A message from GOD

An interesting speech by former Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, (referred to by some in Whitehall as GOD) published in the latest edition of Political Quarterly, generated a certain amount of publicity this week. There were a number of thought provoking ideas in O’Donell’s speech including that Government’s should measure the success of policies on the basis of ‘wellbeing’ rather than the impact on GDP, that politicians have an (understandable) bias towards the old, and that the coalition has been characterised by  constitutional inertia. However, the point, and it was a very brief point, which attracted all the attenion was his suggestion that those wanting to stand for parliament should meet certain, unspecified, qualification criteria. This, not surprisingly, attracted a certain amount of derision not least from MPs , most of which I think was largely justified. However, O’Donnell follows this by identifying the need for better training for MPs and potential Ministers and in this raises an important issue, the solution for which doesn’t threaten democracy. When they arrive at Westminster, new MPs get very little training, aside from some instruction in the operation of the parliamentary IT systems, and some Party briefings. There is then a clear need for more effective training in order to make Parliament more effective at holding the Government to account. Similarly, more effective training for Government Ministers might help in the development of more effective policy, which is O’Donnell’s point. It might also better equip Ministers to ensure that the civil service acts in the interests of Government and not the other way around, which O’Donnell doesn’t exactly say. Interstingly, the point about training was raised in 2007 by a young Cabinet Office Minister in the previous Labour Government, named Ed Miliband.

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