This is no time to send a novice to Europe
The elevation of Baroness Ashton to Brussels demonstrates Brown’s aversion to any kind of democracy
MEPs aren't happy about the new British Commission nominee, Baroness Ashton. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, they're furious. "It's an insult to the European Parliament," says a French Green. "What does she know about trade issues?" says a Polish Christian Democrat. "We're in the middle of the Doha talks and negotiations with Korea: this is no time for a novice," says a German liberal, in a rare foray into humour.
British Conservatives have been careful not to criticise Mandy's successor for fear of looking unpatriotic. But it is hard to avoid the suspicion that she was selected, not for her suitability, but because Gordon Brown was determined to avoid a by-election. Fear of elections - whether Labour leadership polls or general elections is the PM's ruling principle. Alas, it seems also to be Baroness Ashton's.
Baroness Ashton has never once faced the voters. Before becoming a life peer, she was a career quangocrat. Her story is a neat demonstration of how power in Britain has shifted from politicians to officials. We are no longer governed by elected representatives, but rather by unelected functionaries: NICE, the Health and Safety Executive, the European Commission.
We could wrest power back from the bureaucracy if we wanted: in my book, The Plan: Twelve months to renew Britain, I show how it could be done in a single legislative session. But, so far, no one has exhibited anything like the necessary will.
If Baroness Ashton should serve only until the expiry of the current Commission term in September, she will qualify for a pension of nearly £40,000 for the rest of her life. True, we'll need to disregard the rules: in theory, Commissioners are not allowed to hold any national office, and there is no mechanism to renounce a life peerage. But when has a little matter like the law been allowed to stand in the way of what our apparat wants? ·
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