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Kathy Gyngell: The contradictions of Douglas Carswell. A libertarian who believes in marriage


On Monday I went to interview Douglas Carswell with high hopes. We, at TCW, wanted to find out where Ukip’s first elected MP stood on social conservatism, feminism and stay-at-home-mothers and what Ukip has to offer to social conservatives.

I have to be honest.  It was a bit disappointing. For a ‘thinking man’s’ politician he didn’t give the impression of having thought through his fundamental political beliefs that rigorously.

He got off to a bad start (well from my point of view).

“I don’t think I’m particularly socially conservative”, he said dismissively.  He didn’t think much of the concept of social conservatism either.

“People have traditionally thought of social conservatism as best aligned with paternalism, and look at the mess that that’s landed us in as a society.”

However he was, he said,  in favour of the family, of marriage, and transferable tax allowances.

So what doesn’t add up?

Well, it’s only that (in my book) social conservatism is defined by its belief in the social value of marriage and family and as best aligned with the values of ‘faith, family and freedom’.

My understanding is that it is the abdication of these values that has landed us in the mess we are in.

The liberal demolition of marriage, family and the Church over the last 40 years has left nothing between the individual and an ever more powerful and interventionist State. And what could more paternalistic than excessive state intervention and its corollary state dependency that these intermediate institutions have given way to? But hey ho.

Mr. Carswell, you see, describes himself emphatically as a libertarian.  He is certainly an optimistic one. “All you have to do… is to allow people to live freely, (and) most people will end up small ‘c’ conservative.” Left to their own devices, he is confident “…people choose fairly conventional and orthodox things like ‘lifelong parterships and marriage’.

We are, however, very far from living freely.  But Mr Carswell does not approve of any idea of using the State to encourage these better outcomes.

I did put to him  the fact that the State encourages the very opposite?  Yes, he concedes the State has damaged the family for he sees people in his surgeries “who have behaved from their perspective entirely rationally but the State has incentivised them to do things that are not good for them and are actually quite destructive of their families”. He knows that the State has “taken on the role of parental provider”, but that it is not a good parent and creates more problems than it solves.

He is he says a strong believer in marriage. In his ‘Carswell utopia’ every single adult over the age of 18 would have a tax allowance, a tax threshold, “and if you decided, regardless of your gender, if you decided to form a lifelong partnership with someone else and one of you decided to transfer that allowance to your partner, it should be transferable to that partner”.

So what is there not to like about Carswell’s belief in marriage as “one of the greatest civilising developments in human history” that places obligations on two people as (otherwise) autonomous individuals in a good way? What not to like about his TTA ideal?

Perhaps it was the absence any sense of urgency from him about the liberals’ determined destruction of marriage that Laura Perrins blogs about today on this site and it catastrophic implications for children and society.

Perhaps it was also his throwaway quip: “If someone really believes in having a 1950s type marriage – fantastic, you can do that. If you want to have a very modern relationship where you equally share an income and you both share equal responsibilities for childcare – fantastic.”

Most of all I disliked his politically correct (but wrong) equation of mother care to childcare.  It left me seriously doubting his high minded version of autonomy and choice .  “We mustn’t be preachy. If mums are choosing to go to work and use childcare and that’s what they want to do – fantastic. I believe in choice, and I think if a parent decides that’s the right way to raise a child, we shouldn’t be critical.”

But, yes, we should be free to criticise. It is not like the babies get a say.  Though their distress at being parted from mum speaks volumes for the choice they would make if they could.

The  implication  that any objection to children spending their early years in childcare is ‘ preachy’ revealed Mr Carswell as more orthodox than libertarian.  If being “critical” is off limits what does that mean for fundamental freedoms of thought and speech?

He was beginning to define himself by his consistency in his inconsistencies.  Why for example is he is so sure that the State  cannot be trusted with our children’s education yet is so confident about its Osted-inspected and state-registered early daycare system?   Another example of his subjection to standard feminist orthodoxies?

All this and his blissful ignorance about the choices he seems to think that mothers have today  got to me:

“One of the wonderful things of the world today is that you can decide if you want to be a stay-at-home mum or even stay-at-home dad, in many cases, not all cases, but that’s far more achievable than let’s say 30 or 40 years ago.

“It’s wonderful that people can decide how they want to arrange these things themselves – one way to really boost  that is to say that when you have a married couple; if they each had a transferable tax allowance, that would allow them as a partnership to decide if one of them decided to specialise on the family and one on, I don’t know, being a lawyer or accountant or teacher or nurse, it would, by giving people greater autonomy and freedom, it would be strengthening the family.”

Its all just fine and dandy then.

For Mr Carswell TTA it seems is just a ‘Carswell utopia’ add on to an already pretty perfect system and one that he won’t make Ukip commit to anyway.  He should ask a would be stay-at-home mother what she thinks about the ‘one way back to work’ child and working tax credits and childcare tax allowances she is currently offered.

Not much, he’d find.

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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