28/12/09 - Britain in the Noughties
The Telegraph

SIR – What on earth would William Gladstone (born 200 years ago tomorrow) have thought about Britain in the Noughties?

Simon Heffer (Comment, December 23) hailed Gladstone for giving us, among other things, the "best Civil Service in the world". He might have added that it was the smallest as well, for the G. O. M exercised iron control over the public finances, worrying endlessly as total spending by the state edged towards £100 million.

In our decade, quangos alone cost us £90 billion a year. The extraordinary expansion of the state has surely been the defining characteristic of the Noughties – and also the most depressing one, since Margaret Thatcher had succeeded in getting the state out of industry (for which she was saluted as the Gladstone of the late 20th-century).

There are now 565,000 more people on the public payroll than 10 years ago. No one has even overseen this malign process properly. Almost daily, another story of incompetence and inefficiency appears in the press. Vast pay rises have been distributed in a random fashion, and 323 people on the public payroll now earn more than the Prime Minister. Gladstone's salary of £5,000 per annum made him the best paid public servant – and quite right, too. Dignity, power and financial reward should go hand in hand.

Next February will mark the 60th anniversary of the election that brought Churchill back to within sight of power, after his crushing defeat at the end of the war. He promised to sweep away socialist controls and get the economy moving.

His election slogan was "Set the People Free". The Tories should use the slogan again in 2010, and give us a programme for slim, responsible government to show that they mean to reverse the miseries of the Noughties.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1

26/5/09 - Primrose Path (£)
The Times

Sir, Disraeli was much more familiar with political corruption “outside the Palace of Westminster” (letter, May 21) than Leofranc Holford-Strevens allows (letter, May 22). Disraeli was first elected as a Conservative in 1837, five years after the Great Reform Act, at Maidstone (where he was greeted with cries of “Shylock” and “Old Clothes”) after a contest that cost £40,000, equivalent to nearly £3 million today. With a total electorate of a million and a whole host of small two-member borough seats, corrruption flourished in the 35 years up to Disraeli’s Second Reform Act of 1867. It was only after the passage of the Corrupt Practices Act in 1883, two years after Disraeli’s death, that spending at elections was brought under effective control.

The Conservative Party promptly invented the Primrose League, which enlisted nearly two million volunteers, inspired by Disraeli’s memory, to work unpaid in the totally changed conditions.
Alistair Cooke
London SW1