Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cutting MPs will shrink the talent pool even further

I’ve been reading the second volume of Chris Mullins’ diaries, the former MP who stepped down at the last General Election. Entitled Decline and Fall the diaries chart the final two years of New Labour. Before you ask, yes Gordon’s behaviour was as bad as we have been led to believe!

The book is chock full of lovely little anecdotes about the great and the good, from Gordon punching the headrest of his chauffeured limo in frustration, to a weekend with Prince Charles discussing environmental issues at Highgrove (“of course he’ll make a bloody awful King, he wants to change things”) along with a series of cameos by my own favourite former MP, Alan Simpson.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that Mullin was granted the honour of a valedictory speech in the House of Commons before the last General Election. During the course of his speech he said this about Government:

“Mr Speaker, government needs to become a little less frenetic. The practice of annual reshuffles is massively destabilising and confers enormous power on the civil service. There have been eight secretaries of State for work and pensions in the ten years since that department was invented. Of late we have been getting through Home Secretaries at the rate of almost one a year. Goodness knows how many Health and Education secretaries we have had. We are on our tenth Europe minister. Our ninth or tenth Prisons minister. I was the sixth Africa minister, the current incumbent is the ninth. Mr Speaker, this does not make for good government.”

From personal experience I can add to this. During the time of New Labour from 1997 to 2010 we had 10, (count them, 10) Energy Ministers! As one of my clients in the building products sector supplying renewable energy equipment, once said to me, “we get one Minister up to speed and then we have to start all over again.”

Why do I bring this up? Because today our Coalition Government is proposing to reduce the number of MPs to 600 from 650. That means future Governments will be taken from an even smaller talent pool than previously (unlike the American President who gets to appoint a Commerce secretary for example who has actually worked in industry!).

This is bad policy as Michael White points out today in The Guardian. At best it is ill-thought through and populist (after the expenses scandal I suspect it will gather a lot of support in the country), but at worst it is gerrymandering!


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