The nationalisation of politics

This morning I heard that Michael Crick for the BBC is going to produce a programme on the growing taxpayer cost of politics. I am glad they are going to draw attention to this trend, which has gathered huge momentum in the last decade.

Labour is happier with politics as a great nationalised industry. There are new armies of advisers on the payroll, to add to the Councillors. MPs, and regional governments. Like most nationalised indistries, the politics corporation is overmanned, costly and not very efficient. Labour has introduced more elected officials in London, Scotland and Wales, more unelected or indirectly elected officials in England’s bogus regions, and a huge increase in the number of political advisers, spin doctors and researchers across all levels of government.

Labour have consistently tried to prevent private money coming into politics, as they fear other parties will be better at attracting voluntary donations than they are. It is now much more difficult to accept money from outside without falling foul of some sleaze test. Money from overseas is banned altogether, at a time when business is much more global and when Labour wants us to be more European.

Meanwhile the Labour model is for much greater spending. Instead of MPs and Councillors doing their own research and handling their own statements and press conferences, people assume now that politicians need researchers and press people to do all that for them.These people need salaries which need paying for. There are difficult issues about the dividing line between politics and government, between what a Council or government spokesman can say and what a political party wants them to say, but not sufficiently difficult to put the politicians off having the paid officials at their side.

Nationalisation cocnentrates power in the hands of the party machines. People who want a “career” in politics instead of wanting to serve the public and contribute to public debate have to conform more and go along with the “professional” political advice from the army of advisers. It leads to a jejune soundbite culture which stifles proper debate. It leads to a bigger burden on taxpayers. It leads to worse government.

What should be done? We need fewer payers of government, fewer elected officials, and fewer advisers. We need a better spread in sources of funding for what political parties do need to do. We need a lower ceiling on how much a political party can spend for an election. Let the elected officials who remain do more and say more, to earn their salaries.

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17 Comments

  1. Mick Anderson
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    The problem for the Electorate in choosing the next Government is that it’s easy to believe that any party would try and stack the political system in their favour. Labour appear to be gerrymandering by employing armies of unwanted box-tickers on inflated salaries and pensions; Conservatives have been accused of supporting Scottish independence to remove some left-leaning constituencies; the Liberals want PR so that their conversion of vote proportion to seats won improves.

    Even at this basic level, each party appears to want something for its own benefit, rather than for the good of the county.

    The vast majority of the Public don’t support a political party (obvious from Party membership figures) – all we want is competent Government. When things are going this badly we have no way to force a change, but even if there was an election, fewer than half those eligible to vote would do so.

    It’s not that we don’t care; more that we don’t see anybody out there that we whole-heatedly support. If I support the Conservative promises on local government, I might disagree with their stance on Europe. Do I vote for the thing I like, or withhold my vote because of that which I don’t approve? There are many things to vote against, but too many combinations of issues and variations in the promises to find a match I can accept.

    Any party machine would say “vote for the promises you like”, but we all know that they will take that as a mandate to do whatever they want. I was never asked if I wanted to run up a massive debt to bail out the banks, or if I wanted the armed forces to invade other countries. There are some things that are so important we can’t wait for another five-yearly election to come along, even there were a party I completely agree with.

    I believe that the Labour Government has comprehensively messed up the country for us, but don’t believe that any party will make the radical changes that I want for them to win my support.

    Ultimately, I don’t believe any Parties promise to stick to their manifesto, which means that any vote I might cast is based on blind faith rather than information received. Faith in a political system that has let me down….

  2. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Well said (again!)
    What we need to govern us it people who understand and know and like us. They do not have to be perfect.
    Maybe we ought to be supporting them financially too instead of about ten or so multi millionaires doing it for us.
    At the moment, we have half baked “professionals” on the Labour Front Bench, and in the European Commission, who have, no doubt, been to the best Universities and Schools, but who, quite honestly, would find it very hard to live like we do. Lots of them are European too, so they come with strange ideas about farming, defence, corruption, the dignity of woman and, yes, sometimes, race and religion.
    They seem to see us either as a column of figures or else as people who feel passionately about the same, mad things as they do: global warming, unlimited immigration, gay rights, target figures, anti hunting, anti smoking.
    And there do not seem to be many sensible people to discuss and scrutinise the increasingly mad laws which they impose on us.

    It will be fascinating to see what the Conservatives do about this.

    (PS We now lose over half our incomes to these people in taxation.)

  3. John
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Hear hear

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Who can say that government at national or local level has improved with all this additional cost? If anything it seems to be far worse for the taxpaying public. Most politicians seem to think that they can spend other people’s money better than they can themselves. I don’t want the so-called state funding of political parties and I don’t want to pay salaries to local councillors or the armies of “hangers-on” in both central and local government. It is hard to see any significant change on the horizon when no party is prepared even to set out how this country is going to live within its means by cutting expenditure and not by raising taxes.

  5. no one
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    yes but

    we dont want ever more power in the hands of a few rich people to decide the policies of the country

    murdoch already heavily influences who wins the election since he controls so much of the media, we dont need people like him funding parties

    we need more independance not less

  6. Stephen
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    The greatest service you could do to the British people is to show a diagram of all the levels of ‘rulers’ above the citizen. Possibly to include:

    Parish councils
    Local councils
    County councils
    Regional councils
    Regional government
    National government
    Westminster parliament
    European parliament
    European commisioners
    Council of ministers
    Court of Human Rights

    Etc.

    Does any member here know the actual structure of our governers?

