David Cameron’s stomping around the North today, yet again trying to persuade people that having elected mayors is a good idea.

I’ve set out before why I don’t like the current system of mayors (and their related ‘democratic’ position, Police and Crime Commissioners). In short, by concentrating power in one person and then severely restricting the ability of others to have any checks on that power, they’re effectively anti-democratic. There are good arguments for separating executive and legislative power at all levels, but democracy is about more than just voting. Most of these proposals just seem to assume that having a named individual responsible for some area of government magically makes it more accountable, without paying any attention to how that accountability takes place. As we saw with the farce over Shaun Wright, Police and Crime Commissioners are so unaccountable in practice, there was no body with the power to remove him from office.

When David Cameron and others do their pitches for elected mayors – despite the public rejecting them twice as often as they accept them – there’s a simple way to test how much they actually believe the arguments about improved accountability and democracy. Simply ask him this – should the position of Prime Minister be directly elected?

Sure, the position covers a while country rather than just a local government unit, but the principle is the same. The PM has an important role to lead and represent the country, but the people have no direct say in who gets to fill that role, so is it truly accountable and democratic? If our cities and towns will flourish more because they can directly elect their leaders, who can say how much the country would flourish if its leader was directly elected?

I’m not convinced elected mayors are some magical panacea for the problems of local government, and I strongly doubt that directly electing the Prime Minister would solve even one-tenth of the problems that it would cause. However, those that advocate directly electing more and more posts in the name of more democracy and accountability are heading towards this, even if they won’t admit it.

As I said a few weeks ago, I think there is a strong argument for looking at how we can better separate Government and Parliament, especially the question of whether ministers need to hold a seat in Parliament to do their jobs. I don’t think a directly elected Prime Minister is the answer, but then I’m not the one arguing that electing a post suddenly makes everything better.

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I’ve decided that from now on any policy I expose on this blog or elsewhere will have to have to have gone through a ‘people test’ first. This will determine what their effects will be on people, so we can be sure these policies won’t cause any harm to people. I’m not going to make any specific definition of who these people my test will apply to are, but rest assured that I am committed to supporting people despite not coming up with this gimmick vitally important test until now.

Yes, I’ve got the idea from David Cameron’s ‘family test’ that he’s promising to subject all new policy to, without actually specifying what definition of ‘family’ he’s using. I suspect he’s not applying Conrad Russell’s subjective definition – ‘those groups are families that believe that they are’ – but I also doubt he’d have the courage to stand up and say who he does and doesn’t include in his ‘family test’. It thus becomes more meaningless political twaddle, as he might as well be proposing a ‘people test’, given that he won’t (publicly, at least) exclude anyone from his definition of ‘family’. He’s blowing the dog whistle again, hoping people won’t notice that he wants some people to think he’s happy to screw over certain parts of the population if they don’t fit his definition of ‘family’.

The question is will anyone – a journalist today, an MP at PMQs when Parliament comes back from recess – be willing to put him on the spot and ask Cameron what he defines a family as, and who is not included in his ‘family test’?


When David Cameron says

Do you think he remembers this?

But then, Boris doing something nasty, crude and thuggish, then trying to get out of it by doing the ‘lawks a mercy, silly Boris, ho ho!’ act is a perfect summation of his career.


Via Jennie, Michael Crick on how many new peers need to be appointed to make the House of Lords representative of the votes cast at the last election.

It’s an absurd number, but then it’s part of an absurd system where people get appointed to jobs for life on the whim of the Prime Minister of the day to serve in half of the legislature of a country that’s ostensibly democratic.

One thing from it stood out for me though, from David Cameron’s interview in the House Magazine:

I think it’s important to keep refreshing the talent in the House of Lords

I can think of a system that would allow the upper house of Parliament to actually be refreshed on a regular basis. It would ensure that anyone who’s been in their for a long period could be replaced, or if they wanted to stay on, they’d have to prove that they could still do the job to a large number of independent people. The number of members of the house could be fixed, and over a period of time, the whole place could be refreshed without having to resort to the anti-democratic absurdity of needing to appoint people.

