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

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Engineering Design Manager (Mechanical)

£35000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: ENGINEERING ...

SSIS Developer Required - Leading Media Company

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A world leading media organisation is cu...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Miami skyline  

A new wave of Latin Americans is invading Miami – and they're bringing in wealth

David Usborne
The first woman in the Royal Navy is history to command a major warship  

If we want true gender equality, Commander Sarah West must be treated the same as any man

Jane Merrick
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz