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Douglas Carswell: dangerous and wrong

John Rentoul

end of politics 198x300 Douglas Carswell: dangerous and wrongDouglas Carswell, The End of Politics (Biteback Publishing, 2 October 2012).

This is a single-note book with one (very good) joke: The 2008 banks rescue “was done by the kind of executive decree Charles I would have died for. And indeed did.”

Douglas Carswell’s thesis is simple: that governments have grown too big and the internet will make them small. Not really a call to action, therefore. Not least because the causes of big government are so confused in Carswell’s mind.

Democracy is not at fault, he says, dismissing the common argument on the right that the universal franchise gives politicians an incentive to spend more of people’s money to buy back their votes. The fault lies (I think this is Carswell’s case) with unelected and unaccountable elites and the feebleness of politicians. Or something.

He goes off on some tangents, claiming that decisions over taxing and spending in Britain are taken by the Treasury and not by elected politicians, when the main difference between the Conservative and Labour parties at the 2010 election was precisely over how fast to cut the deficit.

He blames the current recession, and 1950s tower blocks, on “technocrats” making decisions that were not in response to popular demand – except that is precisely what they were. After the war, the demand was for more housing, and more recently the US government subsidised mortgages in response to similar popular pressure. He says that the euro was introduced without reference to popular demand. “In fact, when the people were asked, such as in Sweden in 2003, they voted against it.” (p66) But in France, in 1992, they voted in favour.

Carswell is not just wrong, but dangerous. His central thesis is:

Politics is dead. As a process for deciding how most Western democracies are governed, politics has come to an end.

Of course, elections still happen … But those whom voters elect in Britain, America, Japan and Europe no longer decide what government does. We have reached the stage where government has grown so big, there is simply too much public policy for the public – or their elected representatives – to have much say. A technocratic elite has taken over.

In which case, what is the point of Douglas Carswell? With such anti-democratic fatalism, I would not want him as my MP.

Footnote:

I used to do regular book reviews on this blog, mainly because whoever was running it at the time asked me to. Fridays, I think it was. I’ve started again – although it won’t necessarily be weekly – because I was a judge for the Polemic of the Year category of the Political Book Awards earlier this month (the excellent Nick Cohen won with You Can’t Read This Book), so I have read several books that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Carswell’s, though, is a book I should have read anyway.

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