Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Defence of Cronyism

There are few democracies in the world that do not have mechanisms to allow political patronage, to facilitate the bestowing of honours, rank, privilege or largesse in some capacity as a reward for service to a politician or a party once it has been successful in an election. From the humble councillor, seeing fit to award a small project to extend the town hall meeting rooms to his erstwhile part-time campaign manager, full-time contractor; to the worst excesses of high stakes lobbying in the US, it appears to pervade modern democracy.

In the first instance, we have to acknowledge that as democrats - or, to put it more accurately, as supporters of representative democracy - we have decided as free people to place power in the hands of a relatively small number of people at local, regional, and national level. As the jurisdiction increases, so too do the powers. There are big decisions to be made involving large interests, and someone needs to make those decisions. The idea, of course, is that we judge in the first instance in whom we should place our trust to make such decisions; and after a series of decisions has been made, we judge once more whether we retain our trust in our representative.

Giving them that power means that we also concede to them peripheral powers to enrich and potentially impoverish at the stroke of a pen. At this juncture we call for transparency in decision-making; impartiality in judgement; and an attitude that is above reproach. We also implicitly accept that the people who we appoint in our elections will govern and manage our affairs in a particular way, with a particular ethos. Who better to appoint to the quangos of government then than their supporters, their team, even their families! They are all more likely to agree with the politique du jour, and therefore more accurately reflect the will of the people in the administration of state! Should these appointments be flung open to the great masses, then even supporters of the ancien r├ęgime could apply, and that would be unacceptable in our democracy!

Granted not all democracies - including our own - make it easy to change previously appointed members of state boards and other quangos once there has been political re-capitation, and this is perhaps something that should be addressed. Political appointments reflect the political will of the day; once that changes, then the legitimacy of the appointment similarly subsides. Nevertheless, we must trust our political rulers, and our political system. If we do not trust our rulers, especially after they have just been elected, then we do not by implication trust our political system. And if we do not collectively trust our political system, then the revolution won't be long in coming.

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