Martin Bright

Bonfire of the Quangos - Full Version

Bonfire of the Quangos - Full Version
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I had the pleasure of chairing the Editorial Intelligence/Policy Exchange/Policy Review/Cass Busines School (Phewee!) debate on the future of the quangocracy last night. I was expecting little common ground between Douglas Carswell, the Tory hammer of the quangos and an audience I thought would be packed with his ideological enemies. But it wasn't like that at all. 

Carswell was a very entertaining turn, describing the House of Commons as "monumentally spineless and useless". His view was that select committees should be given the job of holding quangos to account, including making them justify their budgets on an annual basis. This, he said, would at least give give MPs something worthwhile to do and maybe shake them out of their "self-seeking indolence".

Neil O'Brien, the Director of Policy Exchange made a coherent argument for reform (and put the boot in to the Potato Council) and must be a candidate for a future Tory front bench if he ever chooses to stand as a candidate. Philip Stephens of the Financial Times was his usual reasonable self and concluded that it was all too easy for politicians to get overheated about quangos and should probably calm down a bit.

Interestingly Dennis Sewell's point from last week's Spectator that a future Tory government will face a phalanx of Labour-appointed fifth columnists was not raised by any of the right-wing participants. 

In the end I doubt there will be a bonfire of the quangos and wonder even if there should be. Michael Heseltine and Gordon Brown both promised an auto-da-fé that never came (to his credit David Cameron actually said there would be no bonfire of the quangos but that didn't stop the headlines being written).

I'd like to see a political party which simply promised to get these institutions running efficiently rather than promising an immolation we know will never come.

(You can watch the event here). 

For those of you who hoped I had dropped off a cliff when I originally posted a shorter version of this item: sorry but I'm still here.