Mar 072013

Rick has a lovely piece on defending bureaucracy as a Good Thing.  It starts off like this:

Gus O’Donnell presented a thought-provoking programme on Radio 4 this morning, In Defence of Bureaucracy. He presented two arguments. Firstly, you can’t get much done without basic organisation. Secondly, bureaucracy, with its formal rules, offers protection from the arbitrary whims and prejudices of those in power.

I suggest you read it in its entirety.  It’s not just a piece about bureaucracy in government.  It’s also a piece about bureaucracy in the private sector.  This paragraph, for example:

Bureaucracy is the corporate equivalent of the rule of law. It protects people from arbitrary decisions inside the organisation. Rules and procedures give people clarity about their roles, their scope for decision making and their boundaries. Like the rule of law, they protect employees from random and vindictive treatment by their bosses. It has become very fashionable to deride bureaucracy but working in organisations with fewer rules and procedures can be just as unpleasant. Trying to second guess the whims of a maverick autocratic boss can be every bit as energy draining and innovation stifling as working in a bureaucracy.

In essence, as a set of democratic societies, we could not have arrived at where we are if it hadn’t been for the law-engendering instincts of overarching rules, processes and procedures.

It’s clear, therefore, that our impulsive perceptions of bureaucracy need a makeover.  We need to perceive it with a greater sense of its complex contribution to latterday civilisation.  Therein the rub, of course.  There’s plenty of evidence that bureaucracy – and its fairly widely independent relationship to political masters – makes it a perfect vehicle for doing ill too.  Just because a bureaucracy religiously ensures that rules, processes and procedures are followed to the letter doesn’t mean that only good may necessarily spring forth: if the rules, processes and procedures in question are malignant in nature, the result will be unkind.  What’s more, pretty consistently – even remorselessly – unkind.

The most obvious example is how the Nazis appropriated the Weimar Republic’s institutions.  But we also have an example much closer to home:

Patient interests were neglected for years by NHS mangers as hospitals concentrated on cutting waiting times at the expense of good care, the head of the service admitted today.

Sir David Nicholson accepted that he was “part” of an environment where the leadership of the NHS “lost its focus” and which indirectly led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of patients at Stafford Hospital.

Now it still seems the latter case is being the subject of much political football – the Tories have recently blamed the previous Labour government for, I assume, its attachment to targets (perhaps, in this case, the wrong ones – that is to say, the easiest ones to measure); meanwhile, the Labour opposition is calling for Nicholson to resign his current responsibility as driver of highly unpopular government-organised change at the NHS.

As I’ve said on a previous occasion:

If you think about it, the pyramid which reaches pointy-headed to the sky is actually totally absurd.  As the work gets more complex and challenging, we use fewer heads to decide what needs to be done.  The chances of committing errors, of stressing oneself into illness, of failing to achieve one’s targets … these are all bound to increase with the traditional pyramid we are all used to.

Surely this is madness.

Surely we need if not a cylinder, at the very least a pyramid without a considerable part of its upper superstructure.

And as Shuggy concisely points out:

From the Hootsmon:

“Excessive hierarchy must become a thing of the past. Upward communication must be encouraged and constructive criticism should be positively received.”

The remedy for this is, apparently, to give those at the top of the hierarchy more power:

“Headteachers should be seen as the chief executives of largely autonomous organisations…”

Kier Bloomer being desperately stupid in a way that only intelligent people can be. I’ll make this my last post on education for some time because this stuff makes me so depressed I can’t stand it.

Again as I’ve said on other occasions, where we currently find ourselves is here:

Where managerialism takes over, and where hierarchies reduce the number of people involved as the tasks get more complex, we get the big-hitter striker syndrome: a man or woman at the top on whom everyone is focussed. A man or woman on whom everything depends. A man or woman who will one day fail; or perhaps, over time, frequently fails – but has the physical presence to convince us they are, even so, actually succeeding; and so deserve the massive salaries they command. […]

Bureaucracies and top executives – or corporate law and CEOs, if you wish – are complicated relationships, after all.  It’s true, of course, that bureaucracies can act as a dead hand on individually dangerous and maverick leaders.  But as the Nazis showed us, and as the concept of charismatic leadership more widely demonstrates, a stratospheric leadership structure can just as easily use a bureaucracy to escape conviction and control as that very same bureaucracy can serve to ameliorate the former’s wilder instincts.

