What happens if you subtract politics from itself? That might sound like a particularly difficult question from a Taoist political theory exam, but it’s something James Palumbo would like us to discover from the inside. (Yes, that’s Baron Palumbo of Southwark, appointed such for his important contribution to contributions)
Drawing on his experience of starting a business from scratch with only a large family trust fund and eight years experience working in the City behind him, he’s decided that we don’t need to be ruled by politicians any more (people with unelected seats for life in Parliament excepted, obviously). Apparently, based on his personal experience, Government only operates at ’30 per cent efficiency’ because politicians don’t know what they’re doing, and ‘experts’ would run everything better.
(Before you ask, don’t be silly, he doesn’t provide any evidence or quantification for his ’30 per cent efficiency’ idea, or any experts to back this up. You might think that this weakens his argument, but I couldn’t possibly comment.)
Yes, we don’t need democracy any more, because Palumbo’s invented ‘Democracy 2.0’ which would apparently ‘share many of the guiding principles to which our society holds dear’, though I’m not quite sure what they are as principles like choice, voting and the ability to remove a government don’t appear to be in there. Instead, ‘experts’ would run the country, and all of them would supposedly have some sort of qualification that would be mandatory before entering government. (Using qualifications as a barrier to stop people participating in the political process is something that would never be abused, of course)
Once in place, these experts would all then decide what was best for the country and make sure the country got it good and hard without having to rely on such outdated Democracy 1.0 ideas like elections, parliaments or accountability. Being experts, they would all naturally agree on what the country needed – which would be entirely in agreement with what James Palumbo wants – and be able to deliver it. Presumably, they all would be able to raise Palumbo’s perceived 30% efficiency level too using their magical powers of expertness.
From this viewpoint, Democracy 2.0 appears to have a lot in common with Technocracy 1.0 (and bears lots in resemblance with other people’s ‘upgrades’ of democracy) and suffers all the flaws common to technocratic dreams. Ironically, the biggest flaw of most wannabe technocrats is one they accuse democrats of: believing that there is only one way of doing things. It seems that in all his years, Palumbo hasn’t noticed that experts often disagree and there are many different ways to reach your goal, even assuming we can all agree on what the end goal is. You’d think someone in business might have noticed that there are are many different ways of doing things, or perhaps Palumbo thinks all clubs and record labels are run exactly like the Ministry of Sound. After all, I’m sure business experts agree there’s only one way to run a business, don’t they?
I’ve discussed this before, but Palumbo isn’t alone in his believe that democracy could be ‘improved’ by somehow removing all the democratic aspects from it. (For more on this concept, read Colin Crouch’s Post-Democracy) Indeed, I suspect that if we get an inconclusive election result in May, we’ll likely hear calls for it increasing in volume and frequency, and it’s already an undertone in some of the calls for a grand coalition.
I have a rule that whenever someone says ‘let’s take the politics out of this’, what they’re really saying is nothing more than ‘let’s all agree with me’. Proposing to take politics out of politics is nothing more than James Palumbo believing he’s right about everything, and any potential impediments to the people being exposed to the full benefits of his rightness must be swept away. It’s an incredibly illiberal and undemocratic position for a supposedly Liberal Democrat peer to take, but I’m sure anyone calling for the party to take action over it will find themselves denounced as being illiberal and undemocratic. Maybe we’ll need to call in an expert to decide it.