Britain’s pantomime horse of a coalition government announced a modest six billion pounds’ worth of spending cuts today. Not a lot, but I like the de facto abolition of ministerial drivers. Henceforth, just the four “Great Offices of State” – the Prime Minister, the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer – will be entitled to a car and chauffeur. Everyone else “will be expected to walk or take public transport” – and, if it’s the latter, there’ll be no first-class travel.
At a certain level, this is gesture politics. But symbols are important. Citizen legislators in democratic societies are not a ruling class. They should walk among us, rather than be swanking about on the public dime. If you want a chauffeured limo, get a gig in the private sector and earn it. And that goes for Nancy Pelosi’s ludicrous Botox One jet, too. I remember as a teenager going to London, getting on the Circle Line and being impressed to find myself standing opposite a strap-hanging Lord Home, the elderly former Prime Minister, en route to the House of Lords. If the Tube’s good enough for a 14th Earl, it’s good enough for the present crowd of shakedown artists.
Nevertheless, the BBC report I heard soon got over any glee at seeing Cabinet ministers reduced in status and began obsessing over the soon-to-be-laid-off pool of government drivers as if they were mineworkers after the last pit in town’s closed down. It cheered me up no end. In a small way, even a ministerial car service is a grand example of government bloat. Chris Mullin, a former Labour minister, disliked using the chauffeured limo, but found that, even if he didn’t, it still cost the department £3,000 a month. After the growth of the state in the Blair-Brown years, there is a need for significant privatization, and the government car service is as good a place as any to start.