Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Direction Is Clear

The light that lightens

In these dark hours of our national crisis, Mr Cam steps forward with his programme for political reform:
"I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power. From the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities.

From the EU to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy.

Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street."

Tyler is cheering. Quite loudly.

It is a light to lighten the darkness.

It is a clear statement of guiding principle, that says we the people must be in charge of our lives, not the political class.

It is exactly what Tyler, the Major, and a thousand Surrey housewives have been crying out for.

So lets draw up an armchair and see precisely what he's proposing...



I see...

Well, it seems there are a couple of details still to sort out.

Like, how specifically is Mr C going to downsize government? He mentions some of things we've praised before, like school vouchers and elected sheriffs, and that's good. But he says nothing about some of the even thornier issues that would make a real difference in weakening the grip of the state.

For example, there's nothing on fiscal decentralisation - ie re-energising local government by making councils responsible for raising the bulk of their own money themselves, through local taxes on local electors.

And there's nothing about breaking up the massive top-down quangocracy that is the NHS. Where's that bold initiative on social health insurance, the system that removes funding power from the hands of ministers?

In fact, come to think of it, he says pretty well nothing about the driving principle of all modern power relationships, which as BOM readers will know, is follow the money. Reform without sorting the money is no reform at all.

And how specifically is he going to make our MPs more accountable to their constituents rather than their party masters? Open primaries we already know about, and have praised, but what about giving disgruntled electors the power to recall a backsliding MP (check out the new campaign on this - 38 Degrees - here)? He doesn't mention that.

And what about splitting the election of the executive from that of the legislature? That would significantly weaken the hold of the government over MPs, and allow us to choose both the PM we want to govern our country, and a local MP to represent us in Parliament. No mention of that either.

Fixed term Parliaments? Well, yes, maybe. But is that actually at the heart of the debate about government accountability? How would that help with our current problems, including the fact that we've got a wildly unpopular, useless, and unelected PM? Under a fixed term, we'd still be stuck with him until next May.

Surely, much more important than fixed term Parliaments is that Big Lumbering Elephant known as PR. In fairness, Cam does mention it, but only to brush it aside with the traditional Tory line:

"Proportional representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites. Instead of voters choosing their government on the basis of the manifestos put before them in an election, party managers would choose a government on the basis of secret backroom deals."

Now, to be frank, Tyler is still in hum and haw mode on PR - exactly where he's been for the last 40 years.

Fundamentally, there's something very wrong with an electoral system where as little as one-third of the voters can elect a dictator (in 2005, Labour got a 66 seat Commons majority on just 36% of the popular vote - which is worse than 1932 in Germany, where the Nazis got 37% of the vote but less than one-third of the seats).

On the other hand, PR puts a wholly disproportionate degree of power into the hands of the smaller parties (which of course, is why the LibDems always want it). And arguably, it also makes for weak unstable government, as Italian-style coalitions disintegrate under the pressure of events (although that doesn't seem to happen in Germany).

But however we run the argument, PR is just about the biggest and most obvious change we could make to our electoral arrangements (didn't you just love Rockin' Al's sly self-serving intervention on this yesterday?). And at a time when we all agree there's something putrid about the way we're currently represented and governed, we surely need to do more than brush PR aside by regurgitating some stale old lines from 1998.

Many of Mr C's other suggestions are utterly sensible, encompassing loads of BOM's old favourites: much more transparency, including easy online access to itemised spending accounts, both for MPs and much more importantly, public sector bodies (and we love Cam's reference to an "army of armchair auditors" combing through the nitty-gritties - we're ordering our new armchair right now); a war on quangos; an end - nay, a reversal - of the great Brussels power-grab.

So overall we give him 6/10.

A very promising effort, but some serious further study still required.

1 comment:

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