Remember 14th August 2009? David Cameron said: “Clearly if we are going to ask – and we need to ask the country – to undertake a programme of reduced public spending and get the deficit down, we need to show that we can take our share of the pain. I want to reduce the cost of politics. I want to cut the size of the House of Commons. I want to cut the number of quangos. My Government will take a lead in that if we are fortunate enough to be elected.”
This might just have been Dave politicising on the spur of the moment and in response to a journalist’s question during the silly season when hard news is scarce, similar to his recent comment that council house tenancies should not be for life. However, a host of Tory insiders confirmed; “There’s a simple way to save money. We’ll have fewer ministers. We also want to get rid of these split responsibilities [a reference to Peter Mandelson’s encroachment in to other departments – with eleven ministers under his command]. There’s not much evidence that it works. It’s something we are working on.” Or, “The department I was in [John Major’s administration] had four ministers and now it has eight. You get a situation where one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.” Or, “I can confirm that we are keen to reduce the number of ministers but I don’t think we’re anywhere near a conclusion on numbers. We are committed to reducing the cost of politics. No decision has been taken on ministerial salaries.” What a difference a year makes, especially when they have had to accommodate a tranche of Coalition LibDem colleagues.
The Tory planners were critical of a cumbersome, top-heavy and unwieldy Labour administration and influenced by a report the previous year by Matthew Taylor, Blair’s No. 10 policy chief, which proposed to cut the number of ministers by 25%. Brown’s government comprised 125 Cabinet and junior ministers, with departmental portfolios and without, and whips. This compared to 60 ministers in 1900 at the height of Empire and 74 in 1940 at the most crucial period of WW2. Their conclusion was to cut Cabinet pay by 25% and reduce the number of ministers by 30 to 40.
Post Election 2010 and the reality is somewhat different. At the first photo-shoot of the new Cabinet, they were squashed around the Cabinet table like sardines. Twenty-nine members of whom 23 were estimated to be millionaires. There has been no reduction in the number of Government departments and no cut in pay of 25%. So where is the example to the rest of the country? The Prime Ministers of Ireland and Lithuania have taken pay cuts of 33% and 40% respectively. Dave has taken a cut of 5% leaving him with £142,500 pa frozen for the life of the government. The 5% cut is across the board leaving Cabinet ministers with £134,565 pa, and junior ministers with £89,435 pa. It was also proposed to axe ministerial cars and make them use pool-cars. Now, Cabinet members have been allowed to retain their chauffer driven limousines.
Their MP salaries have not been affected. No evidence there that they are sharing the pain. The MPs had a pay rise before the Election and they are still complaining about the allowances and expenses system. Abuses of the system are still taking place. The new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is under attack and costing far more to administer than it could possibly save. The MPs are not happy about proposals to reduce the number of constituencies and the prospect of losing their jobs. Do not expect this reduction to ever materialise; it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.
The number of government departments is not regulated as it would undermine the PMs ability to reward support. Part of the problem is that we do not have a written constitution. Article 28 of the Irish Constitution sets out clearly and concisely the powers of the Government. Article 28.1 states; ‘The Government shall consist of not less than seven and nor more than fifteen members who shall be appointed by the President in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.’ The Irish constitutional system is very similar to the UKs and written but their Constitution is not perfect. The Irish PM gets around the restriction on cabinet numbers by dishing out junior ministerial positions in return for support. It is therefore interesting that their government’s first Budget of 2009 took the axe to the number of junior ministers as well as imposing pay cuts across the board following the example of the PM. These real cuts were also applied to the senior civil service, and the judiciary who had to volunteer as they are independent. The response was good and in the interests of the Nation. Pay cuts to a lesser extent were also accepted at the lower levels of government. It is unlikely that these cuts will hold for more than two years as there is no corresponding prices freeze. However, the Irish leaders have set an example. An example the UK Cabinet could emulate.
Our Resurgence Party Programme sets out how we would tackle these issues for the purpose of reducing the cost and size of government and legislature. In September 2008 we set out in Resurgence News 2:1 [article – Lean and Mean] proposals for a reduction in the number of government departments to fourteen and a reduction in the size of the Cabinet to twenty. Check it out by going to the Main Archive in the header bar.
This ConLibDem Coalition government does not have a democratic mandate to undertake the public spending cuts to be announced very soon. Neither do they have any moral mandate to impose cuts while ever they refuse to set a proper example for the Nation and share the pain. Even worse are the morally bereft Parliamentarians who refuse to accept any cuts in pay or restrictions on their expenses, but will legislate the spending cuts in to law.