Douglas Carswell's book, The End of Politics, contains only one joke, but it is a good one. In it he argues: "Politics is dead. As a process for deciding how most Western democracies are governed, politics has come to an end." No, that isn't the joke. Bear with him. He concedes that, "of course, elections still happen". Indeed, there will be one in his own constituency, Clacton, to decide whether the people still want him to represent them in the House of Commons now that he has defected from the Conservatives to Ukip.
The voters in his Essex seaside constituency will, however, be wasting their time, he seems to argue: "Those whom voters elect in Britain, America, Japan and Europe no longer decide what government does." No, that isn't the joke either. Patience. He goes on: "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."
This elite wields immense power, says Carswell. Its Treasury branch – Treasury civil servants rather than elected ministers – decides all questions of tax and spending. It built tower blocks that no one wanted in the 1950s, and it caused the 2008 recession.
After it had caused the recession, the elite then nationalised the banks to help to get us out of it. So far, so much like an Owen Jones of the right. Jones, my former colleague, has just written a strikingly similar book called The Establishment. But at this point Carswell's sense of humour surfaces unexpectedly to save the day. This elite is so powerful, he says, that the 2008 banks rescue "was done by the kind of executive decree Charles I would have died for. And indeed did."
You can forgive wild people who believe we are ruled by the equivalent of lizards if they come up with lines like that. But it doesn't make Carswell's views any more sensible. Presumably, he excludes himself from his strictures about a political class too feeble to resist the power of the unaccountable elite, although with admirable modesty he never says so explicitly. The closest he came was in his news conference with Nigel Farage last week, when he said: "Few [politicians] are animated by principle or passion. Those that are soon get shuffled out of the way." He never got shuffled into the way in the first place, of course, but the implication was that this was because his principle and passion were so fierce.
Presumably, the solution would be for more politicians like Carswell, who are in touch with the people and who are motivated by principle and passion, to break open government and make it accountable.
Some of this makes sense. He should be praised for presenting himself for re-election under his new party colours. The last time an honourable member did this honourable thing was in 1982, when Bruce Douglas-Mann defected from Labour to the SDP, and lost his seat to the Tories in the by-election.
But much of Carswell makes no sense. He wants to get Britain out of the EU, but encouraging people to vote Ukip, paradoxically, makes that less likely. The person most pleased about his defection was not Farage, who now faces a serious rival for the Ukip leadership, but Ed Miliband, the invisible Labour leader. No matter how hard Farage tries to persuade us that Ukip is a blue-collar protest movement appealing equally to Labour and Tory voters, Ukip is still holding on to a larger group of disaffected Tories than of alienated Labourites. So, if Carswell's defection and near-certain by-election victory help Ukip, they will also make it (slightly) more likely that Miliband will be prime minister next year. That means a more pro-EU government, which will not hold a referendum on Britain's membership.
Unless Carswell has a cunning Trotskyist-like plan to inflame anti-EU sentiment by ensuring a Brussophilic government, his tactics seem faulty.
On the other hand, if Carswell really believes that it doesn't matter who wins elections (apart from him), perhaps his defection makes sense. Perhaps there is nothing for the antis to do but to stop the world, get off and wait for a majority Ukip government. After all, Ukip is not just about policy – whether on Europe, gay marriage or wind farms – it is a revolt against politics as usual. That sentiment is widespread, sincerely felt, and dangerous.
The problem with Ukip, as with all stop-the-world utopianism, is that it wants to sweep away the whole of existing politics and replace it with… something else. A "something else" that will turn out to mean having to make the same choices between unsatisfactory compromises that all rich, complex societies have to make. Pretending there are short-cuts is the delusion. Carswell should have stayed in the Conservative Party and fought for whatever it is that he believes.Reuse content