Leading article: Don't blame technocrats – they're just doing their job

Share
Related Topics

The bad name that has burdened technocrats over the years has suddenly become a great deal worse.

As Italy followed Greece this week in appointing a caretaker government stuffed with unelected administrators, fierce criticism rained down on all sides. It was said that democracy had been usurped; that this was nothing less than "direct rule" from Brussels; that we were all watching – and acquiescing in – a process that amounted to a coup without uniforms. The 20th-century history of the countries concerned gave that last objection a particularly poisonous barb.

And there is, of course, a worrying aspect to what has been happening. But it has less to do with the rise of the technocrats, so-called, than with the failure of elected governments. The sad truth is that the elected executives showed themselves unequal to the task in hand. They were unable to get to grips with the exigencies of life in the eurozone and simultaneously retain the support of their country's voters. Spain's government is likely to be voted out at the weekend for similar reasons. If a new Prime Minister in Madrid cannot carry the people with him, Spain may be contemplating a similar fate.

Yet the arrival in government of technocrats – not necessarily bankers or economists, but professionals of a wider stripe – does not deserve to be condemned out of hand. Neither in Greece nor in Italy has democracy itself been suspended, nor is there any likelihood that it will be. Elected parliaments remain in their place. If the institutions of state work as they should, the MPs will exercise appropriate checks on executive power. Nor, elsewhere in the world, is this uncommon.

Elected heads of state or government routinely name professionals of one sort or another to their cabinets. The United States is an obvious example. France has a college, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, that produces classic technocrats: specialists and generalists both. If anything, Britain is the odd country out, in requiring MPs to combine their representative function with membership of the governing executive. The check on power is supposed to be exerted by an adversarial opposition. As was glaringly apparent from the Iraq war vote in the Commons, however, that check is not always sufficient.

It might also be observed that, in the Coalition, elected last year, Britain has perhaps its most technocratic government since the Second World War. Not only does the alliance of two parties give the Prime Minister more varied expertise to choose from, but also coalition by its very nature pushes government to the political centre and away from ideology – to the dissatisfaction, as we have seen, of a vocal section of the Conservative Party.

The Coalition's watchword, at least at the start, was competence, closely followed by sound husbandry of the public finances and efficiency – the very qualities that the new technocratic governments are intended to bring to Italy and Greece. What is more, the profiles of David Cameron and especially Nick Clegg are in many respects nearer to those of Continental European technocrats than they are to those of old-style British politicians.

Despite such recent developments, Britain's difficulty – in local as well as national government – might well be said to remain a shortage of specialist professional expertise, not just among ministers, who must shuttle between their executive offices and parliamentary benches, but among civil servants who, as Ministry of Defence figures showed yesterday, then buy it in from consultants at enormous cost. In the right place, and under the proper scrutiny of elected parliaments, there is nothing wrong with technocrats. In Britain, we might have better government if we had a few more of them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Debate still rages over genetically modified food after nearly 20 years  

'Feeding the world' does not just means higher yields: The case against GM crops

Peter Melchett
 

Etch, a Sketch

Jane Merrick
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing