The Sketch: Top-down or even bottom-up, this lot don't know which way makes sense

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The Independent Online

What vicious medication do those education under-secretaries take before they go into questions? What harsh emetic can produce such steaming streams of intellectual waste from Ivan Lewis and Margaret Hodge? Surely there is some health and safety regulation to protect us?

What vicious medication do those education under-secretaries take before they go into questions? What harsh emetic can produce such steaming streams of intellectual waste from Ivan Lewis and Margaret Hodge? Surely there is some health and safety regulation to protect us?

Do you want to know how "employer-led sector skills needs are prioritised by the sector Skills Council to improve sector skills base?" Of course not, so keep away from Ivan. He's terrible. I'd give you a flavour of Margaret Hodge but the grandeur of her new manner makes it impossible to listen to a word she says. The way those two speak constitutes a very significant barrier between normal people and the political process. So at least be grateful for that.

He must have thought he was safe in Standing Committee F on Delegated Legislation, but it still seemed a little daring for Ben Bradshaw to talk so approvingly about his "bottom-up approach to areas of outstanding natural beauty".

It is the way we do things now, apparently. How times have changed. When this particular piece of government was being drafted, we were more top-down. As a result, now, six or seven years later we've a combined bottom-up and top-down approach to outstanding natural beauty. Sociologists tell us it's a combination pioneered by rowdy west Australian girls, but there's no room for that just now.

Ben Bradshaw had come to the committee to consider a draft of an instrument which might establish at some point two conservation boards to preside over the Chilterns and the Cotswolds. You go along to these committees to scoff at them, but then they always turn out more interesting than you expect. James Gray gave us the benefit of his well-bred, bass gobble. On a good day, he can speak for 20 minutes and it sounds like one long, infinitely complex word. While generally supporting the instrument, he opposed every part of it. That takes talent.

What was the point of this bureaucratic creation, he wanted to know. Things were perfectly well managed now. These boards would just grow and spawn memos and minutes, and they'd report to each other and hold conferences in Bournemouth. Give us a single example of bureaucratic claptrap the boards would abolish, he asked more than once. But of course there was no reply.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, lone backbench Tory, was less consensual. He attacked the minister like a furious vole, pointing out that the composition of the board was comically undemocratic, that there was no appeal against their decisions nor any way to complain about them. Also, the minister was appointing most of the boards and she could fire any of the appointees on three months notice. The power of local government would be clearly reduced, Mr Clifton-Brown said, and it seemed hard to disagree.

Would the Government in these bottom-up times propose the top-down structure they are now implementing? It was an interesting lesson in how the fashion has changed in the few short years since the Bill was passed.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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