If we want to continue to believe we can use bureaucracy as a force for good, we need – first and foremost – to sort out the ever-growing dysfunctionality of pyramidal structures, as well as the inefficient concentrations of wealth that accompany it.

Mar 032013

This post is about two tweets which came my way yesterday.  Both speak of the importance of personal responsibility.  The first describes its reach in private industry (in this case, I believe in relation to a recent story on the freemium app industry):

Companies are made of people, and people have a responsibility for their actions, inc. developing (potentially) exploitative freemium games

The second, which came my way hot on the heels of the first, said much the same thing – only, this time, in the context of the NHS (the Mid-Staffordshire scandal comes immediately to mind):

The best managers help clinical staff treat according to need and make patients healthier, not enforce NHS policy whatever the consequences

Meanwhile, in an oxymoron-like diatribe of the weakest kind against everything and anything New Labour ever did, David Cameron has this to say in today’s Sunday Telegraph:

That is what everything this Government does comes back to: the future. We are looking at the horizon, not tomorrow’s headlines; doing what’s right for the long-term. Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher said that we should be “in the business of planting trees, for our children and grandchildren, or we have no business to be in politics at all”.

I couldn’t agree more. In 30 years’ time, I want people to be able to look back at this government and see that we paid down our debts, helped create millions of jobs, sorted out welfare, made our schools world-beating and built homes for a generation.

Doing this kind of work might not earn you popularity points in by-elections, but it’s what I’m in politics for: making the country we love as great as it can be.

I haven’t heard that “planting trees” metaphor for really quite a while.  I suppose we’ll have Michael Gove telling us next that we should all write a novel before we die.

I’m also just a little puzzled – maybe out of technical ignorance – as to why he says “paid down our debts” instead of “paid off“.  Unless, of course, he means that it’s going to be the little people at the bottom of the pile who’ll always end up saving the Tories from their economic selves.

But perhaps this is all just a little too nitpicking on my part.

In truth, it’s always going to be the people who make a difference to any society.  Politicians of the kind who tend to rule us prefer to ignore this.  If they didn’t, they’d have to engage us in their processes – they’d have to get us involved and actively participating.  Far easier to blame an anonymous public-sector bureaucracy – and shift the responsibility stealthily onto equally anonymous private-sector equivalents – than to admit that the root of all our problems lies not in our systems but their application.

It’s not so much a new education system we need – it’s more a system teachers and students know how to work with.

It’s not so much a new legal system we need – it’s more a system whose costs victims and other participants don’t have to fear.

It’s not so much a new health system we need – it’s more a system which provides support as and when a person becomes a patient in need.

The Welfare State is the way to make our society less inhumane.  It’s in our grasp – but it is a choice.  We can spend considerable resource on allowing the fortunate to further concentrate their good fortune – or we can deliberately decide to give the less fortunate the consideration, charity and kindness most belief systems have tended to argue should be made forthcoming.

But what we have to accept is that, either way, it’s a choice.  If we choose to fashion a world where we must walk on the other side of the road from that homeless man who dies at the doorstep of a bungalow, we can.  We will do so, I am sure, in order that ambitious alpha men and women can – amongst the disasters they also commit – achieve what they undoubtedly do.  And this is clearly an act of socioeconomic decision-making at the highest level, committed by coherent men and women.  It is a freely-taken decision. It is an unforced decision to let some people live better at the expense of others.  It is a statistical calculation of risks that approves of achievement at the very top, even as it judges society will not rise up in arms and disintegrate as a result of the anonymous homeless dying distastefully in the streets.

If, on the other hand, we opt to help such homeless people – if our goal is to create a socioeconomic environment where this kind of action is prioritised over other, more aggressively innovative, behaviours – we may create, again entirely consciously and deliberately, a society where survival is ameliorated for a far greater number of our souls here on earth, even as achievement measured objectively loses its bleeding edges.

And either way, to come back to the original set of choices, and whether politicians like it or not, if anything turns out right, it’ll come down not to systems they proudly and powerfully announce but, rather, to their humane application – or otherwise – by people who look and act and feel like you and me.

That personal responsibility.

That core humanity.

That attachment to caring at an individual level for each and every relationship.

That love, even.

That kindness, generously imparted.

Far more important for a classroom than this textbook or that is the mind that plans the lesson around a book and the hands that clutch its spine.

