Monday, 13 June 2011

Douglas Carswell - An enigma?

When asked to name an MP who believes in independence from the EU and small government, encapsulating the ability of local people to decide how their own society should function, most people with only a passing interest in politics would, I believe, name Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP for Harwich. Consequently it is therefore odd that his political beliefs appear at odds to his public utterances and in this context consider two issues; namely Local Referenda and the Recall of MPs.

Carswell was one of the authors of the Localist Papers, published by the Centre for Policy Studies, serialised by the Daily Telegraph during 2007. In the first of the series, "Open Politics", on the subject of referenda it is written:
"The country where this idea has been most successful - where direct democracy is a living, breathing, constantly employed part of the constitution is Switzerand. There, towns, cantons and communities poll the people on all manner of things, from the size and composition of budgets to immigration decisions. It is up to each locality to decide its own recipe for democracy. The Swiss have three types of national poll. There are citizen's initiatives, ideas put forward by a particular group to be voted on by the population as a whole. There are blocking referenda, attempts to veto recently passed legislation if a particular group is unhappy with it. And there are referenda to confirm changes to the constitution; the theory being that politicians elected under one set of rules should not change those rules without a further and specific mandate."
Interestingly, a recent commenter on another, older post wrote:
"One of the interesting fallouts of Swiss Direct democracy is that the Swiss vote heavily in referenda, but hardly bother to turn out when electing parties for parliament. This has been shown in poll after poll. When one thinks about it, it is obvious why. All policies are in the hands of the people. Politicians are merely appendage, they do what they have been told to do by referendum law – in reality, it is the civil service that implements the law as defined by the people, period. No one gives a hoot for who is to be in “power” as they do not have the power."
 Later, in the same paper, it states:
" is crucial that we choose a form of direct democracy that both empowers people and allows them to see the fruits of that empowerment."
The Localism Bill provides measures whereby the result of any referendum held can be ignored by the local authority; that any tenant of a social landlord who has a complaint can only approach the Ombudsman through an MP or local councillor - hardly what can be termed devolving power to the individual and consequently one has to question Carswell's unswerving support for the government every time he has been present when a vote on the Localism Bill has been held.

On the subject of recalling MPs, Carswell introduced a Private Members Bill for local primaries to choose those individuals who wished to represent their respective party, come an election. Included within this Bill was a requirement for the recall of MPs found guilty of "serious wrongdoing". In "The Plan" Carswell wrote:
" special rights should attach to being a parliamentarian. An MP is an ordinary citizen, there to represent his fellows. The moment he ceases to look like one, he loses his moral mandate."
The important words are "an ordinary citizen, there to represent his fellows" - and to do that he/she has to represent the majority view of their constituents. It is unfortunate therefore that Carswell, who believes that an MP is elected to do just that, should also believe that "those who hire, should not be able to fire". On this point, Carswell is a firm believer that MPs must have the final say on any recall petition:
"At the same time, my Bill would provide for a recall mechanism-that is, a way to trigger a by-election where a Member of this House was guilty of serious wrongdoing. Plainly such a measure would need safeguards. We would need to ensure that it could not be triggered frivolously or on partisan grounds. We would need to guarantee that charges could not be levelled against MPs simply because they had voted with their conscience. A recall vote should be entered into-as the Book of Common Prayer says of matrimony -  "reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly ".  Triggering a primary would require the backing of a significant number of local people, and it would also require confirmation of serious wrongdoing by the Committee on Standards and Privileges."
Incidentally Carswell is not alone in his belief that an MP should be able to vote with their conscience as this view was echoed by Sir Peter Tapsell during Deputy Prime Ministers Questions:
"Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Will extreme care be taken in the drafting of the legislation to ensure that in absolutely no circumstances will a recall of a Member of Parliament be possible because of the way in which a Member votes or speaks-however objectionably-or because he changes party, as Winston Churchill did on two occasions?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We certainly would not want a recall mechanism that would have disqualified Winston Churchill. Precisely for the reasons that my hon. Friend has alluded to, we need to ensure that the system contains checks and balances so that it does not impinge on the freedom of Members on both sides of the House to speak out and articulate our views. That will not be the purpose of the recall mechanism. Its purpose will be to bear down on serious wrongdoing and to give people a chance to have their say in their own constituencies without having to wait until the next election for an opportunity to do so.
If, as Carswell maintains, an MP is but an ordinary person elected to represent his/her constituents, then surely the personal view of the elected representative matters not - it is the majority view of those he represents that should decide his vote.

