help explain Britain's relatively poor export and productivity performance?

What was supposed to be an emergency measure to get UK plc through the financial storm, has taken on an appearance of permanence. We are addicted to cheap credit. Even a modest 1 per cent rate rise would have serious consequences for many.

Sooner or later, interest rates will have to rise. The extent to which low interest rates have merely delayed the moment of reckoning, preventing us from making the necessary readjustments, will then become painfully evident.

We are going to need a different monetary policy, perhaps rather sooner than we realise.

04 MAR 2014

Ukraine and Britain's interests

A clear majority of the local population in two provinces want to break away and become part of their larger neighbour, with whom they felt a national and cultural affinity.

The larger, militarily formidable neighbour sends troops across the border in support of the secessionists.

Access to an important sea port is at stake. Protocols are signed in remote capitals insisting that the existing territorial integrity is a "European necessity".

I refer of course not to the situation in eastern Ukraine today, but to the Schleswig-Holstein question of the 19th century. In that instance, Prussia played the role of Russia, and Kiel that of Sevastopol. Let's hope Britain still plays the role of Britain.

This is not the first time, nor the last, that the international order will be challenged in this way.

What should we do? Take great care, for a start.

At the time of the Schleswig-Holstein question, when Britain was the world's hyperpower, we avoided wading in. We would be wise to be cautious now.

Every time there is an international crisis, a great deal of nonsense is talked about Britain in danger of being bypassed, of becoming a global irrelevance. Unless we are calling the shots, Benedict Brogan suggested today, we are just a bystander on the world stage.

Is that really so? I don't see India or China or Switzerland or Australia or Japan as global bystanders. Are they wading in or throwing their weight around? Maybe, just maybe, this desire to be in the thick of things comes less from a sense of our strength, and more from a fear of our weakness. Perhaps after Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, a certain kind of British official feels that this is what one does.

British diplomats might want to be doing the deals and laying down the terms of the UN resolutions. But since when was the amour-propre of British diplomats the yardstick by which we measure the national interest?

Twenty-first-century technology might make the world's problems seem more immediate. But 21st-century reality means that we should not seek to embroil ourselves in all of them.

Secondly, we would be wise to recognise that as with Schleswig-Holstein, sometimes boundaries do need to be redrawn – and the world is a better place for it. Does anyone today seriously suggest Schleswig-Holstein should still be part of Denmark? Would the Balkans be a happier land if Yugoslavia was still intact?

Finally, we need to recognise that the world – despite the spread of liberal democracy and global trade – remains a dangerous place. If Russia and others are to try to challenge the existing international order, we need to prepare accordingly.

Closer ties with our Anglosphere allies. A bit more defence spending and a little bit less energy dependence, for a start.

26 FEB 2014

When did the Left ditch democracy?

The Left once stood for democracy. In the tradition of the Levellers, the Chartists and the Suffragettes, the British Left once fought to take power away from the elites and dispersed it among the people. The Labour party, when founded by Keir Hardie, stood up for the working man – and woman.

No longer. The Left simply does not trust people.

They have become not merely undemocratic, but anti democratic. Rather than standing up to elites, the Left actively defends the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of an unaccountable few.

Many Lefties opposed the creation of directly elected Police Commissioners. Some did so for the rather bovine reason that it was a Tory idea. Others remain fearful of what they sneering dismiss as "populism".

Left wing pundits and campaigners have tried to vilify ordinary mums and dads who have wanted to set up their own free schools. They prefer to side with the education establishment against ordinary people wanting the best for their kids.

Guardianistas remind us daily of their visceral opposition to an EU referendum. They don't simply distrust the people, but are on the side of unelected Commissioners. Confronted with the Euro crisis, which has seen tens of millions ordinary Europeans impoverished, self-styled "progressives" have put themselves on the same side of the argument as those calling for public money to be used to rescue bankers from their own folly.

The modern Left is no longer socialist, but corporatist. They do not seek public ownership of the means of production. Instead they stand to create a world in which private meetings between Brussels lobbyists would buy commercial advantage.

Rather than democratise politics, giving everyone say over candidate selection, as the Tory party has begun to do, Labour has given us Falkirk.

There is an essential dishonesty about the British Left today. They know that they cannot obtain a popular mandate for many of the grand schemes they want for us. So they have embraced anti democratic means to impose them instead.

They cannot win the argument for wind turbines, so they foist them on us using hidden subsidies and a local planning process that gives the locals little say. They could never win a mandate for the unrestricted free movement of people into Britain – so they hand control over such matters to unelected officials and judges.

On issue after issue, where they know they cannot win openly, the Left has passed responsibility over to quangocrats and Commissioners, Human Rights lawyers and judicial activists.

The Left obtains by top down decree what they cannot win at the ballot box. And the Right loses, even when we win elections.

Far too many on the right still seek either re-heated Thatcherism or a kind of mid-70s, patrician Toryism. Neither will do.

A truly modern Tory party needs to recognise that we must do battle against the Left not merely for votes on polling day. If the Left has created structures that are beyond meaningful democratic accountability, we must embrace direct democracy. We must be prepared to re-engineer the machinery of the state – the quangos, the senior civil service, the judiciary – and yes, even Parliament – to make them properly answerable to the rest of us.

Either we do that, or we face more defeat and retreat.

25 FEB 2014

Our political system needs a redesign

Fitting a roof-rack on the car the other day – as dads do – I got thinking about design. Instead of trying to screw one of those unwieldy metal cages to the top of the car the way my folks used to do, I was clipping in place a sleek, aerodynamic box that wouldn't take the paint off.

It's not just the design of roof-racks that has got better. The cars on which they sit are a vast improvement on what we had in the Seventies. As are buses, tubes and trains. So, too, suitcases that now all come with wheels. Phones aren't just better designed, they include features such as video cameras, maps and games, which would have seemed like science fiction not long ago.

Yet when it comes to the way we do politics, we still do things the same clunky way we did before.

Prime Minister's Question Time is rigged, with faux questions and faux outrage. The weekly ritual generates much heat, but like an eco light bulb (a rare example of design getting worse) little light.

Seven out of 10 constituencies remain "safe seats", unlikely to change hands at a General Election. Politicians still get far too much say over who gets to become a politician – the public much too little choice.

The mechanism within our democracy that is supposed to translate public preference into public policy seems to get stuck, like a Seventies gearbox. Instead of being ruled over by representatives of the people, answerable to us, ideas seem to emanate from a closed shop in Whitehall. Politicians have become apologists for what the mandarinate decides.

From bank reform to energy policy, the result is groupthink and policy stalemate – with the emphasis on stale.

Politics desperately needs a redesign.

The system of jukebox politics we have today lets you listen to the same records over and over again. We need to think Spotify. Just as you can now select your own music playlist, let voters select party candidates where they live.

Rather than expecting activists to become submissive party members, why not use the web, an endless network of innovation, enthusiasm and ambition, to create an army of folk wanting change? Make iMembership a compelling retail proposition, with votes on policy and a chance to have a real say, and you might increase party membership.

Instead of party bosses in SW1 presenting voters with a worthy manifesto – which no one outside SW1 reads – let registered supporters help write it wiki-style. "But you can't trust the people?" I hear you say. Wikipedia manages to, having re-defined encyclopedias.

One day someone will implement these type of changes, and then, as with mobile phones, we'll wonder how we managed before.

24 FEB 2014

What is the point of the G20?

It started as the G6. Back in 1970-something, finance ministers from the world's six leading economies – France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and the UK – got together to talk.

They had, one might imagine, quite a bit to discuss. There were oil shocks to contend with. Post-Bretton Woods, how were they to manage the money?

And back then, of course, those six Western players, were – economically speaking – it. The West accounted for almost 60 percent of global GDP.

Things have changed a little since.

By 2003, the West's share of global output had fallen to less half. By 2030, it is forecast to be about a third.

Already, Italy no longer makes it into the top six. Another decade of Euro-sclerosis, and only America and Japan would qualify from the original guest list.

So to keep everyone on board, in the late Nineties they came up with the G20, which meets this week in Australia. (Who knows, by 2040 they might be calling it the G80 so France can still make the list. Squeeze 'em in beside Burkina Faso.)

Apart from allowing politicians to feel important, what is the G20 actually for? Other than posing for group photos (and the occasional selfie), what do they actually do? Isn't this all just politics tourism for the sort of people who all met up in Davos the other week?

According to initial reports, the G20 finance ministers meeting in Sydney have decided that they will be adding $2 trillion (£1.2 trillion) of extra growth to the world economy. If it really was as easy as all that, why not an extra $4 trillion?

Over the two days of the G20 meeting, I cannot imagine that finance ministers from, say South Korea, South Africa and Russia, can do much besides talk generalities. Stand by for communiqués ladened with clichés. So why do they do it?

It is hardly as if these international shindigs have produced any good ideas I can think of.

International bank reform? Six years on from Lehman's bankruptcy, we've still not seen significant changes.

Advances in free trade? For all the talk, things seem to have become bogged down in corporatist quota setting, masquerading as free trade agreements.

Coordinated monetary policy and exchange rate management? When five of the G6 finance ministers agreed at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1985 to manipulate exchange rates, it had some pretty disastrous unintended consequences. Heaven forbid anyone try that again.

Far from leading to better global governance, I fear that these get-togethers reinforce groupthink.

Perhaps what really makes ministers keep coming is the badge of respectability they feel it gives them. A kind of peer approval. And, of course, an army of diplomats and officials, each with careers and departmental budgets invested in such supra-national summits.

20 FEB 2014

British democracy is dying, replaced by a smug, self-serving technocracy

"The age of purely representative democracy," Peter Mandelson once told us, "is slowly coming to an end."

And he was right. Throughout the Western world, public policy choices which were once in the hands of representatives we elected have been farmed out to technocrats.

Whether it is making decisions about dredging or about monetary policy, ministers might justify and explain what has been decided. They rarely if ever make the decision themselves. The machine runs most ministers, not the other way round. Vanity might stop egocentric politicians 'fessing up to it, but most ministers are little more than departmental mouthpieces.

Whitehall mandarins have long since stopped pretending that they merely implement policy. They make it. More than that, they routinely overrule elected ministers who want things done differently.

To see the most extreme manifestation of post-representative democracy, look at Italy. Any moment now, the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, is about to be made the third Italian prime minister in a row who wasn't actually elected to the role. Renzi in office will probably deliver the same bland policy nothingness that every Italian "leader" seems to have produced for as long as anyone can remember.

To understand quite how anti-democratic Italy has become, imagine if, after having had Adair Turner run the country for a bit, followed by Lord O'Donnell, the Queen then invited Boris Johnson to have a go. It might all be rather colourful, yes, but it would hardly be democratic. Nor I suspect, given that only those willing to tag along with mainstream establishment opinion would be chosen, would it lead to better government.

Representative democracy was invented in order to rein in the power of parasitical elites. For a while it worked rather well. Governments were kept small and accountable.

Increasingly, however, the governing elites – the sort of people one finds at Davos each year – have discovered ways of subverting the democratic constraints. The result is big, bloated, inept public administration.

Real Conservative modernisers need to think of new ways to rein government in again. Open primary candidate selection, recalls, popular initiative, annualised budgets, confirmation hearings – we need to make representative democracy a little more direct if we are not to see it replaced by a smug, self-serving Davos technocracy.

This article first appear on the Telegraph.

12 FEB 2014

A lesson about free markets .... from France.

Who is the greatest French man or woman to have ever lived?

Napoleon Bonaparte? I'd argue his involvement in human affairs was largely destructive. Louis Pasteur? He must have saved an awful lot of lives.

Pierre Michaux and Lallement, who helped invent the bicycle? Louis Le Prince, inventor of movie cameras? There are many French inventors, especially from the late nineteenth century, to choose from. Francois Hollande? On April 1st, perhaps.

I reckon that one of the greatest Frenchman of all time is a fellow called Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850). Not heard of him? France, I reckon, would have remained a truly great global player if more people had.

A free market, Classical liberal thinker, Bastiat grasped how wealth is created - and how parasitical elites and vested interests will seek to live off the productivity of others.

Nations rise, he could see, when various naturally parasitical interests were reined in, making production more fruitful than parasitism. Nations sunk into mediocrity, or remained there, when the parasites got their way - and other people's wealth.

Far from being just a creature of his time, Bastiat speaks to us now. His spoof petition of the candle stick makers (they lobbied politicians to block out unfair competition from sunlight) tells us a great deal about the behaviour today of energy renewable interests and central bankers.

As a free market thinker, Bastiat was up there on a par with Adam Smith or Richard Cobden. Yet unlike Smith and Cobden, for all his brilliance, Bastiat had little impact on the French body politic. French lassiez faire gave way to dirigisme. A once global player, presided over by enarques and corporatist interests, France has sunk into Hollandesque mediocrity.

My fear is that free market thinkers on this side of the Channel turn out to be little more than British Bastiats. Already the land of Adam Smith is run by a big, bloated state bureaucracy. The country that produced Cobden trades with the world on the basis of quota, not free competition.

There are of course lots of French people who like Bastiat believe in free markets and enterprise. France's problem is that they all seem to live in west London.

Unless the Conservative party begins to outline a coherent, credible free market alternative, Britain too will descend into corporatist mush and mediocrity. There will be lots of entrepreneurial Brits out there, trading freely with the world. But they will be doing so from Singapore, Sydney and Shanghai.

This article first appeared on the Telegraph site, where Douglas writes regularly. 

10 FEB 2014

Quango land is flooded by failure

In fairness to Lord Smith of the Environment Agency, he can't control the weather. Anymore than Lord Turner of the Financial Service Authority was able to control the credit cycle. Or Lord Rooker of the Food Standards Agency was able to control the food chain.

From flooded levels to tanked banks, public policy failure comes not because quangos control things, but because we presume that they can.

No central government quangocrats - no matter how worldly or wise - could gather enough information in any one place to know where to dredge to withstand every winter gale. Nor could they know precisely when to raise bank reserve ratios to withstand a financial one. Thus we eventually get overwhelmed.

For a generation or more, under successive governments, public policy has been handed to central quangos.

Sea defences, once left to district authorities and land owners, became a county responsibility. Then it became the responsibility of two or three Whitehall bodies. And finally in 1996 the preserve of just one, the Environment Agency. Has more land been reclaimed or abandoned to the sea since that process of centralised policy making began?

It's been a similar story for everything from financial service to food regulation.

"But at least these quangos are independent" I hear you say. "Instead of playing politics, the experts can just get on with it".

Letting the experts get on with it never works out quite how we imagine.

With only experts running things, there's no one around to ask those dumb, non-expert questions that need asking like "why aren't we dredging, like we used to?" Or "what happens if Northern Rock, which borrows short term to lend long term, couldn't borrow for a while?"

Worse, leaving things to "experts" means that faddish ideas that excite such people become the basis on which wider public policy interests are decided. The public rarely has much say.

If you work for the Environment Agency, you might well believe in elevating the natural over and above the interests of the human. But does that mean that the rest of us really want "managed retreat"? After centuries of reclaiming land from the sea, are we to now prioritise salt marsh over farm land?

If you work at the Financial Service Authority you might well believe, like so many "expert" economists, that low interest rates are a cause of economic success. What happens if low rates are a consequence of economic success instead? What about the interests of savers?

If you run the Food Standards Agency, it is much easier to insist that every last sandwich shop in the land has a five star rating on its front door. Checking that those cottage pies aren't really cheval pies seems a bit tedious.

Some have suggested that Lord Smith should resign. Replacing leftie Labour placement with Tory placemen will not solve the problem. Passing responsibility back to local government, and making government agencies properly accountable to Parliament, just might.

07 FEB 2014

Save the Union! Let's have real devolution

I'm not sure how I would vote in the Scottish referendum if I lived in Scotland.

On the one hand, I am a Unionist – literally, one side of my family having English roots (plus a bit of Welsh mixed in), and the other being Paisley Scots. There's probably not a street on this island in which there are not family ties binding our two countries together.

Harwich, in my part of Essex, boasts a magnificent bagpipe band, which regularly parades in kilts, testament to the large numbers of Scots that have settled in the area down the years.

It would be a shame if our two countries, which have achieved so many great things together, were to go our separate ways. Do we really want so many cousins, great aunts and grandparents to become foreigners?

And yet if I lived in Scotland I think I would want change.

The argument that Scotland is somehow "too small" to be a success is nonsense. Norway copes with self determination.

A staunch "localist", I reckon if I lived in Scotland I'd be hyper sensitive to the idea of remote officials in London and Brussels making decisions on my behalf. I'd want Scottish concerns decided in Scotland – and I'd want those doing the decision making in Scotland to be made properly answerable to me in a way that they are currently not. A lot of devolution seems to have transferred decision making from one unaccountable elite in London to another in Edinburgh.

Most of all, I think I'd want financial autonomy, the Scottish government living within the Scottish tax base. Decades of fiscal dependence on London have had an enormous impact on Scotland and on the political economy north of the border. And not necessarily for the better.

Since Scottish taxpayers don't have to pick up the tab, what is the rationale in anyone standing for office in Scotland offering voters a lower tax and spend alternative? And we wonder why Scottish politics has drifted ever further left.

The land that produced Adam Smith now has a big, bloated, sclerotic state bureaucracy. I am not sure that that is a long term recipe for prosperity.

What Scotland needs is so-called devo max. Scotland should have complete control over tax and spending decisions. Offer that, and I suspect many voters tempted to vote for separation might just decide to vote to remain in the Union.

07 FEB 2014

Social media is changing the way we see strikes

If you think the London tube strike has caused chaos and misery, imagine what things must have been like for our grandparents in the 1970s. Back then so many days were lost to strikes nationally it caused huge scale economic disruption.

Yesterday, as I loitered with a zillion others waiting for a bus that wasn't full, I wondered if our attitude to industrial (in) action might have changed? Back in 1970 something, I imagine many more folk were ambivalent about strikers.

Not in my bus queue, they weren't. Bob Crow, I reckon, must be about the most unpopular man in London and the Home Counties right now.

What's changed?

A generation ago, when a strike caused personal inconvenience, it remained largely personal. Sure, one might tell co-workers and friends about the freezing bus stop. But it was much less a collective experience.

Back then, it was the unions that did collectivism. The poor, frozen punter just had to get on with it.

Now of course we have Twitter and smartphones. Everyone in that bus queue seemed to be bleeping and tweeting. Their personal experience as a victim of the strike was shared far more widely. Those individual grains of grumbling coalescing into a more widely shared public opinion.

No longer each in our own atomised little world, patronised by the mainstream media and told what to think, we can see what an appalling effect the strike is having. We can read on our smartphones that we are not alone in feeling cross about it. So our expectations change. We start to ask the questions that the pundits never seem to ask, like "how dare they."

In the 1970s, leftie unions did collectivism. Digital means we all will. Citizen consumers, not organised labour, will be the decisive force in politics in the future.

06 FEB 2014

You don't want to do it like that ....

The one thing you are never short of as an MP is advice. From the moment you arrive in Westminster, everyone you find there – whips, lobby groups, pundits – seems keen to tell you how to your job.

"It is so important that you do fiddlesticks", urge some. "The issue that really matters is X", urge lobbyists for X.

"What swing voters really want...." insist many people who have probably never come across an actual swing voter in their lives.

While I admire pollsters for their efforts to measure opinion empirically, the average poll probably bases it's findings on interviews with a thousand or so people. When I tot up my surgeries, surveys, curry nights, coffee mornings, supermarket surgeries, email in box and the rest, I reckon I engage with more constituents than that in a fortnight.

MPs might get lots of advice. But when it comes to good advice, the folk to listen to are in your constituency, not SW1.

Take yesterday, as an example. Should I be in Prime Ministers Questions, joining in the brouhaha? Or, following a gas nasty explosion, ought I skip PMQs and be in Clacton? Cloes Lane, Clacton it was. Talking to those affected by the blast. There will be another PMQs along soon enough.

Speaking at PMQs, or on Newsnight, or on the Today programme is the jam. What an MP does in their constituency – before the people that gave you the job in the first place – is the bread and butter of politics.

Over indulge on the former, without enough of the latter, and you risk political indigestion.

However matey MPs might become with pundits and pollsters in Westminster, there is one crucial difference. We depend on what the punters in the constituency think. They don't. Listen first to the voter.

03 FEB 2014

A Conservative manifesto would need to be Euro compliant

Slowly we are getting there. Bit by bit the Conservative Party is nudging its way closer to calling for Britain to leave the EU.

That might not yet be the official line, but a certain inexorable logic is driving us towards a tipping point. More and more Conservatives are starting to realise that we simply cannot achieve the kind of changes that we want and remain members of the European Union on current terms.

