Tories raise spectre of one-party state

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The Independent Online
An attack on the Government's alleged appointment of `placemen' to quangos was widened last night by Brian Mawhinney, the former Tory Party chairman. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says the Tories see the `quango state' being replaced by the `one party' state.

Brian Mawhinney last night accused the Government of appointing placemen to public bodies across the country. Widening a Tory attack on the Government for sacking Tories from NHS hospital trusts, the Tory Party's former chairman said: "I think there is a common thread running through this Government, which is pursuing centralised control."

He was supported by John Redwood, the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who said the Government was creating new quangos, such as the commission on low pay, but was failing to appoint representatives of small businesses, because they might offer critical advice.

It followed a call by John Maples, the Tory spokesman on health, for an inquiry by Sir Leonard Peach, the Independent Commissioner for Public Appointments, into the "politicisation" of health service boards in an alleged breach by the Government of the Nolan Code of Practice on openness and transparency. Mr Maples said: "Good people with proven track records and business experience are being thrown off health service boards. They are being replaced by large numbers of Labour councillors, without so much as a letter of thanks."

Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, robustly denied the Government was replacing Tory placemen with Labour "yes" men and women to run NHS hospital trusts.He said he would not appoint Labour "deadheads" to replace "Tory deadheads", but he wanted to increase the number of women on boards, and improve local representation.

A promise to "decentralise political power throughout the UK" was one of the 10 key priorities for the Parliament in Labour's election manifesto.

The Prime Minister made the attack on quangos part of his first speech in the Commons after winning power. Opening the debate on the Queen's Speech, Tony Blair said: "A Britain that is young of mind and confident of its future must change a situation in which unelected quangos spend more money than elected local government." Mr Blair told the annual Labour party conference two years ago: "It is time to sweep away the quango state."

Jack Straw launched a Labour commitment on open government in September 1996 that included a promise to impose tougher regimes for controlling the way quangos conduct their affairs.

David Clark, Cabinet minister for public service, published a consultation document in November to fulfil that pledge; the consultation period ends tomorrow.

However, the consultation paper Opening up Quangos made it clear the Labour Government finds the quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations have an important role to play. In the health service, they have the task of helping ministers to abolish the internal market in the NHS.

In a report to Sir Leonard, Mr Maples accused Mr Dobson of dropping Sir Brian Hill as chairman of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Lady McIntosh, who is a Labour councillor and academic, and also the wife of the Labour deputy chief whip in the Lords.

Other replacements cited in his report included Clive Wilkinson, the ex-Labour leader of Birmingham City Council, for Brian Baker, a businessman in the West Midlands; Frank McCarney, who manages the office of Mike O'Brien, the junior Home Office minister, for David Hopkins, chairman of the George Eliot Trust; and Mary Styth, a Labour councillor, for the chairman of the North Lakeland NHS trust.

Mr Dobson strongly defended his action, insisting that Ms Styth was the chair of a number of health bodies in the area with wide experience in the social services, the disabled and the elderly.