Friday, December 10, 2004

Spectator: Butler Interview

For those doing "Decision-making in central government", there was an interesting interview with Butler (of WMD enquiry fame) in the current edition of the Spectator. On one level, it's a fairly standard overweening executive, what happened to cabinet government line. Standard because much the same was said of Wilson and Thatcher - but in the comparison with Thatcher, Butler has a couple of interesting observations:

‘I would be critical of the present government in that there is too much emphasis on selling, there is too much central control and there is too little of what I would describe as reasoned deliberation which brings in all the arguments.’

If you were Blair what would you do about that?

‘I think I would restore open debate in government at all levels up to the Cabinet. The Cabinet now — and I don’t think there is any secret about this — doesn’t make decisions.’

But wasn’t that also the case under Mrs Thatcher? ‘She was much more formal about this than her reputation is. She certainly wanted to get her own way, and she was very dominant, but she certainly took the view, as Harold Wilson did, that important decisions should be taken by Cabinet.

‘I think what tends to happen now is that the government reaches conclusions in rather small groups of people who are not necessarily representative of all the groups of interests in government, and there is insufficient opportunity for other people to debate, dissent and modify.’

Does he think that on the whole the country is well governed?

‘Well, I think we are a country where we suffer very badly from Parliament not having sufficient control over the executive and that is a very grave flaw. We should be breaking away from the party whip. The executive is much too free to bring in a huge number of extremely bad Bills, a huge amount of regulation and to do whatever it likes — and whatever it likes is what will get the best headlines tomorrow. All that is part of what is bad government in this country.

Butler's remarks are significant when we bear in mind that his enquiry - wrongly dismissed in some quarters as a "whitewash" - identified "collective failure" in the bureaucracy with regards to the non-discovery of WMD in Iraq.

In the same issue, scary case of agreeing with Bruce Anderson, that rarest of creatures; a Scottish Tory.

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