Magazine article The Spectator

Dave Can't Govern Unless He Destroys the Quangos

Magazine article The Spectator

Dave Can't Govern Unless He Destroys the Quangos

Article excerpt

The closer David Cameron gets to the election, the more he may come to realise how short-lived the elation following his victory may be. Defeating an exhausted Labour party will be the easy part. Winning real power will be a separate, longer battle - and one that requires him to outwit an enemy far more cunning and resilient than Gordon Brown. To transform Britain means seeing off the cronies, placemen and politi-cal stooges with whom the government has packed the boards of Britain's quangos.

Over the Labour years these groups have swelled from an irritant into a state within a state. With 700,000 employees and boards that read like a who-was-who of the Blair/ Brown era, the quangos will represent Labour's stay-behind fifth column. Not only are the quangocrats implacably opposed to the Conservatives' reform programme, but they are better placed than even the wiliest Sir Humphrey to thwart change and mount a guerrilla insurgency against public spend-ing controls.

To go to war with some 1,160 disparate organisations may strike Mr Cameron as a tir-ing diversion, but he should remember what he has promised the British public: change. It is a word he used no fewer than 20 times at the Tory conference last year and he has used it at every opportunity since then. More even than Tony Blair and Barack Obama before him, Mr Cameron has held out the promise that his victory will inaugurate a thorough going transformation of government in Britain. He will be judged by his ability to deliver on such an emphatic promise.

The electorate's fury after a dozen years of Labour failure extends beyond a score of guilty ministers around the Cabinet table.

The public are thoroughly fed up too with the smug, preachy, arrogant and largely unaccountable class who are in day-to-day command of so much of national life. The maddening regulation, the endless network of agencies making a mare's nest out of every thing from exams to hospital standards cracy will be to surrender to the status quo.

Back in 1997, Tony Blair certainly had no qualms about shooing out yesterday's men and replacing them with diverse embodi-ments of modernity. Under cover of his 'Big Tent' and employing distracting rhetoric about reaching out across the political divide, he began what soon looked to Conservatives like a Soviet-style purge. By the end of the year John Maples, the party's then health spokesman, was calling for an independent enquiry into why trusted and experienced members of NHS boards were being turfed out to make way for Labour councillors and failed parliamentary candidates.

A new establishment was being created - one exemplified by Dame Suzi Leather.

Until 1997 she had been working as a free-lance consumer consultant (whatever one of those may be - perhaps the third sector's equivalent of a personal shopper? ). She was then made chair of Exeter & District NHS Trust, thence to deputy chair of the Food Standards Agency, chair of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, and via the School Food Trust and sundry other public offices to her present eminence as chair of the Charity Commission, where her avowed Labour party membership alarms the heads and governors of private schools who fear losing their charitable status.

Dame Suzi may have appeared from nowhere, but many senior public appoint-ments have been filled by former Labour ministers. David Clark got the Forestry Commission, Chris Smith the Environment Agency, Geoff Rooker the Food Standards Agency. Larry Whitty, the party's former general secretary, is chairman of Consumer Focus (where Dame Suzi is a fellow board member - that freelance consumer consul-tancy experience came in useful after all).

Baroness Morgan won a seat on the board of the Olympic Delivery Authority, Lord Warner went straight into a paid NHS chair-manship. The list seems endless.

The quangos are far more than just a useful retirement pasture for clapped-out political donkeys. …

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