Monday, November 26, 2007

What the Pundits won't tell you about the Chris versus Nick leadership contest....

Regular readers will know that occasionally Paul Reynolds gives me an exclusive post. Paul and I tend to represent different wings of the party (that is my disclaimer, I don't agree with all his analysis!) however, I asked him his view on the leadership it is......

The general position of the broadsheet press over the LibDem leadership contest is that it is rather dull, with few differences between the candidates. However, they have been caught napping. The candidates are polite and courteous to each other. And so they should be. But this has fooled the quality press. Whilst both candidates been careful not to deviate too much from existing LibDem policy, (which they both have collective responsibility for), the alternative futures that they represent could hardly be more diverse.

Chris's extended state interventions to address housing shortages, the environment, and poor state schooling displays his social democratic roots and background in the Labour Movement. By contrast Nick makes a fundamentally different assumption that it cannot automatically be assumed that the policy formulations of politicians are reflected in full and successfully, by the civil servants who implement them.

Nick implies that the state bureaucracy suffers from capacity problems and adapts very slowly to changes, but perhaps more importantly that the state is rarely a neutral implementer of politician's magic solutions. He suggests that the state has its own interests separate from the public's, and says that measures that rely more on the combined actions of the general public are usually more sustainably successful at solving problems than heavy state solutions. These two factors, Nick implies, conspire together to support the ˜law of unintended consequences".. hence politicians should be wary of yet more state interference and ever more complex policies which bureaucrats in turn translate into higher civil servant employment and ever-increasing micro-managing regulations. Nick's more liberal democratic approach can be seen in his attack on the thousands of absurd laws and regulations which dog our lives. His policy on police reform contains justifiable skepticism about the willingness of rigid police management structures to reform themselves and open themselves up to greater accountability.

Nick's proposed bonfire of anti-human rights legislation introduced since 1997 also puts him firmly in the liberal democratic tradition. Nick is also stridently Pro-EU, but it critical of the opaque bureaucracy and hopelessly optimistic hand-waving policy approach of the Council of Ministers and senior Directorate staffs in the Commission. This contrasts starkly with the approach of European social democrats and their pork barrel approach to spending. But Nick is clearly critical because he wants the EU to work better - to make subsidiarity more than a vacuous slogan, to narrow the EU's scope and get it to do less but do it better. This is not because Nick is against the EU or because he wishes to appease the Eurosceptic UK press. He genuinely wants the EU to work more effectively for the public's benefit. When he worked as an MEP Nick was responsible for piloting through pan-European telecommunications legislation which shifted power in favour of the European consumer a more worthy cause than helping to boost the profits of telecoms companies in return for cooperation over security issues.

On the vital issue of the NHS, Nick is the only leading politician in the UK with the courage and maturity to ˜tell it like it is“ the NHS is an example of Big Government Gone Wrong. Despite the state's spinning and appeal to our sympathies for NHS staff, the general public in quietly up in arms about the chaos in the ever-restructuring health system, there can be no doubt. Nick supports governance reform instead - backing wholeheartedly LibDem official policy of breaking up the NHS into regional groups, with depoliticisation and separation of services from regulation at its core.

By the time we get to the general election in 2009, the British public will be terminally fed up with Gordon Brown's slinkering and tinkering. The clamour will be for less but more efficient and more open government and less insidious surveillance. In addition, by 2009 the full implications of the Tories' punitive approach to the poor, and their inexorable anti-EU drive, will be clear for all to see. This is the reason the public are likely to turn to us for more open and better government, and an opportunity to end the ˜if it moves, regulate it" regime of Big Gordon and his hopelessly out-of-their-depth top Cabinet team. But we need to respond with more liberal democratic approaches and less grand assumptions about the ability of big government to solve all the problems the state tells us we have.. That is why Nick and his more liberal democratic approach seem to me to be more likely to get the Liberal Democrat Party into the business of government, in the UK.

Prof Paul Reynolds(Writing from Phnom Penh where I am advising the leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party the LibDem's pro-democracy sister party in Cambodia)


Wit and wisdom said...

That post makes me feel warm and fuzzy about having already cast my vote for Nick since, if I had to write out what I think about how the key areas of bureaucracy and Europe should be changed, it would be pretty much what is written here, though doubtless not as concise and clear.

'Less but better' could almost be a slogan for our party.

Barry Stocker said...

This is great stuff, absolutely correct. Though I presume it expresses a pro-Clegg point of view, I can't see Huhne supporters being able to find any misrepresentations. Shows what the real choice is. I hope people across the party will think about what it means to be a liberal. Not just 'Orange Bookers' but 'Social Liberals' and 'Radicals' (very artificial distinctions, but they'll have to do here)will I hope think about whether they want social goals delivered by more and more state, and a completely unreformed monolithic centralised administration of public services/state benefits, or if they want local government repeating that kind of unresponsive bureaucracy.

Barry Stocker said...

Sorry must correct something. The end of my post might be taken to mean there is a choice between national and locally administered unresponsive bureaucracy.What I meant to suggest is that there is a choice between monolithic unresponsive bureaucracy at all levels OR public services based on choice and with the government working together with voluntary action in civil society.

WEG said...

Indeed Mr Clegg is to be admired for a growing and timely emphasis on the perils of the state disrupting the lives of individuals and of whole communities. His bold stand on identity cards and exposition of the merits of supporting the broad family against the intrusions of the state have given him a distinctive and attractive voice.