Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Mad, bad and useless

There is an excellent article in today’s Independent by Steve Richards in which he says that MPs are “not corrupt”, they’re just useless. Well, he doesn’t actually use the word “useless” he prefers “mediocre” but it amounts to pretty much the same thing. It can be found HERE.

Richards blames the decline of Parliament on the main parties' selection processes, but I think he’s missing a wider point. The problem, from where I’m standing, is that the Prime Minister has to pick his Government from an exceptionally small talent pool. Let’s say he has a majority of 75 seats, which equates to about 375 MPs with which he or she must fill their Government of approximately 150 positions. However, out of that 400 there will be many who are not interested in Government (the Chris Mullins and Dennis Skinners of this world), many who are not remotely up to Government and many who are either not trusted by the leadership or are regarded as a bit barking (bit like Bill Cash and Charles Clarke).

Once you rip out the mad, bad and the useless, you aren’t left with much and, more importantly, it is practically impossible to find MPs who could be regarded as experts in the Government departments they are expected to run. The result is that the Prime Minister is reduced to chopping and changing to get his best people into the departments which are causing him the most grief at any one time. The best Ministers become firefighters, parachuted into Government trouble areas. John Reid for example, like him or loathe him, had eight different Government positions between 1999 and 2007.

This chopping and changing has reached epidemic proportions across Government and is making life very difficult for business in particular. I was talking to a client in the energy sector a few weeks ago and he told me that they have had 12 different Energy Ministers since 1997. By the time they have got the new one up to speed with their sector he or she is off again.

Is there an alternative? Well, I sometimes do cast envious glances at the American system in which the President is free to choose whoever he likes for his key cabinet positions. Steven Chu for example, the US Secretary for Energy has won the Nobel Prize for Physics and was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has conducted pioneering work into the use of biofuels and solar energy technology. So he should know what he’s talking about. My client for one would be more than happy with an appointment of this sort of calibre from the next Government.


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