John Douglas Wilson Carswell (born 3 May 1971) is a British former politician who served as Member of Parliament from 2005 to 2017, co-founded Vote Leave, and currently serves as president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
|Member of Parliament|
5 May 2005 – 3 May 2017
|Preceded by||Ivan Henderson|
|Succeeded by||Giles Watling|
John Douglas Wilson Carswell
3 May 1971
|Political party||Conservative (before 2014, 2017–present)|
|Alma mater||University of East Anglia|
King's College London
As a member of the Conservative Party, Carswell was first elected MP for Harwich in 2005, and then for Clacton in 2010. In August 2014, he changed his political allegiance to the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and announced his resignation as an MP. He stood in the subsequent by-election and was returned under his new affiliation, becoming the first elected MP for UKIP. He stated that he was joining UKIP out of a desire to see "fundamental change in British politics" and because he believed "many of those at the top of the Conservative Party are simply not on our side. They aren't serious about the change that Britain so desperately needs."
In 2016, Carswell said that he had "jumped ship with the express goal of changing the image of UKIP and ensuring that it was an asset rather than a liability in the referendum campaign…to decontaminate the brand". He left UKIP on 25 March 2017, to sit as an independent MP. He did not stand at the 2017 general election. In January 2021 he was appointed as president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
Education and early life
Carswell is the son of two physicians. He lived in Uganda until his late teens. His father, Wilson Carswell, a respected Scottish doctor and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, diagnosed the first confirmed Ugandan cases of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, and was one of a number of people engaged in drawing the world's attention to the unfolding pandemic. His father's experiences in Uganda were the inspiration for the character Dr Nicholas Garrigan in Giles Foden's novel The Last King of Scotland. Carswell later attributed his libertarianism to his experiences of the "arbitrary rule" of Idi Amin.
The young Carswell was educated at two independent boarding schools for boys: St Andrews School in Turi in Kenya in East Africa, and Charterhouse in Godalming, Surrey, in southern England, followed by the University of East Anglia (UEA), where he was taught by Edward Acton, and graduated with an upper second-class honours bachelor's degree in history in 1993. He then attended King's College London, receiving a master's degree in British imperial history.
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At the 2001 general election, Carswell contested Sedgefield, the constituency of Prime Minister Tony Blair, as the Conservative candidate. Blair's majority fell by 7,430 votes with Carswell effecting a swing of 4.7% to the Conservatives compared to 1997, against a national swing of 1.8%. In the months before the 2005 general election, Carswell worked in the Conservative Party's Policy Unit, then run by David Cameron.
Member of Parliament
First parliamentary term (2005–10)
Carswell was elected to the House of Commons at the 2005 general election for the constituency of Harwich, defeating Ivan Henderson, the sitting Labour Member of Parliament (MP), by 920 votes. Carswell made his maiden speech on 28 June 2005 in the debate on the Identity Cards Bill. He was a member of Conservative Friends of Israel. Carswell served on the House of Commons' Education Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. In 2008, Carswell took part in an Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme trip to Afghanistan, after which he called for more resources to be allocated to British troops serving there.
In December 2009, Carswell tabled a Bill in the House of Commons calling for a public referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union (EU). The Daily Telegraph nominated him a Briton of the Year 2009, and Spectator readers voted him their choice as Parliamentarian of the Year in the same year. In February 2010, he asked Gus O'Donnell to suspend Cabinet meetings held outside London, when it was found that the government was using them to host Labour Party events in marginal seats.
Second parliamentary term (2010–15)
In the new constituency of Clacton that was created from Harwich at the 2010 general election, Carswell increased his majority over Henderson to 12,068 votes. UKIP decided not to field a candidate against Carswell in the 2010 general election. Instead, the party actively campaigned in support of his re-election in view of his staunch anti-EU views.
In the first week of the new parliamentary session of the Conservative-led Government, Carswell revealed he intended to force a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, over the need to resolve an oversight of apportionment in the European Parliament by re-ratifying the treaty.
On 28 August 2014, Carswell defected from the Conservatives to UKIP. Although not required to do so, he resigned his seat as an MP, thus triggering a by-election. Less than a month before switching parties, Carswell had approved a letter from Conservative supporter Giles Watling to a local newspaper describing UKIP as a "one policy party" and saying "a vote for Ukip will be a vote for Labour". He later said he had been "decidedly cool towards the sentiments of the letter."
