Where Are They Now? Former MP Douglas Carswell on Parliament's "Corruption"
Tory defector Douglas Carswell arrives at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster as Ukip's first directly-elected MP [Alamy]
Douglas Carswell: Conservative (2005-14) and Ukip (2014-17) MP for Clacton
Douglas Carswell doesn’t miss Westminster. While it was an honour to serve, “I was never totally comfortable being in the House of Commons; I was only there really to do what we call Brexit,” says the former Conservative and then Ukip MP for Clacton. “After the referendum fight, I was just physically and mentally and emotionally exhausted. It was actually quite a relief to leave, and a privilege to be able to leave having achieved what I set out to achieve.”
A committed Brexiteer long before he joined the Commons in in 2005, Carswell stayed in the Vote Leave/Westminster orbit for three years after stepping down in 2017 “doing one or two things to be supportive… in case we needed to get the band back together”.
“Brexit was completed on 31 December last year. I started [a] new role in America four days later. It was the perfect turning of the page.” Was that deliberate timing? “Oh yeah.”
He still has some involvement in post-Brexit Britain; last November, he was appointed as a non-executive board member for the Department for International Trade.
However, Carswell says he is “absolutely loving” his new life in Jackson, Mississippi, where he is president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a free-market, conservative think tank. “When I was in the House of Commons I realised I was in the wrong place. In Parliament, you’re dealing with the consequences of how people vote. But how people vote is a consequence of how they think. I needed to be upstream from the party political process.”
Washington DC was too like Westminster – hence why he chose state level politics. There are striking differences, Carswell says, with the UK system. When he was an MP, Carswell made ripples with his condemnation of the “corruption” of the Westminster system by the party whips and the party system. His time in the US has only strengthened that belief.
How many Tory MPs who voted to approve the last budget had actually read it?
“Lawmakers in the Mississippi state legislature actually decide policy, whereas MPs don’t really decide policy… They can rubber stamp what their party gives them. They can recite the lines their party hands them; they can tweet the graphics provided for them by their campaign machine.
“Here in Mississippi, lawmakers actually propose bills and individual lawmakers draft legislation and individual lawmakers amend the budget. It was an extraordinary revelation to me about how much more effective representative democracy is here. Let’s be realistic, how many Tory MPs who voted to approve the last budget had actually read it? Or even understood it?”
While he says he is “too old” give up his British citizenship in order to run for office in the US, Carswell is loving the lifestyle out there. He delights in the lack of Covid lockdown restrictions – “people are treated like adults, by the state government and the federal government” – and the family goes to baseball games every Friday night.
There is one thing he misses however – the people of Clacton. “They’re good people, and there is more common sense to be found in Clacton than in the whole of Westminster. It was a huge honour to be to be their representative.”
Carswell says most of his former Tory colleagues were very kind to him when he defected to Ukip in 2014, respecting him for doing the “right thing” and triggering a by-election, even if they disagreed with his reasons.
He has some stark advice for those starting their Westminster careers: choose your cause. “The tragedy I came across in Westminster were MPs who have been there for quite some time, and realised later on in their careers that they were never going to actually hold the high office they had sought, and they never actually got around to doing meaningful change.
“Make up your mind. Do you want to hold office or affect change? Don’t kid yourself that you can do both.”
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