Saturday , January 22 2022
Home / Tim Ambler /Oh what a tangled web we weave

Oh what a tangled web we weave

Summary:
Some people want to be MPs, MPs want to be ministers and ministers want to be financially comfortable in their later years.  According to Monday’s Guardian, half of all Tory ex-ministers take jobs in companies relevant to their former departments. Business is driven by value for money and directors would not be offering employment for the pleasure of ex-ministers’ company at their lunch tables.  The Patterson affair was trivial: the line between advising on lobbying and helping out with doing it is a fine one, remembering that the companies will make no secret of where their advice came from. The civil servants who actually make the decisions are well used to ignoring the lobbying by their own ministers, never mind other MPs. One wonders for example what motivated the Government to put

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Some people want to be MPs, MPs want to be ministers and ministers want to be financially comfortable in their later years.  According to Monday’s Guardian, half of all Tory ex-ministers take jobs in companies relevant to their former departments. Business is driven by value for money and directors would not be offering employment for the pleasure of ex-ministers’ company at their lunch tables.  The Patterson affair was trivial: the line between advising on lobbying and helping out with doing it is a fine one, remembering that the companies will make no secret of where their advice came from. The civil servants who actually make the decisions are well used to ignoring the lobbying by their own ministers, never mind other MPs. 

One wonders for example what motivated the Government to put millions into Rolls Royce generation II small nuclear reactors intended for submarines, 20 years or more ago, and disregard the modern generation IV advanced nuclear reactors (costing about the same but producing more electricity) now being progressed by other leading countries.  It would be absurd to believe that future employment had anything to do with it. 

Parliament should not waste its time on trivia, like the Patterson affair, or whether the Prime Minister had the authority to have his official living quarters redecorated, but on the far more insidious forms of corruption, namely ministers and senior civil servants making decisions in their own long term interest and trespassing on the coattails of quangos and regulators that should be independent but are not.  

My streamlining quangos paper last October showed how they could all be abolished: either they are necessary but should not be independent, in which case they should be integrated within their departments, or they are necessary and should be truly independent, in which case they should report to Parliament, not government, or they are unnecessary and should be abolished. Setting up a new quango to address an awkward issue is bad government and expensive for taxpayers. 

The NHS is a classic case in point: it should either be an Executive Agency (part of government) or a Public Corporation (independent of government and reporting to Parliament). The previous Health Secretary considered these options and decided it was more fun to tell the NHS what to do when he felt like it and disclaim all responsibility when he didn’t.  As a “non-departmental public body”, It remains simultaneously independent, and not independent, of government. 

The fact is that neither this, nor any other, UK government will stop meddling in legislative matters that belong to Parliament or using the tangled web of governance to further its own interests.  And the personal interests of ministers do not necessarily coincide with what the country most needs. 

The country is lucky to have many high quality ex-ministers still serving on the back benches.  They should confer with the leaders of opposition parties to discuss what kind of parliamentary commission should review the streamlining of governance and its relationship with Parliament.  Government would obviously whip against any such motion and we would then see which MPs prefer their own personal ambitions to the best interests of the country.

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Tim Ambler
Tim Ambler (born 1937) is a British organizational theorist, author and academic on the field of Marketing effectiveness. Ambler featured on Marketing's list of the 100 most powerful figures in the industry. He is cited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of the top 50 marketing experts in the world

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