Brown's new cabinet ... not much real world experience

June 09, 2009 12:11 PM

As Brown's new Cabinet settled down to their first meeting this morning, Liam Byrne may have joked that for a board of directors, few of them - himself included - really know much about their portfolios. Andy Burnham, who until recently was in charge of the rag tag department for culture, media and sport, is now responsible for one of the biggest employers in the world, the NHS. Lord Adonis, a former education minister, is now in charge of transport.

Unfortunately for Mr Byrne (the new chief secretary to the treasury), his joke probably fell flat. Not just because it's not funny  - it's more tragic if anything - but rather because few around the Cabinet table even know what a board of directors is supposed to look like. The private sector experience between them is impressively low. Indeed experience of a life outside politics is fairly limited.

Ex-journalists and policy advisers in the main, the Cabinet is not lacking in intellect. But besides Liam Byrne and few others (out of 20 plus Cabinet attending ministers) none of them has any experience of what it's like to run a business in Britain, or even be employed by a regular SME. While management of the departments can be farmed out to civil servants - which in itself is highly problematic, as such officials are not only hidden from public scrutiny, but also unaccountable to them - policy is still being written by people who don't fully appreciate the 'on the ground' implications. Politics comes before knowledge, and policy is often much worse for it.

Not that the shadow cabinet is much better. Nor the House of Commons as whole. As a TPA report explored last year (see here), working knowledge of the private sector is remarkably low among politicians. As we look to build a better politics, one key part of must be to bring into it more people who understand how policy impacts on people beyond focus groups and consultations.   

As Brown's new Cabinet settled down to their first meeting this morning, Liam Byrne may have joked that for a board of directors, few of them - himself included - really know much about their portfolios. Andy Burnham, who until recently was in charge of the rag tag department for culture, media and sport, is now responsible for one of the biggest employers in the world, the NHS. Lord Adonis, a former education minister, is now in charge of transport.

Unfortunately for Mr Byrne (the new chief secretary to the treasury), his joke probably fell flat. Not just because it's not funny  - it's more tragic if anything - but rather because few around the Cabinet table even know what a board of directors is supposed to look like. The private sector experience between them is impressively low. Indeed experience of a life outside politics is fairly limited.

Ex-journalists and policy advisers in the main, the Cabinet is not lacking in intellect. But besides Liam Byrne and few others (out of 20 plus Cabinet attending ministers) none of them has any experience of what it's like to run a business in Britain, or even be employed by a regular SME. While management of the departments can be farmed out to civil servants - which in itself is highly problematic, as such officials are not only hidden from public scrutiny, but also unaccountable to them - policy is still being written by people who don't fully appreciate the 'on the ground' implications. Politics comes before knowledge, and policy is often much worse for it.

Not that the shadow cabinet is much better. Nor the House of Commons as whole. As a TPA report explored last year (see here), working knowledge of the private sector is remarkably low among politicians. As we look to build a better politics, one key part of must be to bring into it more people who understand how policy impacts on people beyond focus groups and consultations.   

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