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The Coalition’s boost for patronage

On Tuesday,  an innocuous little announcement was dribbled out of Whitehall with little or no pick-up in the media.    It said that the Government had decided to wind up the Appointments Commission.   Since this Commission was set up as an independent body precisely to stop political interference in public appointments, particularly in the health service under the Thatcher Government, it starts to ring alarm bells when this notice of abolition has been issued by the Department of Health whose Minister, Lansley, has just announced ‘reforms’ which will effectively eviscerate the NHS.   It strongly suggests the Tories are set on packing the NHS with compliant placemen/women to ram through highly contentious changes to privatise large chunks of the health service.  

Nor is that the only area where patronage is now being used corruptly for highly partisan political ends. Two other examples have arisen in the last week or two, unconnected, which illustrate the sensitivity of who makes the appointment.

The coroner’s choice of Freddy Patel as the pathologist to undertake the autopsy on Ian Tomlinson after the G20 demonstrations, perhaps influenced by pressure from the police, clearly changed the course of justice after his death.

Equally, the DEFRA choice of a scientist, Prof. Jones of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the John Innes Centre at Norwich, to carry out a taxpayer-funded trial to determine whether GM crops should be grown in the UK was obviously designed to achieve a predetermined answer since he has been exposed as having close commercial links with the US biotech giant Monsanto.   It is clearly relevant that the new Tory Secretary of State at DEFRA is Caroline Spelman who has been a partner with her husband in their own biotech firm.

Should not all such sensitive public appointments have to be vetted and confirmed/rejected by Parliament through hearings before the appropriate Select Committee?   Winning an election should not give the governing party the right to rig appointments across the spectrum in order to achieve some preconceived political or partisan purpose.

Rather surprisingly, but under intense pressure, slasher Osborne conceded that exact principle just two weeks ago.   After the furore over the Treasury-appointed OBR suddenly producing future employment projections after the Budget which most economists thought pure fantasy and which were clearly aimed to protect the Prime Minister at PMQs, Osborne accepted that the Treasury Committee should be given powers to reject the Treasury’s recommendation of a successor to Sir Alan Budd as head of the OBR.   I never thought I would agree with Osborne, but if this is conceded over the OBR (albeit only after enormous embarrassment to the Government), why not for all such important and sensitive political appointments?   Including not just Quango heads, but also the appointment of  Cabinet Ministers?


  1. Sue Hughes says:

    This is what the tories have always done it’s what kept them in power for 18 years. The will always put yes men in to positions to stifle any oposition.

    An why Labour spent so much of the 20th century in opposition.

    The so called office of independant budgetry responsibility is typical of a office full of yes men.

  2. Robert says:

    Rubbish the people kept labour out the voters, labour were in a mess, and they are again.

    Eighteen years will be nothing from the next time we see this lot in power.

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