There was high praise indeed for the TaxPayers’ Alliance today from Kensington and Chelsea’s Councillor Daniel Moylan: in a fit of high dudgeon we are compared, variously, to “destructive nihilists”, the rioters of 1967 Paris, Mussolini supporters and Stalinists. All in all, quite an impressive haul – I’m sure the Black and Tans will be sad they were left off the list.
Leaving aside the hyperbole, what actually is the kernel of Cllr Moylan’s dislike of the TPA? Perhaps a bit of background would help to explain where this came from. Last week, local TPA activists joined forces with the West London Residents Association, Cllr Victoria Borwick and Guide Dogs for the Blind to protest against expensive, dangerous and inappropriate changes to the area around Sloane Square, and to object to a £40 million extension of the changes to Exhibition Road.
Prior to our opposition to these particular plans, Kensington and Chelsea apparently felt comfortable being associated with the TPA when we praised them in the national press for their welcome tax rebate. It seems that Councillor Moylan’s definition of nihilist is simply someone who disagrees with him.
Despite the issue apparently being a personal, local annoyance to
Councillor Moylan, his article turns that personal annoyance into a
question of the TPA’s national campaign and our fundamental aims. His
questions are worth addressing.
The Better Government position paper that he cites as being devoid of
proposals for how Government should function actually goes into a fair
degree of detail about how we would like to reform the work of the
State. To start with, it is a position paper and thus deals primarily
with the problems our Better Government campaign seeks to address. In
terms of outcomes, many areas of our public services from healthcare
and education to criminal justice are simply not working as well as
they should. Whilst mistaken and wrong-headed policies are undoubtedly
partially to blame, the paper identifies more fundamental, structural
and managerial reasons for the ongoing failure by parties of all
colours to deliver good service.
It is not anti-democratic to point out that the jobs of many senior
Ministers are simply impossible for one person to do. The problem is
certainly compounded by the fact that many politicians who occupy the
posts have little management experience, and even less experience of
the sector they are running, but the best business people in the world
would struggle to run such bizarre composite departments. We need the
state to be less centralised, less cumbersome and smaller.
That isn’t a case for anarchy, dictatorship, or technocracy. It just
makes it clear that we can’t rely on politicians to personally manage
huge, centralised organisations delivering vital public services.
Councillor Moylan has apparently failed to recognise the distinction
between controlling public services from the top and micromanaging
their delivery at the front line. We need to let professionals do the
day to day management of public services and put actual control, the
ability to decide policy and hold public sector organisations to
account, back in the hands of ordinary people. In some cases that will
mean more powers through the ballot box, such as electing local police
commissioners. In others it means taking power from politicians or the
state and giving it to people directly. In education, for example, this
means giving parents control of the money spent on their children’s
Another confusion in his article is between democracy – the will of the
people – and politicians themselves. Wherever possible, a directly
elected politician is better than an unaccountable bureaucrat. By the
same token, though, leaving decisions down to the people themselves is
preferable to putting a politician and the apparatus of the State in
charge. This is about bringing power closer to the people at every
level. As Daniel Hannan MEP and Douglas Carswell MP eloquently put it,
we must transfer power “from Brussels to Westminster, from Whitehall to
town halls, from the state to the citizens.”
For example, last night we were in attendance at Maidenhead Town Hall
to welcome Windsor & Maidenhead council’s announcement that they
are going to publish all their expenditure over £500 for their
residents and taxpayers to see. That is open-minded open government at
its best, and a clear demonstration that politicians can be positive
and popular by handing the people more power.
Compare that approach to Cllr Moylan’s denunciation of our view on
Knowsley Council’s decision to spend tens of thousands of pounds on a
communications manager. In his view the only way for residents to
realise that their council are doing a good job is for the council to
tell them so, rather than demonstrate it through action. Worse, the
council’s PR is essential to the “ambition and hope” of the local
populace. In fact, they would be more free to pursue them themselves if
the council left more money in their pockets and simply focussed on
doing a good job rather than producing leaflets boasting about it.
We make no secret of the fact that we believe that Britain would be
better off with a significantly smaller state. Economies with lower
government spending tend to grow a lot faster making everyone more
prosperous, previous services moved out of political control (like the
telephones) have dramatically increased their productivity and, more
than anything, a smaller state leaves more money in the hands of
ordinary families to spend on their own priorities.
The article also contains an attempt to suggest that our status as a
campaign group, rather than a political party running for election, is
somehow sinister. Rather than encouraging debate and political
engagement, Councillor Moylan seems to think the public should simply
follow him like rats following the Pied Piper, unquestioning and kept
ignorant of any alternatives. Democracy is about having a vigorous
public debate, in which people from across the political spectrum put
their case for a myriad of different things.
Councillor Moylan suggests that we are anti-democrats because we will
not be standing at the ballot box on the policies we propose.
Amusingly, it is in fact him who will be standing for election on a
manifesto containing many of our proposals, as many of them featured in
the recent Green Paper from the Conservative Shadow Communities and
Local Government team. We have pioneered transparency in local
government spending, the publication of senior salaries, the election
of local police authorities, the moving of powers from Regional
Development Agencies to local councils and numerous other ideas. By
producing evidence to support each proposal, rallying public support to
them and persuading politicians that they are practical and popular,
they have been adopted. That is what we do – and perhaps Councillor
Moylan’s attack, just like those of Polly Toynbee and Derek Draper
before him, is simply a sign that we are doing it well.