With just over a year to go until the General Election, one or two minds in Westminster have started to turn to the manifesto. What sort of things might we put in it? What might a future Conservative government seek to do?

Perhaps we fancy some long overdue reform of the energy market, allowing lower prices and proper competition. We'd need EU approval first.

Maybe we'd want to adopt the sort of sensible, balanced immigration system they have in Australia? Not even last week's modest amendments to the Immigration Bill would be acceptable to the Euro system.

What about closer trade ties with Asia, Africa and those parts of the planet where the growth is? Brussels decides. Less regulation? Ditto.

We cannot even promise that we would not give prisoners the vote without permission from the Euro judges.

It is not just that being part of the Euro system makes it harder to see how a Conservative administration might implement a Conservative programme in government. Being in the EU makes it harder to persuade the voter that a future Conservative administration will implement a coherently Conservative programme in government.

How might a centre-Right, free-market group of MPs in Westminster deliver a centre-Right, free-market government when most public policy choices are made for us by a remote corporatist clique in Brussels? Perhaps the voter has clocked this....

Perhaps the real reason why the Europe question has bedevilled the Conservative party for years is not because of any determination on the part of supposedly swivel-eyed Eurosceptics. It is because we are in the EU, and being in the EU turns out to be ultimately incompatible with a properly Conservative administration. Far from being reconciled to the idea of EU membership, more and more Conservatives have begun to wake up to its implications. More did so last week.

Once most have, it is game over. Or rather game outer.

28 JAN 2014

The Left has gone loopy

The polls have narrowed. Labour's lead has evaporated to between 1 and 2 per cent. Miliband no longer looks like a PM in waiting, but like a Neil Kinnock tribute act. (Hattip photo from @GeneralBoles)

What's going on?

The Left has gone loopy, that's what. It's not me saying it, but what thousands of voters seem to be telling the pollsters each week. Westminster watchers are so busy watching every nuance in SW1, they have missed something that folk outside can see clearly: the Left today is simply not credible.

1) Opposing benefit reform: The party that set up the Welfare State has somehow managed to get itself in to a position where they think it is OK for some families to earn more than £26,000 a year in benefits.

2) Francois economics: Across the Channel, French President Francois Hollande is giving us a live demonstration on how not to run a country. Government spending is up, income taxes on high earners have been raised to 70 per cent, the brightest and best are leaving and the economy has stalled. Even Hollande has started to think twice about the wisdom of Francois economics. So what did Ed Balls announce last week? A Francois economic plan for Britain.

3) Energy pricing: Energy prices are up because Ed Miliband as a minister signed us up to EU renewable targets. Ministerial meddling has had massive consequences in terms of higher household bills. So much so that even Brussels has ditched the idea. So what does the Left now aim to do? More ministerial meddling, with government setting prices.

4. Hounding Tony Blair: OK, so not everyone in Labour is part of the "Arrest Blair" initiative, but plenty on the Left think it acceptable to harass him. Some seriously argue that the most electorally successful prime minister that the Labour movement has ever produced should stand trial in the Hague. Really.

5) Distrustful of democracy: Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party, believed in standing up for the ordinary working man and woman against the interests of the rich and powerful. Yet the Left today is actively distrustful of greater democracy. Labour opposes directly-elected police commissioners. They have sided with rich bankers in the eurozone against the interests of ordinary Europeans, impoverished by monetary union. On the side of unelected technocrats in Brussels, the current Labour leadership will do anything to prevent the people being allowed a say in an EU referendum.

The Left has gone loopy – which is why it can be defeated. We really could have that referendum to take us out of the EU in 2017, lower taxes, less government, political reform ... and all those other things we would like to see a proper majority Conservative government do.

This article first appeared for the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly.

27 JAN 2014

Why I've changed my mind about the Immigration Bill

I've changed my mind. Having added my name to Nigel Mills' amendment to the Immigration Bill, I am not going to vote for it this Thursday.

Don't get me wrong. Nigel is a magnificent MP who has done wonders with this. And I feel as strongly opposed to uncontrolled immigration from Romania or Bulgaria as ever. In fact, more so than before.

But it's just that this is all .... well ... blah blah. It is well meaning, but ultimately pointless displacement activity. A kind of Parliamentary grandstanding.

If we want to restrict the free movement of people into Britain from the European Union, then there is only one thing we can do; Leave. 

No amendment. No motion of the House of Commons. No ministerial initiative or decree will change that. If you belong to a club that has a rule that says there is to be free movement, you had better leave the club if you don't want it.

To be sure, there are all sorts of changes we can make to our welfare system to make it less accessible to those who have not contributed. We can tinker round the edges. But to stop uncontrolled immigration from Europe, we have to quit the EU. Let's not bull with the British people.

At Bloomberg a year ago, David Cameron made a radical promise. He would seek to renegotiate the terms of our membership, and then hold an In / Out vote. Nothing we do must make the prospect of an In / Out vote less likely.

Having spent all my adult life campaigning to get Britain out of the EU, perhaps we Outters need to grow up if we are to achieve our goal.  The whole point of Bloomberg is that we can now win.  The restoration of British independence, the repudiation of the Treaty of Rome, is a realistic option.  But we need a little discipline to make it happen.

On Thursday, those decent, patriotic MPs behind Nigel's excellent amendment should not press ahead with it. They should join our campaign for Britain's withdrawal from the EU instead.

25 JAN 2014

Are we about to see a realignment of Western relations in the Middle East?

In Davos, Hassan Rouhani is mounting a formidable charm offensive. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reckons that "the 30-year US vendetta with Iran is over in all but name".

This prompts a wider question. Are we about to see a radical realignment of the West's relations in the Middle East? Or, more specifically, are the United States – and possibly Britain – about to recalibrate their relationships with various regional players?

Since the 1930s, there has been one constant in US-Middle Eastern policy: a close alliance with Saudi Arabia. Relationships with other countries might have ebbed and flowed, but that alliance has remained strong.

I just wonder if things are about to change.

To some extent, international relations in the Middle East today are defined by a rivalry between two camps: one led by Saudi Arabia, the other by Iran. In Syria, we can see the Iran-led and the Saudi-led blocks fighting what is – in effect – a proxy war. It is significant that the West did not enter that conflict, de facto, on the side of the latter.

So where does the US stand in relation to this power play? Until recently, I would have said "certainly not with Iran". But I just wonder if this will always be the case.

Imagine if – heaven forbid – Iran and Saudi were to come to blows. On which side would the United States, or Britain be? Even a year ago, I would have thought the answer would be pretty obviously the Saudis. Today I am much less certain.

Which of the two states is more liberal? There's a strong case that it is Iran, actually. Which is more democratic? .... not the Saudis, for sure. Iran, with a large, educated middle class, perhaps has more potential for reform.

The United States dependence on oil might in the past have helped cement her friendship with Saudi Arabia. Thanks to shale gas, the United States will soon be a net energy exporter.

If I was in London or Washington, looking for a regional player with whom I could deal, might I be tempted to take a second look at Iran? Until 1979, Iran used to be a close ally of Britain and America. Might it be so again?

Of course, several issues would need to be addressed before there could be an chance of a rapprochement with Iran. That thorny nuclear issue would need to be resolved. Iran would have to make it clear that she was no longer any kind of threat to Israel – and Israel would need to feel secure that Iran was not any kind of threat. Internally in Iran there would have to be some serious, irreversible progress towards liberal reform.

Perhaps all that makes any sort of realignment impossible. I am not so sure it is quite as impossible as it once seemed.

During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain seemed pretty solid ...

23 JAN 2014

To cure our addiction to cheap credit, we need real bank reform

Growth is back. Unemployment is falling. Each week seems to bring a flurry of upgraded forecasts. The mood of the pundits has gone from gloom to boom.

But headline growth figures do not tell the full story. They only tell us about headline growth.

Any government can raise output – and all other kinds of economic indices – by hosing cheap credit at the economy. As successive British chancellors have discovered, it is not quite the same thing as sustainable growth.

The signs are that we are in the early stages of yet another credit-induced boom. Even at this early stage of the "recovery", we are more dependent on consumer spending and mortgage debt than before. The current account deficit – a good indicator of excessive demand – has deteriorated from 1 per cent of GDP in 2009 to approaching 4 per cent in 2013. The savings rate has fallen. Britain now invests – in the correct sense of the term – a smaller share of her national income than 158 other countries.

Since 1971, Britain has experienced four periods of sustained economic downturn. Each time, the fall in output (red line) was preceded by the same thing (blue line): a credit-induced boom. The same familiar pattern is happening again, I fear.

"Not so!" I hear you say. "Money measures aren't growing wildly. M4 is under control.  Thanks to Bank of England 'forward guidance', there's no chance of repeating the mistakes of the past."

True, M4 has not expanded wildly. But M4 does not tell us the whole story. Look instead at the Divisia index, which measures not only broad money, but the ease with which it can be spent. Divisia is considered by many to be a better indicator of likely future spending. A canary in the monetary mine shaft, Divisia suggests we are headed straight into the familiar boom/bust credit cycle.

As for the notion that those wise experts at the Bank of England might use "forward guidance" to avoid the mistakes of the past, they cannot even forecast unemployment with any accuracy. It was only five months ago that our central bank bureaucrats confidently told us that unemployment would fall to its present level by 2016.

Appointing Canadian central bankers and hoping they manage interest rates better is not enough.

We need a tighter monetary policy – higher interest rates and an end to QE. If this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, remember that it was such wisdom that got us where we are.

Years of gouging on a diet of cheap credit has clogged up our economy's arteries with "malinvestment".  M4 lending has outstripped M4 bank liabilities by around £400bn. Mortgage lending dwarfs lending to business, with bricks and mortar soaking up enormous amounts of credit.

After years of candy floss credit, an estimated one in ten British firms is a "zombie" company, capable of servicing its debts but not repay them. Undead, they can carry on doing what they do, but not expand into new markets or innovate. Might this help explain our poor export and productivity performance?

Raising interest rates would flush out the malinvestment. It would encourage savers. Debts would be paid down – or written off. We might at last live within our means.

Most important of all, we need real bank reform.

The monetary regime we have in place today has produced low(er) inflation. But inflation stability on one side of the equation has come with wild credit crunches and banking bubbles on the other. As long as banks are able to conjure credit out of thin air, we run the risk of credit bubbles.

How much a bank lends today depends on its appetite to lend, borrowers' appetite to borrow – and regulators' capital ratio requirements. To avoid credit bubbles, how much a bank lends ought to be a function of its deposits, in addition.

In my paper, published by Politeia, I propose a clear legal distinction between money paid into a bank as a loan – against which banks might extend credit – and money paid into deposit accounts, for safekeeping. Rather than a vertical separation between retail and institutional banking, I suggest a horizontal one within banks, with two tier accounts, rather like there used to be with building societies.

If customers placed more money into loan accounts relative to deposit accounts, the ability of the bank to extend credit would grow. Conversely, if customers shifted money into deposit accounts, the ability of the bank to create credit from nothing would be curtailed.

This article first appeared in today's City AM. Douglas' paper, After Osbrown, is published by Politeia.

21 JAN 2014

Online medical records? Brussels says "non"

I've just made the switch from online banking to using a mobile banking app. Just a few taps on the screen, and I can call up all my bank details in an instant.

So why can't we do the same with our medical records? Our medical data, like our financial details, needs to be secure. But if banks can manage it, why not the NHS?

Imagine how different life would be if all our bank records were maintained at our local bank branch. We'd probably find ourselves having to pop in all the time, like our grandparents had to. Each time we wanted to do something financial, there would be a need to verify what was written on the ledger in the back office of our local branch.

I can't help thinking that that is a little bit like the way that we manage medical records today.

One GP recently told me that the reason her patients prefer not to see a doctor out of hours is that the doctor simply does not have access to their records out of hours. Another tells me that with each person's medical records tied to one particular surgery, it is impractical for folk to be able to make appointments with a neighbouring GP surgery if their own happens to be
fully booked that day.

But just imagine if our own medical records could be called up on an ipad – by us, or more importantly, by our doctor?

Imagine, too, how much aggregated data digitalised records could produce, allowing resources to be more efficiently allocated in different areas? Of course privacy needs to be respected. Just like it is with online banking. But the advantages could be enormous.

So what is stopping us for getting on with it? Just as technology is about to allow us to do something really new and amazing, rather like China under the Ming, along comes a decree from the mandarins banning it. EU officials want to forbid the idea of digitalised medical records. Data protection issues, they say.

On that basis, surely one ought to look to ban online banking, too? And what about those Tesco store cards, that allow the supermarkets to know what I want to buy and when?

On second thoughts, perhaps we should not go giving the mandarinate ideas.

21 JAN 2014

Swing voters? Marginal seat? More Eurosceptic

The smaller their majority, the more Eurosceptic a Conservative MP is likely to be.

Contrary to media myth, those demanding the Prime Minister take a tough line on Europe are not backwoods men from "safe seats". They are disproportionately those MPs from the marginals.

It is a statement of fact, not opinion. The size of the average Conservative MP's majority is, according to my calculation, 9,471. Yet the average majority to those 81 Tory MPs who voted for an In/Out referendum (before it became party policy) is a mere 8,276.

If you look at some of the other key Eurosceptic votes, the trend is repeated pretty consistently. Eurosceptics on the Conservative benches tend to come from more marginal seats.

Why might this be?

Perhaps those MPs in more marginal seats tend to be younger, and more likely to reflect the mood of Euroscepticism of the younger generation?

More likely, I suspect is that MPs in more marginal seats are more receptive to the views of the public. And the public is increasingly Eurosceptic. Which is how democracy is suppose to work, if you think about it.

15 JAN 2014

After Osbrown

Growth is back. The mood of gloom has turned to boom. Forecasts, it seems, are being positively revised with every passing week.

But, of course, any government can raise output by spending £100 billion more than it takes in tax, and by showering the economy with cheap credit. As Ted Heath discovered, stimulus economics isn't necessarily the same as sustainable growth.

In my paper on monetary policy, After Osbrown, published today by Politeia, I suggest that we can already see clear signs that this is yet another credit-induced boom. We're more dependent on consumer spending than before. The UK current account deficit – a good indication of excessive demand – is widening. House prices rose by over 8 per cent last year.

When it comes to monetary policy, the Coalition has picked up where Gordon Brown left off. QE has been expanded. The promise of record low interest rates extended. Programmes devised by the Treasury under the last administration to subsidise credit have been rolled out.

Far from solving our underlying economic problems, I fear monetary policy today is sowing the seeds of yet another downturn.

Over the past 40 years, Britain has experienced four significant downturns. On each occasion, the downturn was preceded by the same thing: a surge in the money supply. Monetary policy today is creating something similar.

"Nonsense!" says orthodox opinion. "M4 and those other measures of money are not rising like they did before."

Indeed M4 is not. But by the time M4 does so, it'll be too late. We need to look at some of those other monetary indicators, such as the divisia index, for example. And as I seek to show in my paper, they suggest we're repeating that same credit boom/bust cycle again.

The trouble is not so much that we Conservatives are aping Gordon Brown. We are adhering to establishment orthodoxy. And we are doing so because we have lacked a coherent idea of what a free market base monetary policy ought to look like. And we've not had one for almost 30 years.

What can we done?

Gordon Brown economics is not the answer. Neither, I suggest, is reheated monetarism. Nor should one ever seek to game monetary policy around the demands of the electoral cycle. Ask Anthony Barber, Ted Heath's Chancellor. Neither the economics nor the politics ended well.

My paper proposes three changes in monetary policy:

1. Tighter monetary policy: Of course raising interest rates flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But it was the conventional wisdom, which believed that low interest rates make you rich, that got us where we are.

Raising rates would increase savings and dampen down excess demand. But most important, higher rates would unwind the malinvestment, which like cholesterol in our economic arteries explains our sluggish economic performance (See exports and

2. Real bank reform: Why have we had runaway credit bubbles over the past four decades? Part of the problem has been misjudgment on the part of monetary authorities. But part of the problem stems from the ability of banks to conjure credit from thin air.

How much banks lend needs to be a function of their deposits, as well as their willingness to lend and borrowers' willingness to borrow. In my paper I outline a free-market proposal to ensure that a bank's lending is curbed by the actions of its depositors.

3. Break up the banking cartel: We cannot be certain if being a cartel makes UK banks more prone to extend credit recklessly. But the cartel has undoubtedly behaved recklessly. Starting with RBS, the banks need to be broken up. Perhaps the regulators also need to make it easier for non-traditional banks, such as PayPal or Google or O2, to begin to offer de facto banking services, too?

My paper does not offer a comprehensive solution. There is no silver bullet. But it does, I hope, offer some suggestions of what a free-market monetary policy might look like. I reckon we are going to need one.

You can download my paper here.

14 JAN 2014

Credit boom before bust

Here is a graph that shows the four economic downturns Britain has been through (red lines) over the past forty years.

What I find strking is that each downturn was preceded by the same thing: a surge in the growth of money (blue line). In other words, the bust followed an unsustainable credit-induced boom.

The motives and justification behind monetary policy leading up to each boom/bust might have been different. In the early 1970s, monetary policy was shaped by Competition and Credit Control (CCC) reforms. In the late 1980s, those who decided monetary policy wanted to shadow the Deutschemark, then join the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). After that unhappy experience, monetary policy was made in order to target inflation.

No matter what those in charge thought they were doing – CCC, ERM or inflation targeting – as the blue lines show, they nonetheless presided over an unsustainable growth in the money supply. Which was followed by a sharp downturn.

In a paper on monetary policy published in the House of Commons tomorrow, I argue that we are in danger of repeating the same mistakes again. Yet another growth in money and credit – which will be followed by yet another falling red line on the graph.

Many of the warning signs of yet another credit-induced boom are already there; increasing reliance on consumer spending, surging house prices, falling savings ratio and a deteriorating current account balance.

What ought we to do about it?

First, we need a tighter monetary policy, with higher interest rates. But we also need some more far reaching change in the way we run the economy, too.

One of the reasons, I suggest in my paper, why successive administrations have failed to prevent these credit bubbles is not merely down to misjudgement. Part of the problem is that banks are able to conjure credit out of thin air.

Preventing endless boom/busts requires real banking reform. In my paper I suggest how we might prevent runaway credit bubbles forming – but using the free market, rather than the flawed judgement of central bankers or regulators.

Although the Bank of England might not have met its inflation target for many months, it has delivered lower, and more stable, inflation. In the twenty years since inflation targeting began, inflation has average 2.1 per cent – compared to 12 per cent in the 1970s and 6 per cent in the 1980s.

But low and stable inflation on one side of the equation has seen bank busts and credit crunches on the other. As long as banks lending is simply a function of their appetite to lend, combined with the appetite of borrowers to borrow – and restrained only by regulators – this fundamental instability will remain. A banks ability to lend must also be a function of its deposits. My paper proposes a simply way of achieving this.

If we are to avoid boom/bust 5, we need to change the way we manage the money. I hope my paper and its suggestions help. I suspect at some point in the future we might need new ideas on monetary reform.

This article first appeared on the Spectator Coffee House blog site.

Douglas Carswell's paper After Osbrown is published by Politeia tomorrow.

13 JAN 2014

A new monetary policy?

Here is a graph showing the Conservative party share of the vote each month since 1979. The red squares mark the party's share of the vote in each General Election along the way.

Look at the vertical red line – which marks the day Britain left the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. What do you notice?

Before ERM exit, the party polled over 40 percent in 35 of the 60 previous monthly polls. In the 60 months that followed, the Tory party failed to poll above 40 percent even once. In fact, according to Ipsos MORI, they did not make it above 40 percent for another 13 years!

Of course it wasn't just ERM exit. There were various sleaze scandals, John Major's petulant leadership, not to mention the initial electoral attractiveness of Tony Blair. But in a paper published by Politeia on Wednesday, I suggest that ERM exit was an enormously significant event since it revealed the hollowness of Tory economic policy.

Throughout the 1980s, the Tory party possessed – or was believed to possess – a coherent monetary policy. If many people, Tory MPs included, did not necessarily understand the minutiae of monetarism, the party seemed to have a credible sense of how to run things. ERM exit was devastating because it showed otherwise.

Monetarist certainties had, of course, been quietly ditched some time before ERM exit. In the mid to late 1980s, Nigel Lawson had begun to shadow the Deutschemark with his "exchange rate monetarism". From that, we drifted into and then out of ERM.

Still without a coherent, free market idea of what monetary policy might be, we had nothing to say as the Gordon Brown bubble inflated. Like Brown, we too mistook the increase in output, caused by all that cheap credit, as sustainable growth. We, too, believed that all the additonal revenue flowing into the Treasury coffers was a permanent addition to the tax base.

