Populist challengers are as bad as the elite

Book review: Rebel: How To Overthrow The Emerging OligarchyHeady but standard libertarian fare from Douglas Carswell, says Matthew Partridge.


A new manifesto for change or the same old libertarian fare?
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.)


Published by Head of Zeus, £18.99

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Douglas Carswell has hadan eventful few years. After moving from the Conservatives to Ukip inAugust 2014, he managedto hold his seat at both thesubsequent by-election, andthe 2015 general election. However, his libertarianviews sat uneasily with NigelFarage's populist approach,and the two have clashedover a wide range of issues,culminating in his recentdecision to quit Ukip andbecome an independent MP.

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Carswell's new book, Rebel,is an attempt to outline hispolitical philosophy. In it, he arguesthat the current establishment, bothpolitical and business, is corrupt anddeliberately constructed so as to avoidpublic scrutiny. This isn't a particularlynew idea: you can hear variations on thistheme from everyone from Beppe Grilloin Italy to Donald Trump in America.However, the big twist is that Carswellthinks that the populist challengers to the status quo, such as Trump, Grilloand Farage, are just as bad as the elitethat they are trying to replace.

Indeed,Carswell is particularly scathing aboutthe Ukip leader. Rather than trying tochange, or at least reform, the system,these politicians are only concernedwith trying to grab more power for themselves, he says, using fear andhysteria to further their own interests.

Instead of trying to replace the peopleat the top, Carswell thinks that we needto make some fundamental changes tothe way that we regulate business andfinance. We need to avoid following theexample of medieval Venice and early modern China, where entrepreneurialactivity and businesses ended up beingenmeshed in a web of regulation designedto maintain the elite's strangleholdon power. This led to stagnation anddecline, while countries that stayed opento innovation, such as 16th-centuryHolland and 19th-century Britain,became economic superpowers.

This is all heady stuff. But look closelyand much of Carswell's programmeis standard libertarian fare, such asdismantling the welfare state, replacingpublic services with personal savingsaccounts, and breaking up the BBC.

Such policies would accentuate inequalitywithout stimulating enterprise, andwould make the oligarchy even morepowerful. His idea of growing UK-UStrade by accepting US standards alsodeliberately overlooks the fact that USstandards are much weaker than ours.Finally, some of the stranger ideas heputs forward include ending limitedliability for bankers and having multiplecurrencies circulate in the UK at thesame time. These proposals are simplyunworkable in a modern economy.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri