Wednesday 6 June 2012

The other Golden Jubilee – 60 years of Whitehall's disgraceful public administration, "administrative lawlessness"

In The English Constitution (1867) Walter Bagehot famously wrote:
No one can approach to an understanding of the English institutions, or of others which, being the growth of many centuries, exercise a wide sway over mixed populations, unless he divide them into two classes. In such constitutions there are two parts (not indeed separable with microscopic accuracy, for the genius of great affairs abhors nicety of division) first, those which excite and preserve the reverence of the population — the dignified parts, if I may so call them; and next, the efficient parts — those by which it, in fact, works and rules.
We have all just had a pleasant four days here in the UK to reflect on and to observe the success of the dignified parts.

The Constitution doesn't come with guarantees but, since 1936 when Edward VIII mercifully got rid of himself, we seem to have enjoyed dignified parts of the Constitution which live up to their name.

Now the four days are over and it's back to the efficient parts, which don't.

In his book The Socialist Case Douglas Jay wrote:
Housewives as a whole cannot be trusted to buy all the right things, where nutrition and health are concerned. This is really no more than an extension of the principle according to which the housewife herself would not trust a child of four to select the week's purchases. For in the case of nutrition and health just as in education, the gentlemen of Whitehall really do know better what is good for the people than the people know themselves.
That was in 1937, 75 years ago, and things have changed since then – no civilised man today believes that women are inferior and no four year-old can still subscribe to Lord Jay’s Doctrine of the Infallibility of Whitehall.

In 1952 Professor GW Keeton published his book The Passing of Parliament. Keeton was Dean of the Faculty of Laws at University College, London. He debunks The Socialist Case and points to the danger of the Executive moving beyond the reach of either Parliament or the Common Law:
... Very far from the Common Law replacing administrative tribunals, more and more are being created outside the Common Law year by year, and some of the cases discussed earlier in this book will show how, in spite of obvious willingness, the courts have failed to hold back the onward rush of administrative lawlessness.
That was 60 years ago. Keeton’s question then was, in summary, what was the point of going through all the suffering of the Civil War and of establishing the supremacy of Parliament in the 1689 Bill of Rights if we end up with an Executive behaving for all the world like some latter-day monarch whimsically exercising his or her prerogatives?

In those same 60 years, while the dignified parts of the Constitution have given the definitive lesson in public service, too often Whitehall has continued arrogantly to ignore the interests of the public it is meant to serve while it makes one defective decision after another, inefficient and accountable to no-one.

We have just celebrated two Golden Jubilees. One of them is Whitehall's 60 years of "administrative lawlessness".

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