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Donal Blaney: Never give a bureaucrat a chance to say no

Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

For much of its existence, the Conservative Party relied on the votes of electors who supported the Party because their families had always voted Conservative and, in an era of deference, it was best to let the patrician elites who were born to lead to get on with the business of running the country. This era of deference was shattered by the election of a series of outsiders to the leadership of the Party, beginning with Ted Heath, continuing through Margaret Thatcher, John Major, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, and ending with Michael Howard. With the election of David Cameron as leader last December, the Party seems to have moved away from being led by an outsider. With the era of deference only a distant memory, was this a wise approach to adopt?

It is my view that the Conservative Party is at its best when it stands for the individual, the family and communities against the might of the State. Lord Acton's oft-quoted maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is certainly borne out by the behaviour of civil servants and bureaucrats since time immemorial.

I appreciate that those who wish to appease the BBC & Guardian will tell me that for the Party to adopt an approach of bashing and denigrating civil servants and those who work in the public sector is self-defeating and, indeed, electorally suicidal. I may even be accused of protesting too much when I say that I am well aware that many public service employees, civil servants and - yes, let's call them what many of them are - bureaucrats, do a good job and they work hard for little pay. But there is another way to look at my approach.

If you go to a hospital, a doctor's surgery, a railway station, passport control at Heathrow or anywhere else where so-called public servants supposedly serve the public, you are now greeted with signs that warn those who pay their salaries (we, the taxpayer or "customer" as we are laughably called) that if we in any way threaten or assault staff, we will be prosecuted. You or I will understand that to mean the inflicting of grievous bodily harm, in other words actually verbal
abusing, threatening and hitting a member of staff. Such behaviour is, of course, reprehensible and ought properly to be punished.

I believe, however, that there is a considerable link in the decline in service being provided by many public servants and a rise in customer dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction often leads to frustration and then an injudicious remark or swear word. Such behaviour is also wrong but it is often understandable. Yet if you dare to vent your spleen in this way or, it seems, in any way at all (even in moderate tones) the bureaucrat in question clams up, refuses to help you further, recites their rights, reports you to their boss and then goes off on sick leave for weeks on end claiming stress (all paid for by the taxpayer). The bureaucracy closes in to defend one of its own against the very people it should be serving - the taxpayer. The result is that the public becomes more and more dissatisfied and frustrated with ever poorer levels of customer service and yet is unable to complain about it to anyone for fear of the ramifications on them personally. Consequently the taxpayer is cowed into submission and silence and the quality of "public service" declines still further.

This week I returned to the UK. At Heathrow Terminal 3, some bright spark at the Immigration Department decided that it was a good idea only to have TWO members of staff checking passports of British, EU and EEA citizens arriving at passport control at 9.30am - the very time hundreds of passengers arrive at or about the same time. Needless to say the queue stretched back a considerable distance and tired passengers had to wait an inexcusable amount of time to clear passport control. What made this situation worse was that there were, in fact, FOUR immigration officers present at passport control but two of them were conducting a time and motion study on their colleagues. So instead of halving the amount of time it took to clear passport control at a busy time of the day, the bureaucratic machine decided that it was a better idea to indulge in self-serving exercises rather than delivering a decent service to the very taxpayers who pay their wages.

The Conservative Party should be on the side of the taxpayer who wants to respond "why?" when he is told (not asked) to fill in a particular form, provide  particular information or behave in a particular way by bureaucrats who delight in devising rules, regulations, forms, structures, modus operandi and even a language that is impenetrable by anyone with the misfortune of needing help (or worse, a decision) from a bureaucrat.

The Party should side with the taxpayer frustrated in his dealings, for example, with the Inland Revenue and Customs. While taxes should of course be paid when due and VAT and customs duties should indeed be payable, the Party should make the reduction in unnecessary bureaucracy a central plank of its policy platform. A pledge to flatten and simplify taxes is not enough. The bureaucracy that accompanies it should be radically streamlined as well. The sheer mind-numbing tedium - and expense - involved in dealing with HM Revenue & Customs, let alone local councils, Companies House, the Health & Safety Executive and other regulatory bodies and QUANGOs, barely makes it worthwhile for many people to get up in the morning to go to work or to take
enterpreneurial risks. Quite frankly I am surprised that more people don't opt for the easy life of taking one of the many overpaid jobs advertised in the Guardian local government jobs section (supplemented by an overly generous pension paid for by taxpayers and an attitude to sickness leave that defies common sense).

The unhelpful attitude personified by so-called help desks in local authorities - usually in parking or council tax departments - is another example of the challenge facing the Party. Some local authorities, such as Wandsworth, seem to have managed to instill a genuine service ethos in their staff such that it is relatively painless to deal with their bureaucrats. Yet all too often the jobsworth mentality kicks in whenever a member of the public has the temerity to seek to deal with the bureaucrat in any manner other than due reverence.

With the tax burden having risen to crippling levels, the country grinding to a halt, crime rampant, the health service in meltdown and education standards in free-fall, the Conservative Party must SURELY have something to say to the proverbial "man on the Clapham Omnibus" in language that that proverbial man can understand. Our values must resonate with their values - not in a way that elicits cooing and praise from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown or Polly Toynbee but in a way that gets the ordinary punter to say to himself, his family and his mates that the Tories - at last - once again speak their language and stand for what they believe and want.

Ironically the left's success in the last 20 years in achieving a cultural revolution and the creation of a new ruling class and elite should work in the Tories' favour. The Republicans in the US and the Conservatives in Canada have managed to move away from being seen as only interested in preserving privilege and protecting the rights of business to being seen as the authentic voice of the average voter. All the well-meaning attempts to portray the Party as respectable to the chattering classes by hugging hoodies, signing up to the eco-extremists' agenda and ditching anything that smacks of Thatcherism is wrong headed.

Millions of people up and down the country do not have a voice. They are the truly alienated class who are disconnected from the political process. They are the ordinary, hard-working, over-taxed silent majority who quietly go about their business, pay their ever-increasing tax bills and do not cause enough of a fuss to attract the attention or interest of the political class. They need a voice. They need people on their side. If the Conservative Party does not grasp this soon, it
doesn't bear thinking about as to where those votes will go - but they will not go to the Tories and nor would the Tories deserve to have them.

Previous entry in this series: You can't beat a plan with no plan


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