Monday 21 December 2015

Could Carswell actually be a Liberal?

First of all, who do you think wrote this?

"So long as there is a correlation between how people vote locally, the taxes they pay locally and the local services they get, leave it to them to decide. Give local government control over tax and spending decisions, and local democracy will shape itself. Localise the money - and let everything else follow the money. Once you have genuine local democracy, you won't need to have central government trying to define the shape and structure of it...Perhaps the real lesson in all this is that we should not leave it to the Whitehall establishment to make localism happen."

Ashdown? Farron? Stunell? Gladstone (no, I'm being silly). But it sounds, well, Liberal, doesn’t it – that radical critique of modern state institutions, and the extraordinary way in which the establishment clings to power over potholes and every other detail of local life.

The author might therefore be a surprise to the uninitiated. It is the single UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, currently wrestling with his conscience under the leadership of Jeremy Clarkson.

Oops, sorry, for some reason my subconscious mind has begun to interchange Farage and Clarkson. Why should this be? Is it that bone-headed jollity, that defensive, self-regarding humour, that English prop-up-the-bar bonhomie? I don't know.

You can see why Carswell is struggling. Farage is clever and articulate but he appeals to a particular ultra-conservative, peculiarly angry, type which is not by any means everyone. You can see the why Carswell is thinking when he criticises his own leadership. With Farage/Clarkson, UKIP is stuck. They might attract a reasonable following, but they will never sweep the nation.

I've been reading Carswell's blog and, although I only half agree with him on many issues, it seems to me - and this will no doubt horrify him - that he thinks like a Liberal.

He is beholden to no-one. He is an ardent localist. He believes that many of the institutions of state are broken and corrupt. He is a critic of the banks, but also of modern banking and the way they are needed to create the  money supply.

He is not just more sophisticated than Farage/Clarkson. He can see that the critique of institutions is absolutely central to the future of politics, public institutions which hold ordinary people in thrall and private institutions which do the same - and rake off money via PFI contracts at the same time.

So here is my suggestion. Come and talk to some genuine Liberals - among whom I arrogantly include myself - and see it it might be possible for you one day to find a more congenial home in the Lib Dems (I'm talking to Carswell here...)

Of course, there is an elephant in the room. Carswell's critique of institutions makes him a ferocious critic of the European Union. No sane Liberal could be otherwise, but that doesn't mean that it is necessarily right to cast ourselves adrift from the handful of international institutions capable of bringing nations together. We might have to agree to disagree.

But there are certainly Lib Dems who will be voting to leave next year. Not many, and not me - but don't let us be uncritical of the undemocratic reality of the monster at the same time, and also the failure of so many institutions to do what they say on the tin. In fact, it would help to strengthen our own critique - which does tend to get blunted by those who cling to the purpose of the institutions without seeing the reality face to face.

Do I have my tongue in my cheek by suggesting a Dialogue with Douglas? Not really. I think it could benefit us both.

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