Nor have we had much to say since the Brown bubble burst. Indeed, in my paper After Osbrown I suggest that we have been left offering many of the same "candyfloss credit" solutions.

Hosing cheap credit at the economy a second time round will no more achieve sustainable growth than it did the first. What we need is neither Continuity Brown nor reheated monetarism. Instead we need something that the Tory party has not had for a very long time; a coherent, free market way of managing the money.

In my paper, launched this Wednesday in the House of Commons, I try to suggest what that might entail.

09 JAN 2014

What kind of immigration system would we decide to have outside the EU?

What do 12th-century Venice, 17th-century Amsterdam and contemporary California all have in common?

They each in turn blossomed, becoming centers of innovation, enterprise and wealth creation. More than that, like a flower that draws bees, so too did each of these centers of human ingenuity attract many of the brightest and best humans. They attracted immigrants because they grew, and they grew because they attracted immigrants.

What would Venice, a mud bank in the Adriatic, have been without all those people, drawn from every corner of the Mediterranean, who thronged her cramped piazzas? Amsterdam, bereft of natural resources, grew because of those human resources from all over Europe that made her damp streets their home.

Sunny California's universities are today full of bright students from Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Silicon Valley teems with startups started by people who were not born in California.

Immigration that draws in the brightest and the best produces prosperity. But not all immigration does so.

For several years, Britain has had what one might call a "productivity puzzle". While economic output has remained fairly static, the number of jobs has grown rapidly. In other words, there are lots more people working, but together we are still producing about the same amount. Productivity has fallen.


Perhaps it is because we are all spending too much time on Facebook, when we ought to be working in the office? Some economists have suggested that productivity only appears to be
falling because the GDP data is dodgy.

But here's a thought. What if part (I emphasise the word "part") of the explanation was due to
the kind of immigration we have had? What if, instead of mathematicians, medics and wannabe dot com entrepreneurs, we have been attracting those with relatively low skills? I do not know for sure.

What I do know is that Switzerland today is full of migrant workers, and much better off because of it. An extraordinary one in five of the work force is non-Swiss. Rather like
the Venetians, the Dutch and the Californians, the Swiss draw in the brightest and the best – and those with skills that are needed.

Of course, the Swiss are able to do so because they have control over their own borders by virtue of being outside the EU. Once we have left the EU, we could do so, too.

02 JAN 2014

Capitalism without the free market allocation of capital.....

It's not just the year that's changed. The New Year economic outlook seems very different, too.

We've gone from gloom in 2013 to boom in 2014. No longer are pundits writing pieces predicting our imminent economic demise. Instead it is all about rising house prices, stronger sales and growth. An extraordinary number of new jobs have been created, and unemployment has fallen to slightly more than seven percent.

Over the next few months, I reckon we are going to see a flurry of good news about the economy. All sorts of forecasts are going to be revised positively.

But a note of caution.

Pundits – like politicians – often have a herd-like mentality. If every other financial journalist is writing about the End of Days, a reporter will be more likely to make the news story they are writing about fit that narrative. And when the herd collectively tires of one particular narrative, they then tend to fit the facts around a new one.

If there was excessive pessimism in 2013, watch out for undue optimism in 2014.

There will, I believe, be a sharp increase in output in the coming months – and all manner of positive economic indicators. But I suspect that neither they, nor the commentariat, will tell us the full story. Headline growth data tells us how much output is expanding. It does not tell us why output is growing.

Output can be boosted by cheap credit and by having government spend more than it takes in tax. Ted Heath's government managed to raise output – and property prices – rather spectacularly in 1971-73. But sustainable growth happens when capital and technological innovation combine to create new and better ways of producing more of what we want.

The good news is that there is plenty of technological innovation out there – from shale gas to driverless cars to new medicines. Not to mention things we have not even yet heard of. My concern is that the partial nationalisation of capital allocation since 2007 will hinder sustainable growth.

We seem to have a capitalist economy, at the heart of which capital is no longer allocated by the free market, but by official fiat. You need to look beyond the headline growth figures to see this, though. So most pundits don't.

Once monetary stimulus is exhausted, I suspect, we are going to need a fundamental rethink of monetary policy. I have a paper on this subject published in mid-January.

18 DEC 2013

2013 - a good year for Parliament

After a long run of bad years, 2013 proved to be really rather good for Parliament. Here are seven reasons to be cheerful:

1. Parliament recovers its purpose: Whether it is Syria or HS2, what matters is what the House of Commons thinks. Gone – or rather, going – are the days when those we elect were there to rubber-stamp what the whips said.

2. Open Primaries catch on: The idea of letting everyone have a say over who should stand for Parliament once seemed kooky. 2013 saw the idea go mainstream. Used in half a dozen seats this year, it has produced some excellent candidates, including Nusrat Ghani and Chris Philip. (Purists might complain that strictly speaking these were open caucuses, not full blown primaries – but the direction of travel is clear.)

The only slight disappointment is that the party founded by Keir Hardie has yet come round to the idea of allowing ordinary folk a say over candidate selection.

3. Recall: Voters need to be able to hold their local MP directly to account. To try to head off giving voters a right to recall MPs, the Westminster grandees began 2013 with a daft, bastardised version of the plan. Gloriously, they have failed. By the time Zac Goldsmith won a vote overwhelmingly for real recall last month, it was clear that he had comprehensively out gunned them.

Real recall is going to happen - not the grubby counter proposal put forward by Clegg and co. Which party gets the credit for making it happen remains to be seen ....

4. Select Committees grow up: Free from the malevolent influence of the whips, 2013 saw select committee come of age. No longer full of placemen, they are starting to get better at holding ministers and mandarins to account. Select committee chairs such as Margaret Hodge, Bernard Jenkin, Keith Vaz and Andrew Tyrie are – in their different ways – on a roll.

5. Speaker Bercow: Mutterings by the mastodons rumbles on, but Bercow's determination to ensure that the legislature holds the executive to account is paying off. The culture and tempo of the Commons is changing for the better.

6. The internet: "The internet," Homer Simpson once asked. "Is that thing still going?" It is, and its influence on politics grew ever greater in 2013.

The internet has given every MP a tool to broadcast their views and ideas. Those that do, like Rob Halfon, Mark Reckless, Tom Harris or Stella Creasy are thriving. Increasingly, those that don't, won't.

7. Sofa government gets less comfy: For too long power in Britain has been concentrated in the hands of whichever clique happens to be sitting on the sofa in Downing Street. Politics, which ought to be about electing 650 representatives to help determine public policy, has been reduced to a contest between two cliques to see which lot sits on the sofa. It is no way to run a country.

Thanks to all of the reasons above, power is starting to ebb away from the sofa set and back where it belongs: to those elected by the people.

16 DEC 2013

Bitcoin and the Euro

Bitcoins fans should love the euro, according to Matthew Parris. Writing in the Spectator, he suggests that if you favour one, why not the other?

The euro and Bitcoins are not, contrary to what Matthew suggests, very similar at all.

The euro is all about getting different countries to use one currency. Bitcoin means folk in any one country being able to use different currencies.

It might, as Matthew suggests, be beyond the ability of national politicians to tinker with either the Bitcoin or the euro. But supranational bureaucrats are very much capable of manipulating the euro - and of using the euro not only as a monetary tool, but means of determining fiscal policy too.

The euro gives a small clique of "experts" the power to decide what monetary medicine those living in the eurozone need. Bitcoin repudiates the idea of monetary grandees doing things by grand design.

If the euro imposes a uniform monetary policy on tens of millions, the Bitcoin belongs to a new era of currency competition.

In my book, The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, (a corking stocking-filler, incidentally, I'm told...) I suggested that digital technology makes currency competition inevitable. That process has now started.

Is Bitcoin it? I am a bit of a Bitcoin sceptic, to be frank.

When it comes to private currency, my money – so to speak – would be on units redeemable with a large institution. How? Imagine if PayPal, Google or 02, which already have zillions of account holders and take payments, were to start providing banking services? What if, like banks in Hong Kong or Scotland once did, they were to issue IOUs?

Competing currencies – both state-issued and private – will free us from the tyranny of monopoly fiat money. And the euro is the ultimate monopoly fiat money. If you are reading this is Greece or Spain – where there have been years of economic decline – it probably feels a tad tyrannical too.

"Detestation of the European single currency," writes Matthew, "is actually rooted in a detestation of Europe". Really?

To detest something is to hate it. I am not sure that the case against the euro is rooted in hatred at all. Nor is it sensible to attribute base motives to those with whom one happens to disagree.

The euro, like the EU project itself, is a product of grand design. Eurosceptics are – the clue being in the name – doubtful that it is desirable to arrange Europe's affairs by grand design.

The euro belongs to an era when it was possible to arrange human social and economic affairs that way. With or without Bitcoin, the digital revolution dooms that kind of giantism.

13 DEC 2013

Defence procurement needs radical change

Philip Hammond, the defence minister, this week abandoned one of his proposals to overhaul defence procurement.

Ironically an attempt t0 bring more choice and competition into the system has been defeated by a lack of choice and competition. Only one bidder came forward to run the procurement process.

I am sorry to see this setback, but am sure it will be just that: a temporary setback.

Britain cannot afford for Hammond not to press ahead with change.

For decades, Whitehall has been monumentally useless at converting billion-pound defence budgets into weapons.

It is not just a case of the MoD not having enough expertise and personnel, or enough bright lawyers. Those are symptoms of the malady, not the disease itself.

The problem with defence procurement lies in the way that successive governments have consolidated the defence sector. Firms were encouraged to merge. Giant consortiums were formed. This might have achieved economies of scale in the defence industry, but it has had one very serious consequence.

In any market, when you restrict supply, the seller sets the terms of trade. This is what has happened in defence.

Defence production costs have soared. Squillions have been spent on second-rate options, delivered late.

Add in some of the protectionist ideas that corporatism inevitably breeds, and you end up with one of the largest defence budgets in the world, but serious shortages of kit. Aircraft carriers without aircraft. Helicopters that cost twice the price of the better alternatives. Loitering munitions programmes that ought to have been wound down. UAVs that contain yesterday's technology, when we have spent enough on them to have today's.

We need to start spending our limited defence budget in the interests of our armed forces, not the contractors. We should certainly never spend the defence budget as a giant job creating scheme.

Hammond is seeking to make many long overdue changes. Off-the-shelf procurement is becoming the default. Various vested interests that have their paws all over defence spending are being reined in. Various parasitical corporate interests must be taken on and broken.

The sooner Hammond presses ahead, the better.

11 DEC 2013

Economic boom or bubble?

The economy is growing again. Hurray!

We've already seem a flurry of forecasters upgrading their estimates about UK growth. Expect more of that in 2014. Output is likely to rise sharply.

But, as I asked the minister in Treasury questions yesterday, is this just another of those credit-induced booms? Another of those consumer-led recoveries, built on debt?

The Bank of England would, I am sure, say "no". The money supply, they might point out, is not growing wildly. In fact, they might go on to argue, the credit that all that new banking regulation is taking out of the system is being replaced by just the right amount of QE and credit.

If you look at narrow measures of money, it would be difficult to disagree. But it isn't quite that simple.

If you consider some of the broader measures of money, it seems that the money supply is growing – and growing fast. Look at the Divisia index on the left and see how it has shot up since 2011.  Money supply expansion coincides a little too neatly with the rise in output.  (Hattip: Anthony Evans of ESCP Europe Business School and the Market Monetarist blog site.)

Another credit-induced boom? I hope not. The Treasury minister said he would pass on my concerns to the new Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney.

Of course, the monetary mandarins allowed a bubble to balloon before. And they thought they had got the measure of the money supply right then, too.

What we need to do to make sure this does not happen yet again is the subject of a paper that I have coming out in the New Year.

09 DEC 2013

The internet is bringing communities back together

One thing the world never seems short of is cultural pessimism. We are constantly invited to believe that society is going to the dogs. Communities are supposed to have been atomised. Social capital squandered. The bonds that bind us together are meant to have frayed.

At the turn of the 21st century, Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone gave empirical backing to these claims of civic decline. But I reckon Putnam and the pessimists failed to factor in the internet thingy.

Rather than leaving us to live in our own, lonely little worlds, my bet is that the internet revives civic engagement. Things are going to get better. Much better than they were in the past. Broadband will turn out to be a kind of glue, bringing communities together in all sorts of wonderful new ways.

At a recent (internet-organised) town hall meet up in Clacton, people who had lived in the same street for almost 20 years sat down and spoke for the first time. Brought together thanks to Twitter and email. It was touching to watch. From where I was sitting, it looked like they were starting to become friends as they munched fish and chip together.

In my part of Essex are dozens of small groups of emailers who constantly ping messages back and forth among their little cluster. Someone's local email list becomes a sort of social network. It's how several volunteer groups I know got going.

This phenomenon is happening all over the place – even if expert sociologists have yet to write PhDs about it, or invent the jargon to describe it.

Some of the digital platforms that will regenerate this new social capital have yet to be written. But already (think Twitter, but with postcodes for hashtags) is allowing people to connect to organise everything from Christmas lunches for the neighbourhood to advice about washing machines. It is full of neighbourly chat from details of a bloke selling fresh fish locally to someone seeking a new home for a travel cot.

Bowling alone? Thanks to broadband, only if you choose to.

"What about the digital divide?" you ask. "Not everyone knows how to use computers." Of course. And nor is everyone is online. Yet. But thanks to technology, more and more people are. Using computers is becoming so intuitive that we're almost at the point where it is not seen as "using a computer" at all.

When radio, film and television came along, the doom-mongers predicted that the new technology would prove isolating in its effects. But that is what cultural pessimists say about everything. Instead radio, film and television provided entertainment for millions – not to mention common cultural reference points. Victorian era music halls emptied out for a reason.

The internet not only makes unlimited choice, at the lowest price available to everyone as we do our Christmas shopping. It is going to make better neighbourhoods, too.

This blog first appear on the Telegraph website. 

05 DEC 2013

An anti-politics party?

When confronted with new facts, politicians' first instinct – like that of most people – is to try to get them to fit their preconceptions.

Thus those that have long advocated a particular policy on widgets will instinctively look to make any new data about widgets support what they advocated previously. It's not that they bad people, but, I'm told, just the way our brains are wired.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident in Westminster than where opinion polling is concerned.

Yesterday, a polling firm, Survation, published data from two Parliamentary constituencies – Great Grimsby and Dudley North.

In both seats, which the Conservatives came within a whisker of winning at the last election, Labour seems to be comfortably ahead.

Without there necessarily being any direct shift in support from Tory to Labour (as for example happened between 1992-97), these polls suggest that Labour could gain because of the re-distribution of support amongst third and fourth parties. Lib Dems going to Labour, combined with some of the Tory base going to UKIP, could change the electoral arithmetic quite dramatically.

It is at this point in the conversation that widget syndrome usually kicks in.

"This only goes to show that Cameron must announce X" say long-term advocates of X. Self-conscious modernisers, meanwhile, will tell you why this means we need to become more self-consciously modern.

I am not convinced. Of course one needs the right policies, but the one way for a party leader to guarantee that they won't get any credit for them is to allow themselves to be seen to be doing something because they have to. To be plausible, perception of your motives is vital.

What the Survation data really suggests to me is that the era of pendulum politics is over. A loss of support for one party no longer automatically translates into support for the other. To respond, we don't need knee jerk policies on widgets or anything else. We need to fundamentally rethink the way we do politics.

If the political market place is fragmenting, with room for niche brands and distinctive offerings, we Conservatives should stop looking for one-size-fits-all solutions. We need to become a much more niche, decentralised party.

A generation ago, the Conservative Party was routed in Scotland because a party that branded itself as a Scottish Unionist party until the 1970s, allowed itself to be seen as an English party. It wasn't a purple party that took our share of the market in Scotland, but the dark blue of the Scottish Nationalists.

Across English constituencies today, we are in danger of being seen as a Westminster party. The property of those in SW1.

It will take more than a tougher widget policy to change that.

02 DEC 2013

What would a sensible immigration system be like?

Britain is one of the greatest places on the planet to live.

It's not just me who believes that. There are tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of people who settle in Britain each year who seem to think so too.

One or two people in the comment thread below might disagree, but I hope the rest of us would never hold it against any individual for wanting to make a better life for themselves by living in the UK.

We can, however, hold it against the political class for failing to be a little bit more selective as to who gets let in.

With so many people from around the globe wanting to come to our country, you'd have thought we might have a system in place that ensures we attract the brightest and the best. Unfortunately, we don't.

Being in the EU, we are open to anyone from any EU member state wanting to settle here. That means that we allow many unskilled migrants, who are more likely to claim Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.

At the same time, highly educated and entrepreneurial Singaporeans, for example, have to apply for work visas. It makes no sense.

I know of a farm in Essex (not in my constituency, I might add) that has for years depended on Bulgarian students to help gather in the harvest. Each year they come over, work hard, and return to Bulgaria. Without them, the farm would not cope. However unfashionable it might be to point this out, it needs pointing out.

But here's the thing. While Bulgarian students are willing to travel across a continent to work on that farm, just a few miles away are some folk living at public expense, who could do the work, but won't. This also needs pointing out.

We cannot get serious about reforming the immigration system without also ending the something-for-nothing benefit culture. At times, I wonder if politicians almost depend on the crazy immigration system we have in order to avoid having to make any difficult decisions about benefits.

In order to change things for the better, Britain needs to take back control of its immigration system. It is no coincidence that two of the countries with the best immigration systems I can think of – Switzerland and Australia – are both outside the EU.

It is those elected to Bern or Canberra – not faceless officials in Brussels – who decide on who gets to live in Switzerland and Australia.

And because those elected take responsibility for immigration policy, immigration policy in both Australia and Switzerland has adapted to the needs of each country.

In Switzerland, where one in five workers is non-Swiss, there is an intelligent, rational debate about needs of the Swiss economy. Look how far the debate in Australia about immigration has moved on since the days of Pauline Hanson.

Surely we need to discuss not only the needs to the economy, but what helps make successful first and second generation Britons, too?

If those we elected to Parliament – and vulnerable to the views of the voters - were responsible, we might begin to have an intelligent debate about what kind of immigration we need. As long as we remain in the EU, I doubt this will happen.

This article first appear on the Telegraph site, where Douglas writes three times a week.

27 NOV 2013

Brussels wants to decide who is entitled to British benefits

It is a question of maths. Either we can retain our system on non-contributory welfare benefits, or Britain can continue to allow the unrestricted movement of Europeans into Britain.

We cannot do both.

Britain is currently one of only five EU member states – the others being Ireland, Estonia, Germany and Finland – that offers those out of work non-contributory cash payments. Only in those countries can you draw payments, when unemployed and looking for work, without having paid into the system.

There has been a 70 per cent surge in EU migrants coming to the UK in recent years. Most come to work, but already one in every 25 on Job Seekers Allowance is an EU migrant – and that is with a residency test in place.

The European Commission has taken issue with our residency testing, and wants to allow every European the same right to claim non-contributory benefits in Britain as UK nationals. If we did that, the system will become unsustainable.

It goes without saying that if you or I pitched up in Paris, Milan, Athens or Bucharest, we could not claim benefits without having contributed. Such benefits don't exist there as they do here.

No matter, the Eurocrats are determined that they should decide who is entitled to UK benefits. Did anyone imagine that this is what we were signing up to when we joined the Common Market all those years ago?

How bizarre would it be if Clement Attlee's welfare state was brought down not by swivel-eyed free marketeers, but by the EU project? Tragically, the British Left is too intellectually moribund to see it, just as they proved too flat-footed to appreciate the impact of uncontrolled immigration (not for the first time, I sense that the British Left defines what it is for largely in terms of what it believes Tories to be against – a wider assessment of the national interest rarely enters into it).

For some time now, the Commission and their pet pundits have been trying to undermine the idea that benefit tourism is a problem. A series of "experts" – often in receipt of large Commission grants – have been wheeled out to tell us it is a non problem. Besides, they say, EU immigration is a good thing.

We should take such claims with a large pinch of salt. The authors of one such report last month on the tax contribution of migrants contained an elementary error. The report's authors seemed not to understand how tax is collected. Another authoritatively told us welfare was not acting as a magnet for migrants, yet drew that conclusion on the basis of "stakeholder consultation", rather than facts.

Another pro-migration report was authored by the same "expert" who in 2004 told us that unrestricted migration from ten new EU states would mean a mere 13,000 migrants a year.

