The Return of the Politician

One of the most striking moments in cinema is when a murder-crazed Jack Nicholson smashes an axe through a door in the closing act of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Quango chiefs throughout Britain must be eyeing their doors every 15 minutes, wondering if a similar crashing moment of destruction is imminent.

If the UK Film Council could perish in the age of austerity, what hope was there for the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites?

Quangos exist at “arm’s length” from Government and bodies such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority make monumental decisions on issues of intense controversy.

Politicians can win applause by passing responsibility to panels of experts and pledging to stop party politics interfering on issues. But if democratic government is about the people’s representatives making decisions this can look suspiciously like passing the buck.

Former First Minister Rhodri Morgan staged a “bonfire of the quangos” when he brought bodies including the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales Tourist Board into the Assembly Government.

This merger has not been easy and it is not hard to find people who lament the passing of such institutions, but in Wales – especially in education – there is a new confidence that democratically elected leaders should be unafraid to set the agenda.

For much of the first decade of this century the power of individual politicians and even entire governments could seemed dwarfed by the might of multinationals corporations and super-banks that had a spending power which eclipsed the GDP of many nations.

But politicians, many of whom earn in a year what a commercial mogul takes home in a week, rode to the rescue when the punch-drunk banks teetered on the abyss. Elected representatives used taxpayers’ funds to stave off a second Great Depression.

The fiasco of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has dented faith in the technical wizardry of the energy sector’s engineers, just as the supposed supernatural powers of bankers were exposed as cheap tricks when Lehman Bros disintegrated.

The supposed genius of the private sector has not delivered Britain a rail service that would make the French go jade in envy, and the inability of mobile operators to come to an agreement on roaming irritates anyone who loses signal when they walk from the living room into the kitchen.

Ultimately, Britain is not locked in a battle between the left and the right about the role of the state but needs a generation of politicians who have the courage and imagination to at least try and sort things out.

Any politician with a democratic mandate should not shy away from fighting for bold decisions that have the potential to improve our lives. In fact, that is what they are paid to do.

A Thursday column