Friday, January 21, 2005


The Guardian's leader writer comments on the loss of confidence in public life caused by the Goverment's use of political patronage and cronyism.
Lord Justice Potter may be just the man to head the family division. But without a transparent system of appointment it appears more significant that he has a long friendship with the lord chancellor. He is damaged. His position is damaged. And trust in public life is once again the loser.

True. But the Guardian, supporting as it does a leading role for the state in most areas of public life, is only encouraging patronage and cronyism. Politicians of all parties use political patronage. It is one of their best levers for acheiving their political and personal ends. The Guardian's idea that this can be countered by a public appointments commissioner is naive. History, in the shape of the hounding of the former parliamentary standards commissioner Elizabeth Filkin, shows that politicians can manipulate a civil servant "watchdog" in order to ensure compliance with their wishes.

The best way to minimise patronage and its corrupting effect on public life is to hand decision making power back to individuals. Where the state absolutely must take a role and a commissioner is required, politicians should play no part in their hiring and firing. Better to have a directly elected office holder, or perhaps an office holder appointed by the House of Lords.