Overgoverned UK


             Last night’s elections reminded us just how overgoverned the UK has become, with elections to so many layers of government  and with so many posts on offer. The results were much as expected. The pundits had expected the SNP to do well at Labour’s expense in Scotland and for the Lib Dems to lose ground generally.

             I found numerous electors expressing concern about the continuing size of the deficit and the continuing high levels of spending, as well as some others querying particular spending decisions of local Councils where they did not like cuts. I was given plenty of examples of spending the public would like cut, and some frustration at the high level of taxes now needed to pay for all the overgovernment. The argument is not as one sided and as “cuts” oriented as some in the media would have us believe.

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  1. alexmews
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    totally agree, john. do conservative plans for boundary changes and reduced westminster MPs survive a ‘No’ vote? I thought the two policies were linked to a ‘Yes’

    yours, in london, with a local (libdem) council, GLC borough rep & london mayor, local MP & regional MEP.

    snip snip! you have my support to start shrinking the political class.

    Reply: The referendum was linked to cutting the number of MPs, not its result.

    • lifelogic
      Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Over governed, over regulated and overtaxed and very badly governed into the bargain. With very little real government infrastructure investment and lots and lots of expensive and contradictory, politically fighting, over paid, private sector handicapping and pointless talking shops.

      Fire at least one in two – no one would even notice as so few real “public services” are actually delivered and the people concerned could get a real & productive job and should be happier doing that anyway.

    • Paul H
      Posted May 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      What’s happening about West Lothian? Presumably nothing?

      • Robert Taggart
        Posted May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Scottish independence would answer this question… bring it on !

  2. Stephen Gash
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    The SNP did well in Scotland and the usual tumbleweeds blew across the field of Tory candidates.

    I suppose the only solution is to throw even more money and public sector jobs at Scotland while blaming the empty-walletted “sour Little Englanders” for “not understanding” the poor wee Scots.

    That should do the trick and turn Scotland blue.

  3. alan jutson
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Polling Station seemed busy when we (wife and myself) went to vote yesterday.

    Let us hope turnout was at a good level everywhere, so the result has some sort of meaning.

    Agree with you that the media seem to have a different agenda to most voters.

    A smaller government which can live within its means, within in a lower tax economy, where the work ethic is rewarded, is what as a minimum, is required.

  4. Bob
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    I thought that the “cuts” were actually Labour’s way of referring to a slower rate of increase in public spending. The only difference between the Tories and Labour being the slowdown in the rate of increase.

  5. Robert K
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I thought there were good arguments either side for AV. The main reason I voted no was because the only reason it was on the agenda was because a minority party with only a handful of victorious MPs ended up forcing the referendum. JR is in a better position than the rest of us to judge the contribution that the libdems are making in Parliament but from what I can see they are pretty illiberal and regard the democratic process as a way to inveigle more power for themselves. The referendum that I wanted was the one that the libdems proposed in opposition – on our continued membership of the EU. Wouldn’t that have been more appropriate after we were sold down the Seine by Heath?

  6. Stephen Gash
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    In the 19th century the single British parliament met for six months of the year and ran the world’s largest empire as well as the UK. Only cabinet ministers were paid.

    Now we have three devolved chambers sucking in English taxes and a British parliament messing up England. These politicians are full time on decent salaries and awaiting fat pensions.

    I care about Scotland as much as Alex Salmond cares about England. Most MPs in England care as much about England as Alex Salmond. It is not the size of government that matters it is effective government.

    To be effective, politicians have to decide where their loyalties lie. We are in no doubt where Salmond’s loyalties lie, but many in England are dubious as to where the loyalties of their elected politicians lie. Judging by the comments made politicans at all levels and of all parties, it is clear that their loyalties are not to England, indeed just the opposite.

    Hence, we have bad government in England.

    • JoolsB
      Posted May 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      Well said Stephen Gash. I wish we had someone like Alex Salmond standing up for England. Scotland has it’s own parliament, it’s own First Minister, it’s own Secretary of State for Scotland all standing up for it. Who does England have to stand up for it? It has no parliament, no First Minister and not even a Secretary of State for England and certainly not our elected politicians who can’t even bring themselves to mention the word England let alone stand up for it and certainly not David Cameron who is carrying on where Labour left off.

  7. English Pensioner
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    My concern is that England is being governed, not by the residents of England, but by the residents of Scotland and Wales.
    Regardless of the AV vote, the fact that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own government, and at the same time their MPs have a say on purely English matters, means that their citizens effectively have two votes against the one in England. This is further compounded by the English MPs having larger constituencies, resulting in smaller numbers of English MPs for the population than other parts of the country.
    So the real iniquities of the system have not been addressed.

    • lifelogic
      Posted May 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      No indeed iniquities all over the place but there is no realistic working mechanism to address these so they will continue. the Scottish and Welsh (and the EU) have far more power than they are due and they will use this power to retain and further increase it.