It has to be said that if we are unable to trust one who presents himself to us as a knight in shining armour, riding to the rescue of the downtrodden, then who are we to trust? It seems to me that the sooner we have "Referism" the better!


PeterCharles said...

Carswell like most MPs simply wants to keep his cake and to eat it. When you look at any legislation that purports to transfer power away from government it is always biased toward the government view. Rather like public enquiries, supposedly an independent, authoritative and professional review which in reality is predetermined by the terms of reference. Plus when they do report the only certainty is they will say more regulation, more law, more government control is needed.

Referism is a good, nay excellent, idea but there is an even better system currently at work not too far away. Belgium hasn't had a political government for a year and the Belgians I know are quite happy to see it continue. And despite political prophesies of national doom it hasn't happened yet.

The Swiss system is also excellent and a model of true democracy for a modern world, but I would hesitate to introduce it in the UK. My feeling is that too much of the British populace is simply too ignorant and too bigoted to trust with that level of control. I know, our politicians are even more ignorant and bigoted but I think any population where large sections of it have their standards and prejudices epitomised by the likes of The Sun and the Daily Mail represents a public danger.

That said, instituting a Swiss system gradually should or at least could, encourage an informed, educated and discriminating electorate over time.

One thing would have to be addressed before Referism could be introduced, the nearly half of the working population either dependent on welfare or public sector employment. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas and with the turkey level we have, Referism would probably be a disaster, voting for even bigger deficits, more government and impossible levels of public debt.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

PC: totally agree with your first paragraph.

Re Belgium - they may not have a government per se, but they still have an elected dictatorship minding the shop.......?

Accept your reservations in the rest of your comment and appreciate you may have a point. However, we cannot continue as we are. Possibly a gradual introduction of Swiss style democracy (if that could be arranged) may be the answer.

cosmic said...

He's in a funny position. He's at odds with the Conservative Party top brass, so it doesn't look as if he's set to climb the greasy pole, but he is in a position to make his views known.

He can argue that the Conservative party is the political party most likely to be able to do something about the EU. Others can argue that pretending to be about to be about to do something about the EU but having no intention of doing anything of the sort, is the Tories' stock-in-trade and he, knowing or unknowing, is a necessary part of the fraud.

Technically, what his constituents voted for was him, not the party, or his promises. If he had a brainstorm and woke up an ardent Green, they'd be saddled.

Probably, what his constituents voted for was the Conservative candidate they had on offer, or not the Labour candidate and not the Libdem.

If he crossed the floor to UKIP, he'd have a good chance of losing his seat at the next GE and with it his salary and pension and probably whatever influence he has now. Dick Taverne fell out with the Labour Party and was returned as an independent Labour MP for I think two terms, but he was exceptional in terms of the local support he had.

UKIP are in the position where they'll likely do well in the next Euro elections, but in many ways the party is a mess. The don't have any pockets of local support to return MPs to Westminster. If Douglas Carswell joined them, it has to be admitted he'd probably vanish without trace.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

c first, as a member of Ukip, I can but agree with your comments on that party.......

I accept the remainder of your comment, however I think you miss the point I was trying to make (maybe I did not express myself too well) in that if he believes in localism and people power, why does he support a bill that does not provide that and wish to retain a right to interfere with a constituents right to recall?

cosmic said...

