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Return of the technocrats

Starmer’s unelected ministers are a taste of things to come.

Lauren Smith

Topics Politics UK

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Rejoice, came the cries of the ‘sensible’ British commentariat, for the ‘adults’ are finally back in the room. Labour leader Keir Starmer’s ascendancy to 10 Downing Street has been met with some truly unbearable takes about the return of ‘decent’, ‘grown-up’ – by which they seem to mean technocratic – politics. Gone are the days of the Tories’ populist-adjacent rhetoric and alleged rabble-rousing. This government will usher in a new age of wonderful, ‘expert’-led governance, we’re told.

Starmer has certainly tried to create this impression with some of his appointments. Indeed, some of his ministers are not even elected members of parliament. He has had to stick them in the House of Lords so that they can serve in his government.

Richard Hermer KC, a human-rights lawyer and expert in international law, has been granted a life peerage so that he can serve as attorney general. His previous credentials include pushing for the International Court of Justice to consider Israel an ‘apartheid state’ and arguing against stripping Shamima Begum of her citizenship.

Another new peer and minister is James Timpson, CEO of key-cutting and shoe-repair chain Timpson. He will be a prisons minister, also via a seat in the Lords. We can assume, from his previous interviews and statements, that he will focus on rehabilitation – the Timpson chain, to its credit, employs many ex-cons. (He seems highly likely to ease the horrendous overcrowding in prisons by releasing some offenders early, as the Tories had also planned to do.)

Jacqui Smith has also been brought back to reprise the role of higher-education minister, which she held 25 years ago under Tony Blair. She resigned as home secretary in 2009 after a series of expenses scandals. Starmer is also giving her a life peerage in order to smuggle her into government.

One appointment that especially sticks in the craw is Patrick Vallance. As chief scientific adviser until 2023, Vallance was one of the chief architects of the Covid-19 lockdowns. Now, he has been appointed science minister. Yet again, he is not and never has been an elected member of parliament. And given that his lockdowns have caused the UK such enormous economic, educational and cultural damage, damage that we are still yet to recover from several years later, his appointment hardly inspires confidence.

This tyranny of the unelected by no means stops at Starmer’s ministers. If you thought that the politicisation of the civil service was bad under the Conservatives, a Labour government will only further entrench it. The sprawling, bureaucratic Blob has spent years locked in fierce battle against the Tories, determined to prevent them from fulfilling the promises they were elected to fulfil – from exiting the European Union properly to stemming the tide of mass migration. Now, the civil service’s obvious liberal-left bias is manifesting itself once again – this time in barely concealed glee for the incoming Labour government.

Civil servants appeared visibly thrilled to welcome Labour ministers into Whitehall last week. In fact, they had to be told not to clap so loudly, so as to avoid the appearance of political bias, according to the Mail on Sunday. Top mandarin Matthew Rycroft tweeted on Friday that he was ‘looking forward to working in partnership’ with newly appointed home secretary Yvette Cooper. The wording was telling. Civil servants do not work ‘in partnership’ with the government, they serve the government. The clue is in the name.

This business of ennobling people so that they can become ministers isn’t new, of course. But that doesn’t make it any more defensible. Rishi Sunak – deservedly – faced scrutiny for granting David Cameron a peerage last year, with the sole purpose of making him foreign secretary. Where is the criticism of Starmer’s four unelected ministers – only one of which has ever been an MP at any point in her career? Labour has gone from promising to abolish the House of Lords to using the peerage system to appoint ministers, as well as filling it with friendly peers to ‘improve diversity’.

It’s no surprise that Keir Starmer, a human-rights lawyer by trade and a technocrat by nature, loves unelected ‘experts’ – those who haven’t had to bother a ballot box or suffer the scrutiny of ordinary voters to attain their position. His government has got off to a thoroughly undemocratic start.

Lauren Smith is a staff writer at spiked.

Picture by: Lauren Hurley / No 10 Downing Street.

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Topics Politics UK

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