Parliament isn't really the place to answer these questions. It's the High Court of Parliament, in a famous phrase, but there's no judge, and the jury comes and goes. When the verdict is delivered, no one listens if they don't want to. But then again, it's all we've got, so here goes.
Stephen Byers came in to sit on the third bench back for the Opposition Day debate on "Government handling of the decision relating to Railtrack". He'd been the minister at the centre of it, the arch-Blairite who renationalised a heavy industry. His junior minister John Spellar sat beside him (one half of a doughnut). There were two or three others. There was Gwyneth Dunwoody, from the start, forming a majority by herself.
Oh, how different it had been in the days of his power and glory. When the Tories attacked him in a previous life (the Resignation of Martin Sixsmith) it was simply not possible to hear Theresa May speak. And amid the roaring and baying, you could hear the authentic voice of the dog beneath the Government's skin.
Alan Duncan's introduction consisted of the words: corrupted. Polluted. Corrosion. Abuse. Arrogance. Institutionalised contempt. Where was "leprositic"? Labour made a good fist of their interventions at the beginning, and without quite unsettling Alan Duncan, they pressed the question: "Is his argument that Railtrack was solvent?"
There is a simple answer to this (it was solvent while the Government paid the promised subsidy) but in the absence of a knockdown reply, the Government side shook its collective head and smiled in a superior way, and rocked its collective foot and maintained: "In the face of Railtrack's insolvency we had to act." Eventually, Mr Duncan got into his stride with the secret minutes of secret meetings between the Treasury, the department and the Prime Minister's office. Then the smiles dried up and the feet stopped rocking.
He packaged his points in a technical reading of the Railways Administration Act (yowza!) The power was only granted the minister to react to events.
But the minutes made clear the Government was creating events, not reacting. The bending of the Office of National Statistics, and of the Rail Regulator, and the judge - this wasn't reactive, this was what management calls "proactive".
But it's complicated, isn't it? It's laborious and boring and unrewarding - unless you prize depression and despair. No wonder the generalissimos understand they can get away with it.Reuse content