Following Carswell's resignation, Roger Lord, UKIP's nominated candidate for the 2015 general election, declared that he still wanted to stand, although the UKIP National Executive Committee voted to select Carswell. Two early opinion polls showed Carswell with a substantial lead. He was successful at the by-election on 9 October 2014, with a substantial majority of 12,404 votes over his nearest rival.
Carswell later contrasted his willingness to put his switch of parties to the electorate to that of the eleven anti-Brexit MPs who switched to The Independent Group, none of whom held by-elections when changing parties. He noted "When I changed parties it didn't occur to me to not hold a by election. If my own electorate weren't supportive, what was the point?"
Third parliamentary term (2015–17)
At the 2015 United Kingdom general election, Carswell won the seat of Clacton with a majority of 3,437 – down from a majority of 12,404 in the 2014 by-election. Carswell won UKIP's only seat in the general election.
In March 2017, Carswell quit UKIP to become an independent MP for Clacton, leaving UKIP with no MPs in Parliament. On quitting the party he said, "Now we can be certain that that [Brexit] is going to happen, I have decided that I will be leaving Ukip."
His relationship with then-UKIP party leader Nigel Farage was full of "animosity" and "tension"; on several occasions he called for Farage to step down as party leader. Farage called Carswell "irrelevant" in response to them supporting different campaigns to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. In response to Carswell calling for the party leader's resignation, Farage said that Carswell should "put up or shut up", further saying that "either he's going to have to accept that [UKIP is unified] or do something different". After Farage's resignation as UKIP leader following the EU referendum, Carswell tweeted a "sunshades smiley emoji", which some parts of the media described as showing the "uneasy relationship" between the two men, Carswell later said to the BBC that "I tweet smiley faces all the time, I'm very optimistic". He also said that while Farage had "played a role" in the referendum, the resignation was "a huge opportunity" for the party. This happened a week after Farage suggested that Carswell could be kicked out of the party, saying that "We find somebody inside our party who doesn't agree with anything the party stands for, it's a very odd state of affairs".
Parliamentary expenses scandal
After being elected in 2005, Carswell originally designated a £1 million flat in London as his second home, and claimed over £21,000 for food, rent and furniture. In 2007 he began renting a house in Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex, which he designated his second home, and again paid a deposit and for furniture, including a £655 love seat, from his expenses (see Flipping § Second home flipping). Between 2007 and 2009 he claimed £32,000 in expenses for the house, commenting "I believe this is entirely justified". Following an investigation of the expenses of all MPs, Carswell was ordered to repay £2,159 in expenses.
Influence in the Conservative Party
Conservative Party commentator and Daily Telegraph columnist Charles Moore credits Carswell, together with MEP Daniel Hannan, as the architects behind the idea of a Great Repeal Bill, as well as the concept of a "Contract with Britain" offered during the election, the "recall" of MPs who have displeased their constituents, open primaries for the selection of parliamentary candidates, and plans for elected police commissioners. According to Moore's analysis not only is "The localism of the Carswell/Hannan "direct democracy" movement is now good Coalition orthodoxy", but Cameron's policy guru, Steve Hilton, "enthusiastically lifted several bits of The Plan", the best-selling moderniser book written by Carswell and co-author Daniel Hannan.
Even before the formation of the Coalition, the influence of Carswell's ideas was evident in speeches made by David Cameron – including a speech to the Open University made by Cameron in Milton Keynes in May 2009.
Influence on UKIP and Leave
New Statesman commentator Stephen Bush has argued that Carswell was correct to recognise that a successful Brexit campaign depended on its messages being associated with people other than Farage, but also observed that there "is no electoral majority to be found in Britain for the libertarian brand of conservatism that Carswell espouses".
Bush also suggested that Carswell's ability to win his seat owed more to the appeal of his party to Clacton's voters than his own personal influence, observing that "the evidence suggests that he has kept his seat thanks to the popularity of the party leaders he has consistently undermined and worked against".
Carswell co-founded Disruptive, a data analytics company. Companies House filings show that Carswell resigned as a Director on 10 April 2019.
In November 2020, Carswell was appointed to a three-year term as a non-executive director for the Department for International Trade.
In popular culture
Carswell and his wife Clementine have a daughter. Carswell's recreations include gardening, swimming, running, blogging, riding and making quince jelly.
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Douglas Carswell supports Vote Leave, which is also...
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