Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 20 March 2009

Government arrogance

Peter Hoskin's post on Coffee House this morning reminded me about some thoughts I have had regarding the way government is conducted in this country. The main part of his post discusses how Gordon Brown and the Treasury were made aware in 2004 of the shortcomings in financial regulation with respect to Northern Rock but they had not considered it a priority and did nothing about it.

This is an all too familiar tale. Sometimes I feel like I have been living in a parallel universe for the last few years. I remember people like Vince Cable and others warning about the debt fuelled bubble and I also remember the high handed way the concerns were dismissed by Brown and other ministers. What is even more worrying about the latest revelations is that it seems as though a similar attitude was also being shown to the government's own advisers.

Of course, now Brown is trying to claim he was for tighter regulation but could not get international assent for what he wanted. This really does not ring true at all from I what remember seeing and hearing.

The thing is, this sort of high-handed attitude and approach is actively encouraged by our electoral system and system of government. The majority government is elected (with a minority of the votes) and ministers are appointed to their posts. They are all from the same party and once their line is decided, all of them defend to the hilt what they are doing. No dissent is brooked internally and of course all external criticism is defended against with counter attacks if they are deemed necessary. From what I can tell, this often becomes tribal and is almost done reflexively without any real analysis of the content of the criticism. As an aside I have even seen Labour MPs publicly state that they are voting along party lines even though they disagree with a policy. This is all considered fair game by the political classes.

But why does it have to be like this? Whenever the idea of electoral reform and/or coalition government is brought up you get an avalanche of comments from the political classes along the lines of "it leads to weak government". But have any of them taken a serious look at the consequences of our current system? Perhaps if there were more independent voices in the government and consideration had to be given to views outside those postulated for tribal political advantage, the results of policy would actually be better. Just imagine if Vince Cable had been in a powerful position in the cabinet over the last few years. I think most people would agree that we would be in a better position now.

Just remember all of this the next time you see a minister mindlessly dismissing external criticism. This sort of approach does nobody any favours in the end.

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