A big political idea that the last two governments have been touting is ‘joined up governance’. This is where different government departments don’t work against each other to produce perverse and contradictory policy. An example of ‘un-joined up’ governance would be a local council’s outsourced and target-driven traffic wardens being allowed to slap parking tickets on the council’s own rubbish trucks under the terms of the contract negotiated by the Council itself. (You know who you are!)
Apparently, because of joined-up governance, cock-ups such as these are rapidly becoming history. However, if you are one of those who think that 21st century politics are the end result of over 2,000 years of evolving democracy, then you may wonder why it took so long to discover what is blindingly obvious to most people.
Yet like most big political ideas, joined up governance doesn’t always translate into reality when it leaves the humid atmosphere of the think tanks and dribbles down to the real world.
Picture courtesy of Dale Farm Campaign/Save Dale Farm weblog
This is evident in the case of Basildon Council who have recently ordered the eviction of the 300 Travelers living at Dale Farm in Essex without planning permission. The Traveller site is part official and part un-official and half of it is covered by the eviction notice.
Various figures have been quoted about the costs of the operation – the minimum is £3M for the eviction contract and £5M for the police. The maximum could double both these figures. These costs come at a time when Basildon is slashing 6.4 per cent from its budget with over a 100 council staff losing their jobs and half a million pounds being cut from services for disabled people and repairs to community centres. These estimates don’t include the costs of re-housing the Travellers – who after all have to live somewhere – and the hidden costs of the disruption to the lives and schooling of the 150 children involved in the years ahead.
However, joined-up governance was probably not the first thing that came to mind for Basildon Council Leader Tony Ball when he stood for election. Basildon is a marginal constituency and the site was a controversial local topic. But instead of promising to calm local fears, much of was fueled by ignorance, gossip and discrimination, and negotiate with the Travellers –who after all are Basildon constituents as well – Mr Ball ran a campaign that relied on an ‘evict Dale Farm’ ticket.
He duly won and this need for a quick fix and easy votes provides evidence for a far more persuasive big political idea – that politicians tend to do and say anything in the short term to get into power, and will work for their own interests more than ours.
Follow the Dale Farm campaign on http://dalefarm.wordpress.com/
An edited version of this appeared in The Big Issue Magazine for the ‘Moneyshot’ column
By Mike Doherty