Douglas Carswell: What will change in Westminster really mean?

When people talk of change in Westminster, they usually mean switching politicians and sometimes even policies. Yet what is really changing in SW1 is the way we do politics.

Douglas Carswell, MP
Douglas Carswell, MP

Too much of Westminster is smug, indolent and self-regarding.  And after the expense revelations, the world knows it.  A rising tide of anti-politics, combined with the power of the internet, is forcing change regardless of who holds office.

When most PR "experts" discuss politics in the digital age, they usually witter about twitter.  Yet they miss the shifting fundamentals.

Pre-digital, you could not have leaked over a million MPs expense receipts.  Before the blogs, it would have been inconceivable that a Prime Minister would lose his press spokesman to someone called Guido Fawkes.  But these are merely straws in the wind of what is to come.

Already the Westminster press lobby is losing its monopoly to decide what constitutes news, and how events get reported.  Once upon a time, what a frontbench spokesman for widgets might have to say about widgets was treated as inherently newsworthy.  It's no longer necessarily so.

Politics is being disintermediated.  That's a fancy way of saying that the middle man (or woman) is being cut out.  The process of opinion forming is being democratised.  If you are looking for a tight knot of decision makers to influence, you might be looking for something that no longer really exists.       

Those seeking to influence debate in Westminster seem slow to understand.  Shaping public policy debate is no longer merely a question of squaring the official spokesman.  As some public affairs practitioners are discovering, simply trying to hire ex-staffers is not really enough.

Whether you are lobbying for wind farms or for runways, many of the tried and tested methods of influencing Westminster won't work.  So what might?

First, it'll be the quality, not the quantity, of the argument that will count.  Buying acres of advertising space that says you are a Good Thing, does not make it so. 

Having helped put the whole question of defence procurement policy under the spotlight, and raised issues that many a defence lobbyist would rather stayed out of sight, I know it is possible for a tiny handful of people, and a well targeted blog or two, to shift the focus of debate.

Authentic is going to be crucial.  Forming front organisations to lobby and pressurise is likely to become counter productive.

And as with MPs expenses, transparency will be key.  I've a hunch that sooner or later we'll see a big Westminster story about the way that some lobbyists seek to buy influence.  Certain practices, such as the revolving door between Whitehall and business might technically be within the rules.  But then so were Hazel Blears expense claims.

Douglas Carswell MP tabled the motion that ousted the House of Commons Speaker.  He co-authored the influential book The Plan: 12-months to renew Britain and blogs at

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