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The Growth of Bureaucracy

The growth of bureaucracy and the decline of democracy are two sides of the same coin.

Bureaucracy is “a system of government by officials”. Democracy is “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people collectively”. In a free democratic country, there should be a proper balance between the two.

This page illustrates how bureaucracy has become more powerful, growing ever more rapidly since World War II. This shift in power and influence away from the people and into the hands of ministers and officials has continued under all governments.

Not all bureaucracy is harmful. Each instance can usually be defended. What is disastrous, however, is when bureaucracy grows out of control until it becomes a tyranny, which would require a revolution to reverse it. The next step after the Nanny State is the Police State. The UK is not far off the point where we will find it difficult to stop the slide down the slippery slope towards such a tyranny.

Bureaucracies are self-aggrandising cultures, which concentrate more and more power and influence in a small ruling class. This establishment elite protects, sustains and inflates itself, as all ruling classes do. It thrives when the populace loses faith in the political structure, feels itself increasingly powerless, is brainwashed into subservience, loses its love of liberty, and becomes over-dependent on the State.

 

The State Payroll

There are more than half a million civil servants, with many more officials employed in government agencies, quangos and such like. The total number of employees, pensioners and receivers of benefit who depend for their sustenance directly or indirectly on central or local government must now be approaching 50% of the adult population. Sensing this, voters increasingly feel they no longer have any control over officialdom. 

‘The many' are again the serfs of 'the few'.

Quangos - which are directly or indirectly funded by the State - wield tremendous influence, are largely unaccountable and are thus by their nature undemocratic. By 2000 there were already over 1500 quangos and similar bodies. These appointed bodies form an ever larger part of the fabric of our country.  Mirroring this trend is the growing politicisation of civil servants and local government officials. With the blurring of the distinction between elected and appointed officeholders, unaccountable bureaucracy is gaining influence and power.

 

The Straitjacket of Regulations

Whatever one’s views about the merits or otherwise of the European Union, it has without question played a large part in encouraging bureaucracy throughout the EU. It is now responsible for the majority of legislation, directives and regulations imposed on the people of Britain every year.

A whole new tier of bureaucracy has grown up around the development of regional government in the English regions, encouraged by the EU and by the mandarins in Whitehall over many decades.

Whitehall is notorious for goldplating our rules and regulations. As the strength of national and regional bureaucracies has grown, local government has been emasculated. Education powers have been removed, planning powers diluted and council funding so ‘ring-fenced’ by Whitehall that councils cannot make local policy decisions. This has been happening over many years, no matter what Government is in power.

As a Daily Telegraph leading article said:

“The aggrandisement of the government inspector, and the accompanying ascendancy of the compensation culture, are making our businesses less enterprising, our people less responsible and our country less free…

But Whitehall needs no foreign encouragement when it comes to bossing us around. In the Health & Safety Executive, ministers have created a powerful, costly and rapacious instrument of state control. It has become perhaps the single greatest drag on our competitiveness.

Worse, it has infantilised us, teaching us to blame others rather than take responsibility for ourselves. Yet there is no evidence that it has made anyone healthier or safer”.

There are the same tendencies in local government.  Councils have been left with fewer responsibilities and their remaining powers will be wielded by fewer people.  Individual councillors are more and more restricted by Monitoring Officers in what they are allowed to speak or vote on.

Many areas are considering having directly elected mayors who will have powers above those of councillors.  For example, Cardiff awarded its mayor £58,000 a year, abolished council committees and replaced them with a small Cabinet.  Whatever their administrative merit, such changes concentrate power in fewer hands.  Bureaucracy gains power as the 'presidential' style of democracy spreads from national government, to Ken Livingstone's London government, and now to our local authorities.

We and our MPs should beware of proposals such as the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Incredibly this would give Ministers and their officials all the powers of Parliament to repeal, amend or create laws.  If it is ever foolish enough to pass this Bill into law, Parliament will have signed its own death warrant. Bureaucracy will reign supreme in Britain.

All these are complex subjects.  Voters may be 'consulted' before changes are made, but this is not healthy unless we are given a proper understanding of the deeper significance of the options.  We should be on the alert and think hard before we consent to changes which swing the balance further away from democracy towards officialdom.  Talk of "shifting power to the community" will not strengthen democracy unless that power is in the hands of elected representatives who are directly answerable to voters.

Democracy is not well served when we let ourselves sleep-walk into so-called "modern" systems of government.  If these concentrate and centralise power, they widen the gap between "us" and "them".

 

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$Updated: 01/04/06$

 

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