Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Government can do more harm than good

There's something fanciful about protests coming from Labour sympathisers about a possible deal with the Tories, and vice versa. Labour and the Conservatives have for decades conspired to keep each other in power - untrammelled power - about half the time. They do this by maintaining an electoral system that frequently hands absolute power to their supposed opponents on a minority of the vote.

But what goes around comes around, doesn't it? There is a quid pro quo for Labour and the Tories isn't there? No. Your co-conspirator-opponent can always do more harm in government than you can make up for when you are in government. The Tories can make a complete hash of privatising the railways, and it is beyond Labour's power to fix it. Labour can spend so wildly there is a deficit of £170bn. Could the Tories as easily generate a £170bn surplus? This is not just a pendulum swinging, it is actually, slowly, dragging the country backwards.

It is as if I were happy to lend my Ferrari to my wildly reckless neighbour, half the time, if in return he would lend his Aston Martin to my similarly reckless self.

It would not be so bad if our constitution had rudimentary checks and balances, if we had reasonable separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary, but here too we are still in the Dark Ages. Successive governments feel the need so badly to be "strong" to overturn the harm done by their predecessors, that they give their successors the power to do it all over again. Spare us more strong government.

One might almost expect the Tories to understand this when they start talking about small government and the big society. Small government should imply weak government and strong government is necessarily big government. But they don't.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

Spare us more strong government.


I'm also reminded of Chris Tame's critique of Thatcherite 'small government' - it was more streamlined efficient government, not smaller less powerful.
Today's Tories are probably just the same.