When we were shown into the meeting room for the interview with Douglas Carswell it was clear that he wasn’t fazed or nervous, and was every inch the professional MP. His recent move to Ukip had obviously been a major landmark in his career, and one which was particually controversial. Concrete was eager to interview the Tory rebel, who made a splash defecting to the anti-establishment party, in order to better understand the man beneath the headlines.
Dan started off our round of questions by asking whether the Ukip campaign would be able to make inroads into the student vote, given the fact that the party has always received a strong backing from an older proportion of the population.
“Historically I think that’s absolutely right, Ukip has tended to draw more support from an older demographic, rather than a younger demographic, but in the Clacton by-election we saw the opposite, so I think that can be turned around”. Carswell went on to explain that he felt Ukip appealed more strongly with voters who are tired with; “Cartel politics, with the cosy clique, who run our political system, and I think that message will resonate with younger people”.
Dan jumped in, interested to know what he thought Ukip would need to do in order to achieve this. “Absolutely, in politics you start with your base and you have to work out beyond your base. Political parties like to talk to themselves where they’re strongest, Ukip I think is a different sort of party; it’s a genuine grassroots organisation.
I think that a really important pre-condition of being able to do that is to make absolutely crystal clear that Ukip’s values are in tune with modern Britain”. Without prompting from either of us, Carswell dealt with the issue of Ukip’s history of troublesome candidates. “Lets go straight to the issue. There have been one or two people who were standing for Ukip who had views that were obnoxious, and offensive, and those individuals are not Ukip candidates”.
Dan swiftly brought the interview back to focus on what Ukip’s chances were in winning the support of UEA and Norwich South, following the postponement of an event on campus where Steve Emmens had been due to speak. “You get these small groups of people who find a new idea quite challenging. Sometimes the innate conservatism of people, who ironically wouldn’t see themselves as conservative, shines through. I think most people realised that was the wrong response, if you disagree with people you have to engage”.
Clarifying Carswell’s opinion, Dan wondered if he still felt that Steve Emmens could win the Norwich South seat. “Absolutely, he’s a good candidate, he’s doing the right thing, and there are a lot of voters out there in Norwich South [who have been let down by the other parties], which shows that there is a certain volatility in the local electorate”.
Moving the interview along, I was interested to see, as a humanities student, what Carswell (who graduated from UEA with a degree in history) had to say in relation to Ukip’s policy on tuition fee reductions for science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. “I start from the position, that the principle of tuition fees, allowing people to invest in themselves, is not a bad one. However, one of the unintended consequences of the tuition fees proposal as its been implemented, has created an bizarre incentive, particularly for doctors, to in effect, get their degree and look at the pile of debt they need to pay back and think ‘you know what, I’d be better of if I moved to Australia, Canada or somewhere else’”. Mr. Carswell went on to explain that it was right to say that there are certain skills the country needs, so that it is right that the taxpayer covers the cost of those degrees.
“If you have anything other than 100% universal state funded higher education, you are going to have to draw the line somewhere”.
Dan opened up the discussion, interested to know how Ukip reflected some of the decisions taken by Union Council, such as how Ukip planned to address issues like tax avoidance, which he responded to very quickly. “Tax avoidance is possible because EU rules allow big corporations to choose which EU jurisdiction they pay their tax in. Until we leave the European Union it is going to be a growing feature of inequality and injustice”.
I was keen to see what Douglas Carswell thought about the fact that Ukip doesn’t have a central whip, unlike most other parties, and whether he thought that this was part of the reason why the party seemed to have proportionally more disciplinary issues than others. ‘Where do we get this doctrine of party discipline from? What is a parliament? A parliament is a group of people who are elected by voters to represent them, historically against the Crown. The Crown, who wants to spend our taxes and declare foreign wars and impose laws on us.
Where did we get this idea, that our representatives should be disciplined by an internal party machine. I think that it is one of the reasons, regardless of which lot of muppets holds office, is badly run. Ukip recognises that we do need whips, but they are voters”.
He then expanded by saying the the presence of whips in British politics had been disastrous for the country, and that the British political system needed a serious overhaul. “Lets get away from the idea of party whips; we need more free votes, we need a right of recall so that constituents can sack their MPs if they don’t think they are up to the job, and open primary candidate selections, so that we can install candidates who have a popular mandate, not people who toady up to party whips”.
It became clear that we were running out of time, so we started to wrap up the interview by asking Carswell why Ukip has proposed to take international students out of immigration figures. “I think it’s sensible. We need to control our borders and we need to have a sensible migration policy which allows us to attracts the brightest and the best. I am very smitten by the Australian approach, where they actively integrate the fact that their universities are very popular, and attract very able people. If we were to include international students it would ultimately damage this because it would mean that very able people would go to America, Australia or somewhere else”. Dan quickly interjected and suggested that this could perhaps be detrimental to British students, because universities can charge international students a lot more.
“If you scrapped tuition fees, then I think you’d create an incentive for British universities not to have any British students at all. Lets not blame overseas students for some of the unintended consequences of the tuition fees policy that needs to be slightly refined. universities that are attracting huge numbers of international students are doing something right. There should be scope for universities to expand to accommodate all”.
Just as the interview was wrapping up I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask Carswell why he defected to Ukip in the first place. “I used to think what was wrong with this country was the colour of the rosettes that ministers used to wear. Now I’ve realised that politics is a cartel, run by the same sort of people for their own convenience, you don’t really get any change, and the cartel needs to be broken. I think that Ukip could become a revived version of Gladstone’s party, free market, small government, pretty hands off, sensible in terms of its foreign policies, and a wide base of support from all sections of society who are sceptical of patrician elites”.