Matthew Norman: Let's ask some foreigners to run the country

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There comes a tipping point in the life of a national sport when there's nothing for it but to admit total defeat, and decide to outsource all responsibility for it to someone from a more enlightened land. I refer, of course, to the game of government. Much like a certain other national sport, parliamentary democracy is a game we gave the world (or believe we did) but can no longer play ourselves. There is no longer any point in denying that the British are as shamefully, luminescently, cataclysmically clueless at governing ourselves as we once were at mass producing cars. We're just not up to it.

The reasons for this, to borrow from the jargon that attends each fresh government-sponsored fiasco, are systemic. Easy as it is to blame individuals, we have sleepwalked into a political factory geared up to churn out identikit political dross. Cossetted from reality by crested notepaper and the inflation-busting pay and pension rises, the political class relishes the lunacy of a system that rewards a 20 per cent share of the potential popular vote with unfettered power, shrinking the ideal of democracy to a morose amble to the polling station every four or five years to pick the next elective dictatorship.

When he took over, Gordon Brown spoke glibly about reforming aspects of this system with a view to "restoring public trust", a new constitution (possibly even written!), safeguards against reckless military adventurism, that sort of guff. This, it turns out, was a nicety ... the new PM's version of asking someone how they are, with all the attendant terror of actually being told.

Smug, uninspired leadership and a wildly undemocratic system we have grudgingly learned to live with, because the British are not a people which riots and overturns ministerial limousines when sullen apathy will do instead. What even so bovine and pliable a populace cannot tolerate, however, is grotesque buffoonery, rooted in contempt for individual rights and nourished by arrogant disregard for managerial structures, of the kind exposed at HM Revenue & Customs this week.

Having ended all trust in his political judgment by abandoning the election like the great big clucking rooster he is, Gordon Brown has now irretrievably lost any residual faith in his competence by having instituted, as Chancellor, the botched merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise which facilitated the failure to match the basic security protocols deployed by the Ministry of Lollipops in Camberwick Green.

Like his role model John Major, Gordon will probably hang on for the full five-year term, controlling a government, a parliament and a country in stasis. In the absence of an individual with the courage, or a political process with the capacity, to remove him, stand by for two-and-a-half more years of blunder-strewn stasis before he is replaced by a Tory PM without any will whatever to reform the system that enabled this nihilistically pointless stagnancy in the first place.

It is the absence of any prospect of improvement in the quality of leadership that necessitates the outsourcing of British government to a foreign power. But which one? Widespread unease at being an American client kingdom, roughly on a par with the Philippines, rules out an application to become the 51st State of the Union, while even less popular would be the more sensible option of transferring all control to Brussels. Mr Murdoch wouldn't wear it anyway.

Looking beyond these two power blocks to the other global monolith, China would run Britain with the icy efficiency they will bring to Olympics, which would guarantee that the London Games of 2112 started some time before 2115. But there are too many of those tiresome, wishy-washy liberal types who'd object to all the slave labourers buried under Olympic Park.

There is a powerful argument for bringing in the Italians, on the grounds that no one ever need pay income tax again, and yet the standard of living would still rise. If Berlusconi could be enticed off his yacht, he would bring a refreshing air of transparency, and even pride, to the sort of corruption to which we are becoming inured. Freedom from the strain of expecting honesty in government would be a tremendous relief.

The Germans would be great rulers, being impeccable democrats and highly efficient technocrats, but this might be a hard sell on traditional "We didn't fight Hitler so that ..." grounds. The Saudi Arabians are also attractive, partly because of all those shared values (you may have read this week of the Saudi woman who, on appealing her sentence for the crime of being gang-raped, had her number of lashes doubled and a prison term added for luck); and partly because they have the dosh to bail us out of the imminent Gordon-created crisis over public borrowing. The same goes for the Russian oligarchs, most of whom have exiled themselves here already.

But this is all windy speculation, because the only proper way to choose our new rulers is via the last surviving expression of Britain's democratic heritage. So I suggest a show called I'm A Foreign Ruler ...Get Me In There! in which rival contestants manage the department of state best suited to their talents for 12 months.

The Swedes are ideal candidates to run the welfare and benefits system, and a Norwego-Danish consortium would bring serious commitment to green issues at the Ministry of Environment. The French are the obvious people to sort out the health service, the Germans have a brilliant record in state education, the Canadians would bring reverence for civil liberties to the Home Office, and the Dutch can take on prison reform at the alleged Ministry for Justice. Let the Saudis try their hands at Defence (it would save bribing them to buy our arms), while the Japanese are the strongest candidates for Transport.

By way of a piece of satirical devilry, let's take policing out of the Teuton Home Office and give it to the Portuguese. And bending over backwards in pursuit of fairness, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling could be invited jointly to manage some branch of government well suited to their collective managerial talents. That part of the Scottish Office, possibly, that deals with traffic flow on the Orkneys.

Every night at 9pm Ant and Dec will host an hour of mirth and merriment frm one or other outsourced department, and once a month the country with the fewest votes will be jettisoned, that department going to the foreign regime with the most. At the end of the year, Britain will have the government it wants and deserves. My tenner, for what it's worth, is on the Swedes, who are honest, well-intentioned and highly civilised. They might not be perfect, but on the clear precedent of that other national sport that dares not speak its name, they would at least deliver a basic level of governmental competence of which we can currently scarcely dream.