It is no reflection on the qualities of the Government's latest recruit to say that he should not have been appointed. Indeed, the Blair government should have moved in the opposite direction, towards a position where all ministers are MPs. There is no place for peers in the Cabinet. Even if the Upper House is reformed, its role as a revising chamber does not justify executive roles in government for its members.
It is perfectly possible that there are better men and women than our 659 MPs who are ready to become ministers. Many a doctor understands the realities of health care better than Frank Dobson. But the point about politicians is not that they are in some executive sense good at running Culture plc or HM Treasury Inc. Whether politicians are stubborn, clever, old or young, they are accountable. At the end of their term we can throw them out of office and replace them by another, fairly identifiable lot. If we had an American system of prime ministerial appointment, we would not know what bunch of incredibly talented business leaders - or corrupt cronies - would come in after an election.
Ministers selected from the Commons have another vital quality: independence. To be sure, it is much circumscribed by party discipline, but it is still greater than that of a mere appointee. Like Michael Heseltine in the Eighties or Frank Field today, if ministers disagree with the government then they can pursue this from the backbenches. Labour is free to select as many parliamentary candidates as it wishes from the ranks of big business, small business, the unions (remember them?) or the party leader's friends. If the Government wants to draw on business leaders' expertise, they can be advisers. They can head taskforces.
One of the reasons why so many people voted Labour last year was because they wanted less patronage, not more. Let us have some clear thinking about the nature of our democracy and not let it slide into a sort of Nineties corporatism, however talented the individual appointees.Reuse content