Democracy is all well and good when it comes to getting the public to turn out for national elections or elect police commissioners – even on a less than ten percent turnout. It’s fine when it refers to ‘empowering’ parents by creating academies and free schools independent of local authority control or corporatising the public sector.
But the everyday nitty gritty of a democratic society can be a messy and tedious business for governments taking ‘tough decisions’ that they know are likely to be opposed or which they don’t wish to be scrutinized.
So any self-respecting dictator and authoritarian leader is likely to nod in sage agreement at David Cameron’s pledge yesterday to make it more difficult to mount legal challenges to government decisions. In a speech to CBI, Lord Snooty described such challenges as ‘time-wasting’ and a ‘massive growth industry’ that act as a brake on the UK’s onward march towards prosperity and global competiveness.
Cameron contrasted the ‘ buccaneering, deal-making, hungry spirit’ that once made our country great with ‘ all the noisy lobby groups that want to pour money into today and forget about tomorrow.’ These included
Consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing professional buy-in, complying with EU procurement rules, assessing sector feedback – this is not how we became one of the most powerful, prosperous nations on earth. It’s not how you get things done. As someone once said, if Christopher Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be stuck in the dock.
Let no one say our PM doesn’t have a sense of humour. But his speech dealt with serious business. In addition to the bureaucratic obstacles that are clogging the economy and preventing the government from ‘getting our roads and railways built more quickly’, there are also pesky inconsequential ‘equality’ assessments regarding sexual, racial and religious discrimination. Not that Lord Snooty is opposed to equality in principle, it’s just its practical applications he doesn’t like:
I care about making sure that government policy never marginalises or discriminates. I care about making sure we treat people equally. But let’s have the courage to say it: caring about these things does not have to mean churning out reams of bureaucratic nonsense. We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff. So I can tell you today we are calling time on Equality Impact Assessments
Quite right too. I mean, why do we need this ‘bureaucratic nonsense’ that enables, for example, refused asylum seekers to appeal against the decision of an immigration judge, when we can just leave these crucial decisions to the ‘smart people in Whitehall’? Especially, as the Great Leader gravely assured his audience, these are no ordinary times:
When this country was at war in the 40s, Whitehall underwent a revolution. Normal rules were circumvented. Convention was thrown out. As one historian put it, everything was thrown at – the overriding purpose – of beating Hitler. Well, this country is in the economic equivalent of war today – and we need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.
Is the deficit the enemy in this ‘economic equivalent of war’, or is it South Korea or Singapore? Are we in a ‘war’ or a ‘global race’ or simply sailing down shit creek without a paddle? But I probably shouldn’t allow myself to be distracted by the PM’s symbols and metaphors.
Because yesterday’s speech was further evidence that the country is run by a government of elitists and reactionary troglodytes intent on taking British society back into the political dark ages.