Fri, Dec 24, 2010 - Page 9 News List

David Cameron’s government not so unlike Mao’s regime

Anywhere you look in Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, there’s a secretary of state unleashing upheaval with reforming zeal

By Andrew Rawnsley  /  The Guardian, LONDON

I put it down to former British prime minister Tony Blair. Also to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and to former Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東).

To understand this British government, you need to appreciate the debt that it owes to these three influences — Labour’s triple election-winning prime minister, the Conservatives’ most radical postwar prime minister and the Chinese dictator responsible for the deaths of more of his own people than any other leader in history.

To be fair to the coalition, it is not their ambition to replicate the body count heaped up by the Chinese Communist Party during Mao’s lethal reign, nor does this government share many of the late tyrant’s political ends. Yet in its methods, I am increasingly struck by the strange similarities between the regime of Chairman Mao and that of Chairman Cameron.

Some of the coalition’s senior figures are conscious of this — some of them are even proud to draw the parallels between themselves and the author of The Little Red Book. In recent weeks, I have heard one important figure in the government talk of unleashing a “cultural revolution” in public services and another hailing devolution of power away from the center using Mao’s old slogan: “Let a thousand flowers bloom.”

The Observer reports the remarks of Nick Boles, a sparky backbencher on the Cameron wing of his party. The member of parliament for Grantham celebrates as “a good thing” the “chaos” that will ensue from ripping up central planning. Some in the media are likely to interpret this as “a gaffe” for which Boles will get into trouble with his seniors.

However, he really should not. For he is articulating the animating belief among the senior members of the government. It is this belief in the creative chaos of individual decision-making that is the glue that binds British Prime Minister David Cameron’s liberal conservatives with the liberals close to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner.

Boles merely says out loud and in an especially vivid way what has been the common currency of many private conversations within the government. I have actually heard more than one member of the Cabinet explicitly refer to the government as “Maoist.”

UPHEAVAL

Just about anywhere you look in Whitehall — the district of central London that house the pillars of the British government — there is a secretary of state unleashing upheaval.

British Justice Minister Ken Clarke challenges two decades of orthodoxy about the criminal justice system. British Education Secretary Michael Gove battles the educational establishment to create his “free schools.” British Secretary for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith has ambitions to be the man who definitively reformed welfare. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne is dramatically recasting energy pricing. Clegg wants to rewrite large parts of the Constitution. Over at health, Andrew Lansley proposes the greatest upheaval in the tax-funded National Health Service since its foundation.

They are urged on from within No. 10 Downing Street by the prime minister’s principal strategist, Steve Hilton, who is probably the most Maoist person in the government. He has been heard to tell colleagues: “Everything must have changed by 2015. Everything.”

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