Britain is, I believe, the best place to live on the planet. We cannot rationally begrudge people wanting to come here to make a better life. We can begrudge unelected officials who want to prevent us from being a bit more selective about who we let in – and who can claim UK benefits.

With so many people wanting to come here, we ought to encourage the brightest and the best. If the European Commission gets its way, we will be required to accept low skills migrants, who – despite "expert" claims to the contrary – are already considerably more likely to claim in work benefits.

25 NOV 2013

Swedish levels of public spending. Texan levels of public service provision. Britain needs change

If you're a Lefty, you probably think Britain ought to be more like Sweden, with high levels of tax and spend. Those on the political Right might want to model ourselves more on low-tax Texas.

But bizarrely, Britain today manages to combine Swedish levels of tax and spend, with Texan standards of public service provision. No wonder voters on both Left and Right feel let down.

"Don't exaggerate, Carswell," I hear you say. "It can't be that bad." But how many hospitals in downtown Houston do you suppose are subject to police investigations over the alleged manipulation of cancer patients' data? My local hospital is.

I know a school in Essex where nine out of 10 children do not get an A*-C grade GCSE in maths and English. How many charter schools in the US would be able to get away with that?

Government spending as a percentage of GDP might be coming down. But it is falling from a Scandinavian 48 per cent peak.

By any objective measure, Britain has been badly run for a generation. The amount of tax taken by the state has rocketed, without the corresponding improvements in public services the public had a right to expect.

Instead of defending the way things are, we Conservatives need to be a little bit less conservative. We need to be the party of radical change.

In 2015 voters will face a clear choice; either you can vote for Ed Miliband – and the idea that we should hose yet more money at public services, hoping that this time it will be different – or you can vote for more public service reform, and the idea that those who run public services ought to answer to the public.

But it is not just public service reform that Conservatives need to champion. Britain desperately needs political reform, too.

One of the reasons Britain has been so badly run under successive governments is that it has been run from the sofa in Downing Street.

A more "presidential" Downing Street has not always got the big, macro decisions right, whoever is in charge. From Margaret Thatcher's implementation of the poll tax, to Tony Blair on Iraq and David Cameron over Syria, those on the sofas in Number 10 could have done with someone else saying "hang on, chaps. Are we sure about this?"

Instead of voting to change which clique gets to sit on the sofa in Number 10, we need to vote to change the system of sofa government itself.

Ministers and mandarins need to answer outward to Parliament, not just to the special advisers in Number 10. Ministers today ask themselves "will judicial review allow me to do this?" We need proper legislative review of ministers' actions.

Instead of a president in Number 10, we need to return to the notion that the Prime Minister is primus inter pares. If MPs are to be bound by collective responsibility, government needs to be bound by Cabinet decision-making once again.

Our politics, like our public services, needs reform to ensure far more openness and accountability. Do that, and we might be better governed whoever is in government.

This first appeared on the Telegraph site, where Douglas writes regularly.

20 NOV 2013

Student loans for Romanians and Bulgarians? Are we mad?

I'm seething. But not half as angry as my constituent.

Her daughter had studied hard and been accepted by a good university. She had just started life as a fresher. Mum was so proud, busying herself with the sort of things that proud mums do when their daughter goes off to university.

No one imagined that that that irksome delay with the Student Loan whatsit was anything to fret about.

Because my constituent, and her family, had lived for a while in Germany, the Student Loan Company wanted more details. How long had she lived in Germany? Was she normally resident here?

Spend two minutes talking to my constituent, and it is perfectly obvious she – and her daughter – are as British as a post box.

But it is ticking the boxes on the application form that counts. And because she had lived in Germany for a short time, her application for a student loan was rejected. Despite a very understanding Vice Chancellor, she has now had to drop out of university.

Try to imagine how that family in Clacton might now feel, when they read that student loans to Bulgarians and Romanians have just been suspended.

Do you suppose my constituents are likely to be grateful that at last some chump in Whitehall has finally woken up to the fact that many of the Bulgarian and Romanian applications were, apparently, bogus?

No, my ministerial pals. They are going to be furious. Livid. Volcanic in their anger. And it will be directed at you.

What the heck are we doing, they will ask themselves and their neighbours, giving student loans to any Bulgarians or Romanians in the first place? The very month that my constituent's daughter had to pack her things and leave university, we were apparently approving student loans to non-UK nationals. Why?

Thanks to decades of Euro folly, those in SW1 have landed us in a situation where a British student, who happens to have spent some time in Europe, is thrown out of university. European students, meanwhile, have been accessing student loans.

Being British now counts for nothing in a bureaucratic world in which it has become strictly verboten to discriminate on grounds of nationality. So we end up discriminating on grounds of residency. Which is what got a British student thrown out of a British university after six weeks.

Another day, another illustration of what membership of the EU actually means. Politicians and their pet pundits in SW1 need to stop thinking about EU membership in terms of backbench "rebellions" or "Tory splits". Think about what it means for this Clacton family.

Did anyone imagine that this is were we would end up when we voted to join a Common Market all those years ago?

We cannot go on like this. For the first time I am starting to think that maybe the Tory Party must become explicitly "outist" – or, I fear, there might not be much left of the Tory party.

This article first appeared on the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly.

19 NOV 2013

Giving a speech is not the same thing as governing

Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. His 272 words, delivered on the afternoon of 19 November 1863, is one of the most famous speeches in history.

Why do politicians give speeches? To let the rest of us know what they are thinking, obviously.

But for what purpose?

Partly it is to justify, or explain, a course of action. After years of bloody, brutal conflict, Lincoln wanted his Union electorate to appreciate why they'd had to make such sacrifices. Lincoln's words are more than just an explanation. They rally his audience to a vision of something greater, more uplifting, than the here and now.

In non-democracies, where leaders are less accountable to the demos, there is less need to constantly justify and explain, or give the vision thing. Hence the leaders of countries like China, for example, are notably more reticent. When they do give a speech, it is often plodding, and aimed at a foreign audience.

In many 21st century Western states, effective executive power has slipped gradually away from those we elect, towards quangocrats, state functionaries and judges. Unelected officials – rather than those we vote for – increasingly get to decide who can enter the country. Or what sort of houses get built and where. Or if that wind farm planning application gets approval.

This leaves those competing for voters still in the business of giving speeches. But what they say is no longer an attempt to justify or explain a course of action. Increasingly politician's speeches have become a substitute for action.

Contemporary politicans often give speeches to demonstrate that they are on the voters' side. Whether it is energy prices, or immigration, or the price of petrol, the purpose of a speech is to emote – rather than to outline a specific course of action.

In so far as they outline a vision, politicians speeches are often motherhood and apple pie. They say the kind of things – stringing together the clichés – that they feel someone in their position ought to say. (Watch Love Actually again this Christmas to see what I mean).

Wielding executive power is difficult. It takes ideas and precision. Being able to distinguish between tactics and strategy. And requires some sort of ideological framework and judgment. Much easier just to give a speech ...

Many of the managerialist politicians inside SW1 believe in ideas-free politics. Ideology, to them, is a dirty word. Passion is something to be practised for the cameras.
For them, the key to giving a great speech is a hire a great speech writer.

But all the wordsmiths in the word cannot give you something worth saying unless you have ideas you believe in.

13 NOV 2013

Only a Eurosceptic Tory party can win a majority

The "real Tory divide" on Europe, according to my friend James Kirkup, is between Tory MPs in safe seats versus those in the marginals.

"Those sitting on fat majorities" he wrote the other day "are intensely comfortable banging on about Europe". Whereas "those fighting for survival" in marginal seats say that the Tory party should talk about "anything but Europe."

That might be what some folk brief lobby correspondents, but I am not sure it is a view supported by the evidence.

If Euroscepticism was an indulgence of MPs in safe seats, one would expect Eurosceptic "rebels" to come from seats with bigger majorities. In fact the opposite is the case.

The size of the average Conservative MP's majority is, according to my calculation, 9,471. Yet the average majority amongst those 81 Tory MPs who voted for an In/Out referendum before it became party policy is 8,276.

If anything, those who woke up to the "we-want-a-referendum" thing first had smaller majorities.

Correlation, of course, is not causation.

Perhaps those MPs in more marginal seats tend to be younger, and thus more Eurosceptic in outlook? The fact that an MP is a Eurosceptic could help explain why in certain cases they have a safe seat in the first place.

I suspect that MPs in more marginal seats are more receptive to the views of their (overwhelmingly Eurosceptic) electorate.

No matter, we all support an In/Out referendum now. Which is my real beef with what James wrote.

Lobby correspondents have spent so many years writing about "Tory splits" on Europe that they have missed the real news; there is no longer a significant Tory divide on Europe. We all agree to let the voters decide if we stay or leave.

Before David Cameron committed us to an In/Out referendum, there was on average an EU-related Commons "rebellion" every three to four months. Since then? I can't think of a single one.

Of course, now that we do agree on letting people vote to get us out of the EU, we can focus on many of the other changes Britain so desperately needs as well.

12 NOV 2013

Immigration and dodgy data?

Over the past decade or so, immigrants have paid billions of pounds more in taxes than they have cost the public purse, according to a report by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CREAM). And, what's more, immigrants are 45 percent less likely to claim state benefits.

Yet more justification for all those "Britain needs more immigration" articles one finds in the Economist, perhaps?

Except on reading the CREAM report, I discovered errors, guesswork and oversight.

First, an elementary error. When calculating the fiscal contribution made by migrants, the report's authors try to work out how much tax migrants pay. In doing so, the report's authors seem to count the £10 Billion business rates paid to the Treasury each year as if business rates were a tax paid by every self employed person in the country. It isn't. Most of that £10 billion tax contribution comes from big companies.

Crediting every self employed person with a £2,500 tax contribution that they do not make is not only wrong. Because a much higher proportion of EU migrants are self employed, it seriously distorts any net assessment of the overall financial contribution they make.

Then there is the guesswork. When trying to work out how much corporation and capital tax migrants pay, the report appears to make assumptions that look to me like a guesstimate.

Then there is the oversight. The report tells us that migrants are 45 percent less likely to claim benefits. Really? If you only look at Labour Survey data it is possible to draw that conclusion. But not if you look at HMRC data, which suggests that migrants are 20 percent MORE likely to claim certain benefits.

Is it not a bit odd that a serious research unit, associated with University College London should produce a report that does not appear to understand who pays business rates? Not nearly as odd as the reaction I provoked by pointing this out.

Writing for the Independent on Sunday, David Blanchflower dismissed what I had to say as the "visceral response" of a "Right-wing Tory MP". He did not, however, get around to countering the points I had actually made.

It was enough for Blanchflower to simply assert that "Christian Dustmann is definitively the number one expert on migration in the UK". While Carswell, on the other hand, is a mere "amateur".

Indeed I am.

But isn't it all the more shocking that a mere "amateur" can expose flaws in a report produced by the "number one expert on migration"? No wonder UK immigration policy seems to be such a mess.

"Be fair, Carswell" I hear you say "it's jolly hard to work out how much migrants pay in tax".

I agree. Hideously complicated. So much so that I believe we cannot possibly claim to know for certain. Which is my point.

Responding to my critique, Christian Dustmann did not rebut the substantive points I raised. Instead he said that it was a "well-established" way of doing it. Maybe the fact it is so "well-established" helps explain why so many similar reports have tended to draw the same kind of conclusions? That does not prevent it from being wrong.

He went on to accept that the data on which his report was based was "not perfect". "Assumptions" he wrote "have to be made". Quite. So why make such big and bold announcements about the impact of immigration if the data is known to be so imperfect?

It was, you may recall, Professor Dustmann who once "predicted that opening UK borders to 10 new EU countries in 2004 would increase the population by 13,000 a year". Data can indeed be imperfect.

07 NOV 2013

Russell Brand has a point. Democracy is in retreat

Britain is more of a democracy now than in the past. Right?

Everyone knows we've been getting steadily more democratic. First working men got the vote. Then women. There's even talk of giving it to 16-year-olds.

The proportion of the population entitled to vote has undoubtedly increased. But what about their ability to hold those with power to account?

Measured that way, democracy has been in retreat.

Look at a political map of Britain today and you will see a mosaic of local party monopolies – 21st-century "rotten boroughs". In seven out of ten parliamentary constituencies, there is almost no chance that the seat might change hands between parties at a General Election. Yet within most of these safe seats, it is the party machines and cliques that control candidate selection (think Falkirk). They do so as tightly as any local duke or landowner once did.

The uncomfortable truth is that most folk still do not have a real say over who gets to represent them in Parliament.

Many MPs answer not to their constituents, but to the party machine and other MPs. And because of this, the executive has been steadily able to neuter the legislature. Those we elect to hold government to account find that they are accountable to government.

Ponder for a second what really kicked of the English civil war. It was the king's insistence that he be able to appoint ministers without reference to the Commons. But isn't that more or less what the Prime Minister now does?

Until the mid 1970s, it was Parliament, not the Prime Minister that decided the scope of ministerial responsibilities. Far from being a quirky leftover from the past, the powers of Crown Prerogative have been extended.

From 1701 until 1918, it wasn't just Parliament that approved what ministers did. Local voters were required to approve who became a minister in the first place. Once invited to join the government, an MP would have to return to their consistency, resign their seat, then fight and win the by-election that followed. There might have been fewer voters in each constituency, but they were able to approve ministerial promotion.

Whichever clique happens to be sitting on the Downing Street sofas gets to decide who becomes a minister and what they do as a minister – not the people you actually vote for on polling day.

Within living memory, the Commons controlled its own agenda. Today a committee of the executive decides what those you elect should be allowed to decide (with a little time for tame Backbench Business blah blah, you understand).

Until the 1930s, those we elected could table amendments to the Budget – in other words make real tax and spend decisions. Today MPs are invited to say "yes" or "no" to a Budget drafted in Whitehall, which few of them have even read, let alone understood.

More people might have the vote. The ability of voters to determine public policy has steady declined. No wonder so many people no longer bother with the whole process.

Russell Brand is right to recognise this. The solution, however, is not to give zillionaire celebs a greater say. We need more direct democracy, with open primaries and recall votes, so that ordinary folk with votes might actually have votes that count.

06 NOV 2013

The "experts" are wrong about immigration

For years, the debate about immigration has been dominated by "experts".

Complex and inaccessible data was used by remote academics. They crunched the numbers and drew the conclusions. The rest of us had to take it on trust that the facts sustained what they told us.

Take the recent report by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (Cream). The data, declares their report, shows migrants are "less likely to receive benefits ... than UK natives". And they "made a considerable net positive contribution to the UK's fiscal system".

End of conversation. The people with the PhDs agree. It must be so.

But hang on. Does this report sustain these conclusions? Let's use this internet thingy to deconstruct what the "experts" declare.

1. How does the report work out what migrants contribute in tax?  With some school boyish errors, it would seem.

Take for example business rates. They generate something like £10 billion a year for the Exchequer – and as everyone ought to know, that £10 billion of tax revenue comes largely from big business.

But as Michael O'Connor points out, the report appears to credit business rates as a fiscal contribution – worth what appears to amount to £2,500 each – from every self-employed individual in the country.  That is simply wrong. 

Yet doing so massively distorts the fiscal balance sheet, since we know that EU migrants are far more likely to declare themselves as self-employed. (Indeed, if you come from Romania or Bulgaria, you often have to call yourself self-employed to
be allowed in).

2. How does the report assess the contribution of migrants in terms of company and capital taxes?  By guessing, it seems.

Company and capital taxes represent about 9 per cent of the UK tax base.  To work out what share comes from migrants, the report allocates a share to migrants on the "implicit assumption that company ownership (i.e. share ownership) is similarly
distributed between the native and immigrant population".

Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. But to me that sounds like guessing.

3. What data does the Cream report use?  Labour Force Survey data, which is drawn from what information folk give about what they are claiming. It is not cross checked with what they might actually be claiming.

While Labour Force Survey data suggests migrants are less likely to claim out of work benefits, HMRC data shows they are significantly more likely to claim working tax and child tax credit.

4. How does the Cream paper assess the benefits paid to migrants?  By conflating benefits and tax credit – and, worse, by assuming everyone gets the same amount.

If, for example, a Brit get £20 a week child benefit, and a migrant gets £80 a week tax credit, the report treats them as together getting £100, which it nets out as £50 each.

Why does this matter?

5. The report fails to factor in data we have about different migrant groups very different claiming patterns. Michael O'Connor highlights work by Drinkwater and Robinson in 2013.

Migrants from Poland, Estonia, Latvia or Hungary, for example, are less likely to claim (relatively low) unemployment benefits – but significantly more likely to claim (relatively high) tax credits or housing benefit.

In other words, this is not simply methodological nit picking. It could undermine the claim that European Economic Area migrants contribute 34 percent more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

Not for the first time, I suspect a report written by "experts" tell us more about what "experts" think than it does about the way things actually are.

No doubt I will get the usual stream of angry tweets from angry Lefties, demanding that I defer to the "experts" and the academics. But I have read what they wrote, and indeed read some of what they themselves read. Which is precisely why I do not defer to them. Thanks to the internet, we do not need "experts" to tell us what to think anymore.

05 NOV 2013

Carswell and Curry - but not Mr Angry, please!

Why won't you serve PROPER British food???!" demanded an angry tweet in response to my invitation to this Thursday's curry supper. The evening, hosted by Bernard Jenkin MP in Lawford, is open to everyone and promises to be fun.

What, I reflected, did Mr Angry mean by "proper British food"? Fish and chips? Roast beef with spuds? Chicken and chips? The potato half of all these meals would at one time have been seen as an exotic south American import. Even chicken, I am told, is descended from domesticated jungle fowl.

If we were to only serve up food that originated from Essex this Thursday, I fear we'd be tucking into turnip and nettle stew. Not very appetising.

Stop and think about it, and there are dozens of things we regard as authentically British which must, at one time, have seemed exotic and global.

Marmalade? When first made in Dundee in the 1790s with Spanish oranges it must have been terribly novel. In my constituency, we have lots of authentically Essex bungalows. Yet the word is Bangladeshi.

Tea? It was once a sort of Portuguese-Chinese novelty brew. Tuck the kids up in bed in their pyjamas? A Hindi word for a once very exotic kind of garment.

It seems that my angry tweeter has in 180 degrees wrong. Our country is full of adaptations and innovations from around the world. Not just when it comes to what we eat or what we wear, but what we say and what we think.

And we are all the more successful for it. It is that ability to adapt and innovate, and take the best and the brightest from around the world, which explains why this little island – a mere 81st in world rankings for size – has played such a premier (French word) role in world affairs.

Mr Angry, it turns out, lives many miles away from Essex, and won't be coming. But if you happen to be in our part of Essex this Thursday evening, and like authentically British Curry, do please email for a ticket. (Incidentally, if you don't like curry, we have an authentically British alternative that doesn't consist of turnip stew).

I will be talking about why we need to change the way we do politics in Britain – and why sometimes it is truly British to be prepared to change!

04 NOV 2013

Revealed: 1 in 7 on working tax benefit is a migrant

Migrants, we keep being told, are much less likely to claim benefits than Brits.


"Oh, yes", insist the ''experts''. UK nationals, they repeatedly tell us, are twice as likely to be claiming benefits as foreigners. Anyone who dares question this ''fact'', as I discovered the other week, gets howled down by supposed "experts" on Twitter.

The assertion that migrants are much less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals turns out to be just that. An assertion. Far from being evidence-based, the evidence turns out to be remarkably flimsy.

To be clear, there is data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that suggests that twice as many Brits claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), and other out-of-work benefits, compared to non-UK nationals in proportion to the size of the population. But it is ridiculous to jump to the conclusion that Brits are therefore twice as likely to claim benefits as non-Brits.

The "experts" who make such claims have failed to look at all the evidence. Those who insist that migrants are less likely to claim benefits tend to draw their data from the Labour Force Survey, which relies on respondents reporting claims to benefits, rather than actual data on claims made.

New evidence produced by Michael O'Connor, not previously in the public domain, looks at in work benefits, and HMRC data. Michael has crunched the numbers and his data seems to show a strikingly different picture.

  • Migrants are more likely to be claiming working tax credit than the rest of the population. Indeed, they are 20 percent more likely to be claiming working tax credit that the rest of the population.
  • There are nearly half a million migrants claiming working tax credit in the UK.
  • One in seven (14.5 percent) claiming working tax credit is a non-UK national.
  • More than one in six (17.6 percent) claiming both working tax credit and child tax credit is a non-UK national.
  • More migrants claim working tax credit than claim all of the main out-of-work benefits together.

