Tim Montgomerie and Paul Goodman wrote on this site last week here and here about the paucity of Conservatives applying for public appointments: in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories. Roger Evans returned to the matter yesterday.
They identified two main problems.
First, the Conservative political machine is failing to encourage enough Tories to applying for public appointments. Second, too few Conservatives are applying in any event.
Paul addressed the first problem in his post, suggesting that a Tory Minister in each department be tasked with encouraging Conservatives to apply for posts. I want now to address the second – in relation particularly to local councillors.
How the left monopolises applications
Part of the effectiveness of a local councillor is in persuading other people to do things. Councils have the power to appoint people to all sorts of bodies – housing associations, charitable trusts, regeneration boards. Usually these posts are unpaid but carry important power. For instance, a school governing body appoints the headmaster and chooses whether or not a school should apply for academy status. It also holds the head to account over the management of the school.
Often the Left feels that it should be allowed to run public services by divine right – regardless of tiresome election results. If occasionally it don't get its way it squeals. Consider, for example, Boris Johnson's appointment of Veronica Wadley, a former editor of the Evening Standard, as chairman of the London Arts Council. She was attacked on the grounds that she was a journalist – among those making the attack was Dame Liz Forgan, national chairman of the Arts Council and herself a former Guardian journalist.
What Conservatives should do
The Left recognises that controlling such bodies as the Arts Council and the Charity Commission is of great value. Its hegemony in Quangoland continues due to the shortage of Conservatives coming forward. There are many reasons for this.
Our English reserve means that usually people wait to be asked. The Left understands this and has an effective network in place – partly through the trade unions and partly due to the way these bodies are self perpetuating. Those who are already on them are well placed to renew their term in office. If they are standing down, they are well placed to headhunt and advise plausible successors.
Conservatives do not have a sense of mission to politicise everything. But by keeping out of the process they leave the field clear for the Socialists.
There is also the compromise involved for Conservatives in serving on a body they believe should be abolished. That objection is misguided. If they serve on it and find it really is beyond redemption they will be better informed on the case for abolition. If they conclude that it should be reformed, and has a valid role, then that is a useful insight to pass on to the relevant Minister. And while the entity exists, it will be far from irrelevant who is running it – better a Conservative.
Example 1: The Forestry Commission
Not that this will be an easy recruitment pitch. For example, I think that Linda Whetsone would make an excellent Chairman of the Forestry Commission. She has been a strong critic of its record both in environmental and economic terms. I don't suppose she needs the £20,000 for 42 days work a year. However, she would be able to make a difference. On the other hand she might regard it as a contradiction to lead an organisation she thinks should be for the chop.
The current Chairman of the Forestry Commission is Pamela Warhurst who was appointed in January 2010.
The website says:
All appointments are made on merit, and political activity plays no part in the selection process. However, in accordance with the original Nolan recommendations, there is a requirement for appointees’ political activity (if any declared) to be made public. Mrs Warhurst is a member of the Labour Party.
Her predecessor was the Labour peer Lord Clark of Windermere – doubtless his political activity similarly "played no part" in his selection.
Example 2: The Equalities and Human Rights Commission
I suspect that most Conservatives would like to see the abolition of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. This might have put them off applying for post of Deputy Chairman for which applications closed last month. The remuneration is £450 a day, working 52 days a year. The average earnings in this country is £26,000. So that is a week's average pay for a day's work. The principles of equality aren't to be applied too literally.
The outgoing Deputy Chairman is Baroness Prosser, a Labour peer and former TUC President. Naturally, politics "played no part" in her appointment.
Example Three: the Social Security Advisory Committee
Another difficulty could come in Conservatives regarding serving on a Quango as a waste of time. Sometimes it might be. For instance here is a post, at £256.80 a day for two days a month, to serve on the Social Security Advisory Committee. It sounds as though it would suit a lawyer, actuary, economist or policy wonk. Certainly someone willing and able to get stuck into the policy detail on social security and pensions. At present the committee sound like a bunch of Leftists – having worked for Law Centres or the TUC. They send responses to Government consultations complaining about spending cuts. I suppose a member of the committee who actually believed in welfare reform could send Iain Duncan Smith a minority report with useful thoughts on the various matters.
Other examples: the Care Quality Commission, the Covent Garden Market Authority…
With other appointments the power involved is clear. Today is the closing date for applications to be Chairman of the Care Quality Commission, which regulates adult social care.
One for which applications closed last week was Chairman of the Covent Garden Market Authority – £42,000 a year for two days a week. The outgoing Chairman is the Labour peer Baroness Dean (although politics "played no part"….etc). I think an old friend of mine called Toby Baxendale would be a good replacement for Baroness Dean. Mr Baxendale built up a food business which involved him getting up very early in the morning and buying from Smithfield and Billingsgate to supply meat and fish to restaurants. I'm aware that Covent Garden is concerned with fruit and vegetables. However, I suspect his is still more relevant experience than that of Baroness Dean – whose main claim to fame was leading the deeply unpleasant and unsuccessful print union strike which sought to thwart Rupert Murdoch's Wapping Revolution.
Why Conservatives should apply and how they can apply
It is in the public interest for as many high calibre candidates as possible to apply for these appointments. The Left's closed shop should be broken. Perhaps payments for the posts should cease – then many of the union officials who were given them as a kickback for donations to the Labour Party would resign, allowing a bit of a clear out. On the other hand, other Socialists would certainly cling on out of sincere ideological principle.
Certainly readers of Conservative Home should check what is available and apply, or alert acquaintances. Obviously, different vacancies are advertised in different places, but the common port of call, from which my examples above are drawn, is the Cabinet Office website includes a section on Public Appointments. Posts are continously advertised on the site.
Conservatives need a nudge to apply
Conservatives need a nudge. Encouragement to apply and informal explanation as to what the true purpose of the organisation is or should be.
What are Conservative MPs doing to find suitable candidates? What is Lord Strathclyde doing to find suitable Conservative peers for some of the slots? What are the Special Advisors doing? What are the Countryside Alliance, the Taxpayers Alliance and the Institute of Directors doing to alert their membership to these opportunities? What is Grant Shapps doing to ask constituency association chairmen to talent scout amongst the Party's 177,000 members? Is Bob Neill doing the same among Conservative Group leaders regarding our 9,000 local councillors?
The Government, the Conservative Party and the Conservative movement should do more to attract applicants, but the rest of us should give more serious consideration to it as individuals. Because so few Tories are applying, this piece will run on ConservativeHome for the rest of this week so that readers don't miss it. As Sir Humphrey Appleby said:
It takes two to Quango.