By Tim Montgomerie
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Since the Coalition was formed David Cameron has been remarkably keen on appointing political opponents to positions of power and influence. The most notorious example was the PM's decision to appoint Will Hutton to oversee a Coalition inquiry into public sector pay differentials. Again and again good Conservatives (including Tory MPs) – who served the party so loyally in opposition – have been looked over. An analysis of publicly available appointments data by the TaxPayers' Alliance suggests that Mr Cameron's failure to grip public appointments is a widespread problem:
- In the last year in which John Major was in office 57% people who were appointed to a public position and had a known political allegiance were Conservatives*. 32% were Labour and 5% were Liberal Democrats.
- One year after Tony Blair came to power he reversed this situation and some. The percentage of Labour appointees was up to 75% and the Tory percentage slumped to 13%.
- In the last full year of Labour's time in power 70% of people with a political allegiance winning public positions were aligned to Labour. Just 16% were Conservative and 11% were Liberal Democrats.
- The latest data suggests that we may have a Tory Prime Minister but you wouldn't realise if you looked at the ratio of Labour to Tory appointments. 77% of people who have political backgrounds who are getting appointed to public bodies are allied to Labour. The Tory percentage is at a miserable 14%. The LibDem percentage is even worse. After hitting 12% in the Coalition's first full year the LibDems are down to 4%.
Norman Lamont famously accused the Major government of being in office but not in power. If this government wants to acquire the same reputation then appointing your political opponents to positions of influence across the British public sector seems like a good way of succeeding.
Fraser Nelson writes about this whole subject in his Telegraph column today. He warns that resistance to Tory ideas from within the civil service, the quangocracy and the heavily politicised charitable sector could easily be fatal for a large number of policy ideas. Unlike the Right, the Left has understood that "staff is policy".
What can be done?
- David Cameron could begin by having the same kind of political operation in Downing Street that Gordon Brown established to handle public appointments.
- In my recent Fantasy Cabinet for 2020 I suggested a new post should be created to oversee appointments across the public sector. I gave the job to Matthew Elliott.
- Mr Cameron could launch a full scale review of the civil service so that Whitehall becomes a more diverse, accountable and project-driven place.
- Finally he should reform funding of the third sector. So long as so many charities receive such a large proportion of their funding from the state they will act as quasi-state institutions. They should increasingly be encouraged to seek private and popular funding. State funding insofar as it is given to charities should be indirect, via vouchers are to match or supplement funds given by independent sources. We would then get a society rather than state orientated voluntary sector.
- Finally we could have a smaller state where patronage was less of a powerful political tool. So long as we do have a large state then we must do something to stop the Left's march through the institutions.
* These numbers compiled by The TaxPayers' Alliance refer only to the percentages of people with known political backgrounds. Most people appointed to public bodies do not have known political backgrounds. The table below comes from the Public Appointments Commissioner's Annual Report (PDF). My instinct is that many of those without known political allegiances are nonetheless secretly political. Many Crossbench peers appointed during the Labour years were not-so-secret Left-leaners – John Birt and Ian Blair being two good examples.