Francis Maude was much maligned by right-wing Tories during the opposition years as a wet moderniser, suspiciously tie-less and the éminence grise behind the Cameroon Policy Exchange think-tank.
In office he now wears a tie and has moved from policy wonkery to policy execution; bearing down on spending, battling the civil service bureaucracy, shining sunlight on government data to drive the transparency agenda. Maude is playing hardball with the unions on unaffordable public sector pensions and full-time taxpayer-funded pilgrims. It is enough to gladden the heart of Margaret Thatcher herself – whom he once served as a Minister – it has also led to a grudging re-evaluation of him by many on the Conservative Party’s right-wing.
Now he is taking on the enemy within, the Civil Service permanent government, or in the case of Michael Gove’s Department for Education, the permanent opposition. The ability of the mandarinate to frustrate radical policies is legendary and their talent for generating inertia defies the laws of physics. In the ideological heart of many Thatcherites and Orange Bookers is a belief that the bureaucracy could be reduced, the government re-engineered and improved. Quietly the Coalition will by 2015 have reduced the size of the Civil Service by 23% from the bloated days of Gordon Brown. The first step on the path to a post-bureaucratic government is making bureaucrats accountable and sackable when they fail to deliver.
Big Business has used the internet to strip out costs and whole layers of management, Big Government has barely started to do the same. Sir Humphrey and the rest of the mandarins have decades of experience in fighting Civil Service reform, they will fight these reforms every step of the way with cunning and subtlety rather than head on. They even have their own privately funded think-tank, the Institute for Government, possibly the most dangerous political force in Britain since the heyday of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The long-term gain from reforming and shrinking the Civil Service is immense, it was the area where the Blairite’s self-acknowledged failure was total. The prize is worth having at any cost.
Found deep in a cupboard in Whitehall…
Not a single voter had the opportunity to mandate Gordon Brown to be Prime Minister – his thugs even scared off internal party rivals – now the Prime Minister without a mandate wants a quango without a mandate, with placemen appointed by politicians. Where do the voters and taxpayers come in to this equation? We have been here before, the Commissioner for Standards was a political appointment to watch over the integrity and honesty of politicians. When Elizabeth Filkin naively took her job seriously she was hounded out of office. Not exactly a good precedent for “independent” regulation.
We need reforms that make politicians more directly and immediately accountable to voters. Douglas Carswell is on the money, we want the power of voter recall for underperforming politicians, we need to be involved in the open selection of candidates before every election. We need to empower voters, not the party machines. Too many constituencies are the permanent property of lazy, sleazy politicians. The worst expenses abusers were in the safest seats.
Not often that Polly Toynbee, Tim Montgomerie and Guido agree: popular anger with the political class is rising. Something that Polly wants Labour to adjust to by moving policy to the left as well as limiting public-sector fat-cat pay. Tim Montgomerie agrees on the latter but wants the Tories to wake up to popular anger by putting on hair-shirts and getting their own snoughts out of the trough. Guido welcomes both pundits to the anti-politics banner.
Democracy is broken, the political media elite distant from the people with the two main parties offering no choice and no change. Osborne is promising no change and blaming the economic crisis. Taxation will remain penal, spending will remain prolific, there will be some reforms of a failed state bureaucracy but no rollback and no radicalism. Hannan is at least making the case for a radical shift of power from the centralised state bureaucracy to people at local level.
The Cameroons can’t seal the deal with the people with pragmatism, “Triangulation Now!” is not the banner that will get people marching. Voters are angry with Brown and disenchanted with politicians offering more of the same. Bedazzled during the Blair years, Cameron, Osborne and Hilton have yet to show that they realise the times have fundamentally changed. Taking strategic advice from the wrong Danny* has left the Tories outflanked on their USP – the LibDems are now the only party promising to reduce the tax burden on the low paid. Hannan told Newsnight last night that people are fed up of being, “ripped off, lied to and ignored” by politicians. Disenchantment with politicians has never been higher, most think they are overpaid and dishonest. Hannan gets it. This crisis is an opportunity to radically change the plan.
I shared a train carriage today with Alan Johnson. He was having a loud telephone conversation overheard by the whole carriage telling everyone how worried he was the Tories would attack them over the lack of progress and tax payers money spent on the new computer system for the NHS. “We have only actually spent £3 billion, rather than the £12 billion we planned, so taxpayers are actually getting value for money….” were his very words.
On that basis the last charge of the light brigade was not a complete military failure, since some of the calvarymen survived.