      The English voter are fairly powerless to do much about it.

    • JoolsB
      Posted May 8, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      And it doesn’t look like they will be addressed either, not even by the party put there by the English, i.e. the Conservatives. When did we last hear any of them speak up for England against the unfairness of tuition fees for our children only or prescription charges or heaven forbid question why MPs with non-English seats are still allowed to vote on what affects us but not their own constituents. Our ‘I don’t want to be Prime Minister of England’ PM has denounced us as sour little Englanders for daring to want the same as the rest of the UK, ie. our own parliament. We are told by politicians of all colours that there is no demand for an English Parliament whilst Wales has been asked twice. Here’s a novel idea – why not ask us? Rumour has it that John is a supporter of an English Parliament so why isn’t he shouting from the rooftops about it? It seems the present lot are no better than Labour and are happy to see England continue to be treated as third class citizens.

    • Robert Taggart
      Posted May 12, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Here, here, here !

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    We are without doubt over governed and you didn’t even mention the anti-democratic EU which presides over so much of what the numerous UK based governments do.

  9. Toque
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    If we have Lords reform in which the Upper House becomes elected by PR, thereby conferring upon the upper house greater democractic legitimacy than the Commons; and if the Commons has stripped non-English MPs of their voting privileges, then the reformed House of Lords might become seen as the more British of the two chambers. As Paddy Tipping pointed out recently:

    “Let us consider what would happen if there were two classes of Members of Parliament, and certain MPs could not vote and, in particular, speak on certain issues. If there were a rival Chamber up the Corridor, where Members from across the United Kingdom, however they were elected or selected, were able to speak, there would be a case for people to say, “We are the legitimate Chamber of the United Kingdom, and you Commoners down there are a de facto Parliament for England.” That is the threat. I do not say that that situation will arise, but we need to explore the issue.”

    Under these circumstances we can see how the evolution of the House of Commons into an English parliament, and the House of Lords into a federal parliament, might begin. The House of Commons could be reduced in size to 400 English MPs and the reformed House of Lords (the federal parliament) could handle reserved matters and have powers of scrutiny over the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments, and be reduced in size from 850 to 500 or so.

    Bingo, fewer politicians, England has a parliament, everyone’s a winner.

  10. Peter Ruck
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    The ‘over government’ argument can be seen clearly in Surrey. Six years the county council employed 23,000 people and the leaders of the council (Conservative) said they wanted to reduce that total; today SCC employs 28,000. Local government has gone mad.

    National government is just about as bad, the Commons and Lords have more members that Congress and Senate in the USA. Do we really need so many MPs and members of the upper house?

    • lifelogic
      Posted May 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Do we need any of them at all when they cannot even decide which products have VAT on without EU say so.

  11. Major Loophole
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    “and with so many posts on offer.”

    and with so many to preserve—like in Planning, for example.

    The previous government’s amendments to householder ‘permitted development’ (PD) regulations have turned out to be disastrous for home owners. Nearly 7 years—yes, 7 years—in the making and three (expensive) consultations later, all conducted with the express objective of increasing householders’ liberties and reducing the workload on (allegedly) overburdened council planning departments, the complete opposite has been achieved.

    Introducing the purpose of householder PD under Statutory Instrument 1950 No 728, the Minister of Town & Country Planning said (Circular 87, 1950, para. 4) “to remove from the need to obtain express planning permission a number of minor applications which have so far occupied an amount of time and manpower out of all proportion to their important to planning.”

    Meanwhile, 60 years hence under the 2008 amendments, in my village an express planning permission was required for—–a 6ft x 4ft domestic greenhouse in a side garden! Cost of greenhouse: £250. Cost of planning permission (including, of course, Design and Access Statement and all the rest) £2,500. Under the previous regulations this greenhouse was permitted development. You couldn’t make it up.

    But is all this the LPA’s fault? Of course not. It was Whitehall ‘wot done it’; who took the seven years and made the mess largely by retrospectively re-interpreting the specific terms in the new Order after it came into force; by failing to issue a Circular and by failing to provide meaningful guidance on interpretation to the Planning Inspectorate who have been floundering and issuing inconsistent appeal decisions as a result.

    And it was SW1 who didn’t scrutinise CLG’s output despite it affecting 16.8 million homes in England. That’s a lot of voters. Voters who in increasing numbers can’t afford to move house and who therefore need to extend to meet growing family needs and thus provide real jobs in the construction industry at a time when such economic output is desperately needed. Voters whose need to extend can be captured to drive energy efficiency improvements as an integral part of their extension designs at a time when such improvements are also desperately needed.

    Instead, Whitehall and SW1 have empowered planners at the expense of householders’ liberties, driving jobs in councils at the expense of jobs in the real world; at the expense of tax revenues; at the expense of energy efficiency improvements.

