Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The New Paternalism: Legislating through the back door

You have to give the Coalition Government some credit. They aren’t letting the grass grow under their feet. Whilst in presentational terms, they come across as dis-organised, arrogant and amateur – they are actually achieving a significant amount of their policy aims in record time.

Whilst their “red tape challenge” had slipped quietly under the radar, the ramifications for what it actually entails for good Government are now becoming shockingly clear. Aside from Tory favourites such as taxation policy and national security, every other regulation in the country is now under the microscope and in danger of abolition. In his own words, Cameron is arguing that all regulations should be scrapped unless a good enough rationale is given to retain them. Open season has now commenced for the public to comment, with the emphasis upon "irrelevant until proven useful". And guess who will be the final arbiter in whether regulations have proven their worth during this exercise?

In fact, there is something rather smart about Cameron’s Red Tape Challenge. It looks cost effective, appears inclusive and seems common sense. Unfortunately, buried amongst the easily-mocked regulations offered up as examples of bad practice to the right-wing press, whole swathes of essential legislation are under threat. The accusation levelled against these regulations are that they constrain business efficiency and cost the tax-payer valuable money we cannot afford.

We are talking about the newly-minted Climate Change Act that Cameron supported prior to the General Election, the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the National Park Act. We need to put pressure upon him to respond to organisations such as Greenpeace or 38 Degrees, who are insisting that he comes out unequivocally against attacks upon these core environmental protections. Never mind the environmental costs, these don’t even make long-term economic sense.

The vultures are also circling around the Equality Act, which if repealed would strip away anti-discrimination legislation. Most notably, this includes the protections now available to the LGBT community which have been fought for over the last 25 years. We must not lose sight that some of these regulations enshrine principles more precious than can be calculated on a business ledger.

The real scandal here is that the Coalition Government is neatly circumventing democracy under the pretence of opening up Government to public scrutiny. This exercise is tacitly giving them permission to remove those regulations that they don’t agree with. This can now be done without the inconvenience of full public debate or having to stand on an electoral platform that explicitly argues for repeal of this legislation. The ease with which these laws could be swept away horrifies me.

Whilst there is merit in taking a fresh eye to how Government functions and accounts for our taxes, we have to fight for open scrutiny and to start bringing this 21st century-branded paternalism out from under the radar.

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