Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest Post: In praise of slow government - Simon Beard

In the week that peers are being made to stay up all night to block a Labour party filibuster and the health secretary has block-booked the Today programme in order to explain his NHS reforms he is rushing through it occurs to me that perhaps we should be asking "is this really necessary?"

And, just as the conservative right have given up on conservative values, perhaps it is time for Liberal radicals to suggest that no, it isn't.

Its not that the reforms are all bad reforms, many of them are eminently sensible, but given that we are legislating to ensure fixed five year parliaments is it right that everything gets crammed into the first 12 months?

Doing this means hampering parliaments ability to scrutinise legislation, and hence the change that it will all need to be redone n two years time anyway.

Doing this means depriving citizens of any real sense of what is going on and why.

Doing this means that those professionals who work for the state face a double uncertainty, even if they escape the cuts they are going to be asked to change the way they work dramatically.

Let us not forget after all that we have just got rid of a government that never liked to end a parliament with the same education system it began with (that sort of thing is just frightfully common!). Those who work in the public sector hardly had time to get used to one set of regulations days before it was taken away, torn up and a new one given to them instead. This is not the way to get the best out of people. It is also not the way to run a government.

Naturally parties fear getting bogged down and this can easily happen once they stop believing they can change things. However, the real cause of most political stagnation is initiative fatigue, not a lack of initiative. The last Labour government really did do quite a lot in its first two years, but one thing it apparently failed to do was sit down and decide what it wanted to do next.

Let's not make that mistake.

Instead the government could be taking time over the things that need doing right now, redrawing electoral boundaries, cutting the deficit, restoring some of our civil liberties; and plan out just how they will ensure that all the reforms they have planned for the next five years can be fitted in with enough time to keep people informed about what they are doing, and without cause for all night sittings. In the mean time, perhaps our police officers, teachers and nurses could finally get a chance to just do their job for a change.

Simon Beard is a philosophy student at the LSE and blogs regularly for ResPublica.


dreamingspire said...

I know before I start that I'm going to be critical, because this article is very difficult to understand - could do with being properly punctuated. But I think that I know why govt has rushed forward: it takes a long time for reforms to take root, and they want them working before the end of the 5 years. I also sense that the LDs in the Coalition are trying hard to ensure that the reforms plucked from the Conservative party box are well formulated. And Tory Minister PR (aka sensible and clear explanations of what they are doing) is dreadfully bad - smacks of not being ready for government, key men not having grown into being statesmen. Keep at it, Simon: you will get better.

Charlieman said...

I agree with dreamingspire's point that reforms take time to root. I hope that Cameron and Clegg resist the imperative for shuffles and allow ministers to pursue reforms over a long time, to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

The point to which Simon alludes but does not address is that "Somebody thinks that something needs to be done". And that applies to everything.

Doing nothing is a valid, liberal option.