Tuesday, February 23, 2010

David Cameron’s Department for Administrative Affairs

Who would have thought that the fictional department which was run by the Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP might one day become a reality?

Who would have credited the brilliant Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn with such inspirational foresight as the gift of political prophecy?

Of all the draft manifesto semi-commitments yet expounded by the nation’s next prime minister, none is as revolutionary as his ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age’, and yesterday we heard more about it.

Command-and-control will disappear: the Hobbesian Leviathian of state centralisation will be slain by the swords of transparency, scrutiny and accountability. Power will be relinquished and devolved from the centre, permitting cooperatives to flourish, shifting the control of public money from the sluggish tiers of bureaucratic government to energised individuals and vibrant communities. The internet will make everyone a participant: the wisdom of the crowd, no longer tolerant of obfuscation, waffle and gibberish, will shine through to impose itself upon government policy. Such ideas have come to be known as post-bureaucratic.

It was George Orwell who observed that ‘political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness’. In the same essay, he added that such language was ‘designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’.

Standards have not really changed: indeed, the whole business of government is now seen in those terms. Impenetrable verbiage and incoherent jargon, lies and duplicity have demoralised the people and alienated a nation: they are disillusioned with their politicians and despairing of their politics.

‘Spin’ and intractable bureaucracy have become a totalitarian force in modern political life. The ‘spin’ is the packaging and presenting of information to brainwash; the bureaucracy to frustrate inquiry and obfuscate to the point of exasperation. This arouses suspicion, engenders distrust, and becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of perpetual immobility.

But we are no longer dependent upon the BBC for the ‘state’ news; we are no longer beholden to media barons for a ‘take’ on a story, to publishers for a book selection or to radio stations for a music playlist. An artist can now reach Number 1 in the charts solely through internet downloads; a blogger can have a wider readership than a national daily; a book can be published and sold on demand; and anyone can give us an angle on a news story – especially those the ‘mainstream media’ have chosen to ignore.

The internet now presents us with Sir Humphrey’s nightmare: the data he had at his fingertips and which he withheld from the Minister will now be made available to the masses. They can filter it, crunch it, order it, present it, interpret it and review it, irrespective of ‘spin’ and the official civil-service line to take. It is the epitome of transparency; the pinnacle of accountability; the zenith of democracy.

It will not be easy, not least because it runs counter to the post-democratic zeitgeist, and Sir Humphrey is now no longer merely a pedantic and pompous permanent secretary in Whitehall but a burgeoning bureaucratic beast in Brussels.

The hurdles are considerable.

Let us not forget that Jim Hacker failed in his idealistic quest to improve the relationship between government and citizens; he failed to reduce bureaucracy or to save the taxpayer the millions he promised. And the reason was that ultimately his own re-election and advancement became his only real measure of success. Sir Humphrey knew this, and so forced the Minister for Administrative Affairs to dance to the tune of popular appeal, thereby sustaining the prestige, power, and influence of the complex bureaucracy.

And so the reforms and economies never happened.

But the department remained, because the aspiration was an undeniable vote-winner; the mere existence of the policy sustained the perception of progress.

Let us hope the ‘Post-Bureacratic Age’ does not fall foul of civil service obfuscation and circumlocution, or European Union jargon and manipulation. And let us also hope that it does not have to wade through months of boards and reviews or years of interminable inquiries and interdepartmental committees, lest the ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age’ become nothing more than a colossal exercise in bureaucracy.


Blogger Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mr Cameron might talk the talk, but I’m not convinced he will walk the walk. Opposition parties always talk about greater transparency in government, but rarely deliver once they get their hands on the reigns of power. The Stalinist control which Central Office exerts over constituency associations should serve as a warning.

23 February 2010 at 10:16  
Anonymous graham Wood said...

YG I think you are right about the influence of the Internet - and especially for the coming election.
That influence is massive, and ironically represents the national debating chamber which the Westminster Parliament no longer is - mainly due to the identikit policies held by all three parties.
It may be that the Internet will produce a more enlightened, informed, and politically aware electorate than ever before.
But....... and it is a very big BUT
DC's despatch of his ambassador to the EU, Ken Clarke, says it all about the real agenda as far as the Tories are concerned. And of course Brown, or Clegg could equally endorse the same sort of move for their own provincial groups operating within the greater EU hegemony.

"Tories send Ken Clarke to give assurances to Brussels about future government Ken Clarke, the shadow Business Secretary, is to hold secret talks in Brussels with Jose Manuel Barroso to assure the European Commission President the EU has nothing to fear from a Conservative government."

Ah you see ! That is where real power lies. Like it. Lump it. Get over it - but don't VOTE for anything to do with the "post democratic" agenda.

23 February 2010 at 10:24  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

‘Command-and-control will disappear: the Hobbesian Leviathan of state centralisation will be slain by the swords of transparency, scrutiny and accountability. Power will be relinquished and evolved from the centre, permitting cooperatives to flourish, shifting the control of public money from the sluggish tiers of bureaucratic government to energised individuals and vibrant communities.’

If only.

The man on the Clapham omnibus is not going to be fooled by the vision of the Post-Bureaucratic Age. When will politicians stop speaking to us as if we’ve just effected our escape from the nursery without nanny noticing?

We are in an age where the values of the so-called Enlightenment are represented, supported and enforced by monolithic State bureaucracies: rights.

For a right to exist, it must be supported, protected and enforced by the State – if it is to mean anything. Rights need monitoring, they need policing, they need banks of lawyers to present them and they need the courts to enforce them.

We have the parish council; the town council, the borough council, the county council, the regional quango, parliament, the Brussels bureaucracy (on the continental scale), our Supreme Court, the European Court of Justice (Luxembourg), the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg), the United Nations: this is the New World Order.

That is why tomorrow is Orwellian.

And you know what Your Grace? That little guy on the Clapham omnibus – you see him everyday – he glances at you, wide-eyed (unlike the Buddha whose eyes are closed – through indifference): he just wants to be left alone. He is weary, sick and tired.

23 February 2010 at 11:09  
Blogger Species 8472 said...

"Part of the answer to these problems lies in devolving power from central to local government"

Providing CCHQ can replace the locals by parachutig the A listers in.

File this one under "crap" with all the other crap.

23 February 2010 at 11:28  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to perform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy, or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913-14, or rather less than 8 per cent. of the national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children received education up to the age of 13. Since 1 January 1909, it provided a meagre pension for the needy over the age of 70. Since 1911, it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment. This tendency towards more state action was increasing. Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905. Still, broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.

A. J. P. Taylor (1906-1990), The Effects and Origins of the Great War

23 February 2010 at 12:34  
Blogger Sinful Soul said...

Your Grace,

Am I correct in the assumption that in this post-bureaucratic age thousands of pointless bureaucrats are to be made redundant ,and will soon be seen joining the lines of the unemployed at their local job centre,all in agreement with Dave that its a great idea...is the coming of the post-bureaucratic age "cast-iron"

Or as Specie 8472 suggests should I sharpen my quill dip the ink and make yet another entry into the already bulging Crap file.

23 February 2010 at 12:39  
Blogger Frugal Dougal said...

Civil servants could be redeployed - for example, dismantling useless quangos like the British Potato Council, or facilitating studies on the true extent of terrorist radicalisation in the UK. There's no need for massive redundancies.

23 February 2010 at 13:12  
Anonymous Trencherbone said...

More COMMUNITY COHESION is required.

23 February 2010 at 13:14  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Nice idea, Your Grace. Shame Cameron hasn't cottoned on to the realisation that to do deliver on this most worthy promise he'll have to take us OUT of the EU, the rats mother of all bureaucracies.

Unfortunately, he's made it quite clear that withdrawing from the EU on his watch isn't going to happen. So, it's just so much hot air...again.