Don't get me wrong. I have enormous admiration for individuals wanting to come to this country to make the best of their lives. Switzerland, a country with a far higher standard of living than ours, has a much higher number of migrant workers (one in five of the work force) than we do. From 13th-century Venice, to 17th-century Holland, to 21st-century London and California, those parts of the planet able to attract the brightest and the best, flourish.

But if we are to attract the brightest and the best – rather than relatively unskilled benefit migrants – we need to have an open and honest debate about the kind of immigration we currently have.

The claim that migrants are half as likely to claim benefits as UK nationals turns out to be a myth.

31 OCT 2013

Too many clever-dicks in Westminster

The longer I have been in Parliament, the more I realise that those on either front bench actually have rather a lot in common.

I don't just mean that they did similar degrees at similar Oxbridge colleges. Or that they then went on to work as "special advisers", before being selected in equally safe seats.

They also seemed to do all that at around the same time.

Those on both front benches seemed to learn their craft during the Blair ascendency, a time when politics was all about presentation, not principle. The most successful politicians of that era – Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder – boasted about doing "what works". Having an underlying system of beliefs was seen as an encumberance, not an asset. It was – the ultimate dirty word – "ideological".

Yet look at some of the mess we Conservatives have got into precisely because we parted with principle.

Without any underlying system of beliefs about economics, the (post-monetarist) Tory frontbench bought into the idea that the financial boom meant a permanent addition to the UK tax base.

So instead of calling for tax cuts ("Old fashioned". "So 1980s!"), we started to talk about "sharing the proceeds of growth". So when the Brownian boom went bust, we had almost nothing to say – a key reason, I suspect, why we failed to win the last election.

It has been a similar story with energy policy.

In the early Noughties, Labour bought into the whole "green energy" agenda. Since burning fossil fuels is easily the cheapest way of producing energy, in order to reduce CO2 emissions, the Labour government had to radically reconfigure the energy market. Instead of being free(ish), with producers generating electricity at the cheapest price punters were willing to pay, energy companies were required to generate according to quotas.

Again, we ditched our free market principles and went along with it. Modernisers, eh.

Now that the consequences of what Ed Miliband and co did when in office are coming home – with some householders priced out of being able to heat theirs – what do we have to say?

And then there is press regulation. Yet again, the Conservative front bench has opted to do what is expedient, rather than what is principled. And yet again, in doing so we have harmed our long term strategic interest.

Rather than risk a Commons defeat (there is almost certainly a majority in the House in favour of statutory press regulation), the Conservative front bench opted for a Royal Charter. "A half-way compromise, you see". "Not really statutory at all, old boy". Clever, eh?

Too clever, actually. Had a Labour/Lib Dem majority forced statutory press regulation through, in the face of principled Conservative opposition, we would go into the 2015 with almost every newspaper in the land willing on a Conservative victory.

Once again, tactical clever-dickery has overridden any strategic sense. May e principle-free politics isn't such a good idea after all?

This blog first appeared in the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly.

23 OCT 2013

How should I vote on HS2?

Like with Equal Marriage, the pros are convinced of the case for, and the anti certain all the evidence points against. Neither side seems able to imagine that a reasonable person might see arguments either way.

But over HS2 I remain resolutely uncertain.

Of course, there's the cost - already in the zillions and certain to rise. Plus the fact no private investors seem willing to put their own money into the scheme.

Then there is the violation of private property interests all along the route. Not to mention the Westminster group-think lining up behind the scheme. I see all that.

But as I busily research the competing claims about capacity, I have one real nagging doubt.

There on page 23 of the Conservative party manifesto on which I stood for election is a black and white promise to approve the wretched thing. 

Don't misunderstand me. I am all in favour of MPs voting down their front bench. I am all in favour of backbenchers saying "Yah boo! Sucks to you! I don't agree with the corporate party line".

But if something is in black and white in the party manifesto, surely you normally ought to support it? And if you were not able to support it, as an individual candidate, surely you ought to have made it clear in your election address?

It is, if you stop to think about it, the whole reason each candidate gets a taxpayer funded election address in the first place.  It is why, incidentally, I took pains to make my own views on Europe clear in my election address in Clacton. 

I know that being in a weasly coalition means many in Whitehall take a pick'n'mix attitude to pre-election promises. But must the rest of us do so, too?  If so, then seriously, how could you trust any politician making any pre-election promise again? 

I do not know how I will vote on HS2.

What I do know is that HS2 shows why every Conservative candidate must have a say over what goes into the party manifesto in future.  And make it clear in their election address where they do not agree. 

22 OCT 2013

The Euro is killing liberalism

Which is the most popular party in France?

Not hapless President Hollande and his Socialists, sure? No. They are down to 21 percent in the polls. Nor is it the centre-Right Gaullistes, who are on measly 22 percent – and have scarcely ever been less popular.

The shocking truth is that the most popular political party in France, according to one recent poll, is the Front National, supported by almost one in four French voters.

The Front National is beyond the pale. They are not simply a protest party, but extreme. Their political philosophy, in so far as they have one, seems to me to derive from a reading of Jean Raspail's dystopian novel, the Camp of the Saints. Pessimistic, they seem to lack any uplifting vision of France or the future.

So why are they doing so well?

It can't simply be immigration. France has had higher levels of immigration in the past than she does today – and the Front National then remained in single digits. Some might suggest that France's bigger problem today is in fact emigration – with her brightest and best moving to London, America and elsewhere.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that France is run by a remote, technocratic elite – the énarques? But France has been run that way – for good or ill – for generations. It does not explain this sudden upsurge in support for an anti-establishment – I would suggest an anti-everything – party.

The real reason I suspect that the Front National is doing well in France is the euro.

Joining the single currency did not just mean giving up the right to issue French francs. It means, ultimately, that the French public lost the right to determine French public policy in key areas.

Tax and spend decisions in France – and indeed in Greece and elsewhere – are no longer made those the voters elect, but by Eurocrats. So French – and Greek – voters and politicians no longer have responsibility for making the big political choices.

And if you take responsibility away from the people, they behave irresponsibly.

So in France a growing number vote for the Front National and in Greece some for the Golden Dawn.

How odd if a political project that was supposed to seal the triumph of the liberal democratic order in Europe seems to be undermining it. How tragic if the Euro, rather than providing Europe with prosperity and political stability, produced the very opposite.

21 OCT 2013

Immigration and the EU - BBC bias at its worst

Rarely is BBC bias quite so blatant.

A few days ago, a European Commission-funded report was published about the impact of benefit tourism. With the European Commission taking legal action against the UK government over the right of EU citizens' to claim benefits in Britain, Brussels certainly has a dog in the fight.

And sure enough, EU Commissioner, László Andor, unveiled the report with a declaration that "so called benefit tourism ... is neither widespread nor systematic".

"Nothing to see. Move along", seemed to be the line from Brussels.

Disgracefully the BBC seemed to swallow it all hook, line and sinker.

"Claims about large-scale benefits tourism in the EU are exaggerated," Huw Edwards informed us on the Ten O'Clock news. The report "rebuffed" claims about benefit tourism, announced the BBC website.

Really? If the BBC editorial team had read the detail of the report, it is hard to see how they could possibly draw that conclusion.

Worse, the BBC editorial line seemed to ignore entirely the central, thudding issue at stake: the UK is one of only five EU states (the others being Finland, Germany, Estonia and Ireland) that offer non contributory benefits to the unemployed. In other words, only if you live in one of those countries are you able to claim unemployment benefits without having paid into the system.

If you or I – or the BBC home affairs editor Mark Easton – pitched up in France, Italy or Greece, we could not claim unemployment benefit without having contributed into the system. (There might, as someone in the comment thread will point out, be a million or so Brits living in Spain, but they have no right to claim any Spanish benefits that their taxes have not contributed towards.)

The European Commission is, however, demanding that if Brits can claim non-contributory unemployment benefit in Britain, then so too must every EU citizen. It is the whole reason why they commissioned this report in the first place. That there are no corresponding non-contributory entitlements for Brits to claim in most of Europe is something they ignore. We must open our system up to all comers, they insist.

Ridiculous? Too absurd to take seriously? Not if we rely on the BBC to report on what is happening and set the parameters of public debate.

Already one in every 25 claimants on Job Seekers Allowance is an EU migrant. I must have missed the bit where the BBC pointed this out.

There has been a 70 percent increase in migration from the EU over the past few years, a rise in the rate of unemployment amongst EU migrants, and a sharp increase in the number coming to the UK without work. Where did the BBC examine the public policy implications of this?

The report concluded that welfare payments were not acting as a magnet, on the basis of something called "stakeholder consultations". In other words, officials asking other officials. Yet the BBC coverage seemed to take it all at face value.

Nor did the report that the BBC said rebuffed the idea of benefit migration make any effort to assess how many EU migrants were claiming housing benefit (I could find only three uses of the term in the report at all). Or council tax benefit, or indeed, various other non-contributory benefits that Brussels would like us to make available to all EU citizens.

For a public service broadcaster, you'd have thought that the report posed a key question; can the UK's system of benefits survive if we have completely free movement of people within the EU, and no residency qualifications?

The BBC did not seem to ask it.

With Romanians and Bulgarians soon able to move to Britain, you'd have thought the impact of free movement across the EU on the sustainability of our welfare system merited further questions.

The BBC did not seem to think so.

For years, official opinion in this country – on immigration, the EU and much else – has been formed this way. Lazy, Lefty analysis, with the same tiny pool of "experts", recycling the same identikit opinions. Thankfully the internet has begun to democratise comment and opinion forming. We can at last start to see how awful and out of touch the opinion forming classes can be.

A final thought. If we had state regulation of the press, the BBC would be free to carry on recycling its establishment clichés. But newspapers would find themselves having to answer to the same sort of grandees that preside over the BBC. Is that really what we want to see?

17 OCT 2013

The Blairite-era of principle free politics is over

How different politics was in the 1990s.

Remember Bill Clinton in America, feelin' folks' pain? Politicians – like young Tony Blair – were learning to triangulate, positioning themselves oh-so-reasonably between two competing points of view.

Another US import, the "spin doctor", was busy rationing MPs' access to the broadcast media, making sure those that got air time were always on message.

Principles seemed fuddy duddy. Philosophical baggage more of an encumbrance than a guide. Political conviction came to mean a prison sentence, rather than a honestly held set of beliefs.

How phoney that all seems today.

With Twitter and blogs, party spin doctors can no longer control who says what and when. The media grid has become a news stream. MPs who send out identikit tweets look daft.  Authenticity, not message control, is king.

Voters have rumbled triangulation. They might not use SW1 terminology the describe it, but they can sense when a politician is trying to have it both ways.

So some politicians have stopped trying to have it both ways.

Boris Johnson – who has the biggest direct mandate of any politician in the country – has made a career out of saying what he believes. Even if many folk might disagree with the specific positions he takes on issues – such as say an immigration amnesty, or banker bonuses – they vote for him because he says it as he sees it.

Ed Miliband has surprised many by breaking with the all-things-to-all-people approach of the Blairites. He has outlined an overtly Leftist agenda, with the Government controlling prices and expropriating land for development.

Perhaps those of us who believe in capitalism, and the superior morality of the free market, need to frame the debate on first principles, too? No more word play. No more on-the-one-hand-on-the-other.

Whether it's the looming energy crisis or the unfinished business of bank reform, it is a free market philosophy that will see us through. It won't only tell us the correct thing to do, first principle will make us plausible in an age where few seem to trust anything politicians say.

Having a political philosophy was once something that your political opponents accused you of having. Without one, it is they who will end up going around in circles.

This blog appeared first on the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly. 

16 OCT 2013

The bloated, Brownian state is doomed. New Conservatives need to work out what comes next ....

It is a strange sort of fiscal conservatism that spends £100 billion more each year than it takes in tax.

For all George Osborne's rhetoric about being a fiscal conservative, we are, in all but name, living through the largest Keynesian spending stimulus in post-war history.

On current trends, government in Britain in 2018 will be much the same size it was in 2004. As a percentage of GDP, the state is far larger today that it was for most of Gordon Brown's time as Chancellor.

Will any of this change?

On the face of it, no. Current tax and spend trajectories suggest we are lumbered with a bloated Brownian state for the foreseeable future. Big government, slow growth, national decline.

To change would require an alternative vision, and the Conservative leadership shows no signs of even thinking in such terms.

Just as the Conservative leadership in the early noughties managed to convince itself that we should be in the business of "sharing the proceeds of growth", today it has talked itself into the idea of austerity without actually reducing the size of government.

If we now recognise that Gordon Brown recklessly expanded the size of the state, why are we so timid about reducing it?

Because front-bench thinking about fiscal policy owes little to conservative ideas, and a great deal to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).

In opposition, presentations by the IFS to backbenchers were used to ward off demands for tax cuts. It was IFS-shaped assumptions that convinced the leadership to tag along with Gordon Brown's unsustainable tax and spend plans.

The relationship between the IFS technocrats and the Tory hierarchy has been so close that the then head of the IFS went off to head up the new Office of Budget Irresponsibility – a quango that seems rather relaxed about the doubling of the national debt.

But fiscal technocrats are not necessarily fiscal conservatives. For all their mathematical wizardry, they hold a series of assumptions about the role and size of the state that are just that. Assumptions. Assumptions, I would suggest, that are commonly found in publicly funded bodies.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies is to this government what the Central Policy Review Staff was to Ted Heath's. Their advice is, in my view, neither neutral nor objective, but defensive of a failed status quo.

The bond market will one day see what the IFS and the Westminster gang cannot; government has grown too big.

An army of officialdom is living off an overburdened productive base. Cheap credit is being used to mask a declining competitive position. Today's "Buy to Let" boom is a tragic re-run of the Heathites' Barber boom.

Greece was the first Western country to discover that you cannot keep running up debts to pay for a lifestyle you do not earn. She will not be the last. Sooner or later a Chancellor will wake up one morning to discover that he or she simply cannot borrow the way they expected. No report by the IFS will be able to change that.

Just like in the late Seventies, we are going to need a whole new way of thinking about the economy, after we have exhausted all the tried-and-failed Whitehall ways of trying to fix things.

Large swathes of officialdom will have to go. Do we really need all those Whitehall departments? Why do we have rules and regulators for quite so many things?

The challenge for new generation Conservatives is to begin to draw up that alternative agenda now. It is going to be needed.

14 OCT 2013

Tory modernisation has barely begun

How on earth did the Conservative leadership manage to end up being on the side of state regulation of the press?

Much the same way it once ended up advocating a prices and incomes policy in the 1970s. Or membership of the ERM in the 1980s.

If you don't believe in something, the danger is you'll end up backing anything.

If there's a great, big muddled mess where your political beliefs ought to be, you get buffeted by events into adopting all kinds of wrong-headed positions. Into the vacuum come all the faddish thoughts and voguish assumptions of the age. (How is that Downing Street Nudge Unit coming along, by the way?)

On many of the big macro issues of the day – press regulation, energy or monetary policy, Britain's EU membership, the Lobbying Bill – the Tory party leadership has simply got it wrong.

Like Ted Heath's government, this administration came to office promising something different. Remember that excited talk about the Big Society? A government for the post-bureaucratic age? How they fizzed and sizzled with fresh thoughts – like Heath at Selsdon.

But like Heath in office, this administration has ended up giving a second lease of life to many of the administrative classes' washed up ideas and assumptions of the past few decades.

Energy policy, for example, is built on the idea of renewable targets. So an administration committed to helping with the cost of living can do little to prevent energy bills rising.

Ideas about how to regulate the press or lobbying are based on a series of assumptions about what the state can regulate in the age of the internet. So ministers bring forward measures that will attempt to draw bloggers and facebook campaign groups into the ambit of compliance.

Monetary policy remains rooted in the notion that we can grow prosperous by spending money we do not have ("Need to raise demand, Carswell, you thicko!"). So we replicate with monetary stimulus the kind of "Barber boom" that the Heath government engineered through fiscal stimulus.

On Europe, we offer an In/Out referendum – great. Yet we do so from the position that our EU membership is there to be defended – something that looks less and less tenable with every set of trade figures.

Just like in the 1970s, Britain today is confronted by enormous challenges. And just like the 1970s, I fear a mood of despondency – a sense of national failure – is beginning to take hold across the country.

To lift Britain up, we need bold new ideas. We need to offer the electorate a government that recognises that human social and economic affairs are not best arranged by grand design – no matter how clever or well meaning the designers.

We need a new generation Conservatism, one which is properly free market, not corporatist. Optimistic, not pessimistic. Technophile, not fuddy-duddy. A Conservative movement, not simply a party run from SW1.

As the party's response to press regulation shows, real Tory modernisation has barely even begun.

09 OCT 2013

Analogue regulation in the digital age

Yesterday the Government announced its plans to introduce a system of state press regulation. Today, the Lobbying Bill continues its sorry passage through the House of Commons.

Other than their capacity to make me deeply depressed, what else do these two idiotic proposals have in common?

They are both the product of the same kind of muddled thinking.

The Lobbying Bill seeks to regulate not only the political activities of established trade unions. Almost any campaign group – indeed, a village preservation society – will find itself required to comply before expressing entirely legitimate political opinions. The sort of local pressure groups that are starting to spring up on Facebook all the time will be drawn into the ambit of state regulation.

At the precise moment that the internet democratises communication and opens political campaigning up to everyone, along comes a new law that will try to subject all political activism to a system of state compliance. While the boundaries between formal and informal political players are being blurred, incredulously a minister justified this Bill by telling me that politics is properly the preserve of the established political parties.

This is not going to work. Whoever thought it might work simply does not recognise the way that the digital revolution is changing the world around us.

The same is true with press regulation. The Government looks like it is about to subject what newspapers write to a regulatory body. I grew up in Idi Amin's Uganda – and this is the sort of thing they did there. It appals and shames me to think that a supposedly centre-Right government might even contemplate such nonsense here. What kind of Mickey Mouse country, run by what sort of tinpot politicians, have we become?

But the thing about tin-pot politicians is that they don't think things through. In the age of the internet, you cannot regulate comment and opinion this way.

We might each be accountable for what we tweet in a court of law. But no government quango could possibly licence every tweeter. Just as the internet democratises campaigning and political communication, rendering top down regulation unworkable, it democratises comment and news reporting, too.

The press regulator can no more regulate every blogger than the Lobbying Bill can impose compliance of every Facebook group.

In 2004, for the first time, most cash payments in Britain were made digitally, rather than using coins and notes. Similarly, it is only a matter of time before most ''newspapers'' are read online. If the Government's regulatory regime ends up regulating the printed word, rather than the pixel word, it will merely accelerate the switch to online news consumption. If it tries to regulate some online news providers but not others, it will merely hand the advantage to the unregulated.

The digital revolution is democratising the business of aggregating votes and opinion. Yet here is a Government that chooses this moment to impose a system of top-down regulation on both. They don't get it, do they?

What I find most depressing is that an administration that once saw itself as über-modern, digital and cool turns out to be doing things that are pre-modern and daft.

08 OCT 2013

US default? It is going to happen

Will Congress blink first? Or will they hold out against Presidential demands to increase the federal government's overdraft facility? If so, does holding down the US debt limit mean that the US government defaults on its debts?

We cannot be sure how the political wrangling in Washington will play out. But what we do know is that the laws of mathematics – unlike those made by Congress – are universal and unyielding. Sooner or later, suggest the laws of maths, the US government is going to default on its debts.

For a generation or so, the American government has been living far beyond its tax base, with deficits since 1970 in all but four years. In 2010, it spent $1,900 billion more than it collected in tax – borrowing more than the entire GDP of Canada or India just to pay the bills.

If the federal deficit has come down since then, total public debt is now well over 100 per cent of GDP, compared to less than 60 per cent in the early noughties.

To put those large numbers in context, the average American earns over $70,000 a year. Against that, every American is liable for $131,368 of public debt, plus a further $1,031,131 to pay for all those unfunded promises their government has made. And that is before ObamaCare. Total debt payment on all American debt will be $50,000 per family by 2015.

Is it manageable? Perhaps. Maybe. Just about.

Now imagine that interest rates return even half way towards their post-war historic average? Wipe out. The barely manageable will become completely unmanageable.

Something is going to give. And I don't mean in a philanthropic sort of way.

It's not simply the US in a precarious position, either. Throughout the West, officialdom has lived beyond the means of the citizenry to pay for it. "We have" in the words of the former deputy Prime Minister of Greece, Theodoros Pangalos "been spending the future for half a century."

While the US government has $16 trillion of debts, the Japanese have run up $14 trillion, the UK $2 trillion and the Eurozone countries $12 trillion. Unlike the US, which has retained an extraordinary capacity to innovate, neither the Japanese, nor the Europeans are likely to achieve the sort of growth required to recover.

