Three Deadly Sins of Macho Politicians
Marr, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
LAST NIGHT a jumped-up and much-mocked organisation celebrated its birthday. Charter 88, which campaigns for a better kind of British democracy and is the favourite cause of Nice People, is five years old. Politicians first dismissed it; then became narky about its impertinence; and now acknowledge that its message is spreading. Labour is much of the way to becoming, like the Liberal Democrats, a party of constitutional reform. The subject is no longer taboo among Tories, either.
Charter 88 has helped to change the political weather. The days when elected national politicians got taken seriously and the rules of their game were beyond debate have gone, eroded by too much bad government. Charter 88, which launched its "bad government awards" yesterday, can no longer be dealt with through silent condescension: its humour and simplicity are taking prisoners. (Did you know that the number of ducks in the royal parks is an official secret?) More seriously, it has pointed the finger at the corrupting effect of modern power with real moral force. So as this column's birthday present, I'd like to inaugurate an occasional series about the deadly sins of modern government.
First up is the Sin of Ceaseless Activity. Politicians don't have the answers to everything and the more time they spend legislating, the less they have to reflect on what the answers might be. But governing is in danger of being reduced to the mere processing of legislation. Why? Because making Bills, good or bad, gets ministers on television and makes government look important. Keen ministers make Bills as naturally as royal ducks make eggs.
The Conservatives came into office in 1979 with a decent humility about government. Their manifesto said: "Attempting to do too much, politicians have failed to do those things that should be done. This has damaged the country and the authority of government." Since then they have passed 860 public Bills and nearly 33,400 statutory instruments - the latter being laws made directly by ministers, using powers given to them under an existing Act.
Taking full years only, the average rate of legislation-processing under the new "lite" Conservative regime has been 61 government Acts a year. This is hardly any better than under old big-government Labour, which in 1974-78 averaged 65 a year. When it comes to statutory instruments, the Tory record (an average of 2,335) is actually worse than Labour's (2,046). Are we happier or better governed as a result of this manic activity? Perhaps we would be if most legislation were widely and well considered before it was passed. But it is not. That leads us on to the closely related . . .
Sin of Conceit. Throughout the Thatcher years, any view that the Prime Minister found inconvenient was not taken seriously by the government machine. Nigel Lawson, for instance, had attacked the poll tax as …
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Publication information: Article title: Three Deadly Sins of Macho Politicians. Contributors: Marr, Andrew - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 7, 1993. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.