Posts Tagged ‘Mark Thompson’

What is the role of government when there is no money to spend?

21/06/2012, 07:00:12 AM

by Peter Watt

I very much enjoyed reading this blog from Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson the other day.  Mark (slightly tongue in cheek) posed the question for politicians “why is leaving things alone never an option?”  It reminded me that one the criticisms levelled at the last Queens Speech was the relative paucity of proposed legislation.  As if one test of sound government was how much they added to the statute book!

But actually I think that it was a perfectly fair and indeed increasingly important question that Mark raises.  Politicians really do seem to feel the need to reach for the statute book or to make regulations to try and solve an increasing array of problems.  Some work, some don’t and some seem to make things worse.  It doesn’t really matter as long as “something” is done.  Just think Dangerous Dogs Act, the cones hotline, rewrites to school curricula, and endless reorganisations of services.

Whatever the latest moral crisis is then you can guarantee that a politician will announce the solution.  And if you really can’t think of anything to do then call a summit of experts at Number 10 and at least you will be seen to be taking action.

But the state does actually do lots of things and spends lots of money doing them.  And there is a large degree of political consensus over some aspects of what the state does like maintaining our defence and managing our criminal justice system.

But there is more debate as to the role and extent in other areas; from the choices about how we organise (say) health care and how we support the most vulnerable to the role of the government in managing the economy.

On the left we tend to be warmer to the notion of a more interventionist and active state, in particular when it comes to supporting the most vulnerable.  But Conservative governments have hardly been immune from interventionist tendencies.

Interestingly, Mark’s article provoked some comments from some along the lines of “but if the government did nothing how would you solve..?” The basic assumption of these responses being that unless the government intervenes, then the social ill will not be solved.  But surely this is wrong, or at least not always right?


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