Greece might have been the first Western country to discover that you cannot keep running up debts to pay for a lifestyle you do not earn. She will not be the last. The laws of mathematics are universal. Government – regardless of political sentiment or who wins elections – is going to get a lot smaller.

If you want know what the future of UK politics is going to look like, don't just keep an eye the latest opinion polls. Watch out for those Japanese, UK and US ten year bond yields, too.

07 OCT 2013

The reshuffle tells us how diminished democracy has become

Will Biffy get Squiffy's job? Does the promotion of Wiffy mean that it is looking iffy for Piffy?

The political lobby is in full flow, carefully assessing the latest reshuffle – and what this round of ministerial snakes and ladders it means for the way we are governed. Beyond that, few will see in it any wider significance.

Yet today's reshuffle tells us a great deal about the way that our country is run.

The story today will be illustrated with images of various MPs get summoned to 10 Downing Street to be made a minister. But for 217 years, if a backbench MP was invited by the Prime Minister to join his government, it did not end there.

From 1701 until 1918, instead of skipping off to their new department with a grin, the lucky MP had to resign their seat, win a by election – and only then take up their office.

Why? Because an MP joining the government was deemed to be changing sides. Having been elected as a Member of Parliament – and thus to hold ministers to account - they needed to get their constituents permission before they themselves went and became one.

It was, if you like, the ultimate confirmation hearing. A glorious English expression of the separation of powers.

Naturally, it was a nuisance for the executive, so they quietly dropped it.

Today we will also be told that several ministers will get beefed up portfolios. Smith will be given extra responsibility for widgets, and Jones will have to cope with the loss.

But on whose say so? Whichever gang is currently sitting on the Downing Street sofas.

Until the 1975 Ministers of the Crown Act, it was not up to any clique in Downing Street to decide what areas of public policy a minister was responsible for. That decision rested with those elected by the public. Only the House of Commons was able to determine areas of ministerial responsibility.

What today's reshuffle really tells us is how diminished the House of Commons has become. Far from those we elect deciding how the country is run, many of them today are clutching their mobile phones, desperately hoping that they will be allowed to pretend to run a little slice of the Whitehall machine.

Thus are we now governed.

02 OCT 2013

Local GPs need to be open for longer

Imagine if all the shops shut at 5pm. What if you could only access your bank details, or book a holiday, by visiting a building in the high street? And then when you got there, had to join a lengthy queue?

Those of us born before 1990 don't have to imagine it. It was the way things were.

Over the past couple of decades, there has been a customer service revolution – much of it made possible by the internet.

Banks are not just open on Saturdays, but for online customers they're open all the time. Tesco isn't only open round the clock, they'll deliver stuff to your door at a time that suits you.

So how come, my constituents wonder, you can't get to see a GP on a Saturday? Why, if you phone for an appointment, does it take ages to get through to a switch board that seems reluctant to take your call? And if your local surgery can't see you, how come there's not an automatic online system to refer you to one that can?

In the eight years that I've been an MP, I've noticed a subtle, but important, shift in public attitudes: the deference has gone. When it comes to health care, folk are no longer prepared to meekly stand in line and wait. They want the same customer service when they need medical attention that they take for granted in every other aspect of their lives.

This is why I think the Government's pilot scheme to have GP surgeries open seven days a week, and in the evenings, is wonderful.

Of course, GPs need to be given the incentives to provide the extra cover. In my own part of Essex, I know several GPs who would like nothing better than to be open until 8pm.

Inflexible top-down contracts, which do nothing to enhance patient power, have been hindering primary care for too long. The Government needs to think again.

It is great news that the Government has started to do so, and is to pilot a new scheme to enable surgeries to be open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week. I will be writing to Jeremy Hunt, the health minister behind this idea, to try to make sure that that it includes GPs in my part of Essex.

The days of stand-in-line-and-wait are coming to an end!

01 OCT 2013

UKIP and the Conservatives can work together

Political pundits, in my experience, are usually about six months behind the curve. And when they finally wake up to something, they often get it wrong.

Take the rise of Ukip as an example. For ages, the commentariat agreed that Ukip would never get anywhere. "A protest party", they scoffed.

Then, once Ukip started to outpoll the Lib Dems, our expert political pundits said it wouldn't last.

Having woken up to Ukip, many Westminster opinion formers have discovered that they are experts on what the mainstream parties should do about it. "Action on immigration", say some. "Lurch to the centre", urge others.

Once again, wrong-headed people in SW1, many of whom have scarcely even met a swing voter, are drawing the same sort of wrong-headed conclusions.

The danger for the Conservatives is no longer simply that "the Right" vote splits. It goes beyond that. Our response therefore needs to be based on something more substantial, too. "Dog whistle politics", designed purely to bring former supporters back into the fold, will not do. 

In many seats, there has traditionally been a sizeable minority Liberal vote. Never particularly Left-wing, or even centrist, this minority Liberal vote has had remarkably little in common with the Lib Dem party in Westminster. Think of it instead as the plague-on-all-your-houses vote.

If Left-wing Lib Dems have switched to Red Ed Miliband, the plague-on-all-your-houses Lib Dem vote seems to be going to Ukip.

"Don't be daft, Carswell!" I can hear the pundits scoff. "Lib Dems are pro-European. They'd never switch to Farage and co".

Lib Dems might be like that in SW1. But not outside the SW1 bubble. In the real world, I know of former Lib Dem councillors standing as Ukip candidates.

What should the Conservatives do about it? I am strongly in favour of Ukip and Conservatives working together where they share the same vision of an independent Britain. If we want to beat the Left, there has to be a coming together of the centre-Right.

To make that happen, however, the Conservative party is going to have to change. Real modernisation means that we need to stop acting and behaving like a party of the establishment – defenders of an inept Whitehall way of running the country. We must instead become an insurgent force, campaigning not just to get us out of the EU, but to end the crony corporatism suffocating our country.

Britain is being held back by vested interests. It is not the National Union of Miners that needs taking on, like in the 1970s, but the National Union of Mandarins. And rent seeking corporations that harvest subsidies. And central bankers whose monopoly control over monetary policy is turning our currency into monopoly money. And certain public sector producers who never seem accountable to the public.

A new model Conservative party must be prepared to take on vested interests with the same determination Mrs Thatcher once possessed. Do that, and it won't just be the right that we unite behind us. There is a huge majority wanting real change.

25 SEP 2013

Ed Miliband is economically illiterate

"The next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017," Ed Miliband told the Labour conference. "Your bills will not rise."

Who knew it was so easy? And why stop there? Why not pass a law to freeze the price of everything?

Someone with even the most basic understanding of market economics ought to know that if you artificially hold down the price of something, you will get less of it.

Why? Because price is what determines how much of something a producer supplies.

When the price of something – be it energy, credit, coffee or cabbages – is high, there's a real incentive for those who produce those things to produce more of them. Hold the price down artificially, and there will be less. Perhaps even a shortage.

But, insist Labour, energy is different. The market is distorted. Energy companies, Ed tells us, are "overcharging".

Indeed, they are. The energy market is distorted. So much so that high energy prices are undermining our economic standing and driving up fuel poverty.

But who do you think made things that way? One Ed Miliband, former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

It was on his watch that energy producers were required to meet "renewable targets" and build lots of wind mills. And because wind mills have not been an economically competitive way of producing energy since the industrial revolution began, someone somewhere had to pay for it all.

Thanks almost entirely to Red Ed the energy minister, household energy bills were increased to subsidise the cost of all that "green energy".

Energy companies, Miliband now informs us, have a "vested interest" in keeping markets uncompetitive. Indeed. Almost as much of a vested interest as energy and climate change ministers wanting to pepper the landscape with subsidy harvesting wind farms.

Thanks to Ed the energy minister, energy companies no longer prosper by competing to supply happy punters with the cheapest energy available. Instead, they produce in compliance with what Ofgem and officialdom allow. Of course customers now get a bum deal.

The best way to drive energy prices down is not by statute, but through shale gas.

Right now, there are billions of cubic feet of natural energy sitting in the ground beneath our feet. If we were to allow free enterprise to unleash it, we might start to see the sort of low energy prices they now have in the United States.

But of course, in the very same speech, Ed promised to "take all of the carbon out of our energy by 2030". The only way to do that would be to ensure we don't produce much energy at all.

With economically illiterate Ed Miliband in charge, I fear we'd become a low carbon economy/low energy economy much the way we were in pre-industrial times.

23 SEP 2013

Zac in Essex

What are you doing on Thursday 10th October in the evening?

If you live in my part of Essex, why not come to supper in the local public hall and listen to Zac Goldsmith?

Zac Goldsmith will be speaking about the need to "Wake up Westminster". He will be outlining his ideas about democratic renewal, and what we need to do to achieve real change.

He will also be able to give an update on the campaign for an In/Out EU referendum....

Do please come along.  Tickets cost £10 – or £5 if you are under 21. Email me at douglas at douglascarswell dot com if you can make it, and I will send you details.

(Ps. We won't be doing any of that tedious party politics stuff. No black tie. No uniform opinions.  Just come as you are. It will be lots of fun and all about the things that matter to local people)

18 SEP 2013

Conservative party membership should be growing. Here's how

It has never been easier to build a mass membership movement. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, it has never been simpler to bring like-minded folk together. In the age of email, it has never been more straight forward to communicate with them and to mobilise them.

Yet party membership is dying. Why?

Political parties have simply not learnt how to use the digital tools at their disposal.

An averagely competent MP should not only be on Twitter. They could quite easily have a couple of thousand local followers. They ought to have a similar size number of constituency friends on Facebook, and say four to five thousand political email contacts. Allowing for duplicates, that means each individual MP should have say 6,000 digital contacts in their constituency.

Imagine if each MP was able to convert one in twenty of their digital followers into a local party member? That would increase the average local association membership by 300 people. Impossible? We are well on our way to achieving this in my Clacton constituency.

Better still, what if the party created a new category of membership – iMembership – specifically designed to ease the conversion of Twitter and Facebook followers into party members?

If you could join online for £1 a year at the click of a mouse, instead of signing up one in twenty digital followers, what if you managed to sign up one in ten instead? That would mean 600 new members. Given that the average association membership today is 200 members, this could transform the party.

Today Grant Shapps has taken the bold decision to publish Conservative membership data. Inevitably this will lead to lots of stories about how party membership has halved in five years.

But the real significance of today's announcement is that he is going to break the figures down by association. This is going to create what management consultants call "systems competition" between different associations. Best practice won't need to be spread – it will spread itself. Which might just start to reverse years of decline.

There is nothing inevitable about falling party membership. We just need to change the party.

18 SEP 2013

While Daniel Pelka was starved and beaten, bureaucrats ticked boxes

In the last six months of his life, four year old Daniel Pelka was seriously underfed. Visibly malnourished, he constantly tried to take food from his classmates' lunch boxes.

But here's the really shocking thing. Daniel spent those final, hungry six months of his life at a school.

It was in the classroom that his teachers observed "Daniel's continued obsession with food". It was they who noted how the thin four year old was "always focussed on eating whatever he could obtain".

It was the deputy head no less who noted Daniel was not growing.

It gets worse. He showed up at school with injuries. Not once. Not twice. But repeatedly.

That's right. A starving child was recognised to be constantly hungry and not growing. And injured. Yet none of the adults aware of this seemed able to act decisively. Why?

Reading the serious case review – itself a masterpiece of officialese and obfuscation – it seems there was a culture of compliance, not common sense.

Shortly after Daniel had been reduced to digging up and eating the beans his class mates had planted, what did the Education Welfare Officer decided to do? Complete a Common Assessment Framework.

The boxes were ticked. Training was complied with. Meetings were held. Meanwhile a little boy went hungry and his injuries grew worse.

Officialdom's culture of compliance produced only inertia and incompetence. This should make us alarmed and very, very angry.

16 SEP 2013

Wind farms aren't progressive. They're parasitical

Opponents of wind farms are, says Lib Dem energy minister Ed Davey, living in "the stone age".

In know it is Lib Dem conference season – and so Mr D and co are therefore looking for something to say – but this is daft. It is not the opponents of wind farms that are backward looking and atavistic, but those who champion them.

It is difficult to think of a more medieval technology than wind mills. They were cutting edge when Henry II was king and Richard the Lionheart was launching crusades. The first certain reference to a wind mill in Europe dates from 1185AD Yorkshire.

Of course, the climate was warmer back then, as even the UN's International Panel on Climate Change now accepts. Perhaps Ed Davey might try to tell us that's why our medieval forebearers went for wind?

If Davey was capable of original thought, as opposed to recycling all the cliched ideas in his department, he might ask himself some searching questions: Why, if human industrial activity is warming the world, was pre-industrial Europe in the Middle ages warmer than it is today – with or without wind mills? Why, if carbon dioxide emissions are warming the world, has there been no statistically significant global increase in temperatures since 1997?

Of course, it is not the technology of wind turbines I object to. Nor even really the look of them. It's the subsidy I can't stomach.

Wind turbines are a costly means of producing electricity, but a wonderful way of generating a cash income from subsidy. Even if we accept the most optimistic projections, few if any of the wind farms would have been built by private investors – without a massive subsidy. The subsidy is, of course, paid through higher household bills – and more energy poverty.

Unlike solar, which, thanks to innovation, will soon be cost effective, wind farms look like they be harvesting subsidies for a generation to come. Far from progressive, they seem to be about rent seeking. And what could be more atavistic than that?

Through every age, a tiny parasitical elite seeks to game the system to transfer wealth from the many to the few. The more I think about it, the more the renewable energy scam seems just a contemporary manifestation of this ancient, hideous idea.

12 SEP 2013

Royal Mail privatisation - why the government is actually right

How many letters did you get last week? I bet you received fewer than you would have done five years ago.

Why? Like it or not, we are choosing to email each other when previously we'd have written. Even the number of bills and bank statements sent through the post is falling, as people do more business online.

Since 2006 – around about the time we started to get broadband – the number of letters we send has fallen by 30 per cent. It was down 8 per cent last year alone.

But it's not all doom and gloom.

If online means fewer letters, it has caused a massive increase in the number of small parcels we send one another. Think of all those Amazon and eBay purchases needing to be delivered each day.

The problem for Royal Mail is that their business model needs to adapt to these changes. Letter-sorting might be much more automated, but they are still sorting parcels much the way that the Victorians did. They need more high-tech sorting kit to deal with parcels, the way that UPS and DHL do.

Royal Mail also needs to be much more customer-focused, with fewer lengthy waits in collection depots. And a way of ensuring that the customer isn't made to feel bad when they finally get to the head of the queue because they failed to bring enough utility bills to prove who they are.

Adapting Royal Mail means spending money. The question is whose money? Money from the taxpayer or from private investors?

We were wrong to bail out the banks with taxpayers' money – and some of us said so at the time. It would be similarly wrong to put taxpayers' money into Royal Mail.

Why should older folk in my constituency, struggling to make ends meet, be forced to pay higher taxes when there are private investors willing to spend their own money on upgrading Royal Mail?

"It's a public service," shriek the unions.

Of course the unions oppose the move. It's what unions do. But if we ran telephones as a public service, I suspect we'd have waiting lists for mobile phones, and weekly text rations. "You need to book three days in advance for a Skype call, sir."

What is virtuous about taking money off the taxpayer to upgrade Royal Mail when there are people perfectly willing to put their own money into it?

"But they'll insist on owning the business – and taking a profit," shriek the Lefties.

At least there would be a profit. Under the proposals, those that work for Royal Mail would be able to buy a share of it, like John Lewis does.

If government invested money in Royal Mail, they too would insist on owning it – but we just wouldn't ever see anything in return.

Who, ultimately, would be the more careful owner? A Whitehall-based organisation that has failed to balance even its own budget for a generation? Or the sort of entrepreneurs that have given us DHL and Amazon?

Goodness knows I have voted against the Government on all manner of things. But on this they are doing exactly the right thing – and they deserve our full backing.

11 SEP 2013

Europe was the future. Once

Like digital watches, the Sinclair C5 or Concorde, membership of the EU was supposed to be the future. Being part of the "Common Market" would be good for the economy, they assured us. Yes, we might lose a teeny weeny bit of self-government, but we would be part of a prosperous whole.

Who still believes that?

It is not just the euro crisis. When we joined the Euro system in 1973, it accounted for 36 percent of world output. Today it is down to 25 percent. In a decade it will be below 15 percent.

Since the financial crisis began, output in China has increased 126 percent, in India by 90 percent and Brazil by 37 percent. The only economic indices in Europe to grow like that are those that measure debt and unemployment.

"But trade with the EU remains vital," the mandarin class in Whitehall insist.

I agree. Europe might no longer be the major market for us, but it remains important. All the more reason for the Sir Humphreys to show a little verve and imagination and negotiate a free trade deal for us outside the EU. Switzerland manages to do four and a half times more trade per head with the EU from outside than we manage from within.

"But the EU would discriminate against us if we leave!" shriek the lobbyists.

Balls. Most trade would still be covered by World Trade Organisation rules. More to the point, Britain runs a large trade deficit with the EU. The EU can hardly afford to restrict trade with us when it is the main beneficiary.

For years, we Eurosceptics have been branded xenophobes. Nonsense. What we are against is the idea that the lives of millions of people throughout Europe can best we organised by grand design. We are sceptical of the idea that in geo politics big is beautiful.

If being big made countries rich, why is Hong Kong richer than China? Singapore more prosperous that Indonesia? Switzerland better off than the EU?

If big was beautiful, the euro would have created prosperity. Instead it has consigned millions to a life of poverty and debt. Far from promoting economic activity, Europe's single market has become a pretext of regulation and corporatist controls. Which is why more and more of the world's economic activity is happening outside it.

Commercial advantage inside the single market is not gained by competing for contented customers, but through political graft in Brussels. Which is why lobbying is one of Europe's major growth industries.

Europe is more than Jean Monnet's harebrained scheme from the 1950s – an era when we thought tower blocks enhanced the urban landscape, and smoking was good for you.

It is time for Britain to become an independent nation once again – trading with Europe and the world, but governing ourselves.

09 SEP 2013

Beware the Barber boom

By mid-1972, Anthony Barber, the Chancellor, was able to claim that things were back on track.

The economy had turned a corner, with GDP rising by 2.6 per cent in the third quarter of that year, and a stonking 5.2 per cent in the second quarter of 1973.

Barber did pretty much precisely what Ed Balls has spent the past few years saying we should do. He used fiscal stimulus to generate lots of extra economic activity. Only to discover that fiscal stimulus cannot possibly generate sustainable growth.

Once the fiscal stimulus stopped, as it had to, the candyfloss growth simply melted away.

Fortunately it looks as if the Barber-Balls approach has been discredited yet again – without us having to live through a practical demonstration of why fiscal stimulus does not work.

But what about the Government's monetary stimulus approach?

Rather than using tax-and-spend decisions to stimulate additional economic output, the Government has been using monetary policy instead. Interest rates – the price of credit – have been kept low. The Bank of England's print-money-and-pray approach has been used to encourage us to buy, borrow and build more.

But is the growth – 0.7 per cent thus far – this approach has generated going to prove sustainable? Or like in the early 1970s, will we discover that monetary stimulus, like fiscal stimulus, does not work?

I suspect that we are about to see a bit of a boom. With the government underwriting £20 billion of new housing debt and with so much easy money, it is hard to see how there won't be. But can it last? Or will it be like the Barber boom all over again?

So far, much of the growth that we have seen has been driven by consumption and debt, rather than exports. While there has been some improvement in exports, given the extent to which Sterling has fallen over the past five years, it would be remarkable if exports had not performed better.

In the 1970s, we eventually came to the conclusion that it is not stimulus economics, but supply-side reform, that we needed to get the economy growing. Government had to stop trying to trigger growth, and remove the obstacles to wealth creation instead. I suspect the same remains true today.

05 SEP 2013

Wake up Westminster

Parliament has woken up. Or more accurately, after the Syria vote, pundits have begun to wake up to the fact that the House of Commons has started to hold the executive to account.

Those of us who have long urged Parliament to get off its knees are no longer so easily dismissed as simply "Right-wing" – or, my favourite, "irreconcilable".

Almost precisely a year before the Syria vote, my book The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy suggested that Parliament was about to "grow some fangs". Why?

"The internet means politicians are under the microscope as never before" I wrote. "Hyper-accountability" was the term I used to try to encapsulate what the internet meant for MPs. They "cannot hide behind generic messages as they used to. They are held directly accountable by the folk back home" ... and "the folk out there beyond Westminster are now just a mouse-click away ... and they want more than the generic party line".

