We need more politicians, not fewer
14/07/09 There are not too many politicians, only too many Civil Servants, says Jonty Olliff-Cooper.
A recent BBC story claims that the political class has now swollen to a bloated 29,000. Today the Daily Mail is shouting about how outrageous this is. True, 29,000 seems a lot, and political appointees can sound like a bad thing: all those spin doctors deceiving you, obstructing the Civil Service, and having the cheek to do it on our tax money.
But in fact, the problem is quite the opposite. Actually our political class is not too big. It is far too small. For one thing, politicians hardly have any political advisers. Yvette Cooper runs a department of 100,000 people with just three staff she picked herself. Whitehall is not overrun by special advisers. Special advisers are overrun by civil servants.
Secondly, our unease about politicians and appointees is immature. Whenever there is a scandal, the cry goes up for an “independent” regulator, out of the reach of politicians. Well, another word for independent is unaccountable. As we argued in Resuscitating Democracy last month, we must get over our strange fear of people we ourselves choose.
Finally, compared to other countries, Britain certainly does not have enough politicians. In France the ratio of voters to elected officials is 120:1. In Britain, it is 2,600:1. As the Progressive Conservatism Project on neighbourhood democracy will argue in a new piece later this year, it is absurd that the lowest tier of local government encompasses around 117,000 people. We need a lot more people to be directly involved in politics, for shorter periods, on more local issues, using new techniques like participatory budgeting.
So Quentin Letts, if you do not like the political class, stop whingeing and get involved.