An Interview with Douglas Carswell MP

November 13, 2007 9:35 AM

Q. If you were in charge of any ministry which one would it be and why? 

I would like to be the last Minister for Europe. 

Q. What are the three most successful policies you can think of in the post-war era? 

Privatisation and the “right to buy” council homes.  Both pushed economic power away to individual people – and got politicians and Big Government off people’s back. 

The third most successful policy is the education voucher.  The tragedy for several generations of British school children is that no one has had the verve or the vision to try it here.  We need to be very careful to introduce it as a decentralising, localist measure – and not as an inadvertent centralising measure.

Q.  What are the three worst policy mistakes you can think of in the post-war era? 

Joining the European Union. 

Centralising control over town halls and their finances (rate capping, then debacle leading to the council tax, then nationalising business rates).

The 1983 decision not to proceed with the education voucher.

Q.  Who do you think has been Britain’s most successful post-war minister and why? 

Margaret Thatcher.  She understood – at a profound level - her Friedman, Hayek, Popper, Smith and others.  She was a rare thing – a politicians with real, not manufactured, beliefs - and with the skill to actually implement this agenda.

Q.  Who do you think has been Britain’s least successful post-war minister and why? 

Ted Heath.  He was responsible for two disasters; EU membership and undermining the structure of local government.   

Q.  What do you think of moves by Gordon Brown and David Cameron to bring more outsiders into government? 

Why are more unelected and unaccountable technocrats a good thing?  They are not.  If politicians are serious about bringing in outsiders, they should try including the 99% of the people who live in Britain who are excluded from the smug and smarmy Westminster village.  

We need open politics and direct democracy – not a few celebs and technocratic mediocrities posturing with self-regarding politicians.

Q.  If you were Prime Minister who would you bring in from outside parliament to help you and why? 

I would bring in the people.  I would have a Citizen’s Right of Initiative so that they, rather than the civil service, decided the legislative agenda.  I would also allow a right of referendum Swiss-style so that if I was daft enough to bring in an unpopular law, the people could strike it down.

Q.  Do you think it is important that ministers have experience in the subject area they are appointed to? 

No.   Expertise often prevents someone asking the obvious questions.  Moreover, if by "expertise" you mean someone who has spent their entire life in a particular profession or field, then I would say that they should be the last person to make the key decisions in that sector.   For example, just look at how the so called "experts" at the Foreign Office have signed us up to all sorts of awful obligations.  They may be urbane experts, but they are awful at determining the national interest.    

Q.  What lessons do you think Britain can learn from other countries about the structure of government? 

Decentralisation and small government is the way to success.  China and India have decentralised economic (if not yet political) decision-making to the local level – and are booming as a result.  America has done so since 1766.  Europe has since the 1950’s moved in precisely the opposite direction and centralised unaccountable power.  It is stagnating.  

It is a sobering thought that in China today a university for 40,000 students can be built by local government without any input from Bejing.  In the UK such an innovation would be unthinkable.  We are so centralised a country that the central State dictates the minutiae of higher education.  It is not only higher education that is decentralised in China.  So is its legal system, provincial tax policy and so on.    

The UK needs to reduce the size of the State by decentralising the functions of the State.         

Q.  What lessons do you think Britain can learn from other countries about how to deliver public services? 

In the US, they elect their police chiefs, and have real innovation in fighting crime.  We have Sir Ian Blair.

In the US, local States run education, and they have voucher schemes.  We have the highest percentage of young people in neither education, employment or training. 

In the US, they have localised welfare and the Wisconsin and Florida approach.  We have so many millions on long-term benefits.      

Localism works. 

Q.  If you were setting up a system of government from scratch would you choose the British model or that of another country? 

The US.  The tragedy of 1766 was that the Americans were really fighting for our English liberties.  The US Constitutional settlement is not perfect, but it is better at reigning back Big Government than our failing system.  We used to be a Parliamentary democracy.  We have become an unelected technocracy.

Q.  Do you think Britain can realistically move towards such a system? 

Yes.  The impact of the internet will be massive.  It will take time to be felt, but like the advent of the printing press, it will lead to radical political change.  Watch this space.

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