The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘political institutionalisation’

Lib Dems Must Remember: We Want To Cut Ministers Too

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 7, 2010 @ 10:37

Too many ministers...

Still dining out on watching a veritable feast of BBC Parliament + a debate on parliamentary reform (the perfect combo) on Monday evening, where Nick Clegg was the star of the show (*pinch*, *pinch*… no, this is not a dream), it has to be worth another blogpost… surely?

An issue that came up a few times during the debate, a very reasonable one, was that if you cut the number of MPs by some 7%, then you simply must cut the executive by a similar amount. Or, better still, more.

One of the problems of Parliament, and the overlap between the executive and the legislature, is that there are over 100MPs who are either on the government payroll, or are a bag-carrier for a payroll MP. In fact, in October 2008, there were 141. It means that no matter what the issue, no matter when, the government of the day has a banker number of votes on its side.

The logical conclusion of this process is that if you reduce the number of MPs without reducing the size of the payroll vote, you are actually strengthening the proportional power of the executive in some votes.

But what I found most irritating about this argument on Monday was the only bit where Nick Clegg let himself down.

The argument was made only by Labour MPs, and though Chris Bryant, who first raised it, did so in a partisan fashion, it was later put in more measured terms by Chris Leslie

If there is a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament but not in the number of Ministers as set out in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975, there will be an increase in the ratio between the number of Ministers and the number of Back Benchers. Does he understand that point, and will he now address it?

Clegg’s response was wholly unsatisfying

I simply do not accept that there is an imbalance between the number of Ministers and the manner in which they are held to account by a House which will be about 7.7% smaller. I believe that a House with 600 Members will be as well equipped to hold this and, indeed, any other Government to account as the present House is with 650.

Simply put, it does not answer the question. In fact, it is unashamed, wilful ignorance of the issue in order to play the petty-political game whereby everything we say is right, and everything you say is wrong.

After all, the Lib Dems once supported cutting the number of ministers to 73. And I can guarantee that if the Lib Dems were in opposition too, they would be joining it. Attempting to improve the strength of non-frontbenchers, on any side of the House, is a standard liberal argument. We come out of the womb ready to take on the overweening executive.

The tendency of governments to ignore good ideas if they come from the opposite side was something I thought we might get away from in this coalition.

Whenever I watch BBC Parliament, I realise just how naive I am sometimes…

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Cleggy Takes On The House

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 6, 2010 @ 09:30

It still seems weird...

If there’s one thing that makes me reasonably happy about the coaltion, it’s days like Monday when Nick Clegg takes to the floor of the House as Deputy Prime Minister and delivers yet another good performance on the issue of political reform.

Yesterday the topic was a rather convenient bundling of the issues of the Alternative Vote referendum with the concept of equal-sized constituencies. Being the rather sad individual that I am, I watched the whole thing from start to finish. Long live BBC iPlayer!

It was an excellent debate, and Clegg was confident and competent in handling difficult questions from all sides. I am fully in support of both plans, and I look forward to the referendum. Though I have argued in the past that AV is potentially a disaster, I am, nonetheless, going to support it, in the hope that it might encourage a little reforming zeal in the British public, and that it at least brings us to the threshold of good quality proportional representation with STV.

But enough about that…

What makes Nick Clegg so effective in the Commons, at least at the moment, is that he is blessed with the legacy he has been granted. As something of an “outsider” commanding a portfolio that is encouraging “outsider” thinking, he is in his element. He is able to position himself as the man taking over at a time when the political reform agenda had stagnated, contrasting his radicalism with the conservatism that set in in the dying days of the Labour administration.

Furthermore, Labour are playing right into his hands. Their sudden newfound love of opposition, and opposition for the sake of it, is granting Nick Clegg the opportunity to attack Labour relentlessly for their remarkable shift from progressive radicals to conservative pragmatists. Yes, Labour MPs are right to scrutinise the government, but a mere two months ago they were all elected on a pledge to back such a referendum on AV.

Now they look decidedly shifty, and are already preparing the groundwork for their very own u-turn. But, in doing so, they reinforce the very point Nick Clegg enjoys making, that the 13 years in power have transformed Labour from their early days of constitutional remoulding to true friends of the establishment. That’s not a good place to be when the country is feeling so… bold… about what it would like to do to its political system.

The worry I have about Clegg and Parliament is simple. In time, he too will become an establishment figure. In time he will no longer be able to blame the Labour legacy. Indeed, if he gets his way, and likes what he sees, he will become the most conservative person of all, defending the new status quo.

That won’t be good for his reputation, or the reputation of the Liberal Democrats.

But at least it’s a dilemma of power and influence that we’re actually able to have…

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What Makes A Think Tank?

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 8, 2009 @ 10:10

I'm thinking it, I'm thinking it!

There are many “think tanks” in British politics. Hell, there are many think tanks in all politics.

The purpose of them is to generate ideas for policy away from the usual pressures of the political process. In that sense, they are the classic device of the political class: to outsource as much as possible from themselves in order to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. Keeping policy and ideas at arms length to save face in the event of a stupid suggestion…

What I find most interesting, though, is where on Earth most of these think tanks come from in the first place.

Anyone can start a think tank. It takes a bit of whizzyness on the interweb and maybe a few eyecatching ideas. Doesn’t mean anyone will pay attention to you, though. After all, any blogger in the world could turn themselves into a think tank within minutes, but so what if nobody’s listening?

The real key to what makes a think tank work is they normally have a customer: a notable politician within a party who wishes to get their agenda noticed. See Keith Joseph, and the foundation of his Centre for Policy Studies in 1974.  The goal there was to turn the Tory party into a vehicle for economic liberalisation, and the idea all along, it seems, was to put their acolyte, Margaret Thatcher, into the driver’s seat. It worked.

This is why only a select few succeed. The IPPR has long been seen as central to the New Labour machine, and it certainly provided the breeding ground for a great deal of Labour MPs and party insiders. That success has enabled them to stay a part of the political narrative, even when their ideas are out of favour right now.

But the vast majority of think tanks are merely exercises in ego-stroking. MPs or other careerists looking for a way of either continuing their “legacy”, or to try to pretend they have an influence on their party. See Charles Clarke/Alan Milburn and their ridiculous “2020 Vision” exercise

Is any of this healthy for democracy?

Well, it is a free country, and people are free to listen to, or ignore, many of these so-called ideas at their peril.

But what concerns me most is the exclusivity of it all. It’s almost as if the political class say that the only ideas worth listening to are the ones from the people who are already well established amongst their elite. The same people who are already fully institutionalised and frequently cannot see that often the most exciting solutions are the most radical, the most unexpected.

Sour grapes, maybe, from someone who thinks he has the answer to everything. But then again, so do most other armchair pundits and keyboard warriors.

I wouldn’t be a blogger otherwise.

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