With suspiciously good timing – just as Ken Livingstone is being confirmed as Labour’s choice to contest the London mayoralty, and with the party’s new leader to be announced tomorrow – comes an apparent leak from the Government. Moreover, a version comes into the possession of the Maily Telegraph, the “quality” paper relatively sympathetic to the Coalition, and with a free to view website.
Also, the leak appears to put flesh on Young Dave’s jolly good idea that there should be a “bonfire of the quangos”: 177 of these bodies are to be abolished. Yet more are still under threat, with others to be merged or sold off. Yes, the new order is being tough on quangos. The right and libertarian part of the blogosphere will be awash with Pavlovian dribbling.
But a reality check on this leak is in order. And, the more the exercise is pored over, the greater the impression is given that this is not a leak at all. The Telegraph article setting out the supposed bonfire is honest enough not to use that term. This has been handed to the Telegraph very deliberately. But who would indulge in such a practice?
Well, he may not be involved personally, but my money, were I a betting man, would be on Fat Eric being behind it. No Government minister is more adept at the cheerleader pleasing gesture, allied of course to his mastery of the casual smear (which holds, in this case, that quangos are uniquely attributable to Labour, and possibly to Pa Broon personally).
What Fat Eric and the rest of the Cabinet will not be able to answer is the question of how the work done by all these bodies will continue to get done: the idea that a quango is something unnecessary, a kind of leftist job creation scheme, is ridiculous.
So what will follow the scrapping of the 177? More power in the hands of central Government departments? More likely there will be an opportunity for private sector outsourcers and consultants to enrich themselves.
That might not save the average taxpayer much, if any, of their contribution to the Exchequer. So it’s gesture politics as usual, then.