Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why state funding for political parties is a good idea

Mancur Olsen (RIP): No thoughts on when Tony should go. So why should anyone give a toss about his views on anything?


Most of the people I know on the political left believe in some form of intervention or other - as opposed to the option of being governed largely by the hidden hands of the market.

Yet I rarely - if ever - hear a serious discussion about the best way that things get done.

There are no shortage of debates about how it should be done - in a way that will square the most left-ish circles (Unions, and other ideological groupings). The PFI debate is almost entirely ideological in my experience.

But is there ever a debate about, for instance, the organisational psychology of government departments, local government, quangos, business structures, etc?

Er... no. There are, it seems, bigger fish to fry.

And, surely, if we believe in regulation, we should pay attention to how regulation can be made to work? How it can be implemented with - rather than against - the grain?


Yet, in the past couple of weeks, Labour has seen it's reputation for competence deservedly trashed. The people that become MPs are often puzzled spectators on the whole question of public administration. They often seem to lack the basic grounding in good governance, and are prepared to be bullied by their whips into a spiral of short-termism. They have no idea about how to get government departments to do what they are supposed to.

They didn't get selected for their grasp of public administration, after all.

And when a headline keeps them awake, they arrive at work the next morning ready to add yet another ropey patch to bad legislation. Instead of fewer, better, bills, before Parliament, we get more and more worthless legislation that is often being replaced on the floor of the House of Commons before it even reaches the statute books.

And the constant spiral of regulation is resented even by those of us who rather like regulated markets: Speaking for myself, almost every regulation that I come across these days is noticeable only for it's sheer stupidity.


It's time that the public debate shifted away from politics and towards policy. I can't understand how so many people find so much time to waste, transfixed by the tedious soap opera that is 'court politics.'

And, I'd disagree with almost everyone that I know in saying this. We need a more politicised Civil Service. Thankfully, Simon Jenkins thinks the opposite.

By politicised, I don't mean the way it is politicised at the moment. Currently, 'politicisation' means special advisers with no understanding of their department's role. It means surrogate enforcers for Downing St. It means a media-determinist who is constantly at the ministers elbow, banishing thought and judgment in favour of headline-phobia.

Instead, I'd like political parties to show their expertise at administration. I'd like to see powerful ministers with the kind of technocrats behind them that can help them resist the short-termism that flows from the centre. When elections are won, departments should change hands.

And this is what 'state funding' of political parties could - and should - pay for. Not special advisers. Not campaigning. Not advertising, leaflets, or any of the bullshit that parties use to snaffle MPs allowances for their own purposes.

But you can't argue for this when the entire political class is transfixed by a soap opera.

And - while we're at it - we need political parties that are prepared to educate their MPs to be something other than obedient.

For a couple of million quid a year, each of the main parties could share a public administration course with one of the Universities. That would be a good use of taxpayers money IMHO.

Apropos of this, there's a good post over at Stumbling and Mumbling* in which Chris Dillow urges us (among other things) to remember Fundamental Attribution Error when we're tempted to blame the Civil Servants concerned for the current Home Office mess.

*I should really just have a standard post every other day saying this


chris said...

Awww shucks, thanks.
Until that last paragraph I was thinking how brilliant this post was.
Luv-in over.

Courtney Hamilton said...

I would consider myself to be a libertarian Marxist who believes that civil servants should not hold political views while on duty.

After reading your post, the only conclusion I was left with was, there still remains no democratic reason why any British political party has the right to exist forever. If Labour supporters, or the Tories supporters cannot folk out money to their own parties, why should we?

In fact, what your advocating is 'nationalised' political parties, which is a bland and sanitised version of independent political parties - nationalised parties cannot solve any of our problems because our problems need political solution.

It's pointless arguing for a more 'politicised civil service', because in that case it would be perfectly ok for a policeman, who happens to be a member of the BNP to arrest more black people than white - it stands to your reason.

Politicians are supposed to have political ideas and grand visions about how we go about making the Good society. This requires the clash of creative political ideas, something which the main three parties seem to be bereft of at present - we don't need to bankroll bankrupt political parties, that will only make matters worse for us all in the future.

Read on:

Best wishes.


will said...


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