Jesse Norman reviews 'The Plan'
Jesse Norman is PPC for Hereford and South Herefordshire and author of
Compassionate Conservatism. His new book Compassionate Economics will
be published in November by Policy Exchange.
A review of 'The Plan: Twelve Months to Renew Britain', by Douglas Carswell MP and Daniel Hannan MEP. Published by www.lulu.com, £10 pb or £5 download.
The Plan: Twelve Months to Renew Britain is a grand manifesto for localism and greater parliamentary accountability, which follows the same authors’ Localist Papers (CPS, last year) and the multiply-authored Direct Democracy, which originally set the modern localist movement going in 2005.
Let’s not be coy: this is a very lively and provocative book, whose trenchant analysis and many ideas will interest all readers of Conservative Home. (Though, as one of the original contributors to Direct Democracy, I am hardly an unbiased judge.)
Thus in under 200 pages, we get a pointed discussion of state failure, social decline and the decay in political trust; ten chapters of specific recommendations for largely localist reform, ranging from parliament itself through the NHS, schools, policing, local government, and the legal system to the European Union; plus most notably the 30 specific legal steps, from repeals of existing statute to new primary legislation to Orders in Council, which the authors believe are required to bring the whole programme into law. And the authors underline their belief in people-power by publishing the book themselves via Lulu.com.
The Plan is written with great style and zest, with a nice sense of history and an eye for the telling example. Among its many incidental pleasures are the discussion of wiki-politics and Les Bloggeurs, who did for the EU Constitution in France; a deep scepticism about the real value of experts; and a useful reminder of how Newt Gingrich pulled off his Contract with America.
The book has much new material. Yet it is also an extension of the authors’ previous writings, which reinforces its overall coherence and punch. I won’t spoil the plot, but such a radical programme of decentralisation has obvious implications for police and hospital authorities, quangoes, regional government, the European Commission. To name only a few of those affected.
Nevertheless, I think there are a few false notes. Let me mention three:
- First, the authors argue that British judges have become unaccountable lawmakers, and senior judges should be appointed after hearings in parliament. But in fact there is very little real evidence for the first claim, while the second would guarantee the politicisation of the one branch of government that has so far remained all but untouched by the Executive. The independent power of the judiciary is a crucial part of British democracy.
- Secondly, they argue that the Human Rights Act should be scrapped and the UK should exit from the European Convention on Human Rights. But this mislocates the problem, which lies not with the HRA but with the idiotic “rights culture” which has arisen over the past decade in our public administration. It would remove a crucial set of protections for the citizen against over-mighty government. And it would join the UK with a handful of the world’s least savoury regimes, while alienating it from a legal tradition which originated and has been sustained in this country for some 900 years.
- And overall, I would suggest The Plan underplays the different sources and flexibility of British democracy. Democracy is not merely a matter of the ballot box. It is also a matter of tradition, the interplay between institutions, and the balance to be struck between expertise and accountability within our broader constitution.
But these are small points of disagreement, given the sweep of the whole book. Everyone will have their own views about The Plan. What they can’t doubt is its energy, coherence and range. Go and buy it.