Sunday, January 26, 2014
Sunday, January 19, 2014
This matters. A lot. Because even if we had been debating weedy proposals for a ‘lobbying register’ instead of the proposed new restrictions on charity campaigning, we’d have been tinkering at the edges of the problem. The biggest and most powerful corporate interests don’t need to rely on lobbying agencies to make their voices heard in the corridors of power: increasingly, they are being deliberately embedded into the policymaking process.
Before I discovered the bullshit-mine that is Michael Gove, I used to blog about this quite a lot. Here, for example, and here and here and here. For those without the time to plough through my back catalogue of ranting, a quick recap: the government has a little-known policy called ‘one-in, two-out regulation’ (previously known as ‘one-in, one-out’, before they made it even more dangerous and nonsensical than it already was). Essentially, any department that wants to introduce new regulations affecting business (or the voluntary sector) has to get rid of twice as much existing regulation.
This is measured through the ingenious means of ‘regulatory impact assessments’, which estimate how much new regulations will cost those affected. Departments then need to find regulatory ‘savings’ worth double that cost burden if they want to go ahead. These impact assessments have to be reviewed by the Regulatory Policy Committee and the Reducing Regulation Committee before new regulations can be passed. Put this together with massive spending cuts and the net effect is that departments are making policy with both hands tied behind their backs – which, of course, is exactly the point.
When I first learned about the labyrinth of committees involved in ‘one-in, two-out’, I smirked for a while at the irony of such an elaborate bureaucracy being set up to police the reduction of bureaucracy, and thought no more about it. Then, through an accident of my previous job, I came across a guy called Alexander Ehrmann – essentially, the chief lobbyist for the Institute of Directors. And, on the IoD website, I discovered that Alexander Ehrmann was a member of the Regulatory Policy Committee.
Well. Mind. Blown. Just when I thought this policy couldn’t get any more outrageous, it now turns out that the people passing judgement on the assessments which accompany new rules are not Ministers or civil servants, as I’d naively assumed, but representatives of the regulated. Basically, this government is inviting paid corporate lobbyists into the policy making process and all but giving them a veto over new regulations.
This made me wonder who else was sitting on this little-known yet immensely influential body. So I had a look on the RPC’s website. The list of “independent experts” currently serving on the RPC certainly makes for interesting reading. Say hello to:
- Jeremy Mayhew, a councilman of the City of London Corporation, the ancient and powerful body which effectively represents the interests of high finance (natch - their tentacles seem to extend everywhere, so it's hardly surprising to find them popping up here);
- Michael Gibbons, a company director with extensive interests in the energy industry (both past and present, including a current directorship at a power company and a prominent role in an industry trade body); and
- Professor David Parker, the government’s official historian of privatisation (who knew such a beautifully Orwellian thing existed?!).
The eight-person committee includes just one woman, and just one representative of labour. Oh, and they happen to be the same person – Sarah Veale, Head of the Equality and Employment Rights department at the TUC. Now there’s government efficiency savings for you.
The committee has no publicly available conflicts of interest policy. When I emailed them to ask for a copy of any such policy, I was told: “We operate an internal policy which ensures that any members who have a conflict of interest on policy areas are not involved in the committee reviews of impact assessments relating to those areas.” Well, colour me reassured. How exactly this is supposed to work for people like Ehrmann, who must have an ‘interest’ in almost every regulation that crosses their desk, is not entirely clear.
But of course, that’s the point. The phrase ‘conflict of interest’ has almost no meaning under a system like this. These people are not there in spite of their corporate interests: they’re there because of them. In a Thatcherite mindset obsessed with the idea that giving business what it wants will get the economy moving, corporate connections are not ‘conflicts’ to be minimised but valuable expertise to be drawn upon. In other words, regulation is being systematically and deliberately put in the hands of the regulated.
You’ll be hearing much more about this from me over the coming weeks. But for now, I’ve got a favour to ask: if you’ve learned something from this post, if you’ve been at all shocked or dismayed by what you’ve learned, then please: share it.
We are scratching the surface of something deep and troubling here, and as far as I can tell, almost nobody seems to know about it. It’s time they did. The battle over charities’ right to campaign appears to be largely won; the battle for the soul of government urgently needs to begin.
Saturday, January 4, 2014
Writing in the Daily Mail, Gove criticised what he called “myths” about the war and the “left-wing academics” who perpetrate them, suggesting that they reflect “an, at best, ambiguous attitude to this country and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage”. It’s about one step away from ‘THE MAN WHO HATED BRITAIN’.
Even more objectionably, he then tries to claim a monopoly on respect and compassion for the people whose slaughter he’s defending – implying that these sinister red historians have cast British soldiers as “dupes”, and that by questioning this year’s centenary ‘celebrations’ they are attacking “the very idea of honouring their sacrifice”. Apparently, “These arguments are more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue rather than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate.” Whereas of course, Gove’s arguments are thoroughly grown-up and in no way boil down to ‘What? You disagree with me? Oh my God I can’t believe you just said you hated Britain and all the soldiers!!!’
In Gove’s mind, we can only truly honour the memory of the millions dead if we convince ourselves that their deaths were in the service of some gloriously noble cause. “Even the battle of the Somme, once considered the epitome of military futility, has now been analysed in depth by the military historian William Philpott and recast as a precursor of allied victory.” Well, hooray. I’m sure my dead great-grandfather will be just thrilled. And I’m certainly grateful to Gove for making me see that all those times I felt desperately sad and angry about the way his life was cut short, I wasn’t actually ‘honouring his sacrifice’, I was succumbing to my innate left-wing tendency to denigrate Britain.
I suppose the one silver lining to all this bullshit is that it really brings the political nature of Gove’s agenda for history teaching out into the open. Although he pays lip service to the idea that history is about debate, it’s pretty clear that he really thinks it’s about propaganda. To see why, it’s worth quoting from his offending Daily Mail article at length:
“There is, of course, no unchallenged consensus. That is why it matters that we encourage an open debate on the war and its significance.In other words: “By all means let’s have a debate, but let’s be clear that if you’re on the wrong side of that debate, you’re almost certainly a commie with quasi-treasonable motives. Oh, and the only reason we can have the debate in the first place is because actually I’m right! So nurrrrh!”
But it is important to recognise that many of the new analyses emerging challenge existing Left-wing versions of the past designed to belittle Britain and its leaders.
Instead, they help us to understand that, for all our mistakes as a nation, Britain’s role in the world has also been marked by nobility and courage…
But whatever each of us takes from these acts of remembrance and hours of debate it is always worth remembering that the freedom to draw our own conclusions about this conflict is a direct consequence of the bravery of men and women who fought for, and believed in, Britain’s special tradition of liberty.”
And that’s what is so terrifying about Michael Gove. He seems to derive his intellectual opinions directly from his political prejudices and then to genuinely believe that everyone else must be doing the same, and therefore that he doesn’t have to listen to them. I’m a patriot, therefore World War I must have been justified, and anyone who says otherwise obviously hates patriotism. I hate unions, therefore the opinions of unionised teachers who oppose my reforms are obviously some kind of left-wing plot and can be safely trampled over. I think education should be about Facts and Grammar, and anyone who says otherwise is obviously a wishy-washy leftie who doesn’t want kids to achieve.
Of course, we all do this to some extent. But surely the process of education should be about controlling these tendencies, not actively cultivating them? I think my friend Cathy put her finger on it when she asked yesterday: “How can so unwilling a mind be in charge of education?”