The digital revolution does not only mean Parliament becoming more outwardly accountable to the people. Government is going to have to become more accountable to Parliament.

It was striking last week how dismissive MPs were about the evidence from the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). Clearly the current system of accountability to Parliament – via the good old boy system or through ministers – does not work. Quite simply, those we elect do not seem to have much confidence in it – or in the self-serving mandarinate that really runs the country.

It is not only the way we scrutinise JIC that is going to have to change. I suspect many MPs have about as much confidence in the system of holding entire government departments to account as they do in JIC. They have seen too many ministers run by departments rather than running their departments.

But how to make Whitehall answer to the Commons?

In my book, I predict that we are heading towards Parliamentary confirmation hearings for the Sir Humphreys before they bounce from one role to the next.

The Commons is going to have to have proper oversight of government spending – something it has not really had since the 1930s. Perhaps with annualised budget hearings before each select committee.

Today Whitehall regards what happens in Westminster with disdain – if at all. The real business of government happens in Whitehall departments and agencies, and ministers are expected to simply toady the civil service line. This will not do much longer, and those in Downing Street wondering what hit them last week would do well to recognise it.

A hundred years ago, if a backbench MP was invited to become a minister, they had to resign their seat – and fight a by-election. Why? It was the ultimate confirmation hearing. Elected first to represent local people against the executive, they needed permission from local people before changing sides and joining the executive.

The 20th century saw a once vigorous Parliamentary system, that was extremely effective at holding the government to account slowly rendered pretty useless. The internet is breathing new life into politics – but it is a very different system of iDemocracy that is being born.

04 SEP 2013

Save the campaign to save the Royal Mail?

I've a bit of a soft spot for postal workers. They cheerfully deliver letters whatever the weather. They work hard, putting in long shifts and sometimes anti-social hours.

In some parts of my Essex constituency, postmen and women help keep an eye out for older folk, and even help with occasional errands.

So when I started to get lots of postcards objecting to government proposals to privatise Royal Mail, I took it very seriously.

I looked into it what was being proposed in detail. I pondered what the minister had to say, and listened carefully to those who objected. After thinking long and hard, I responded to each postcard explaining why I thought that in fact the government approach was right.

The service does need a large injection of new investment – and the Government simply does not have the money to do it. Whoever does have that kind of money is most likely going to want a stake in Royal Mail in return.

But it is what happened next that concerns me.

At first, some constituents got in touch, wanting to know why I had written to them about the Royal Mail. Perhaps, I wondered, they had simply forgotten? Curious.

Then a local carer for adults with learning difficulties got in touch. She thought it a cheek that I had written to people in her care, and when I explained, was adamant that no one in her care had written to their MP. Curiouser.

Then I got a letter from a widow, clearly upset, wanting to know why I had written to her husband, who had been dead for several months.

Someone might have been filling in postcards purporting to be from local residents, and sending them to their MP.

Was it just a one off? Or one person acting rogue? Perhaps. But here's the thing; not one of the 351 postcards I've had to date has a stamp on it.

Normally, if 351 local people were to write to me, but not use a stamp, their postcards wouldn't get through unless I coughed up for the unpaid postage. Not this time. Somehow these unstamped postcards are getting into the mail system without the normal rules being applied.

Could the people filling them in also be arranging for them to be delivered without stamps? I do not know.

What I do know is that it would be extraordinarily counter-productive if that was the case. Sending MPs bogus postcards, claiming to be from local people, will only upset local people. At the same time, it devalues the campaign.

It also shows extraordinary poor judgment about how to campaign in the internet era, where authenticity is everything – and where MPs sent bogus postcards can highlight the fact on blogs like this.

This article first appeared on the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly.

03 SEP 2013

The Lobbying Bill won't actually sort out lobbying

The internet has changed the way we buy books, music and newspapers.

Distribution has been democratised. Anyone can publish, or make their music recordings available to everyone else, or write a blog.

Boundaries have been blurred and the barriers to entry have come crashing down, allowing new businesses to take on the established players.

The web is having a similar impact on politics.

The costs of communicating have tumbled thanks to digital printing, email, YouTube and social media.

You no longer need to be a political party, with a press officer booking you a slot on the regional TV news, to get your message out there. You no longer need to be a political party to do politics.

Unfortunately those inside the Cabinet Office who drafted today's Lobbying Bill do not seem to understand any of this. They have produced a piece of legislation that swims against the technological tide.

The amount that non-party campaigners will be able to spend will be regulated. Worse, what they do with that money will be regulated too.

If they spend more than a certain amount in a constituency, they will also discover that they can only do so by getting behind one of the established political parties – and with that party's permission. The Bill specifically ensures that the campaign efforts of non-party players must be subsumed into the campaigns being run by established parties.

In so doing, this Bill enshrines in law the idea that politics is properly the preserve of parties. It is an appalling notion.

In a free society, if the Taxpayers Alliance or 38 Degrees want to urge people to "vote for Joe Bloggs" – as opposed to that awful Carswell – they should be able to so. Yet if this Bill becomes law, a campaign organisation will find that it is restricted in its ability to urge voters to vote for a particular candidate. "That" I was told "is the job of the parties".

Although the Bill brings in all the baggage of compliance for non-parties wanting to "promote" a particular candidate, it does not curtail the ability of a campaign group to trash a candidate. It could have almost been designed to encourage negative campaigning.

"But" I hear my Tory-minded readers say "what about Unison, Unite and all those trade unions? We need to curb their ability to campaign in swing seats".

Trade unions have taken an active role in democratic elections in this country for over a hundred years. Are we seriously suggesting that we should restrict their ability to do so in the future?

By all means let us pass laws to democratise the trade unions. We should not pass laws to bar trade unions from democracy.

Of course, the big trade unions with armies of compliance officers will find ways to ensure that they don't get caught up in all this. But what about a local campaign group, that springs up in a constituency on Facebook in the months before the next election? Are we seriously proposing to restrict their freedom to tell voters for whom they should vote, unless they are prepared to comply with this Bill's small print?

What I find offensive about this Bill is its patronising presumption that the voters need to be protected from having their opinion and judgment moulded by money.

What I find most absurd is that none of this actually tackles the problem of lobbying.

This article first appear on on the Telegraph, where Douglas writes regularly.

02 SEP 2013

Muddled thinking - and not just on Syria

Last week's dramatic events in Westminster reminded us that there are basically only two types of politician.

Those – the majority – who want to make sure that their idea of the "right" policy is implemented – on Syria, or the national curriculum, or interest rates. Of course, their idea of the "right" policy is not necessarily the same as everybody else's. So they argue and advocate and bicker and debate – and just occasionally, tilt public policy their way.

Then there are those who not only have ideas about what is right. They also seek to ensure that whoever makes policy will have to take their preferred approach.

Conservatism, it seems to me, is in a pickle because we have many of the former – the tacticians – and not enough of the latter – the strategists.

Consider for a moment the reaction of many of the pro-interventionists on the centre Right to the Commons decision against strikes on Syria. Some accepted it. Yet because the Commons voted the "wrong" way, many raged against the idea that the Commons should decide in the first place.

Doing what they knew to be "right" triumphed, in their minds, any greater consideration about how policy is made.

As such, they rather remind me of those on the Right who insist, for example, that we have to adopt a "proper" school curriculum. The correct way must be imposed in every classroom, they demand. They have no time for the suggestion that letting schools set their own curriculum might help us work out what that best way might be.

Echoing this approach, Tony Blair once said that he was going to focus "on standards, not structures". Perhaps the history of his tenure at Number 10 was his dawning discovery that you cannot, after all, deal with standards without changing structures (see academies for detail).

Such is the power of permanent officialdom, ministerial fiat alone cannot really give us different public policy outcomes. We need to change the relationship between the public and the policymakers to do that.

Yet contemporary conservatism does not seem to have grasped this. Tactical considerations – what should policy be – has triumphed any consideration of strategy – how to ensure those making policy always make the best choices.

Many of those urging us to do more to promote democratic values in the Middle East thus ended up raging against our elected Parliament have the final say. It never seems to have occurred to them that having a remote, unaccountable clique in Whitehall run foreign policy has given us precisely the kind of foreign policy that they ought to oppose.

And we wonder why conservatism, even when we win elections, is in retreat ...

31 AUG 2013

Syria and military action - what I said in Parliament

Douglas Carswell (Clacton)

The House has been recalled not to sanction military strikes in Syria, but to deplore the use of chemical weapons. I think we can all agree on that. I hope we can agree, too, that there must be a second vote in this House before any direct British
military response: no vote, no strike.

Certain of our traditionalists will no doubt delight in pointing out that under the rules of Crown prerogative, no Commons approval is actually technically required for a Prime Minister to take us to war, and historically they are correct, but Parliament is waking up and asserting itself. As the Prime Minister himself pointed out as Leader of the Opposition, the Crown prerogative, that constitutional quirk that has handed 10 Downing street the powers of a mediaeval monarch, needs changing. No Prime Minister should embark on a non-defensive war without the consent of this House. In recognising that, the Prime Minister has been wise, not weak.

Having a sovereign Parliament means that sometimes, yes, a Prime Minister will be told to pause and think again. Good. Democracy works.

Not unreasonably, the Leader of the Opposition, like most on the Government side of the House, would like to see more evidence—evidence from UN inspectors— before voting on military action. If the casus belli is the use of chemical weapons, let us be certain who used them. If the UN is going to help provide us with the evidence, though, we must not make the mistake of believing that the UN can confer legitimacy on military action. Legitimacy to go to war comes not from the UN, nor from international law or international lawyers, nor even from our own National Security Council. That sort of legitimacy comes only from below, not from above. It comes from the demos and those they elect. When the time comes for that second, crunch, vote, there can be no buck-passing, no deferring to a higher authority, no delegating. It will be our responsibility alone, and all the more weighty for that. If I am certain that this House needs the final say on our policy towards Syria, I am far less certain as to what that policy should be. There are, I think, no good outcomes.

Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex)

Has my hon. Friend just demonstrated the shortcomings of this system of decision making and giving executive decisions to a legislative body? That is contributing to the paralysis of our nation. If we do not trust our Prime Minister to take decisions of this nature, we should not have trusted him with the office of Prime Minister.

Douglas Carswell (Clacton)

If the alternative to rushing into a conflict that may have significant implications is that we pause, I would not describe that as paralysis but as good governance. It is vital to recognise that the Executive do not control the legislature; the legislature must control the Executive. Sending our young men and women to war is a decision of massive consequence, and it is right and proper that the House should exert its authority and give legitimacy to that decision. I understand and respect the case for intervention, and I think no one in this House or anywhere else is calling for a land invasion. What is envisaged is an aerial bombardment to punish and deter those behind the chemical weapons outrage.

Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar)

The hon. Gentleman says that the only thing envisaged is an aerial bombardment, but does he have any idea about the envisaged length of time of that bombardment?

Douglas Carswell (Clacton)

That comes to my next point—no, I do not. I am deeply unconvinced about what missile strikes and bombing will achieve or how long they will need to continue, and we have yet to hear how they might achieve their objective. Neither am I clear where British military involvement might end. Since the second world war, Britain has mostly fought what might be called wars of choice, but if we initiate hostilities in the eastern Mediterranean, will what follows continue to be fought on our terms and in the way we choose?

Ninety-nine years ago, almost to the day, the Austrian chiefs-of-staff launched a punitive attack on Serbia. It did not end there.

There are serious players in this fight with serious military kit lined up behind the different factions in Syria. Are we ready to deal with what they might do and how they might respond? I need to know before I vote for any strikes, and I think the good people of Essex would like us to know whether the Government know what they are doing before we vote to sanction such action.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have argued with great passion and determination that we in the west must take a stand for democratic values, and I agree. The Arab spring of 2011, like Europe's spring of 1848, saw the hopes of liberals and reformists raised. However, the autocrats fought back in Egypt and Syria as they once did in Italy, Paris, Poland and Austria. As we once did in the 19th century, so we must do again in the 21st century. We must promote the liberal and reformist cause, and the constitutionalist one where possible. As in the 19th century, where possible we must avoid war with the autocrats. 

Democracy and liberalism will one day seem as firmly rooted in the south and east of the Mediterranean as they do to the north, but if spreading democratic values is to be the cornerstone on which we are to build British foreign policy, let us do so consistently. We cannot act in defence of democratic values in Syria two months after we failed to speak out in defence of the democratically elected Government in Egypt. We cannot act when hundreds of civilians are murdered in Damascus, but continue to arm the Egyptian junta that slaughtered a thousand in Cairo. We cannot champion the right of self-determination in one part of the Arab world, yet ignore those who seek basic human rights in another, including the Gulf.

I am unconvinced that the Government's intended course of action in Syria is part of a coherent strategy, and I will not support military action until I am convinced that it is part of such a strategy. I am still undecided whether we should support the motion, oppose it, or abstain. I am fearful of being seen to back military action, I am unwilling to abstain, yet I find there is little in either the Government or the Opposition motion with which I can disagree.

27 AUG 2013

Military strike in Syria? You'll need Commons approval first, Prime Minister

Looking at many of today's newspapers, it seems that someone somewhere in Whitehall has decided on military strikes in Syria. Either that, or they still haven't quite mastered this media management thingy.

Missile strikes could be made within a matter of days, according to some briefings. Action is imminent, imply others.

Hold on a moment. The Whitehall securocrats might have decided on intervention, but what about the rest of us?

David Cameron tells us that he has spoken to Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Stephen Harper. Great. But what about speaking to those we elect in the House of Commons?

Action in Syria, we are also now told, could be made without reference to Parliament. Royal Prerogative – those powers of a medieval monarch that Downing Street has inherited – hands the final say to those sitting round the table at the National Security Council.

This cannot be right – and David Cameron knows that it is not right.

Back in February 2006, as the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron specifically said that there should be curbs on a Prime Minister's power to go to war. In order to help restore trust in politics, the BBC reported at the time, Mr Cameron wanted to ensure that "MPs, rather than the prime minister, had the final say over whether troops were committed to military action".

In his speech, Mr Cameron complained about how "we first heard about the government's decision to send 4,000 troops to Afghanistan in the pages of the Sun newspaper". Today, we are hearing about the Government's decision to get stuck into Syria in much the same way.

No doubt the comment thread below will now fill up with some folk who say "But we cannot allow tyrants to use chemical weapons with impunity". I don't disagree.

Others will point out that we have no business getting involved in a proxy war between Russia/Iran and the Saudis. And that we are militarily under-prepared and overstretched besides. Again, I don't disagree with any of that.

My point is that the place for those arguments is not just on on websites like this. It is in the House of Commons where the final decision must be made – and where I suspect many MPs, like me, are open-minded.

If the case for military involvement in Syria is as strong as those at the top of this Government seem to believe, they will have no difficulty in coming to the House of Commons and making their case.

This article first appeared on the Telegraph site, where Douglas blogs regularly.

22 AUG 2013

The BBC license fee is doomed

The Director General of the BBC, (Lord) Tony Hall, earns a reported £450,000 a year; or the equivalent of 3,103 license fees.

National Audit Office figures show that £25 million (172,413 license fees) has been used to pay off senior managers leaving the Beeb over the past three years.

Meanwhile, we now discover that more than one in ten court cases in the country are the result of people being prosecuted for not paying the license fee. Our courts, it seems, have become a tool used by the state-broadcaster to collect revenue. Public broadcasting that prosecutes the public.

"But the BBC fulfils a social role!" a Leftie told me on Twitter. Since when was prosecuting low-income households a useful social role? It is a disgrace.

Imagine, for a moment, the uproar there would be if Sky were to prosecute that many people for non-payment of Sky subscriptions? But then, of course, if folk cannot afford to pay Sky subs, they just don't pay. No one comes after them in a court.

So why not extend the same principle to the BBC? Make it a subscription service.

Lefties keep on telling us how popular the BBC is. The Corporation's output is, they say, second to none. In which case, the BBC would have no difficulty in persuading us to pay for its services. The BBC should generate revenue by persuading willing customers to pay for its output, just like any other media outlet.

Digital technology gives us almost unlimited choice over what we can watch and listen too. So why do we still fund the BBC using a mid-twentieth century TV poll tax?

This blog first appeared on the Telegraph, where Douglas writes three times a week. 

20 AUG 2013

Rich anti-shale protesters must not be allowed to increase fuel poverty

Why do some countries, at certain times in history, advance technologically, while others stagnate? Are they just lucky? Or smarter?

No. It's all about freedom - the ability to apply and benefit from the new way of doing things.It is not that people in stagnant societies don't have clever ideas. They're just not free to exploit them.

Ming China is perhaps the most tragic historical example of this. Despite coming up with printing, gunpowder, the compass, and a host of other innovations, it wasn't China that managed to really apply those new ideas. China might have had plenty of coal, yet no 19th-century industrial revolution took place there like it did in the West.

Why? In China, officialdom and obstructivism kept getting in the way. Edicts and decrees were drawn up micro managing things. A parasitical state meant that those who produced more ended up merely supplying more to sustain the state. China, once the world's great innovator, fell behind.

Europe, on the other hand, forged ahead. Why? Because, in politically fragmented Europe, officialdom could not keep getting in the way. Quack ideas that would have otherwise held back the advance of reason could not hold things up.

To be sure, in some European states, princes and parasites did stop innovation. But the ideas and innovators simply moved next door. Europe in aggregate advanced.

Tragically, it is no longer like that. Europe and the UK are proving to be hostile to innovation.

Imagine if at the dawn of the industrial revolution, water wheels had been banned? Or if the Luddities had got their way, and outlawed new spinning machines? What if coal mining had been outlawed because the new-fangled pit technology was not trusted? ("It contaminates ground water" perhaps some shrieked. "Causes earthquakes!" yelled others. Thankfully history does not record such voices, and they were not allowed to prevail).

We are in danger of doing something similar with shale gas today.

Just like with coal at the beginning of the industrial revolution, beneath our feet lie zillions of cubic feet of gas. A way of extracting it has been discovered which could unleash enormous productive potential.

So what do we do? Enterprises that seek to lawfully utilise the new technology are prevented from doing so by the new Luddites. The state stands by, regulating every aspect of the new technology, but doing little to guarantee the freedoms of the innovators.

Tim Yeo yesterday suggested that we are better at regulating shale gas here in Britain than they are in America. Indeed. Which is why right now we have no shale industry to speak of. In the US, meanwhile, where they are so "cavalier" about these things, shale gas revolution has cut energy costs dramatically, triggering a wider industrial revival.

It would be tragic if we let the looters and the moochers get in the way of shale gas technology.

19 AUG 2013

The Lobbying Bill is a dog's breakfast? At best

The Government's Lobbying Bill, according to the Commons reformer Graham Allen MP, is a "dog's breakfast".

He is wrong, of course. Far more thought has gone into pet nutrition than into this Bill.

Let's be clear about a couple of things: lobbying can be an entirely legitimate part of the democratic process. This week, I will be meeting with a group of lobbyists, as I make a point of doing every week. They are called constituents – and they approach me about every subject under the sun, from immigration, to knife crime in Clacton, to the problem of the neighbour's cat.

That said, there is – I believe – a problem with what you might call "problem lobbying". By which, I mean, big vested interests, on occasions, influencing public policy in a way that the public might not necessarily appreciate.

How might we ensure that the right sort of lobbying continues, but not the wrong sort?

Any attempt to distinguish between constituents lobbying their MP, and non constituents, would be absurd. Could I only speak to Tesco supermarket if the person wanting to talk to me worked in Clacton, not Colchester? Of course not. In the age of email, campaigns are commonly run from London, but made to appear as if they are coming from local residents. Thankfully the Bill does not attempt to draw such a distinction.

But what it does seek to do is require organisations whose main business is lobbying to register on a statutory register. Quite how being on a register will change things, the Bill does not really explain.

I suspect all that this new rule will do is ensure that in some instances big corporate interests will bring their lobbying activity back "in house". Instead of hiring a public affairs consultancy, the big defence, banking and energy interests will give the work to their public affairs department. And because their main business is defence, or banking, or energy, they can safely ignore those provisions of the Bill. D'oh!

Perhaps more worrisome is the suggestion that the Bill could curb the ability of charities and others to take part in election campaigns.

If 38 Degrees or the Taxpayers' Alliance want to get stuck in during an election campaign, why shouldn't they? What possible reason can there be to regulate the political engagement of institutions in a free society? If we Conservatives sometimes disapprove of the agenda of some of the big, corporate charities, quit giving them public money. Do not make them answer to an IPSA-type quango.

At the very moment that the internet disintermediates politics, making it no longer simply the preserve of formal party machines, along comes this Bill seeking to restrict non-party campaigning. Double d'oh!

