Which system is better. A democratically elected system that determines what services should be preserved based on a popular local mandate or a non-democratic system where spending priorities are determined by unelected bureaucrats?
It sounds like a simple choice. Obviously having democratic oversight and our elected representatives scrutinising and determining how a taxpayer funded budget is spent must be the best and most logical thing. So why is it that, when it comes to the UK, people trust and prefer the services provided by the unelected lot rather than the elected ones? Let me demonstrate.
Councils spend £55billion a year and every four years we are asked to put an X in a box to chose who gets to preside over what services should be bolstered and what should be cut. If we don’t like it we boot them out – true local democratic politics in action. Yet even with this additional oversight by people who we chose to vote in, when you ask someone what they think of their local council, pretty much every one to a man and woman will say disparaging things about money wasting or unresponsiveness or bureaucracy or jargon or poor service. It is no surprise that just 4 per cent of people trust their local council highly and yet 5 per cent of people work in local government.
On the other hand, ask people what they think of their local hospital or the NHS, in almost every case you will get glowing, gushing, effusive, praising replies. Great care, kind, considerate, angels. The list of superlative adjectives will be as long as your arm. Yet, as the recent Southern Health NHS Trust debacle, the Mid Staffs scandal, the Shipman murders and a whole host of other screw ups prove, the top brass of this bunch answer to no one. Hospitals spend double what councils spend and you get no say in who runs this budget or what is chosen to cut or boost. They, behind closed doors, can decide which drug is offered to which patient, which wards to close or open, what operations should be prioritised and which targets should be met. They literally make life or death decisions without any external scrutiny. Sure, these aren’t ideological decisions, but there is no examination of whether it is in the best interest of local people – the ones who pay for the NHS and get the care. Perhaps one could argue that ultimate democratic responsibility can, and should fall to the Secretary of State for Health – but how can he or she oversea such a gargantuan and monolithic beast successfully? Nevertheless, you love it. Consistently 80-95 per cent of people adore their hospital, their GP and their NHS. No matter what scandal befalls the health service and despite there being no accountability and no oversight by people ensuring the best for us, we still believe in it, trust it and rate it well above any service delivered by local, national or regionally elected politicians.
This makes no sense, and no one has yet found a reason for it that I can find. But if this is the case is there not a wider argument to chew over? If we love the unelected NHS so much, why shouldn’t all our public services be based on the same model – one with no say from politicians? After all, ideology as such is pretty much dead. At a national level Labour as much as Tories voted for Trident. Both sides voted for war in Iraq. The Tory led coalition raised VAT to 20% not Labour. All established political parties wanted to remain in the EU. At a local level a right wing council will cuts meals on wheels just as readily as a left wing one. A left wing one will put up care home charges just the same as a right wing one? A right wing one will adopt fortnightly bin collections equally as often as a left wing one.
If there is no political bent on a decision why have politicians at the helm when professionals are advising the on the choices they have to make whichever hue or party they emanate from? Time and again we see political parties dancing on the head of an identical ideological pin – so why do we bother with the charade when the most popular taxpayer public funded service in the UK is run and overseen by pretty much no politicians whatsoever. All in all, it makes a great argument for abolishing democracy altogether.