Thursday, January 17, 2008

The whole system is rotten

I've always thought that John Redwood was an eminently sound chap* and, having added his blog to my RSS feeds a few weeks back, I am actually quite annoyed by him: he seems to be wilfully attempting to counter my constant assertions that all politicians are evil, perfidious morons.

However, what his daily missives do indicate is that the system itself is rotten to the very core; I don't only mean that it is corrupt, but that it quite simply doesn't work. For instance, the government controls Chamber time such that it can force Bills through without a reasonable debate, usually citing lack of Parliamentary time which is quite obviously untrue—remember how MPs were going to award themselves an extra week off before Christmas because they didn't have enough work?

However, what is most obvious is that—whilst some MPs are self-interested, mendacious fools—the real culprits here are those who have been in tenure for many decades and who are utterly unaccountable: the Civil Service. Anyone who has watched Yes, Minister has seen an all too accurate portrayal of how the Civil Service works.

The key ways in which it operates—through jobs for the boys and by insulating ministers from having to make decisions—is illustrated nicely in this little vignette from Redwood.
Yesterday I was invited to lunch in the House of Commons by the Thames Valley Economic Partnership.

It was the kind of invitation I usually decline, as I do not approve of lunches at the public expense for public servants. I went because the rules of the game to get approval and money for important transport projects in my constituency require that I express agreement with other MPs, Councils and quangos over the needs of the "region" in order to persuade the Minister to consider our case. The Minister came to the lunch. I did not wish to let the side down, and have to accept the rules of the game as designed by this present government.

The lunch began with a speech telling us, "We have all the stakeholders and all the people that matter in transport in the Thames Valley around this table." The list comprised 6 local government officials, 1 Councillor, 6 MPs, 4 representing the Thames Valley partnership, 5 from central government and its quangos and 16 others mainly from private sector companies. Local and national government officials were well represented.

Of course they were; these well-fed, porcine bureaucrats weren't going to miss out on a free lunch, courtesy of the taxpayer, were they now?
I bit my lip—surely the most important people are the passengers who use the transport system, and surely there are more than a handful of companies involved in delivering the complex transport services of our large region? Are these not important "stakeholders"? I restrained myself from shouting out "Lese-majeste to the voters", or even "These lunching emperors have no clothes".

Do go and read the whole thing, because it perfectly encapsulates how this government—and, one suspects, most governments before it for at least a century—works. Or rather, doesn't work.
The whole performance summed up admirably what has gone wrong with modern government. A large number of people drawing generous salaries from the state sit round endless discussing a problem which has obvious solutions. We are short of transport capacity so we need to provide more. As a result of this meeting it is unlikely the government will make any decision.

The whole system is riddled with low-level corruption from the top to the bottom; and it is the corruption of stagnation and failure. I am more and more convinced that Dr Sean Gabb's identification, and advocated destruction, of "the enemy class" is the only way in which we are significantly going to change things in this country. Or, indeed, any other.

There is an entrenched system of self-satisfied patronage throughout the Parliamentary system which is now designed to work, not for the benefit of the taxpayer who has to pick up the bill, but for the Civil Servants who spend it.

There is no option but to tear it all down and start again.

* DISCLAIMER: through my partnership with Mike Rouse, Redwood is now a client of mine. You'll just have to take my word for it that this has not coloured my view of him. I should also point out that John Redwood does not use any of his Parliamentary Allowances to pay for his site and is thus not constrained by any of the rules on party political campaigning contained in, say, the Communications Allowance.


Tomrat said...


I agree; Dr. Gabb's paper on the enemy class is indeed pointing to the only way forward of slaying leviathan. I think it could be handled a lot more elegantly than just firing the lot of them though; there must be a core of dedicated civil (actual) servants who's dedication to making britain a better place is no less admiral than what the armed forces do, if somewhat less dangerous. I would compare these people to Bernard Wooley's character in Yes Minister; caught between counselling the minister and administering government policy (right or wrong) and being coerced by a more senior civil servant to act in the best interests of his (pay)masters.

