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One Way to Cut the Deficit: Take the Hamsters Out of Their Wheels – Open Letter to David Cameron

October 29, 2014

David Cameron

Dear Prime Minister

I’m writing to you because according to Mary Beard you don’t respond to tweets. Nor do I for that matter, but then I’m not as important as you, and even if I was, I wouldn’t be bothered with maintaining a “social media centre” to pump out an endless stream of blather that impresses nobody but my own acolytes.

Which is a shame in a way, because what I have to say to you, whether you can be bothered to listen or not, is really quite simple – tweet-length actually. It’s this:

“If you’re really serious about cutting Britain’s deficit, stop legislating.”

I can picture the scene in your Twitter Command Centre if that pithy little message materialised on their IPad screens. “Laugh? We nearly went to the loo in a hurry” to paraphrase Peter Cook in Derek and Clive Live. Much the same reaction as would spontaneously erupt from Ed’s collective, Nick’s rabble and Nigel’s real ale club.

Hardly surprising really. After all, making laws is what politicians are there for isn’t it? Just as lawyers demonstrate their value by writing 500-word paragraphs without punctuation, and charge accordingly, you pols measure your effectiveness by the number of superfluous regulations you churn out during the lifetime of your mandate.

You call them initiatives, don’t you? You tweak, you replace, you modify, you cast your net upon the few remaining areas hitherto unbounded by the letter of the law. No matter that for the past nine hundred years we have laboured (no pun intended) under the weight of thousands of statutes that line the dark oak bookcases of all those lawyers.

Is it so outrageous, Prime Minister, to suggest that we have enough laws to be going on with for the time being? Do you really think that the legislators of the past have been so stupid and negligent that they haven’t written laws to cover just about every facet of our lives? How is it that there are laws on the statute book that have survived for hundreds of years? Common law, like habeas corpus, dating from the Middle Ages? Is there so much new under the sun that needs to be revealed and burnished by your pin-striped policy advisers? I was going to say Old Etonian advisers, but that’s a cheap shot, so I won’t.

If I were to corner you with these questions in some Oxfordshire snug or Tuscan trattoria, no doubt you would very politely point out that life moves on. That we need to respond to “fresh challenges”, and that we can’t be hidebound by laws that were created for the reality of the time. To which I would respond that most of the challenges come from your opponents, not from an intrinsic need to change things. That the whole system of law-making has a life of its own devoid of purpose. That it’s there because it’s there. That it’s like a hamster in its wheel. And that it’s time the hamster took a break.

OK, I accept that you do need to pass one or two laws, especially those that sustain the body politic, like budgets. But the rest? Let’s look at the laundry list you gave our long-suffering Queen to parrot in her annual speech at the opening of Parliament. A statuary code for pub tenancies? Turning executive agencies into government-owned companies? Encouraging people to blow their pensions? More anti-slavery legislation? Yet more changes to serious crime laws? Governance of National Parks? Extending the powers of the Charities Commission? Do me a favour! No doubt these are all very worthy changes of the law, but each of them will come at a cost. New bureaucrats, or at least new desks for old ones. Reorganisations all over the place. Demands for more people, public enquiries, law suits, re-branding.

Prime Minister, stop. Think. Will our nation crumble into dust in the next five years for the want of these laws? How many of them are on the table just to keep the wheel turning, to sustain the illusion of progress, to feed the bureaucrats and to make work for the working man to do?

And yes, I know that this is the way that western democracy works. That legislators, executives and civil servants across the world – in the US, the EU, Japan and just about everywhere else the popular vote holds sway – have to prove their worth by endless, dynamic action. Hang on, did I say the EU? An exception perhaps, because the Eurocrats seem to be safely entrenched in a law-makers paradise – little accountability, squabbling members to play off against each other, a factory for concrete life jackets with its own unstoppable momentum.

But come on Prime Minister, do us all a favour. Do something really radical for a change. Freeze all but the most essential legislation. By all means deal with ISIS, and head off any other black swans that come winging towards us. But point out to the electorate that good government isn’t the same as feeding an endless conveyor belt of legislation. That 98% of the legislation any government needs to do a decent job is already in place, and for reasons of economic expediency, the remaining 2% can wait. Replace the Queen’s Speech with the Queen’s Tweet. God knows, these days Her Majesty’s getting a bit ancient for those interminable, mind-numbing declarations from the throne.

Counter-intuitive, I know, but you have a chance to claim the moral high ground from your rivals as they flood the airwaves in the run-up to next year’s election with their usual cornucopias of unachievable promises and appeals to the prejudices of the masses.

I also know it’s the longest of shots to expect you change the habits of a lifetime in politics. But I know that you’re an angry and frustrated man. Upset with the EU’s cash demand, annoyed with those pesky UKIP defectors and their “bastard” fellow travellers in your party, furious with your bodyguards for failing to head off random joggers barging into you. Half the time you look like you’re about to self-combust. It’s time to take a leap into the unknown.

You might lose the argument and be pitched into political oblivion. But that might happen next year anyway. Why not go down in flames by reminding us that despite our rather curious unwritten constitution, there is a difference between governing and legislating, and that you intend to focus on the former without leaning on the latter to convince us of your dynamism?

Who knows, you might strike a chord with all those voters who have grown heartily sick of Westminster and the futile posturing of all those MPs who have never held a “real job” outside politics, and end up winning another term. And you might end up saving us all a lot of money. If you do crash and burn, at least  you can enjoy the second half of your life as an elder statesman, flying around the world as you collect fat consulting fees from all corners of the globe.

Go on, Prime Minister. Take a risk. You know you want to.

Yours in sympathy,

Steve

From → Politics, UK

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