Enough of the big state, what about the big government?

by Dan Johnson

It has been a long held the aim of Conservatives – and now it seems the aim of this Conservative-led coalition government – to roll back the size of the state. We should face this argument head on and argue that we should roll back the size of the government.

The House of Commons will be reduced at the next election to just 600 seats, but the size of the government has been steadily rising since time immemorial. Labour should be fighting to ensure a real balance in Parliament, and that the payroll vote doesn’t make rebellions against the government a non-event.

Charles Walker, a Tory MP, put down an amendment last year which would have seen the number of ministers fall to 87 from the current number of 95. Labour supported this amendment and was joined in the lobby by the usual Tory rebels who have (quite commendably) consistently argued for a House with more independence from the executive. We must accept that, on this issue, the likes of Chope, Bone and Carswell are right.

Polls consistently show that the public wants their MP to stand up for the interest of their constituency and not simply be voting fodder for the whips. By reducing the number of ministers we can ensure that the House has real influence over the government while presenting a policy that the public already view favourably.

But this should go further, a much more radical suggestion would be; that it should only be cabinet ministers that get to have a parliamentary private secretary. Dr Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP for Totnes, got it right when she said becoming a PPS is like “making a Faustian pact”, does every minister really need a PPS? A cabinet minister does of course, but why anyone else?

The financial secretary to the treasury is the fourth most senior role in the treasury; does Mark Hoban really need a PPS? Does the Europe minister really need a PPS? Why does a parliamentary under-secretary of state at DEFRA need a PPS?

The ever growing payroll vote in the House of Commons is a threat to democracy, and we must view reducing the size of the government as the next step in Labour’s policy of greater independence to the House.

It was Labour that passed the legislation that allowed for the formation of the backbench business committee, it was Labour that passed the legislation that allowed for the open election of select committee chairs and took the power away from the whips, and it must be Labour that makes the argument to reduce the size of government.

Labour must accept that when in charge it too was guilty of bloating the payroll vote, but now is the time to start a new chapter.

Dan Johnson is the Labour party candidate in Stainsby Hill, Thornaby in the local elections this year.

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