Welfare reform delay is mature politics
From Brother Ivo:
BBC News leads with the story that the Government is delaying the implementation of part of its welfare reform policy: it is replacing a full roll-out of its Personal Independence Payment with a limited pilot scheme in Anglesea.
Anyone with experience of implementing an IT project, within a business, school, or even a home network, will appreciate how much can go wrong with such plans, and taking the time to implement change would appear to be the prudent response if there is any doubt about its preparedness.
The feverish response of the Labour opposition is to declare the Government's flagship policy of welfare reform in "chaos".
Little illustrates the worst side of politics than such a knee-jerk, shallow response. All parties do it, but it rarely fails to irritate the public. It is a matter of record that Labour's record on the implementation of complex IT projects is unimpressive, and one might wonder if any within their campaigning strategy team gave any thought to the wisdom of allowing the inevitable response about the pot calling the kettle black.
Do such spin doctors think we have no memory? In the age of social media, the deep recesses of collective recollection will ensure that somebody revives a past failure and re-circulates it. Presumably those responsible for starting this hare running are either so young or myopic that they lack historical perspective from even the most recent past.
It is not as if one needs to look back more than a few weeks to learn from the IT failure of others. In the USA, President Obama's flagship healthcare policy is in deep technical difficulty regardless of any objections to the project in principle, or to its intellectual architecture.
In many states, the number of people who have successfully signed up with the Obamacare exchanges to obtain a quote for the new insurance scheme is currently running in tens rather than the hundreds of thousands. This is three weeks into the scheme and after three years planning and half a billion dollars worth of investment. Inevitably, their opponents are making hay.
The company responsible turns out to be Canadian, with an very recent history of failure of its last smaller project in that country. It now turns out that its main owner was a Princeton classmate of Michelle Obama which may or may not be significant. Those programmes are always fraught with practical and political problems.
The spin doctors are insulting the voters intelligence, and so is Kathleen Sibelius, the Secretary for Health Human Services who is responsible for the project, with her briefing that the responsibility lies with the Republicans because of the government "shutdown" which began the same day Obamacare went live. The only person to have been sacked over this disastrous project is Erling Davis, a hapless black telephone operator on the project, whose only failure was to talk to radio talk show host Sean Hannity about the difficulties that were being encountered. To his credit, Mr Hannity is meeting her $26k annual salary whilst helping her to find re-employment. For such a lady to be the only casualty of such gross failure tells you all you need to know about this President and the modern political culture.
In such a context, for somebody within Government or Civil Service to take responsibility and say "You know folks, this just isn't ready" is rather refreshing. It is in keeping with one of Brother Ivo's dicta that it's better to get the right answer than a fast one.
A similar response may be needed over the HS2 rail project. Large structural change, whether in welfare reform or transport infrastructure, is fraught with both predictable complexity and many "unknown unknowns". That is the very nature of sophisticated systems and reforming multi-layered old entitlements.
Instead of complaining, we should be celebrating the rare acknowledgment that lessons were there to be learned; those subject to the change will not be inconvenienced to save political face, and we shall not see change implemented unless and until the systems are fit for purpose.
Had the opposition positioned itself with a mature response, its stature would have been enhanced. But, sadly, it appears that the era of the juvenile cheap soundbite, recycled by the BBC, continues.
Brother Ivo is the Patron Saint of lawyers