David Cameron wasted no time following his surprise victory in the General Election. No sooner had the starter’s gun been fired, than he was off to visit the Queen so she could formally ask him to form the next government. Within a week he had appointed the members of his Cabinet and they were meeting for the first time at Number 10 Downing Street; twenty-nine of them squeezed into the Cabinet Room and squashed around the table, elbow to elbow, for a photo shoot. In addition to the chosen 29 he has also appointed (London Mayor) Boris Johnson MP and (Conservative Party Chairman) Lord Feldman to the ‘political cabinet’ – whatever that is? This is where he has stumbled because he promised to reduce the size of government and he has not done so. He has not reduced the number of government departments, he has not reduced the size of the Cabinet, and he has not reduced the number of junior ministers and government whips.
He would claim the promises he made in 2009 could not be kept because he had to form a coalition government and find room for LibDem ministers and cabinet members, including the post of Deputy Prime Minister. He has not got that excuse this time and there is no Deputy PM. Even with the most basic arithmetic there should be one less member of the Cabinet, but it is still the same size of 29 that it was in the last government +2 others. In addition to the +2 some of the other appointments are questionable, such as Robert Halton MP (Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party) as Minister of State without Portfolio; and three second-tier ministers who will attend in addition to their department Secretary.
Since 2007 the CDP position has been that the number of government departments should be reduced by one-third and we have demonstrated how they could be cut to a maximum of 14. We have also proposed that the size of the Cabinet be cut by 25% – 33% to a maximum number of 21. We also propose to cut the total number of secretaries of state, ministers and whips, that comprise the government payroll, from its current level to less than 100. The total number of government posts is now 141, but with some dual post holders, there are 130 Lords and MPs in post. Cameron is creating six new peerages to fill some of these posts, thereby adding to an already bloated House of Lords.
Having stumbled, Cameron has regained his balance by confirming another five-year freeze on ministerial pay, capped at £134.5k, with his own pay capped at £142.5k. He is now hurtling towards the Queen’s Speech and the State opening of Parliament. Will he remember the other parts of his promise to cut the size of the House of Commons and cut the number of quangos? And there is also the task of deflating the bloated House of Lords, to which he has only paid lip-service. Prior to the 2010 General Election he was very clear that there was a simple way to save money – that was to have fewer ministers. He was influenced by a report commissioned by Tony Blair in 2008 that proposed to cut the number of ministers and Cabinet pay by 25%. This report pointed out that there were only 60 ministers in 1900 at the height of Empire and 74 in 1940 at the most crucial period of WW2.
The 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto stated, “Conservatives have brought in a new approach. We are determined to measure success not by how much money is spent, but how much it improves people’s lives. Whitehall is now leaner and smaller than at any time since the Second World War”. Well that is debatable. They claimed to have abolished or merged over 300 quangos. Even if so, this is only a fraction of the total number of quangos and it does not take into account the new ones they have created. It is hardly the bonfire of quangos that they promised.
In the last five years the Parliamentary Select Committees should have been charged with scrutinising the operations of the wide range of bodies that we now collectively call ‘quasi autonomous non governmental organisations’. They should have investigated the reasons why these bodies were set up and whether they have achieved their aims. If their time has expired, they should be given a deadline to be wound up. If they are failing, the Select Committees should make recommendations as to fitness and purpose. This forensic approach is in stark contrast to the hatchet job conducted hastily in 2010, which is now resulting in some organisations being reinvented.
Reducing the number of MPs in the House of Commons to 600 by making constituency boundary changes is likely to be controversial and messy, but that is nothing compared to the situation in the House of Lords where major pruning is required. The softly softly approach used so far has had no affect on this Chamber. Encouraging retirement with the incentive to retain the title and privileges of access to the facilities is like giving free membership to the best gentleman’s club in London.
Those Lords with the worst attendance record should be axed. This would be immediate and based on the period 2010 – 2015 and comprise 20% of the membership. They would be stripped of their titles and privileges, without compensation. Following that there should be further reductions in tranches of 20% every year over the following 4 years. This would be on the basis of last-in = first-out. The aim would be to reduce the number to 200. The focus of the House would be one of scrutiny and revision; and because they are unelected they would be disabled from introducing bills, which should put a stop to the likes of Falconer and Joffe.
While this is taking place there should be a moratorium on the creating of new peers. This will not happen because it is not in the Conservative Manifesto, but it will be in the CDP Manifesto.