For the funny thing about Cameron’s oxymoron of a weak diatribe is that there was very little in it I found myself fiercely disagreeing with.  Oh, yes.  Those silly sentences on immigration.  The daftness around welfare.  But in reality, the poor man knows exactly what we need to do.  Like when he says, almost pleadingly (the bold is mine):

These are not claims or promises: they are facts. We are turning the tide on years of decline — and building a Britain for those who work hard and want to get on. And we need to go further. We need to get more houses built. We need to build new roads and railways and energy connections. Some reading this may not like that; but as I have made clear, this is not a popularity contest but a battle for Britain’s future.

The problem isn’t the words, David.  The problem is the people.

In fact, the problem – more widely expressed – is your, and your professional class’s, attitude to people in general.  The fact is that systems, for high-flying politicians, are like electromagnets of recent generation: when you have the opportunity to choose between getting people voluntarily onside or creating a foolproof system designed to cage them into a certain set of behaviours, you can guarantee any minister worth their caviar will be pulled inexorably in the direction of implementing a brand-new system over convincing ordinary people to work better with an existing one.

I really do sometimes get the feeling that Cameron and some of his cohort are locked painfully into the wrong party of UKIP-incubating MPs and hangers-on.  If only he, and perhaps they, had chosen Labour, we could right now be facing another decade of government.

Maybe I should now spoil this post for you (or, alternatively, not) by saying how very much that idea makes me shudder.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t.


They say familiarity may breed contempt.

I’m inclined, however, to believe that being a politician (of empire-building instincts, at least) makes one contemptuous of the familiar.

In this, both One Nation Labour and the more traditional Conservative impulses, which Cameron has appealed to in his text today, have aimed to reassure potential voters in a time of utter uncertainty that being British, in itself, is quite enough to be getting on with.

But in the end, they are all just words – both Cameron’s and Miliband’s, I’m afraid.

In a sense, I get the feeling that our politicians are likely to be as lost here as the rest of us.  And in this realisation (as Poirot might suggest!), I find the future most terrifying.

Where ordinary people would be the real solution, our leaders are now only able to work with systems.

The systems have taken over to such an extent that these ordinary people I mention truly have no impact whatsoever on the results – even as they end up shouldering all the blood-spattered blame.

The personal responsibility which I started this post with is impossible to properly engineer or encourage.  We spend our time terrified of the juggernaut-like mechanisms that threaten to bury our professional futures in a careering disgrace.  We hide, like frightened rabbits, from the oncoming lights which should illuminate – but which, in the end, serve only to make the shadows evermore powerful.

Yes.  It’s the people, stupid.

And our leaders are too stupid to realise it.

Jan 282013

Kevin describes Michael Gove’s dogmatic approach to politics thus:

Last week’s announcement by Michael Gove that AS Levels would no longer count towards an A Level grade was a classic example of making policy based on dogma not evidence.

The rest of his post bears careful reading as a historical account of hysterical behaviours.

Meanwhile, I am reminded of the recent campaigns by the UK Coalition government to undermine the prestige of professionals such as lawyers, doctors, nurses and teachers (more here) as the former proceeded with what I believe is its manifest intention to destroy the impact of evidence-based approaches on decision-making and replace them with the prejudice-driven irrationalities of CEO-types everywhere.

As the nexus and revolving doors between poor private-industry practice and lazy public-sector behaviours grow evermore significant, so it would seem that a new generation and class of witch doctors is filling the space a broader religion once occupied.  It must be a little like what happens when mainstream parties decide to rid themselves of the triangulation surrounding the ill-conceived subject of immigration.  All of a sudden, in unpleasant response, right-wing splinter groups set themselves up and begin to cream off the disaffected voters from both sides of the political spectrum.  It seems there is no true or persistent way of ridding ourselves of prejudice these days.  Instead, we must make it our own – deflect it and rewrite its horrible discourse so that what we say and do and see at least sounds nicer than it did.

And so it is thus: whilst New Labour, in many cases, brought a terrible rationalism to its policy-making (the number-crunching of people multiplied a millionfold it would seem), and even as it was brought down by the foolish faith of Blair, doing God precisely when it said it didn’t as it launched the world on its crusade against evil, even so it would appear that it was for most of its winning streak a generally evidence-based beast.  Yet at the same time it is clear there were all these Conservative politicians in the twin wildernesses of opposition and their own prejudices.

No outlet on the battlefields of power; no opportunity to express and impose for more than a terribly impotent decade.

No surprise, then, that the politicians who now rule prefer to rule out of knee-jerk instinct and impulse than sensible debate and rational conclusion.

