Letter: Stop politicians making up the rules as they go along

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The Independent Online
Sir: Sir Christopher Foster's article ("The trouble with conviction", 2 September) highlights the undeniable fact that there are more government mistakes than there used to be. The list in Foster's first paragraph should have found room at least for some past mistakes such as the Child Support Act - and why omit the poll tax? But the problem is not entirely rooted in post-1979 conviction politics. Previous Labour and Conservative governments had succeeded in bungling education, industrial policy and much else, however consensual their approaches.

The deeper problem was - and remains - the absence of a proper rule-book for the conduct of state business. The British have delighted in inventing games - all of them with strict rules guaranteeing equal chances for all players. Only in the most important game of all - politics - have we thought it reasonable to allow the leading players to make up the rules as they go along.

Our history, of which our governing class is so proud, should have taught us that once you prevent the expression of dissent you inevitably start to make mistakes. We need to do much more than fiddle with the Cabinet committee structure to put things right. We need an impartial Civil Service which owes its allegiance to the people through Parliament. A Civil Service Act would place the Civil Service on a statutory footing, and remind us all that one of their most important functions is to underpin our democratic freedoms. Such legislation would also prevent this or any future government dismantling, disregarding or politicising it.

ANDREW PUDDEPHATT

Director, Charter 88

London EC1

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