Reshuffling the deckchairs

As the reshuffle showed this week, our politics are as broken as our economy but will anyone fix it before it’s too late?

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Reshuffling the cabinet or reshuffing the deckchairs?
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Simon Miller
On 7 September 2012 16:49

We in the UK have been overcome with the excitement of a reshuffle. The whole of the country biting its collective nail as we find out which MP has been promoted to become junior minister in charge of paperclips.

You feel the tension as events eclipse those down at Stratford; the country crowds around the TV set awaiting news from Number 10.

Much has been made of a so-called shift towards the right but as far as the economy is concerned, it…does…not...change…anything.

The same players are still in command, and the same policies will trundle away, spending our money, tinkering at the seams, while the same regulatory, tax and public spending issues remain the same.

To me there is a major problem with Parliament – and in particular, the executive – that is fundamental in the issues we face today.

Simply put, they are not one of us – the electorate, that vastly different population of 65m or so.

I am not calling for chavs on the benches – although the idea of the sergeant at arms having to enforce the sword lines again is quite amusing and would certainly enliven PMQs – but there is a hegemony that is damaging the country as a whole and removing democracy from the Mother of Parliaments.

Take education – a cursory look at the Cabinet shows that 15 of the coalition table buddies went to Oxbridge with Oxford clearly in the lead, nine to Cambridge’s four. Of the rest, two didn’t go to university and two went to a poly (when they existed).

So blue, so Tory some may say. Two problems. One: only one LibDem in that group didn’t go to Oxbridge. And two: the Labour party doesn’t fare much better with eight Oxbridge graduates to four who didn’t go at all.

I have no problem with a decent education – although whether you can generally call MPs learned is another matter – but there is a problem when the executive and its opposite number essentially have no multitude of voices having had shared experiences beyond the norms of the society they are meant to represent.

And then there is experience of working elsewhere before politics.

Again, a back of a napkin job shows that the Tories fared best with 17 experienced in working in the private sector for more than four years while Labour had 14 with no private sector experience before entering Parliament.

The reason I chose to look at private experience is that generally public and third sector work in its essence is a consumer, not producer, world. They spend your money.

Now, before anyone jumps at me, this is not about denigrating some parts of the public sector that are essential, it is just that if we are to get out of this mess in any sort of fettle then it will be the private sector that will drag us out of it.

But with the collective in the executive, where do the differing voices come from? Where does that decision through dissent arrive? Just as a capitalist society demands creative destruction, a democratic one demands creative deconstruction before a decision. If there is hegemony, you get to the mess we are in today.

Without the necessary experiences outside of politics, why is anyone surprised at the messes created? This is why there isn’t a cigarette paper between the party’s policies – if you are part of the corporatist collective-hive mind anyway, you will have much more in common with your opposite number than with the people you are meant to represent.

Politics in this country are broken. It is an illusion of opposition and government and the reality of power. No party wants to lose the keys to number ten and each wants the gloss it brings to a MP’s career. They hide under Cabinet responsibility which is nothing of the sort nowadays.

Speaking of Cabinet responsibility and as an aside, why hasn’t alumni of, and former visiting lecturer to, London Metropolitan University Sadiq Khan given his view on events on the Holloway Road?

Anyway, this hegemony and corporatism of our system allows for the socialisation of risks and failure, for train companies to ask for even more subsidies whilst stinging the passenger, for idiotic wind farms to be built and green belt land be paved over. This hegemony is what gives us the choice of who can screw this country up the slowest rather than get us out of this mess.

We need a system where it is country and constituent first, second and last. We need a system where the government is held to account be it civil servant or secretary of state. Why don’t we ban MPs from being in the executive? Make the PM accountable for any appointments he makes. We don’t need all these ministers anyway; they exist as political payoffs for towing the party line.

Just have a secretary of state who is scrutinised by Parliament before taking the appointment. Cull the Civil Service and make it truly servile to its political managers rather than this corporatist beast that lurks for any elected minister.

Think what could happen if a Prime Minister has to truly account for his government’s performance. Think of what could be achieved if an appointee can fire a permanent secretary if his staff roadblock changes.

Make all would-be MPs face Carswell’s open primaries, make them more accountable of and representative to all constituents. Make politics matter to the masses.

And yes, crony capitalism could still exist but an independent legislative not reliant on the grace and favours of a PM could keep this in check. And, just as importantly, we could perhaps end the class of politician as a career as apart from Prime Minister there would be only one other rung on the ladder – MP.

Whatever happens, change is needed because politics in this country are as broken as the economy – it’s just taking people a while to recognise it.

Simon Miller is the Editor of Financial Risks Today. He tweets at @simontm71

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