Douglas Carswell

26 DEC 2010

Radicalism needs ideas, not speeches

The Guardian informs us that the Downing Street policy team will be beefed up in the coming year with the appointment of more civil servants.

Phew!  What a relief.

For a moment there might have been a danger of involving those we elect to the House of Commons to determine policy. Much wiser to draft in some young Sir Humphreys, the sort who never have to justify themselves to angry voters in marginal seats.

We keep being told that the coalition is “radical”. Even journalists, who read each other’s articles on the subject, keep writing about how bold this government is.

But is it? The rhetoric is radical.  The concept of the coaliton is still novel.  But is the policy reality quite as bold as often thought?  

Cutting the deficit?   That’s not what the numbers are saying. Last month the government’s year-on-year monthly borrowing increased by a third compared to where we were under Brown last November. The bloated British state borrowed more money in November 2010 than in any month since the 1690s.  Like pretty much every other post-war government not held in check by an effective legislature, this one will seek to plug any fiscal gap with tax hikes, over spending cuts.   

Political reform? Been boiled down to a referendum on AV. Recall votes to sack wayward MPs? In the hands of a committee of Westminster grandees, old chap. The Great Repeal Bill? Morphed into a Bill that promises to ban things. Open Primaries? Quietly dropped. 

More accountability in Whitehall? Ministers might have their “to do” lists on line, but much of the accountability agenda has seen officials answering inward, rather than outward.

Localism? Yes. But please don’t mention the money. 

Defence? Novel, in that we had a strategic review without a strategy. But nothing as rash as to, say, examine the small print on those equipment contacts. 

In area after area, the rhetoric of change has yet to be matched by the reality. Perhaps what is needed in 2011 is a beefing up of ideas, rather than the policy unit payroll?

As I say in an article in the Mail on Sunday "The last really radical Government, under Mrs Thatcher in the Eighties, did not have to keep telling us how radical it was being. Instead it just got on with decentralising control over economic matters.

Radicalism today should be about decentralising control over public services and politics. The Coalition certainly talks about decentralization and localism. But the problem is that the inner circle has not necessarily worked out how to make it happen.”  

No army of junior Sir Humphrey types is likely to change that.

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