I'd say PeterCharles had the essence of it in his comment.

How would this affect Carswell? I don't know what his position is in his constituency, but I suspect they were voting for the Tory they were presented with, not Doug the firebrand in particular. He isn't a Dick Taverne.

View Carswell as being something like a champagne socialist, having principles he deeply and sincerely believes in but doing quite nicely by having them not quite in reach but tirelessly campaigning for them. Seeing them attained might be very uncomfortable.

I think you take the man much too seriously.

Libertarians trust people to make their own mistakes, or just don't care, because they know they can't sort them out for them anyway.

Socialists/communists/communitarians don't really trust people and think government can solve problems for everyone. I think we have too long a history of that being shown to be nonsense and often ending up creating evil.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

c: I appreciate most of our politicians are a joke, however they shouldn't be and therefore there is only one way to 'take them', as you put it, and that is seriously.

At heart he exhibits authoritarian traits and I return in that context to his belief about parliamentary final decision on recall - or on the other hand he knew that if he did not insert that caveat he would not get any support for his Bill - which unfortunately then brings into question his principles.......

Anonymous said...

Peter Charles wrote: The Swiss system is also excellent and a model of true democracy for a modern world, but I would hesitate to introduce it in the UK. My feeling is that too much of the British populace is simply too ignorant and too bigoted to trust with that level of control.

This is what I have been thinking about as well. It is said that people get the government they deserve.

Do we have the government we deserve because at heart we are indolent about political issues?

We can look at it from a different perspective. Are we indolent about political issues because we have no say? Both are likely as we have no evidence one way or other.

It may well turn out that the first few years of operating Direct democracy, the results are a mixed bag (Any worse then it is now?). But then people will realize that they have no one to blame but themselves for policy decisions. Unless we as a nation are congenital idiots, we will soon start to learn about issues. That will be the start not just in awareness of political issues, but a general raising of the standard of education in schools, universities and the MSM. It could well be the rejuvenation of Britain.

Good heavens we may even have schools educating young/older people on Magna Carta, Chartists, Levellers, and all.

Once you give people control over their local, shire and national environment, you never know what you get. But the beauty of it is, that it will be all to our credit or fault.

Anonymous said...

Peter wrote: One thing would have to be addressed before Referism could be introduced, the nearly half of the working population either dependent on welfare or public sector employment. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas and with the turkey level we have, Referism would probably be a disaster, voting for even bigger deficits, more government and impossible levels of public debt.

Richard North has addressed this issue by advocating multiple votes for citizens. Complicated. The issue needs more debate.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

DP: Very astutue first comment if I may say so and very much along my ideas for doing it - lets face it, it can't be any worse than our present plight and as you say we would only have ourselves to blame. I believe given the opportunity it would stir debate and would make people have to take an interest.

On your second comment, I can to a certain extent agree that the multiple vote content does need more research - or else we just limit the vote to those in employment? An incentive that if one wishes to have a say then they better get a job!

Just an additional thought/

English Pensioner said...

When did any MP take notice of his constituents once elected?

Many years ago I wrote to my MP at the time that the abolition of Capital Punishment was being discussed.
The reply ran along the following lines "I am aware that probably a majority of my constituents are opposed to the bill, but I believe that they are not sufficiently well informed to be able to make a reasoned judgement on the subject".
Arrogant bastard!
But has anything changed?

WitteringsfromWitney said...

EP: No and it never will while the situation exists where the masters (us) fail to remind them (the politicians) of the status quo.

Hence my call for local autonomy and Referism.........

PeterCharles said...

English Pensioner has a point, his MP is an 'arrogant bastard', it comes with the territory. However, arrogant he may be but he is not necessarily wrong.