    Way back in 1988 when the ‘old regulations’ were devised (as part of a general consolidation excercise) the then DoE at least seemed to understand what it was doing. Now I get the distinct impression that CLG—and their counterparts in LPA’s—understand neither the geometry nor physics of buildings they are dealing with. That would be like Eskimos not understanding that igloos are made out of snow.

  12. forthurst
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    The political class and its acolytes are choking this country. They have created lucrative career paths for themselves involving easy transitions from local government all the way to Brussels. It was very clear when I examined my prospective local councillors’ CVs that those who appear to have no useful skills or specific contributions to be made locally, but who clearly had political experience and ambitions beyond the local were vey much in the ascendant.

    This country is run by people whose only experience is in spending other peoples money, taking bad decisions and talking their way out of them. No wonder so much money is wasted when decisions are constantly taken by those with no knowledge or experience of any activity other than politics. Each profession has its tail of poor performers, but politics is riven with mediocrity. This is because politics is seen by far too many as an easier option than anything else their native talents would command.

    There needs to be a substantial reduction in the tiers of government so that there is no overlap both in terms of elective officials and administrators. It would be useful if Parliament kept its nose totally out of local affairs; this country was better run when Parliament restricted itself to matters of natonal importance, e.g.the need to bomb Ghaddafi for the affrontry of proposing a gold dinar as a substitute for Bernanke’s bog paper, and did not spend their time creating prescriptions for local government and other tiers, and armies of inspectors to ensure these were followed, however irrelevent, timewasting or counterproductive to the activity to be micro-managed.

  13. Warren
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    ‘I was given plenty of examples of spending the public would like cut, and some frustration at the high level of taxes now needed to pay for all the overgovernment.’

    Please could you share the details of which areas of public spending people would like cut?

    In terms of overgovernment, are you advocating that we do away with local elections and democracy? What would be your proposed alternative?

    I thought that the Tories were all for moving power away from central government to local communities under their drive for increased ‘localism’?

    Reply: No I am not proposing to do away with local democracy. Top of the list for cuts were EU spending, overseas aid, and loans to Euroland economies.

  14. lifelogic
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    It is rather like appointing an Managing Director of a company and then preventing them doing anything sensible like fire people or take other sensible actions.

    Oh the government ensure that as well through absurd employment regulations don’t they.

  15. JimF
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Excellent that the SNP has done so well in Scotland. Hoefully they will get their promised referendum to determine their independence.
    In the case of their voting for independence, we, the English, should receive a similar opportunity for independence, both from the EU and the UK Parliament.
    Equally, should the Scots vote against independence, the flip side of the coin should be them settling for a more equitable treatment than at present for receipt of English tax revenues than under the Barnett formula, and for the riddance of this extra Scottish parliament.
    All in or all out!

  16. Mike Stallard
    Posted May 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Two things happened today. The first was a visit to the 9excellent) local hospital where people were thronging. There were a lot of very polite people bustling about with clipboards in suits. Lots of people walking briskly up and down the corridors.
    The second was that my wife had to pay £34 tax for a present of a second hand iPad from Singapore sent as a birthday present.
    I pointed out to her that the two things were deeply related. But she was still extremely miffed and I do not blame her.
    In Northern England and Scotland, thanks to the Scottish genius, there seem to be lots and lots of people who are totally incapacitated in every way and utterly dependent of the economic miracle of the Welfare State.
    In this little County of Cambridgeshire we have three tiers of local government.
    And the government in London just does nothing. Nothing at all.

  17. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted May 7, 2011 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    In a Pilot election, people voted 2:1 against John Prescott’s beloved regional assemblies. So let us follow the arguement where it leads: national government is the top level (apart from the EU and you can hardly expect me to be enthusiastic about that), then county councils and district councils. In some instances, district councils interact directly with national government.

    So let us get rid of all quangos and civil servants that operate and think at the regional level (apart possibly from transport networks). Then we can dare entertain the thought that the populations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are not much bigger than those of the English regions and wonder if their parliaments / assemblies are a good idea.

    Once we have had a few months of Alex Salmond gloating over the electoral success that he has bought with English taxpayers’ money, we might at last get a bit more vicious.

  18. Robert Taggart
    Posted May 12, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Three tiers of Government be cmore than enough…
    Continental – if we must be in it !
    National – England prefferably, UKGBNI otherwise.
    Local – Stockport unitary authority in our case.
    That said, local unitary authorities should be the norm in England – Scotland and Wales have just such.
    Stockport – 21 seats = 63 councillors, elected every four years (one in any year). Too many councillors, too many elections. Solution ? – 30 seats = 30 councillors, elected all together once every 5 years.
    In any given decade the electoral calender could be –
    Years 0 & 5 – National (general) election.
    Years 1 & 6 – Local elections throughout England at least.
    Years 4 & 9 – Continental elections – as now.

  • 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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