    Steve

    • Cynical Middle Englander
      Posted July 13, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear.
      There are far too many people making a career out of telling others how to run their lives/business funded solely through taxpayer funds. Its not just a bonfire of the quangos we need, but a fundamental rethink of our governance structures. The duplication and waste is horrendous and the only beneficiaries appeart to be the politicians and public sector.

    • Acorn
      Posted July 13, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Stephen, are you ready for your first lesson, we will start off gently. Your list shows some knowledge of the mess; but, concentrate on the underlying EU Structure Plan, previously rubber stamped by JR and his mates at Westminster. Superstate apparatchics will tell you that NUTS is purely for statistical purposes, don’t believe them. This IS the plan for administrative and political purposes, EU wide. Start with this link:-

      http://www.statistics.gov.uk/geography/nuts.asp

      Notice that the 12 NUTS 1 Regions are already in place (European election areas / government regional offices, for now). Pick a region (NUTS 1 level) at the bottom to see where your patch will end up. There will be some deviation getting to the final solution, just to fool us. Wiltshire for instance, has this year, become a Unitary County on its way to having four LAUs. Notice also that there are currently 443 LAUs. Can I suggest one MP each?

      So, if a politician tells you that they will do away with regional government, just say NUTS.

      Can I put this forward for the conspiracy theory of the year award?

      reply: As someone who has fougth federalism at every turn I disagree with the reference to me.

  7. Beacon
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of what you say with one exception; “fewer elected officials.”

    I remember as a young man in the early eighties making the same statement to the then newly elected John Major’s agent. She paused and told me, and I paraphrase; “one should never seek to water down democracy.” I saw the light.

    Whilst I don’t support fewer elected officials, on the contrary I think there should be more as with the police where they answer directly to the community they serve, I can support time limits in office.

    On party funding I fear little will change even under a ‘compassionate Conservative’ government. Only a strong Tory leader would deal with Labour and it’s union pay masters.

  8. David Hannah
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    John, I assume that you have obtained and read a copy of “The Plan”, co-authored by Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell. As a very succinct manifesto on direct democracy, can you tell us whether you agree with its contents? Apologies if you have already commented on it, as I am an irregular visitor.

    Reply: Yes I commented on it when published

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted July 14, 2009 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      A most inspiring and excellent read!

  9. NigelC
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    The cost of allowances at district council level can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds

  10. Stuart Turner
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Cynical Middle Englander, there are far too many people making money out of telling us how to run our lives…and not for our benefit but to further socialist planning.

    I think one practical measure for reforming our local government would be to return to the pre-1997 arrangement of not paying back bench councillors allowances…only giving them travel expenses. That way we will have fewer party apparatchiks standing because they see it as a ‘good career move’, and more independently minded citizens standing for wards they care about.

  11. Paul
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    The FOI that the BBC put in whilst researching this program came back with the unbelievable figure that politicians and their direct assistants are costing the taxpayer half a billion pounds a year !!!!

    The question that also needs to be asked and I suspect will be an even bigger figure is what all branches of government including quangos are spending on propoganda ( communication) I have just arrived home to find 3 magazines on my doormat. Borough Council, County Council and Police Service, all hype and fluff about diversity and equality and targets in full glossy format. My County Council even runs it’s own TV station at the cost of over half a million a year, sole purpose communication, also has a massive website, sole purpose communication.

    On the questions of parties, manifestos, voting and democracy these are my thoughts.

    Parties funded purely by membership fees

    House of Commons to grow some ba**s and start to challenge the executive

    Direct elections for the executive

    Seperate elections for constituency reps in legislature, this overcomes to some extent the manifesto clash mentioned above and minimises greatly the power of the whips.

  12. alan jutson
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    John

    You assume that the programme will be accurate and balanced with regard to its financial, and other forms of content.

    I will wait and see with interest.

    In the meantime let us hope that the truth and the sheer scale of Government will come out.

  13. DBC Reed
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I used to have dealings with an old-school politician (Conservative).He used to answer his own phone (his home telephone number was in the local telephone directory) and when I met him occasionally to discuss things like Land value Tax which he was amazingly open-minded about (and very quick on the up-take),he made his own mind up and committed everything to memory.
    However becoming more “professional”,he acquired a typical middle-class “gel” as a shield between himself and the public and who decided which phone calls got through. and yet other advisers and researchers came in tow.Later he got into quite a lot of trouble with parliamentary expenses.
    I can never understand why an MP needs a staff at all.I have been involved in some professional jobs where I have done all my own answering the telephone,letter writing, filing and developing my own ideas with no administrative support whatsoever.
    The modern trend of technology towards personal computers, telephone anwering systems etc was meant to liberate “thinkers” from back-office interference and encumbrances .
    You cannot tell me that politicians cannot work on their own anywhere in the country with a personal computer for communication and storing personal files and net Access for doing their own research and checking out political theories (like LVT!), plus a mobile phone.The parliamentary expenses scandal showed politicians trying to re-create the 1950’s office (like the one in Revolutionary Road) when modern technology (perhaps because of a lot of it was developed by hippies) favours the free-standing free-thinker.

  14. ManicBeancounter
    Posted July 14, 2009 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Some useful numbers appear on the BBC at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8147353.stm

    The cost of our councils , Commons, Lords, MEPS and assemblies in Wales, NI & Scotland comes a whisker below £500m.

    These figures are understated by a long way (Security and buildings maintenance are absent, as are the travel costs for MEPs and government ministers). However, even if the true cost is £2bn, that is a trivial issue. It is the difference that a government can make to the country it serves that matters. Wise regulation, proper control of public finances, effective and timely decision-making and promoting the best institutions of the market economy can make the difference of hundreds of billions of pounds a year. This is especially true of the current crisis.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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