The CPS on benefits, reform, big government and data

I am an Associate Member of the Centre for Policy Studies and I always enjoy reading their pamphlets: they remind me I am not alone. I caught up with the following four yesterday on the train. The theme? Putting humanity back into our society.

Click the images to download the pamphlets as PDFs.

The Reality Gap – an analysis of the failure of big government demonstrates that more government means worse. Jill Kirby writes of voter disenchantment and indicates that, in the EU elections, “Only one voter in 11 voted for the runaway winners, the Conservative Party”.

Jill provides and explores:

five techniques which have been deployed by the Government to create the appearance of success, while presiding over failure:

  • Moving the goalposts
  • Declaratory legislation
  • Government as public relations
  • Data collection
  • Complex structures, procedures and language.

In particular, from the chapter Declaratory Legislation:

A 2008 survey by Sweet and Maxwell found that Margaret Thatcher’s Government introduced an average of 1,724 new laws every year. That rose to 2,663 under Tony Blair and in the first year of Gordon Brown’s regime the annual total reached 3,071.

This frenzied legislative activism can only be ignored by ordinary people. It puts me in mind of Jamie Whyte’s article Am I a Criminal? I haven’t a clue:

This Government has relentlessly undermined the rule of law by its vague legislation and constant meddling

Jill concludes that “The only answer is a significant reduction in state control” — I could not agree more.

A New Great Reform Act by Anthony Jay, co-author of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, describes a system of democracy which was hinted at in the episode Power to the People:

Hacker wants Sir Humphrey to deal with radical Houndsworth Council Leader Agnes Moorhouse, who is embarrassing the Government by hamstringing her local police. When Hacker’s political advisor comes up with an imaginative plan for bring democracy to local government, Sir Humphrey realises that the scheme would be disastrous for the Civil Service. He and Agnes must form an unlikely alliance to put a stop to it.

Jay describes some of the hopeless bureaucracy he suffered in the BBC and writes:

Since that moment of insight in the early 1960s, I have come to see more and more clearly that bureaucratic empire-building is not an aberration from, or distortion of, the natural order of things, but a response to a basic human need. People in large organisations will always strive to enlarge their staff, increase their budgets and widen their areas of authority and jurisdiction. It is a cancerous growth.

But how do you control a government bureaucracy, which is both free of competition and an unchallengeable monopoly? The textbook answer is that it is controlled by voters and their elected representatives. The truth is that one vote in a general election every five years is powerless against the imperial instincts of the great armies of politicians and bureaucrats whose hands operate the levers of power.

With all this in mind, I am happy to confess that I have met some of the most senior civil servants in the course of my work and many more junior staff, and not just in the UK. Particularly at the senior levels, these people have been of the very highest calibre: intelligent, charismatic, inspiring, energetic, highly motivated — I could go on. And of course their organisations have been saturated with lessons and initiatives from the best management consultants our money can buy. One wonders what goes wrong, if the problem is not the people. Enter Jay:

At successive Representation of the People Acts, the size of constituencies was increased until they reached the 60,000 to 70,000 they stand at today, sizes at which it is impossible for a member to know personally even a significant percentage of his potential supporters. Very few of us today vote for an MP we actually know.

Jay also explores the growth of the media. He writes:

Over the past 200 years or so, central government has sucked authority, decision-making and local independence out of local communities, it has sucked money out of the purses and pockets of citizens, and it has created huge government departments and government institutions, a vast proliferation of tribunals, inspectorates, regulatory authorities, quangos, bureaux and councils, taken on an army of consultants, advisory committees, coordinating bodies, tsars, initiatives, action groups and task forces, and printed millions of questionnaires, application forms, guidance notes, instructions, licences, tick-boxes, information pamphlets and leaflets that, between them, spelt the death of trust and common sense and created the bureaucratic nightmare of twenty-first century Britain.

Jay’s solution is a new Great Reform Act to deliver a structure of democracy based on the human group sizes which actually make sense: 20-30 households, city villages of about 600 people, suburban townships of about 10 city villages, ten townships sending forward an MP. Among his concluding thoughts, Jay writes:

People talk about a ‘Third Way’, either between democracy and dictatorship or between free markets and socialist planning. But the Third Way that has actually arisen can be best described as Consultative Bureaucracy. It employs millions of people and spends hundreds of billions of pounds, but it does not seek to exercise power. All it wants is comfort, security, a decent income, an easy life and a well-funded retirement. It is only slightly fanciful to see the political parties as marketing agencies competing for the custom of the great bureaucracies by devising projects that will satisfy the political market sufficiently to keep the tax revenues flowing in at the required rate.

Jay’s idea is fascinating and his pamphlet entertaining: you can download it here.

In Benefit Simplification, David Martin explains the horrendous nightmare that is the benefit system today. Having worked on computer systems for HMRC, it comes as no surprise to me, but forced to survey the whole system, I am astonished anyone tolerates it.

Martin proposes:

An integrated system will allow much of the current complexity to be eliminated – and for the level of spending on the main benefits to be more amenable to democratic control.

An integrated system would involve creating a single agency to offer a localised and complete service in which many claimants would become personally known.

It all seems to go with the grain, including the work of Carswell and Hannan, The Centre for Social Justice, Reform and others.

It’s Ours by Liam Maxwell completes the story for the moment, explaining “Why we, not government must own our data”. From the introduction:

Control over our personal data is at the heart of the Labour Government’s plans for improving delivery of public services. Information on how we live our lives is to be centralised so that the State can decide when and where to provide public services. It is a “we know best” approach, a panopticon, with government insight into every aspect of our lives. It relies on a structurally unsound monopoly, with poor security, little consent, enormous cost and a naïve belief that government knows best.

Maxwell explores, for example:

  • The cost of government IT and that it so often does not work.
  • The absurd ambition of government IT.
  • Poor security, orientation to the provider and an absence of consent.
  • The naive but terrifying idealism behind Transformational Government.
  • An alternative path: an end to centralised state control, an approach that works elsewhere.


Ever greater centralisation runs counter to the current movement towards accountable, consent-based, user-driven data administration and storage. It runs counter to public sentiment, which believes local services with local accountability are preferable to centrally imposed targets.

So, all in all, four reasons for optimism, if we Conservatives have the courage to carry forward the natural trends in society towards decentralisation and personal power over our own lives.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments & Responses

Comments are closed.