But then if he really did believe in refreshing the Lords, he wouldn’t have allowed the reforms to create a democratic Lords to disappear. Yet again, Cameron’s actions show his real priorities, not his words.


In light of the crisis in Algeria, David Cameron has opted to postpone giving his much-trailed speech on Britain’s place in Europe, which he was planning to deliver today. Of course, this leaves lots of holes in media schedules from people who’d expected to be writing pieces on it, based on what they were expecting to be in it, given what they’d been told was going to be in the speech from all the pre-briefings and carefully scheduled leaks beforehand.

Which makes me wonder: why does he actually have to give a speech to get his ideas out there? (And if he does, why does he have to travel to Amsterdam to do it?)

Politicians like to give speeches, and the media like to cover them, but over the years the perceived importance of ‘the big speech’ has become ridiculously over-inflated. One reason why speeches used to be important was that no one knew what someone was going to say before they stood up and said it. Now, the contents of the speech are so heavily briefed and trailed beforehand that the actual delivery of it seems more like a quaint and formal requirement, rather than a necessity.

The big speeches of political history are remembered because they were live events where no one knew what was going to happen. Cameron’s speech – and others like it, including conference leaders’ speeches – is only live in the sense that he might make an error in reading out his heavily pre-prepared script. Speeches like that are merely political theatre, surrounding the leader with the props of potential drama, but containing no real threat, drama or surprise.

We all know how David Cameron sounds when he delivers a speech, and while he’s not bad as a public speaker, he’s not a Ciceronian master of oratory, so it’s not as if the way in which he delivers his speech will have any effect on how the content of it is received. So why not just send it out, say ‘here’s the speech I was going to make, and rather than waste money and time setting it all up again, why not just read it for yourselves?’ Or, if you’ve got the urge to make a speech, then don’t spend the weeks beforehand telling everyone what’s going to be in it – let people pay attention to what you’re saying as you’re saying it, instead of just throwing something else into the spin cycle and making us bored of it before it’s even happened.


Another week, another big idea from David Cameron to boost the economy. Well, I say another big idea, but it’s just a reiteration of an old one. Yet again, just about the only thing standing in the way of unbridled and unrivalled economic growth for Britain is government regulation. After two and a half years in power, though, he has managed to narrow it down to a smaller target than just generic ‘red tape’, at least. Yes, the specific problem is the annoying fact that the Government takes the time to consult on proposals and try and assess what impact something might have before doing it. From his speech this morning:

Next, government consultations. When we came to power there had to be a three month consultation on everything and I mean everything, no matter how big or small. So we are saying to Ministers: here’s a revolutionary idea – you decide how long a consultation period this actually needs. If you can get it done properly in a fortnight – great, indeed the Department for Education has already had a consultation done and dusted in two weeks. And we are going further, saying: if there is no need for a consultation, then don’t have one.

in government we have taken the letter of this law and gone way beyond it, with Equality Impact Assessments for every decision we make. Let me be very clear. I care about making sure that government policy never marginalises or discriminates. I care about making sure we treat people equally. But let’s have the courage to say it – caring about these things does not have to mean churning out reams of bureaucratic nonsense. We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff. So I can tell you today we are calling time on Equality Impact Assessments. You no longer have to do them if these issues have been properly considered. That way policy-makers are free to use their judgement and do the right thing to meet the equalities duty rather than wasting their own time and taxpayers’ money.

Ironically, David Cameron is arguing for a reduction in Government legislation on the grounds that it’s not needed because the Government knows best. What he completely misses is the point of a lot of regulation – no matter how much the Tories like to pretend, it’s not to slow things down just for the hell of it, it’s there to help ensure that the Government is doing the right thing and to look for unintended consequences. It’s very easy for a minister to say ‘right, we’re doing X’ but surely a proper governing process requires the ability for someone to say ‘hold on, that won’t work’?