Why not have a Reagan-style mass firing/reapplication for jobs handled by a third party recruitment company, similar to the way the PATCO strike was handled? We already have many third party organisations (private industry) who could more than handle the workload if necessary. The only problem I can see with any action (asumming a willing government gained power; ha ha) is the pension scheme; how on earth could this monstrosity be handled?

haddock said...

I have a lot of time for John Redwood, I gently goad him from time to time on his blog and he allows comments to stand, unedited. I think he is in the wrong party, he strikes me as being decent enough to be allowed into UK Independence and to be spared the lamp post treatment.

Mark Wadsworth said...

What Haddock says. Redwood appears to be a thoroughly decent bloke, if you ignore the usual Tory blind-spots. And that Welsh national anthem thingy icing on the cake - how many other politicians would have had the balls to do that?

Steve_Roberts said...

Yes, DK.
I know John Redwood has been relentlessly vilified by Nulab, and their abuse - 'Vulcan', anyone ? - has been enthusiastically relayed by the mainstream media, but when you follow the man's thinking in his own words on his blog, you have to acknowledge this is a serious, capable man with very good intentions. [penny drops] I am now no longer surprised by the vilification, the coterie of Nulab and their hangers-on, useful-idiots etc have identified him as a dangerous enemy.[/penny drops]

Anonymous said...

It is not strictly true to say "the government controls Chamber time such that it can force Bills through without a reasonable debate" if by government you mean the executive. They control the timing of bills through programme motions which have to be voted on.

Anonymous said...

Your basic contention is correct.The entire public sector nexus ,MPs,civil servants .quangocrats,local authority officials is now out of control.

They do whatever they like ,safe in the knowledge that we can do nothing at all about it.

The most egregious current example is the clutch of government types,Alexander,Harman and particularly Hain,who arrogantly cling on despite admitting to breaking the law.

The determination to press on regardless with fortnightly collections of rubbish, is a different type of example of the same arrogance;the same attitude.

I agree with Sean Gabb's analysis of where we are and how we came to be here,but his solution is sadly divorced from reality.

Dr De'Ath said...


part of the enemy class is the career politician,

it would be much healthier to have politicians who had experience of life outside of politics, who did not rely on their income during and post political career,

what we have currently is politicians who have no other knowledge, no other income, no other trade,

this means that they all obey the whips, follow the party line, as they risk losing it all if they rebel in the interest of their electorate,

they refuse to resign as they have nothing else to turn to, they have no other career or income,

they are far more corruptable as they have to ensure they can get some cushty consultancy job once they have been kicked out of office,

being governed by the wealthy has its problems but I'd rather that the likes of Blair and Brown,

as you pointed out about that Benn girl going into politics at such a young age, the same is true of career managers as the career politicians,

they are self serving fools and they are wrecking this country,

how to fix it? f*ck knows

Tomrat said...

Dr. De'ath,

I think a good suggestion to be made to the Libertarian Party (and for future UKIP candidates?) is that candidates for positions should have at least a proven background of management outside of politics; business managers may be fallible but at least (the majority, anyway,) aren't so divorced from the consequences for their actions; accoutability is the key here. Dr. Gabb is right on the money when he states that something dramatic needs to be done (i.e. the firing of all civil servants and tapered re-posting of required jobs) but perhaps his assessment that the rot is too deep for anything else is wrong - we've already seen several instances when the civil service turns on itself to maintain power, perhaps it would do the same if the NAO had powers to petition parliament to fire civil servants/department areas (without pension benefits?) who are consistently shown to be self-serving, incompetent or downright destructive to democracy? The NAO could be instructed to post its findings to the general public at the same time and MP's forced to reveal how they voted on civil service firings?

Anonymous said...

For one who cares so deeply about his cause, Sean Gabb spared no effort in discrediting it in the linked article.

The stuff about the Enemy Class made a kind of sense, but the rest was just barking.

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