23 February 2010 at 14:26  
Blogger Demetrius said...

Does this mean we could hang all the lawyers?

23 February 2010 at 14:49  
Blogger magog said...

As in so many other organisations, the executive and administrative arms of Government serve their own interests. In both areas, the respective bureacracies carry an innately defensive survival instinct which insulates them from external influence, often, most of all from their other arm.

It is possible that such problems may affect all large organisations, however, including the Church, perhaps?

Was there ever a time when Doctors ran the NHS, Teachers, the Educational system, or Priests, the Church, Memebers their Parliament, and was it better then?

23 February 2010 at 15:01  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

Here are some conservative principles mentioned in recent documents by our American cousins.

We conservatives are for freedom; they, the socialists, are for state coercion.

We are for personal responsibility within a framework of moral injunctions they are for license leading to moral anarchy which requires oppressive law enforcement.

We are for supporting the ingenuity of local people solving local problems; they are for centralised command and control.

We are for the great principles of liberty, security and freedom laid down by Magna Carta; they are for human rights used as a device for oppressing the majority.

We are for God, family and country; they are for the trousered ape, the communal squat and the fascist European Union.

We are for democracy, the nation-state and the national interest; they are for the neo-imperial federated super-state that rides like a beast over real people such as the Irish, the British, the Dutch the Germans, the Italians and all other peoples who believe in their nation’s destiny.

We believe in God-given inalienable rights; they believe in State-granted rights given on Monday morning and extinguished by Friday evening.

We believe in the common sense of men and that men learn from their mistakes (except for the fool); they believe in the Perfection of Man in the New Jerusalem here on Earth because they see men as patients in need of the socialist cure.

We believe in the British people, as Thatcher used to say, ‘Trust the People’; they believe in state-sponsored social engineering.

We believe men should have the freedom to obey their conscience; they intend to force the Judaeo-Christian doctor to assist in euthanasia.

We believe in equality of opportunity and the mechanism of competition to produce the winner who takes the prize; they believe in prizes for all.

We believe in limited government so that a man may grow in self-government; they believe in passing one law a day keeps the people at bay.

We believe in equality before the law; they believe in trumping decent beliefs by trumping them with novel state-granted rights.

We believe that it is the State’s God given duty to secure our liberty, security and freedom; they believe that duty belongs to ages past.

We believe in One Nation conservatism, under God, indivisible; they trash our history, rob us of our identity and sell our birthright to a foreign power: the EU.

Your Grace – We believe.

23 February 2010 at 15:26  
Anonymous John Knox said...

Dear Cranmer,
The Humphries of this age still strive for government information control. The initial stages of trying to take over the internet under the pretense of fighting crime are already in motion. The humpies realize that the climatedebacle was almost singularly exposed through the internet. For many years non stop bombardment by the official media, government funding, rigid censure by scholarly journals so called, backed up by pressure and press releases of the United Nations almost did the job. Many ancient British commonlaw liberties are already down the drain, using the introduction of 'anti-terrorism' laws to get an unprecedented level of state control over people. Not even to speak about Unesco's secular liberalist agenda for education that has been swallowed hook line and sinker over the past thirty years, paving the way for the United States of Europe and working towards world citizenship.
Praise God for the internet! May Humphry be taught his place and long may he be locked out of Number 10!

John Knox

23 February 2010 at 22:43  
Blogger Maturecheese said...

Your Grace, You may be correct about the rising influence of the internet as an alternative source of opinion and information, but the MSM still calls the shots when it comes to persuading the sheep which way to vote. This is because young people who are the most likely to engage with the net are not voters in large numbers. The older generation, say 50 up, are the most likely to vote but the least likely to get there information from blogs etc.

Those that do tend to form their opinions from what they glean from the MSM will only hear of two options, Labour or Conservative and that's a bit like having to choose between Hitler or Stalin. Some Choice!

24 February 2010 at 10:40  

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