Cameron invoked the idea of the country being in the ‘economic equivalent of war’ as though that trumped everything. Leaving aside the issue that the response to war is often a heavily centrally-directed economy, not laissez-faire, this is a particularly fatuous argument, even by Cameron’s standards. As the last Government used ‘the war on terror’ as a supposed trump card in civil liberties arguments, the state of the economy is being used to block all counter-arguments here.

Consultation and impact assessments are part of having policy that’s evidence-based. The point of them is to take a proposal, put it out there and see what problems people can see with it, then change it accordingly. To borrow a war metaphor, what Cameron’s proposing would have seen Eisenhower decide on the plans for D-Day on June 5th and expect them to be implemented without anyone else getting a chance to point out the flaws in them.

However, that Cameron regards consultations and the like as a waste of time does tell us something about his approach – he doesn’t like to be told he’s wrong, and doesn’t change plans if he is. This is a common complaint about government consultations at every level – that they are merely a box-ticking exercise, when they should be an important part of policy making. What he’s revealing is that he doesn’t think consultations should be listened to anyway, and if that’s your initial position, why bother having them?

Cameron is proposing that the Government abandons sensible policy-making and replacing it with panicked lurches from one pet theory to the next, never testing them to see how they might work or what the long term effects might be. One would hope that Liberal Democrats in government might stand up against this – given how it goes against principles of liberal and democratic governance – but bitter experience has taught me not to expect that.

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There’s been much joking recently about how part of the wake of the presidential election would be a wave of ‘why the US election means we must support my politics’ columns and blog posts. Lo and behold, you can probably find one on most comment sites in the country, but I wasn’t expecting David Cameron to jump on the bandwagon.

He made clear that the Tory right, which is putting pressure on him to campaign on more traditional Conservative themes, should take note of Obama’s success. “I believe that elections are won in the common ground – the centre ground,” Cameron said. “That is where you need to be, arguing about the things that matter to most people – that is making sure they can find a good job, they can build a good life for themselves, that if people work hard and try to get on you are behind them and helping them. That is the message loud and clear from this election as it is from all elections. You win elections in the mainstream.”

The hard right in the US and the UK share a common theme. Namely, that all electoral failure by right-wing candidates has one common cause – not being right-wing enough – and therefore, one common solution – being more right-wing. (The basic principle seems to have been taken from the hard left sometime in the 1980s) Although it manifests itself differently because of the differing media cultures in the two countries – there’s no Fox News or conservative talk radio in the UK, no Telegraph, Mail or Conservative Home in the US – the principle is the same: a right-wing echo chamber proclaiming that success comes only through ideological purity.

The problem is that the promise is false. In the US, right wing talk radio (as exemplified by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the like) began its rise from around 1989-90 after the Fairness Doctrine was revoked by the FCC. Since then, the Republicans have won the national popular vote in just one presidential election – 2004. In comparison, the advent of the British right began after the fall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Since then, Tory leaders have been regularly informed that the path to success lies in going further and farther to the right than Thatcher ever did, and they’ve had a similar sort of electoral success – one majority election victory in 1992, and one plurality of seats and votes in 2010. After William ‘save the Pound’ Hague and Michael ‘are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ Howard, the Tories only got some measure of success when Cameron started shifting them towards the centre.

One interesting dilemma that this does pose is that the call of the hard right can deliver some electoral success, though not in major elections. In the US, they have often delivered electoral successes in the midterms (1994 and 2010 are probably the best elections) and over here, UKIP have been successful in European elections. However, the link there is that these are low-turnout elections, and while the right may be good at getting their people out to vote for these, any effect they have is swamped when moderate voters come out to vote in the major elections.

That’s why, just this once, I agree with David Cameron. Salvation for the Tories doesn’t lie in them flying headlong to the siren call of the Tea Party. Their influence comes from the fact that they’re more organised and better funded than the moderates, not from their electoral sway.

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