My main concern, however, is what is not in this Bill.

Big corporate interests serious about changing public policy don't mainly focus on Parliament. They go up the road to Whitehall. It is there that the nexus of influence between big corporate interests and big government lies.

The Bill does little to change any of that, and fails to sort out the revolving door between big Whitehall departments and various vested interests. Who inputs directly into the civil servants as they draft policy and rules? Who has a quiet word with the new non-executives at the department? We do not know.

In a normal market, a company will spend their marketing budget seeking to persuade punters to purchase its products. Where the main customer is government, big business will spend that marketing budget trying to persuade government.

Lobbying ultimately happens because there is preferment to be found by chumming up to officials and politicians. The best way to cure that is not through any Bill, but by having less scope for preferment from officialdom. Less government, fewer rules, more procurement competition.

As PJ O'Rourke put it, "When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators."

This blog appeared first on the Telegraph.

14 AUG 2013

Egypt: Western policy is in a terrible muddle

It wasn't meant to be like this.  The Arab Spring - an authentic uprising against tyranny - was supposed to mean more political and economic freedom.

And in many parts of the Arab world it has.  But not, it seems, in today in Egypt.

Using their new-found freedom, a narrow majority of Egyptians elected the Muslim Brotherhood.  Inept, extreme and hopeless in office, the Brotherhood looked like they were in serious trouble - until the army ousted them last month.

Far from providing stability, like they promised, the Cairo junta is presiding over a descent into chaos.  Order and elections have been replaced by a state of emergency and blood shed.

This was not only predictable.  Some of us predicted it at the time.  Why, I wondered aloud, were Western governments so muted in their criticism of the overthrow of democracy?  Washington won't even describe the army takeover as a coup.       

US foreign policy under Obama does not seem to be defined by any certain principle or purpose.  Rather than stand resolute in defence of democracy, America - along with Britain and the EU - seem to be drifting.  The US State Department, to many on the streets of Cairo, appears to be in the business of backing tyrants.

The Brotherhood has long maintained that Western-style democracy is a sham - and then the ballot was annulled.  Everything that has happened on the streets of Cairo since, as I suggest in my piece in the Telegraph, has played straight in the radical Islamists hands.       

The pity of it all as we watch disaster fall ....

12 AUG 2013

BoJo got mojo

Today's quote of the day comes from Boris Johnson about Gibraltar:

"The problem in Spain today isn't the Treaty of Utrecht, it's the Treaty of Maastricht".

09 AUG 2013

We need a new model Conservative party

The digital revolution has given us email, twitter, desk top publishing, lower printing costs, cheap photos, easy-to-access databases and a remarkable ability to connect with like-minded people.  In other words, all the key ingredients you need to build up a mass membership organisation.

So why is the Conservative party membership in decline?  Bluntly, we've not yet started to use all the tools we have the way we need to.

Here in Clacton, we have spent two years trying to do things a bit differently.  We have used email, twitter and this blog site, to build a large online community.  We have then invited you - and other local readers - to come to Meet Ups in local village halls.

Membership has increased sharply as a result. We have more young people joining. We have used social media to reach out far beyond our base of support.

Having read that the average house has a dozen coffee mugs in it, I recently asked supporters if they would organise a Coffee Morning, and invite a dozen friends and neighbours along.  I have been overwhelmed with the response.

"But nothing beats knocking on doors" you say.  I agree.  None of this new techie approach is a substitute for what we already do.  But the online activity undoubtedly generates lots of extra offline activity.

In today's Telegraph post, I set out my five point proposal to rebuild the Conservative party.  It is great that the Conservative front bench has hired Barack Obama's techie expert, Jim Messina.  They might try looking at what we have been doing here in Clacton, too.   


25 JUL 2013

Quote of the Week

"I think Douglas Carswell is terrific. He is one of the best MPs in Parliament" - Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, Clacton Gazette, July 25th 2013.

That's my next leaflet sorted, then.

23 JUL 2013

Progress comes when the parasitical elite are reined in

Writing this on my laptop, it is easy to think of human history as a story of people discovering new technology and new ways of doing things.

Perhaps the really interesting question is not how humans progress, but why, for most of human history, there was no progress.  Why, until very recently, did most people live with the same know-how that their great great great great grandparents had?

And why, having painstakingly discovered new ways of doing things, did human societies often regress, swiftly and suddenly?

The key, I suspect, lies in not the discovery of new processes and invention, but rather in their application.  There have been bright sparks thinking bright thoughts in every society in history.  Only rarely is there a society that allows the application of invention.  Why?

For most of human history, most human societies were dominated by a parasitical elite that lived off the productive output of the rest.  Only very rarely, either be accident or design, did a few societies exist that reined in - sort of - the power of the parasites.

First in certain Greek city states, then in the early Roman republic, the parasites were held in check.  Once they were no longer restrained, the dark ages returned.

Then eventually Venice escaped the clutches of the Holy Roman Empire and Byzantium.  What had once been a mud bank, began to blossom.  Then a few city states.  Then the Dutch republic.  Then England, the United States, and then the wider West .... 

Each in turn rose to pre-eminence as they discovered the knack of reining in the parasites.  Each in turn began to lose their pre-eminence as power grew concentrated and corporate interests began to take over the body politic. 

21 JUL 2013

View from the veggie patch

What is green and sits in long rows?

No.  Not the House of Commons benches, but the potatoes growing in my veggie patch.

I've just pulled up the first of this year's potato crop.  Looking good.  In a hour or so, I'll know how they taste.

I have a feeling that in this part of Essex we could be heading for a bumper crop, not just for spuds, but looking at what I've seen on some local farms, fruit, too.

16 JUL 2013

How should we run the NHS? We need a new culture of patient power

"Don't play party politics with the NHS!" shouted a Labour MP during the Commons debate this afternoon.  In a rather partisan way.

Okay.  So how ought we to run it?  Should we carry on with things as they are, despite what we now know about Mid Staffs and the rest?  After discovering how patients were left to die in their own filth, I imagine most people would like to see change.

Maybe that means we should leave it to the experts?  Have the health service run by a sort of FSA, but for health care rather than banks...   I'm not sure that worked out to well for financial services. 

The Keogh report today has revealed that in a dozen of so hospitals across the country, thousands of patients were treated badly.  Why? 

It is not about money.  Page 16 of Sir Bruce's report says "Factors that might have been expected – and are frequently claimed - to impact on high mortality, such as access to funding .... were not found to be statistically-correlated with the results of these trusts." 

It's the management.  Parts of the NHS are badly run. 

Reading the Keogh report, it struck me that perhaps one of the reasons why parts of the NHS have failed patients is precisely because there is not enough accountability to them.  When patients - or the loved one's they left behind - complained, the system closed ranks.  Anyone criticising the NHS is shouted down, attacked for supposedly attacking those who work for the NHS.

That has to change if the NHS is to get better.  Our health service needs to be run first and foremost for the patient.  

14 JUL 2013

A pay rise for MPs? D'oh!

Homer Simpson always gets it wrong.  In every episode of the Simpsons, he messes up catastrophically.  But in the end he sees the error of his ways, and tries to put it right.

If only MPs were that wise.

Instead, three decades of accumulated incompetence, greed and clever-dickery by the "usual channels" that run Westminster ended in the disaster that was the the MPs expenses scandal.  Having spectacularly messed up, they then put IPSA in charge.

Think of IPSA as being like the FSA, but for MPs rather than banks.   

Now IPSA is seriously seeking to increase MPs pay by £6,500, at a time of austerity and falling living standards.  Even Homer would have 'fessed up to Marge and sought redemption by now.  The "usual channels" carry on as usual.  

In coming up with this daft proposal, IPSA has given MPs a clear choice; accept the pay rise, or reject it - and axe IPSA at the same time.  I outline a simple alternative in my latest blog post for the Telegraph.

Having given power to IPSA, a quango, MPs have started to appreciate what life can be like living under the thumb of officialdom.  MPs should not only abolish IPSA, they should abolish all those IPSA like quangos that preside over the lives of millions.

Oh.  And we should recognise that "the usual channels" in Westminster couldn't run a bath.  It's time to go back to having the legislature run the legislature - not government toadies.   

10 JUL 2013

The national curriculum should be optional

Why do we have a national curriculum?

To maintain basic standards, perhaps? Not so.  Almost thirty years of top down, curriculum learning has done little to narrow the yawning gap between different schools.

Perhaps the purpose of the curriculum is to ensure every British child has common cultural reference points?   I'd argue we had plenty of common cultural reference points back in the days before there was a national curriculum.  Common identity shoud come from below.

Maybe we need a national curriculum to ensure that children can move schools? If so, then how do Canadian kids cope in a country with a high degree of labour mobility and no national curriculum?

Rather like the arguments for micro chipping dogs or imposing minimum alcohol prices, the case for a national curriculum falls apart on close inspection.  As I suggest in my Telegraph blog, the national curriculum should be optional.

Allister Heath has written a brilliant piece showing how the digital revolution might transform education for the better. Having a cumbersome national curriculum will only slow down the pace of innovation. 

08 JUL 2013

Bercow is not biased

If you take at face value what pundits in SW1 tell you, John Bercow is biased.  He's got it in for the Tories and the Tory benches have it in for him.

Not so.  To be sure, the party grandees certainly can't stand him.  He's forever ticking them off for not taking the Commons seriously.  He is constantly ensuring that the backbenchers are able to hold the government to account.

In other words, as I argue in my Telegraph piece, Bercow is doing what a Speaker ought to do.  And the good old boy system in Westminster is a little miffed by it.

Don't get me wrong.  Mr Bercow's politics are not mine.  But the fact that he ruffles feathers amongst the Westminster grandees means that he is doing something right.

The louder the SW1 insiders complain about Bercow, the more confidence the rest of us can have that he's doing the right thing.

04 JUL 2013

Where's Ed?

This was the view from the Commons chamber this afternoon.  No sign of Labour - bad.  Nor of Nick - good.   

No.  It is not the debate on the EU In / Out referendum.  

It was a team photo for the Parliamentary Conservative party.  In the old days, instead of a photo, apparently they used to have a portait painted.  I can't imagine I could ever manage to sit still for that long!    

04 JUL 2013

Priti in Clacton

If you read this blog and live in Clacton, why not come along for a meet up next Friday?

Priti Patel, the no nonsense MP for Witham, is speaking at our Chilli Supper evening at Burrsville Hall, Clacton, at 7pm on Friday 12th July next week.

Tickets cost £10 and include good food and fun company.  Priti will talk to us about holding the government to account, and ensuring that we get "more bang for our buck" as taxpayers.  You have the chance to ask her - or me - any question you want.

I will be on hand to give a brief update on some of our local campaigns, including GP services, dealing with knife crime and sea defences.  

Oh.  And Priti and I can update you on the campaign for an In / Out EU referendum....

Do please come along.  Email me at douglas at douglascarswell dot com if you can make it, and I will send you details.

(Ps.  We won't be doing boring party politics.  Just fun - and things that matter to local people).





02 JUL 2013

Social media - fad or forever?

The social media site, Bebo, was once worth $ 850 million. Today, we learn it was sold for $ 1 million – back to its original founder, Michael Birch.

Bebo will not be the last social network site to rise dramatically – then fall. Long before I had heard of Google, I seem to remember using a search engine called Alta Vista. Then Yahoo.

I would not be surprised if something comes along one day and usurps Facebook. But maybe not Twitter. Why?

The reason I suspect we will all still be using Twitter-based applications in years to come is that Twitter is an open system. You can come along, invent something, and incorporate a lot of what twitter does into it.

Facebook is more of a closed system. Unless it becomes an operating system in its own right, I suspect it is vulnerable.  Apparently the amount of time that facebook users spend logged in is in decline.

Whatever the platform, social media is more than just a fad. Its ability to aggregate friends, family, ideas, designs – indeed pretty much everything – will only grow.  Far from atomising society the way the doomsters tell us, social media bring us closer together in all kinds of ways. 

01 JUL 2013

Each school to set its own term times

Ever wondered why schools close their gates for six or seven weeks each summer? It's a question I know many parents begin to ask themselves from around mid-July onwards.

Long summer breaks for schools stem from the days when a great many Britons lived in rural communities, and the harvest had to be gathered by hand. The kids, to put in bluntly, were needed in the fields.

Incidentally, in Scotland, with its cooler climate, the harvest tended to be gathered that much later. So schools went back a couple of weeks later. And still do.

If the agrarian calendar explains how things came to be, decades of bureaucratic inertia accounts for why they've stayed that way. With officialdom in charge of setting dates, there's been little incentive to change things or innovate.

Until now. The government has today published a Bill that would allow local schools to set their own term times. Good.

Bizarre, isn't it, that we still organise the timetable for our kids education around the needs of the nineteenth century agrarian calendar. Why not have shorter terms, but more of them? Or have a shorter summer break?  School on Saturdays, anyone? 

Or why not go even further? Don't just let schools decide when to open and close. Let them decide what to teach and how to teach it.  Every school should be free to opt out of the national curriculum as it chooses.

27 JUN 2013

Twitter killed Tory Boy

Communication in the digital age is "long tail". 

It is not simply getting messages across via big hit media that counts.  Suddenly, there is the space for communicating with niche, distinctive, particular and local audiences.

Get social media right, and not only are you able to communicate with those niche audiences, but - because some of that niche will be mainstream media folk - you feed into the big hit media, too.  The long-tail media can end up wagging the mainstream media dog, you might say.

Digital means that a uniform message is not only impossible, but it is in some sense undesirable.  Try tweeting identikit soundbites, and you soon come across as silly.

When television, radio and newspapers were all we had, generic messaging was everything.  The internet makes politics hyper personal.  Hyper personal politics means hyper personal messaging.  As I suggest in my latest Telegraph blog post, politicial parties are only just starting to realise that they will have to learn to communicate in a far more personalised, less strident way.

Harry Enfield's famous Tory Boy character was famous for speaking .... well ... like a politician.  Twitter is killing that way of communication.


26 JUN 2013

Bond bubble? What bond bubble?

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton): In 2007, 50% of UK gilts were purchased by insurance companies and pension funds. Last year the figure had fallen to 22%, the lion's share of UK gilts now being bought by the Bank of England. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that we are funding public sector overspend by having one branch of the state write out IOUs for another? Can that be sustained?

Mr Osborne: The arrangements for quantitative easing are well established, and the decisions on whether to increase asset purchases are within the envelope that I set for the independent Monetary Policy Committee. I think that an active monetary policy has helped sustain demand over the past few years. It is anchored in a credible fiscal policy, the next stage of which we will set out tomorrow.

Yesterday, as you can see, I put my opposition to the government's monetary policy on the record in black and white.  A loose fiscal policy is being financed by a loose monetary policy.  It will not end well. 

25 JUN 2013

What if the borrowing runs out?

UK bond yields have risen sharply since May.  What does this mean?

When the government wants to borrow money, they write out an IOU, or a bond.  As the yield, or interest, on the bond rises, the amount the government has to pay to borrow rises.

This can have big consequences.  Already, in 2014, the government will spend more on debt interest payments - £46 Billion - than it is spending of UK defence - £45 Billion. 

But, many folk will say, even with the bond yield spike, borrowing is extremely cheap by historic standards.  

Indeed.  As the graph shows, the cost of borrowing for the government has fallen pretty consistently since 1980.  And is very low - even with the recent rises. 

Take another look at the graph.  What would happen if we were to return to mid 1990 borrowing costs?  Or to mid 1980 bond yields?  What would things look like then?

I asked the Chancellor about this during Treasury questions today.  I am none the wiser.  I suspect that the Treasury would rather not think about it.  "How were we supposed to know" I suspect Treasury officials will one day say.   

24 JUN 2013

Public services controlled by the public - each individual one of them

Over the past sixty years, the political class has managed to produce 62 Health Acts and 44 Education Acts. They have yet to draft a law that puts the public properly in control of public services.

What we need is a simply law that gives every patient and parent a legal right to control their share of the health or education budget if they are unhappy with what officialdom provides.

In my latest Telegraph blog, I imagine what would happen if every mum and dad had a legal right to request and receive control over their child's share of the local authority budget.  Or if you could insist on controling your share of the local primary care budget and giving it to a local GP you trusted.

Would it lead to chaos, waiting lists and unmet expectations?  That is what the current system too often produces.

The digital age means that public services can now be hyper personalised.  We live in a country were we can personalise our playlists, yet we still have to make do with what generic public services hand us.

The citizen consumer will not tolerate this for much longer.  

21 JUN 2013

What can be done to raise standards in Clacton schools?

Too many schools in Clacton are in "special measures". Too many are below average.


It can't be about the money. We've seen the amount spent on local education almost double in the past decade or so.

Nor is it because of the pupils. It should make us angry whenever it is implied that low educational standards are the fault of the children. They are not.

The fact that a child might come from a home where no one reads to them must never be used as an excuse for that child not being able to read and write properly. If anything, it is all the more reason to make sure we give that child a great education.

Over the past few weeks, I've been visiting many of the local schools - good, as well as those that ought to be doing better. And I've been pondering what can be done?

First, acknowledge where there is a problem. Too often any suggestion that things were anything other than brilliant has been seen as an attack. It isn't. We need more openness and honesty.

Second, accept the need for change.

There are some great local schools, and some brilliant local teachers. We should not be afraid of learning from them.

Third, make the schools more accountable for standards. Accountability is key - and we need much, much more of it.

19 JUN 2013

Tax transparency? Show us what government is doing with our money first

Notice how Western governments, having spent and borrowed far beyond their means, are all of a sudden interested in dealing with tax avoidance?

Yes, folks.  Having run out of money, they are out to try and get more from where ever they can.  If you happen to be a business generating wealth by using your own intellectual property in different tax jurisdications, they're about to all demand a bigger slice.  Complain, and they'll have you down as a tax avoider.

Perhaps before governments demand transparency from those they want to pay in to the Treasury, we should insist of transparency from those paid out by the system.  In my latest Telegraph blog, I suggest that every welfare payment paid to an adult of working age could be put on line each month.

Imagine if you could look up on line to see who in your neighbourhood is claiming benefits.  It might make us sit up and demand that the welfare state did what Clem Attlee and co set it up to do all those years ago. 

An invasion of privacy?  It is public money.  The public surely has a right to know.


18 JUN 2013

Politicians made this mess

We ought to be jolly grateful for the political class we have, suggests Janan Ganesh writing in the Financial Times.  Britain has, he suggests, been far more wisely and sensibly governed than many other Western nations.

They might have presided over the growth of an unaffordable state bureaucracy, runs his argument, but take a look at what politicians have managed to do to other countries. And there is some truth in that. France has not balanced its budget since 1976. The United States government borrows more in one month than our Treasury manages in a year.

But is that really the comparison we should be making? Ought we not judge those who rule over us by what they get right, rather than how much less inept they are than those in less happy lands?

On many of the big picture issues of the day, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the political class have a habit of getting things hideously, routinely wrong.

Take the Westminster elite's consensual approach to monetary policy. For a generation or so, they have agreed that low interest rates are desirable, and help produce prosperity. Janan's newspaper seems to regard this as orthodoxy.

But on this, one of the most important macro questions of the day, has the political class got it right? If cheap credit engineers prosperity, why are we in such a debt-addicted mess? Why has yet more cheap money not produced the recovery that they all seemed to expect? Might years of low interest rates help explain many of the imbalances in the economy that those in Westminster now tell us they want to sort out?

Could it be that our wise, munificent elite have got things back to front, and that low interest rates are not a cause of economic success, but a consequence of it?

A similar sort of Westminster group-think has lumbered us with a disastrous energy policy. Those in SW1 all knew that wind and renewable targets were the future. None of them spotted shale gas.

And what about the political classes disastrous dalliance with Europeanism?  Or tax policy?  Or immigration policy?  One could go on.... and on.  

Perhaps it is because they are drawn from similar backgrounds. Maybe it is because the Westminster system encourages it. But for whatever reason, the political class that Janan says we should be grateful for seem to be prone to an extraordinary, inhibiting form of group-think. The auto-correct mechanism that good governance requires seems to be broken.

No, Janan. Like you, some of my best friends are politicians. But the political class has not governed this country as well as we should expect.

17 JUN 2013

After America?

Russia shipping arms to allies in its sphere of influence. Iran moving revolutionary guards to the eastern side of the Mediterranean.

If you want to know what parts of the world could look like if the United States decided to sit back, it might look a bit like Syria.

In my latest Telegraph blog post, I suggest that Britain and others, have long benefited from the Pax Americana. This means that we have been able to avoid doing everything we could do to ensure that we convert our financial muscle into military punch.

This is going to have to change.