British Tory leader David Cameron is now calling clearly for a radical redistribution of power in the UK. His redefining of the relationship between the people and the political elite is a cogent and intelligent response to the House of Commons expenses scandal that has been roiling British politics for several weeks now. “I believe there is only one way out of this national crisis we face,” he said. “We need a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power. From the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability, we must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street.”
Stirring stuff. But one of the big questions is why Cameron took so long to engage in this way. He has been more nimbled-footed than Gordon Brown in trying to get out ahead of the crisis and pressured his team to come clean about their expenses and to get them sorted. But why wasn’t he much tougher on offending Conservative MPs and instead of just telling them, for example, to explain themselves to their constituency parties, withdrawing the Whip from them? After all, many of them are not his allies and he could have used this crisis as an opportunity to crush his right-wing opponents and mold the party more into the centrist image he would like. A lack of political courage or intellectual forethought?
On his more general point that a redifintion of power is needed, again there is a sense here of a lack of foresight. Back in 2006, I argued in a Cato podcast that Britain was crying out for a civil libertarian mesage — that ordinary Brits were getting sick and tired of the Big Brother state created by New Labour. At last a “freedom” message is coming from the Conservatives.