This is where I have doubts about implementing a British Direct Democracy. Assuming the Sun and the Mail do epitomise the majority British attitudes then we certainly have a basic attitude to law and order on the 'better ten innocent men be condemned than a single guilty man go free' most definitely where murder, sex offences and terrorism are concerned. No doubt this explains why all Home Secretaries since Michael Howard have enthusiastically signed up to it. It is the very dangerous belief that a little bit of a police state is a good thing, well it possibly is, but remember, from little acorns mighty oak trees do grow with disconcerting inevitability.

This is why I say the 'arrogant bastard' is not necessarily wrong. Beyond reasonable doubt is not a sufficient basis on which to murder someone, legalised or not. Too many miscarriages of justice are around to clearly demonstrate that. Even more importantly, 'by virtue of reasonable assumption' is even worse as Jean-Charles de Menezes found out. Beyond doubt in the case of murder, I agree, but it must be beyond doubt.

There is also the point that the statement '... the public is not sufficiently well informed ...' is true. That it is so being down to politicians and the media is besides the point, 'though not irrelevant.

Say sex offender and people automatically assume rapist. Well the average sex offender is actually a daft old sod who had too much to drink and thought grabbing a colleagues tits and making lascivious comments like 'cor! what a pair of beauties' is a compliment and funny to boot. Stupid, rude, offensive and unpleasant for the lady but rape it ain't, unless you are a feminist or Daily Mail reader, of course. And if the lady happened to be a 15 year old (likely also not quite sober and flirting with the crowd) he would get five years.

All around me today I see people who hear half a story, jump to unwarranted conclusions and demand excessive retribution with nary a single logical or questioning thought. But then, why am I surprised when at least two school generations have been determinedly taught not to think, just accept what you are told is truth or the only acceptable truth at any rate.

Anonymous said...

EP wrote: The reply ran along the following lines "I am aware that probably a majority of my constituents are opposed to the bill, but I believe that they are not sufficiently well informed to be able to make a reasoned judgement on the subject".
Arrogant bastard!

Yes but are the politicians informed on some of the great issues of the day. For instance this policy of bankrupting the nation via taxes on energy, supposedly to stop AGW, or Climate Change when they discovered that AGW was not working.

As far as I know none of the politicians have a degree in Physics - a minimum PhD with years of postdoc to understand what one has just scratched as a PhD.

But here they are, people who are actually proud that they are poor in simple arithmetic, taking a course of action, committing the nation to tens of billions of real money, while simultaneously destroying the economy that produces that very surplus. All decision makers in a subject they know nothing about- absolutely nothing. Worse still they do not have the intrinsic capacity to learn such a subject.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ghandi said...

PeterCharles wrote: "My feeling is that too much of the British populace is simply too ignorant and too bigoted to trust with that level of control."

What a conceited, dismissively patronising comment.

I'd rather Sun and Mail readers called the shots than the oligarchic elite whom you appear to favour.

PeterCharles said...

Well Ghandi, it might have been conceited and dismissively patronising had I said the majority of the populace was too bigoted and ignorant, I simply pointed out that in my experience a large number are and if the prejudices epitomised by the Sun and Daily Mail as the most popular newspapers are an average reflection of the population then that only confirms it.

If you followed the posts in this forum, or even read my post in its entirety, you would know quite well that I have absolutely no truck with our current political parties, do not favour any oligarchical elites or otherwise in anyway, hold the greatest possible contempt for Guardianistas and their fellow travellers the BBC and am fully in favour of open democracy and small, very small, government that keeps out of my life as far as possible.

Nor do I think I have all the answers to today's woes, which is why I raise doubts as to the success or wisdom of introducing Referism or similar as an automatic panacea. And as for those who do think they have all the answers I believe they should be kept as far away from power or governance as possible.

Anyway, thank you for proving the point of my last post, you read my words and reacted as your prejudice dictated without a single questioning thought with an ad hominum attack worthy of Joe Romm. I don't expect you to agree or even like my argument, but I do expect people to respond with a rational counter argument, not simply spleen.

And if you truly think a country governed in accord with the prejudices of the Sun and the Daily Mail would be a good thing I am truly sorry for you. :-)