Ian Dunt on how Westminster works, or doesn’t

I enjoyed his new book How Westminster Works…And Why It Doesn’t.

Here is one short excerpt:

The continued use of Downing Street is an act of pathological national sentimentality, the product of a country that has come to value tradition over function and its past over its future.

Various attempts have been made to reform it, but they all came to nothing.  Powell tried to convince Blair to swap it for open-plan space in the nearby Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, but was twice defeated.  In August 2008, Gordon Brown set up a horseshoe-shaped work centre in the chief whip’s office in No. 12 Downing Street.  Cameron dropped it as soon as he entered government.  Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to Boris Johnson, moved to 70 Whitehall to create a kind of space station information nerve centre, but the project died when he was sacked.

Instead, the British government has simply made do with a physical structure that prohibits it from working effectively.

Dunt defends the House of Lords (!) as one of the most functional parts of British government, calls for proportional representation, and most of all he wants to open up candidate selection to the public.

Here is his summary take on what is wrong:

At the heart of the problem with Westminster is machismo.  It’s a sense, deep at the base of our assumptions, about what politics is about and how we conduct ourselves: that we do not need to seek consensus or compromise, that the winner takes all, evidence can be ignored, the government must get with civil servants who are moved so quickly they cannot sensibly advise on what is happening, and would be undermined by a spad caste even if they could.

Spad cast refers to special advisors.


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