The Blog

You and I Could Run the Economy Better Than Osborne or Balls

Why on Earth, a visitor from another planet might ask us, has an incompetent dilettante been made Second Lord of the Treasury? We'd have to admit it's because his equally inept chum from uni has been made First Lord of the Treasury. How silly would that make us look?

I have a Diploma in Art and Design from Hornsey College of Art. George Osborne has a second-class degree in Modern History from Magdalen College, Oxford. By any sensible measure, neither of us is qualified to be Chancellor of the Exchequer but Osborne's got the gig. It's hardly surprising, then, that his naïvely optimistic tuck shop economics are making such a mess of things.

Why on earth, a visitor from another planet might ask us, has an incompetent dilettante been made Second Lord of the Treasury? We'd have to admit it's because his equally inept chum from uni has been made First Lord of the Treasury. How silly would that make us look?

I've worked on building sites, been the foreman of a railway maintenance gang, the managing director of a cleaning products company, the creative director of several advertising agencies, a record producer, a motorcycle racing promoter, a designer of street fashion and a writer of sorts. My career path doesn't recommend me as a potential Chancellor but at least I've travelled in the world and I know what it is to go hungry as well as to have money in my pocket. Osborne, on the other hand, has never wanted for money. He has only ever worked for the Conservative Party and, by definition, the people who pay to get it elected.

If the board of Barclays Bank were to make me financial director in one of those collective fits of imprudence they're becoming famous for, their share price would undoubtedly fall. Yet the markets don't even flinch at having an unqualified incapable running the economy.

A conspiracy theorist might suggest it's because Britain has become a corporatocracy by proxy, a country run by 'taxi-for-hire' politicians for the benefit of bankers and businessmen, rather than for the great unwashed. This could explain why Cameron's disdainful, self-righteous, indifferent and/or deluded coterie are decimating the welfare state to sustain bankers' bonuses while transferring the remaining public assets into private hands. Osborne's latest budget will no doubt make his party's money-grubbing backers even richer but the living standards of the genuinely hard-working and the vulnerable are declining fast.

It would be foolish to believe things can only get better under Messrs Miliband and Balls, another pair of party apparatchiks who stand for nothing but election. They're committed to maintaining policies concocted by the government to attract the floating voters who'll decide which faction of the political class gets to screw up after the next election.

The omnishambles is a symptom of an anachronistic political system persisting from a time when to get your interests represented in parliament you had to stick a man on a horse and pack him off to London - assuming you were a wealthy landowner. Our democracy is actually an electoral oligarchy. First and foremost, it perpetuates the Establishment.

What can ordinary people do about it? Armed with votes instead of a pitchforks, we're powerless to change the order of things. The ruling class holds the keys to the system and politicians invariably resist any reform that's not in their own best interests. As the economist Clark Kerr once said, "The status quo is the only solution that can't be vetoed".

But if enough of us were to agree that we need competent, imaginative, egalitarian government to rescue us from eternal decline, we could elect specialist managers for each government department instead of career politicians. To make sure we chose the right candidates, we could randomly select a statistically representative sample of citizens to spend time being informed of the various positions before voting on our behalf - 60,000 people organised into 1,000 community assemblies would give such decisions legitimacy. The civil service would be accountable directly to the country without politicians deliberately obfuscating what's really going on.

In place of a political cabinet, each departmental manager could sit on a collegial council that collectively acts as head of state. Its members could draw lots each week to determine who represents us to the rest of the world. (If this sounds a tad radical, consider that conservative and economically stable Switzerland has thrived on a not dissimilar system since 1848). We'll give the council no legislative powers but require it to come to the community assemblies to agree policies, pass legislation and approve budgets.

This is a new model of democracy in which every citizen has an equal opportunity of participation. It accommodates every shade of political opinion but fosters collaboration rather than confrontation. The state is redefined, not as a partisan instrument of the ruling class, nor as a neutral external entity separated from society and the economy, but as an extension of the society of which we are all a part.

No matter what our individual experiences and qualifications, we could collectively create a practical political and economic system that works for ordinary people as well as it does for business. But first we have to beat the political elite at their own game. The present system allows no other legitimate means to bring about change.