In the absence of widespread religion, a kind of superstition many would argue, it is the witch doctors of 21st century decision-making who rule: those who are made in the image of pyramidal attitudes everywhere; those who hanker after their undemocratic powers to do and undo; those we call politicians and whom we love to call names; those who rule our lives without particular qualification except – that is – the ability to sway the directions of history through ridiculous force of personality.

And we are now at the mercy of a complex society which is being run on the high-octane fuel of miserable misleadingness.

“What to do!  What to do!” is all I can exclaim.

When those in power refuse to believe in science is when religion and superstition have won the game.

And, right now, I really do think that’s where we’re heading.

Not at the hand of priests, churches or faith-leaders.

Rather, at the hand of the least qualified and least productive decision-makers in history.

The UK Coalition government and its hangers-on.

Witch doctors to a century.

Dec 192012

Yesterday, I observed the following of Mr Andrew Mitchell and his recent disagreements with the police:

Yes.  I feel for Andrew Mitchell if the situation is as he describes it.  Just as I feel, as any human being surely must, for the aspersions cast on the reputations of others in recent times.  But I can’t help also feeling something bigger is happening here.  Andrew Mitchell doesn’t want what has happened to him to happen again in Britain.  I agree, of course.  But I’d go much much further.  Personally, I wouldn’t want the sex abuse scandals to repeat themselves; I wouldn’t want the fuel poverty scandals to repeat themselves; I wouldn’t want the Hillsborough cover-up to happen again; I wouldn’t want my unhappiness with and distrust of my government’s ability to manage a country to perpetuate itself any longer.

Stephen Tall, over at Lib Dem Voice, says similar things when he says:

Relatively speaking, the apparent stitching up of Andrew Mitchell is small beer: a personal tragedy for him, but at least no-one died. Yet it is a glaring example of the potential for even (generally) trusted agents of the state such as the police to — it appears — abuse their power.

As Mr Mitchell says, “It has shaken my lifelong support and confidence in the police.” Some of us have had it shaken without needing to experience it personally. Of course the vast majority of the police do an incredibly difficult job very well; but we don’t need to sign blank cheques to show our support for that role.

And it’s true enough, isn’t it?  The very fact that we experience something first-hand is always going to affect our wider perceptions.

An example closer to home: I’m currently fighting a very losing battle with Royal Mail.  Their new posties delivery officers are leaving our post in a communal area at the bottom of the stairs.  After three escalations, two letters and a second managerial callback (from customer services, mind) due any minute, the delivery office manager of our Chester depot continues to cover him- or herself in glory, as he or she argues that on occasions the door which fronts the communal area has been locked.  We get on very well with our neighbours across the landing, and I categorically assured the customer services manager I spoke to on Monday that the door was never locked, just always closed.  It’s a new door, it seals the area well, it needs a good push – but it’s never locked.

What it does unfortunately have (and this was the decision of the housing trust which administers our area) is a letterbox with the number of our flat and the number of our neighbour.

It would appear the new posties delivery officers have been trained to post any letter anywhere they see a letterbox shape.  No matter that posting a letter into a letterbox with two addresses on it means mixing, misdirecting or mishandling the post.

Anyhow, after categorically assuring the customer services manager that the door was never locked, just closed, what do I get today?  Delivered, aptly enough, to the communal area at the bottom of the stairs?  A letter from Royal Mail containing the assertion that the door is occasionally locked, leading the posties delivery officers to leave the post at the bottom of the stairs.

Just to underline, of course, that the door was absolutely and categorically unlocked, as on all the other occasions.

So what does all of this have to do with Andrew Mitchell and personal experience?  If Mitchell hadn’t had his problem with the police that night, his trust wouldn’t have been shaken enough for him to want to take the action he now wants to take.  Despite Hillsborough, Orgreave, #hackgate and any number of previous cases, it took a very personal experience for him to decide something really rather unpleasant was going on with the guardians who supposedly guard our laws.

In my case?  Quite wrongly, my immediate reaction is: “Bloody public-sector monopolies!”  For it’s not true.  The real issue here is very simply procedures which relate to customer focus in any large organisation.  Royal Mail could just as easily work splendidly if its internal workings were different.  And these workings – whether public or private sector – could be different if someone just chose for them to focus on the customer.

That they don’t doesn’t give me a right to rail against the public sector in general, now does it?

Or does it?

Maybe Mr Mitchell and Mr Williams are both right in their different ways and experiences today.

