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Matthew Elliott responds to Daniel Moylan's attack on the TaxPayers' Alliance

Picture_8 Matthew Elliott is founder and chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance and responds here to this morning's attack on the organisation penned by Councillor Daniel Moylan.

There was high praise indeed for the TaxPayers’ Alliance today from Kensington and Chelsea’s Councillor Daniel Moylan: in a fit of high dudgeon we are compared, variously, to “destructive nihilists”, the rioters of 1967 Paris, Mussolini supporters and Stalinists. All in all, quite an impressive haul – I’m sure the Black and Tans will be sad they were left off the list.

Leaving aside the hyperbole, what actually is the kernel of Cllr Moylan’s dislike of the TPA? Perhaps a bit of background would help to explain where this came from. Last week, local TPA activists joined forces with the West London Residents Association, Cllr Victoria Borwick and Guide Dogs for the Blind to protest against expensive, dangerous and inappropriate changes to the area around Sloane Square, and to object to a £40 million extension of the changes to Exhibition Road.

Prior to our opposition to these particular plans, Kensington and Chelsea apparently felt comfortable being associated with the TPA when we praised them in the national press for their welcome tax rebate. It seems that Councillor Moylan’s definition of nihilist is simply someone who disagrees with him.

Despite the issue apparently being a personal, local annoyance to Councillor Moylan, his article turns that personal annoyance into a question of the TPA’s national campaign and our fundamental aims. His questions are worth addressing.

The Better Government position paper that he cites as being devoid of proposals for how Government should function actually goes into a fair degree of detail about how we would like to reform the work of the State. To start with, it is a position paper and thus deals primarily with the problems our Better Government campaign seeks to address. In terms of outcomes, many areas of our public services from healthcare and education to criminal justice are simply not working as well as they should. Whilst mistaken and wrong-headed policies are undoubtedly partially to blame, the paper identifies more fundamental, structural and managerial reasons for the ongoing failure by parties of all colours to deliver good service.

It is not anti-democratic to point out that the jobs of many senior Ministers are simply impossible for one person to do. The problem is certainly compounded by the fact that many politicians who occupy the posts have little management experience, and even less experience of the sector they are running, but the best business people in the world would struggle to run such bizarre composite departments. We need the state to be less centralised, less cumbersome and smaller.

That isn’t a case for anarchy, dictatorship, or technocracy.  It just makes it clear that we can’t rely on politicians to personally manage huge, centralised organisations delivering vital public services.

Councillor Moylan has apparently failed to recognise the distinction between controlling public services from the top and micromanaging their delivery at the front line. We need to let professionals do the day to day management of public services and put actual control, the ability to decide policy and hold public sector organisations to account, back in the hands of ordinary people.  In some cases that will mean more powers through the ballot box, such as electing local police commissioners.  In others it means taking power from politicians or the state and giving it to people directly. In education, for example, this means giving parents control of the money spent on their children’s education.

Another confusion in his article is between democracy – the will of the people – and politicians themselves. Wherever possible, a directly elected politician is better than an unaccountable bureaucrat. By the same token, though, leaving decisions down to the people themselves is preferable to putting a politician and the apparatus of the State in charge. This is about bringing power closer to the people at every level. As Daniel Hannan MEP and Douglas Carswell MP eloquently put it, we must transfer power “from Brussels to Westminster, from Whitehall to town halls, from the state to the citizens.”

For example, last night we were in attendance at Maidenhead Town Hall to welcome Windsor & Maidenhead council’s announcement that they are going to publish all their expenditure over £500 for their residents and taxpayers to see. That is open-minded open government at its best, and a clear demonstration that politicians can be positive and popular by handing the people more power.

Compare that approach to Cllr Moylan’s denunciation of our view on Knowsley Council’s decision to spend tens of thousands of pounds on a communications manager. In his view the only way for residents to realise that their council are doing a good job is for the council to tell them so, rather than demonstrate it through action. Worse, the council’s PR is essential to the “ambition and hope” of the local populace. In fact, they would be more free to pursue them themselves if the council left more money in their pockets and simply focussed on doing a good job rather than producing leaflets boasting about it.

We make no secret of the fact that we believe that Britain would be better off with a significantly smaller state.  Economies with lower government spending tend to grow a lot faster making everyone more prosperous, previous services moved out of political control (like the telephones) have dramatically increased their productivity and, more than anything, a smaller state leaves more money in the hands of ordinary families to spend on their own priorities.

The article also contains an attempt to suggest that our status as a campaign group, rather than a political party running for election, is somehow sinister. Rather than encouraging debate and political engagement, Councillor Moylan seems to think the public should simply follow him like rats following the Pied Piper, unquestioning and kept ignorant of any alternatives. Democracy is about having a vigorous public debate, in which people from across the political spectrum put their case for a myriad of different things.

Councillor Moylan suggests that we are anti-democrats because we will not be standing at the ballot box on the policies we propose. Amusingly, it is in fact him who will be standing for election on a manifesto containing many of our proposals, as many of them featured in the recent Green Paper from the Conservative Shadow Communities and Local Government team. We have pioneered transparency in local government spending, the publication of senior salaries, the election of local police authorities, the moving of powers from Regional Development Agencies to local councils and numerous other ideas. By producing evidence to support each proposal, rallying public support to them and persuading politicians that they are practical and popular, they have been adopted. That is what we do – and perhaps Councillor Moylan’s attack, just like those of Polly Toynbee and Derek Draper before him, is simply a sign that we are doing it well.


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