Today Gordon Brown is expected to confirm that the new general election will take place on 6 May, after going to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament. Over the next few weeks we should be seeing British democracy in the raw and the parties should be putting rival platforms for government to the electorate. Unfortunately, our politicians appear to see the most important decisions as beyond the public.
Last week, Health Secretary Andy Burnham proposed a significant expansion of support for social care. He thinks there should be a "national service for social care" and describes the measures as the "biggest change to the welfare state since 1948". Unfortunately, he isn't going to tell us how all that will be paid for. Apparently, there isn't the necessary "consensus" and that issue will be settled by an "independent commission" after the election. So instead of proposing a way of paying for care for the elderly and letting voters express their view of it at the ballot box, the Government are going to leave the issue till after the election and then impose the new scheme regardless of what the public think.
This is how most big decisions are made these days and every party is at it. The Conservatives have been more open on that issue - setting out a reasonable plan to help people save for end of life care and avoid a compulsory levy. But like the other parties they haven't come close to setting out how they will simultaneously balance the budget and afford expensive pledges to protect the NHS budget, continue the rapid growth of International Development spending and replace the proposed third runway at Heathrow (funded with private investment) with expensive high speed rail (funded mostly with taxpayers' money). We understand that complete plans might not be possible at this stage, but while all the parties are planning tens of billions in spending cuts none of them have outlined plans that are on anything like that scale (we don't count most of the Government's Operational Efficiencies Programme for reasons set out in this video).
Over the weekend, our proposals with the Institute of Directors to save £50 billion in public spending appear to have caused a bit of a storm in Wales. The Western Mail reports that an economic adviser to the Conservatives there said that he liked our report and that is being used by Welsh Labour to say that he endorses our recommendations. Of course, some people won't like some of the measures we recommended in that report and the new book. While big cuts can be made to plenty of organisations - like the Regional Development Agencies and the Carbon Trust - that the public won't miss, anyone who pretends it will be easy to correct things when the Government is spending more than £5 for every £4 that it raises in taxes is just being disingenuous. As the Western Mail said: "The proposals put forward by the IoD and the Taxpayers' Alliance will be seen as unpalatable by many. But at least these two organisations have had the guts to spell out where their ideology leads them in concrete terms that people can understand."
Since that report we've also released a new book, How to Cut Public Spending (and Still Win an Election) with a detailed plan of a range of measures needed to get the public finances under control. And the TPA manifesto sets out a broader policy agenda. At the time of the expenses scandal, politicians said that the criticism was unfair as most of them didn't get into politics to make money but to address serious issues. But if the public aren't allowed a say on the big issues then what do the politicians expect but apathy about party politics, and fury at the presumption of politicians who duck a serious debate and only seem interested in photo opportunities and expenses?