Maybe this is a lesson which indicates those at the top should occasionally live the lives of those at the bottom in order to fully appreciate what needs to be done.

Whether this be the private or public sectors, whether the police or Royal Mail, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is one of the most valuable, accurate and perceptive ways of seeing things differently which anyone can hope to effect.

And I think, right now, we need far more of it.  We need far more Andrew Mitchells feeling defenceless at the hands of forces beyond their ken in order that those who have the power realise where best and how they must exert it.

For starters, to help all those hapless Miljenkos out there who find themselves running out of options against some of the worst customer-facing organisations in the world.

Or not, as the case may be.

Aug 302012

This tweet just came my way – and reminded me of a train of thought that unspools powerfully into the recent, as well as the not-so-recent, past:

It’s not good enough that #atos are following orders but DWP and Government are setting this agenda. It’s not just atos we need to change

And if truth be told, ATOS really isn’t the problem at all.  Rather, if anyone should be the focus of our ire, it is its hand-washing taskmasters in the Coalition.

It seems to me that, more and more, supposedly democratically-elected governments are getting the dirty work of less than transparent policy-making carried out on their behalf by private industry.  This is, in a sense, a strategy of de facto governance where democracy is absented from the process.  It works in the following way: in exchange for negative publicity which, in any case, legions of legal departments can generally vanish into relative thin air, private industries of transnational sizes are awarded humongous public-sector contracts.  And as this is a business-to-business relationship – thick-skinned government to hard-sold corporate – public opinion is pretty irrelevant to either party.  A perfect way of removing the need for approval from irritatingly well-informed and tech-savvy end-consumers, who were in any case beginning to make the business of corporate capitalism so very complicated and unpredictable.

Instead of selling to end-users who pick and choose, the most foresighted corporations are now choosing to focus their attentions on governments which – for various untransparent reasons – prefer to pick and stick.

The corporates get stability in long-term contracts despite the voter flak.  The governments get to blame the corporates if anything too unpleasant comes to light.

A perfect exchange of complementary interests.

More examples?  We have a recent story on how mobile phone access to the Internet is controlled extra-judicially by the private sector here (from the Open Rights Group of which I am a member) as well as a story from my own archive on how copyright owners can quite literally – and quite easily – make websites invisible to all sensible intents and purposes.

In conclusion, the case of ATOS – and the issues its behaviours and processes apparently raise – are not really attributable to the company itself.  It is, rather, the government – deliberately employing it as a shield to hide public services from a proper democratic oversight – which is mostly to blame and which should be brought to book.

And by focussing our attention on crucifying a supplier – a supplier which, admittedly, appears to have substituted the disabled as direct customer of this sorry cohort of political actors we call the Coalition – we may be ignoring the much wider reality: that in disabled services, in welfare and health, in Internet freedoms, in law and order, communications and social media more generally, allegedly democratic governments across the world are working out how to circumvent democratic controls by using private-sector firewalls.

This is a new kind of anti-democratic governance.

A de facto governance.

A governance which our cowardly leaders have cleverly put together outside the democratic process – in order that trusting voters and citizens ignore the real reasons for their despair.

Jun 052012

From the Facebook page "Connect The Dots USA"

Charles Clarke grasps the nettle interestingly when he says the following:

Over the past 50 years, Labour has steadily become more the party of the public sector than, say, an ideologically driven democratic-socialist party or a party committed above all to fighting poverty and social exclusion.

There was a time when I would have agreed with the implications of such an assertion.  A statist dinosaur of a political movement, incapable of refreshing itself for modern times.  Seeing how the private sector is deliberately undermining public and representative democracy for its own pecuniary ends, however, makes me begin to wonder if the left-wing fans of the public sector weren’t right all along.  That is to say, we need the bulwark it might represent against a fascist state driven by private-sector interests out to destroy representative democracy’s integrity and basic fundamentals.

The truth of the matter is that institutions such as the NHS are an out-and-out threat to the private sector’s fiercest proponents.  On the one hand, in their desire to bring to every man, woman and child the advances of 21st century progress, such institutions are about as individualist as you could possibly desire.  On the other hand, in their ability to do so in a sustainable and supportive way, they are about as socialist as you could possibly hope for.

What institutions like the NHS demonstrate is that – at one fell swoop – one can construct a politics where every single person is valuable and worth fighting for – in as individual a way as any libertarian might care to argue in favour of – whilst at the same time offering up an implementation of such a politics which beds down the foundations of a social space any democratic socialist would be happy with.

Institutions like the NHS massively square political circles.

Those who want to make more and more money out of our democracies find themselves threatened by such wonderful processes.

That is the real reason they must be destroyed.  In reality, the NHS, and institutions like it, don’t pose a significant financial threat to their business models – they have, after all, been making money out of medicine for generations – but, rather, far more importantly, a dialectic threat to their politics, and thus their longer-term goals.  And that is what’s at the root of the private sector’s battle to destroy the collaborative politics the Welfare State and its institutions represent.

The private sector wants an extraordinary and total rendition of our democracy precisely because our democracy was on the point of sorting out its most significant challenges.  After the end of the Cold War, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even as no one was really aware that it was happening, people in certain governments were looking to share out the spoils amongst the populace.  Battening the hatches on the Welfare State was just one example of such an investment.

Wars, economic crises and foolish endeavours various had, then, to intervene.  If they had not, the world this side of the 21st century would have looked very different.

Which is why the NHS and institutions like it are the final political – not financial – battleground where the future of representative democracy will be waged.

If we lose this war on that battleground, representative democracy will end up only representing those who do the representing.  Which is to say, those in power: the MPs who fiddle expenses; the leaders who lie to stay at the top; the Eurocrats who bind together a continent behind closed doors; the media barons who have access at all times of day or night; the columnists who have a bigger voice than the people; the moneymen and women who support labour laws which reduce the freedom of unionisation and collective action but allow evermore liberal opportunities to move their capital at will.

So what will happen to the people as a result of all the above?  Say goodbye to any significant chance of participating in the direction of a country’s political development!  The only vote you’ll be making is which consumer (not very) durable to purchase with your ever-decreasing disposable income.  That’s how they want it.  They want all ideology to become just one more monetary transaction.

Because when it comes to ideology, they fear the unpredictable.  But when it comes to money, they know more than anyone.

And that’s why we need an ideological public sector more than ever before.  Only then, when we stop allowing them to decide on their weapons and their killing-fields of choice, will we have even half a chance of saving representative democracy for ourselves.

At the moment, it’s like we were practising the political equivalent of unprotected sex.

Is that really something we want to continue getting involved with?

Sep 272011

Our politicians talk all the time about gaining our trust.  Ed Miliband, in his speech to Labour Conference today, said the following:

The Labour Party lost trust on the economy.

And under my leadership, we will regain that trust.

I am determined to prove to you that the next Labour Government will only spend what it can afford.

That we will live within our means.

That we will manage your money properly.

As someone who believes that government can make a difference, I have a special responsibility to show you that every pound that is spent, is spent wisely.

Now maybe politicians like Mr Miliband say these things because they are perceptive and accurate in their understanding of the reality out there.  On the other hand, the more cynical amongst you will argue that they say precisely what we need to hear – precisely what politicians generally don’t allow us to do.  That is to say, they claim to aim to gain our trust and confidence because they know – exactly – they are not worthy of either.

Another part of Miliband’s speech today, though, is pertinent to the case in question – that of trust:

Take Fred Goodwin, who ran the Royal Bank of Scotland.

He was at the heart of the banking crisis.

Compare him to Sir John Rose, former Chief Executive of Rolls Royce, a great British business leader.

Creating wealth and keeping jobs in this country.

He is the true face of British business.

The vast majority of our businesses that have the right values and do the right thing.

Rooted in their communities.

Committed to their workforce.

And creating real, lasting value.

But at the time of the financial crisis, Fred Goodwin was paid over three times more than Sir John Rose.

I tell you something, Fred Goodwin shouldn’t have got that salary.

And I tell you something else:

We shouldn’t have given Sir Fred Goodwin that knighthood either.

Which is why this question occurs to me: if business wants government to deregulate its activities, and politicians understand – even if emptily – that they are obliged to gain our trust, why don’t businesspeople also feel just as obliged to convince us of their goodwill?

Why don’t businesspeople also feel just as obliged to “do the right thing” –  to do “something for something”?

Why do businesspeople – as voters – expect their governors to do what they promise but reserve a completely different set of standards for their own pecuniary behaviours? 

Why, indeed, in this Big Society environment, can’t we extend the concept of the public interest and apply it to those who work in the private sector?

Aug 192011

At first I thought the figure of £220 million might be the cost of importing this kind of riot-control support and law-and-order leadership from the good ol’ US of A:

In the week that newspaper hacking exploded back onto the front pages, it has emerged that the company run by David Cameron’s American crime tsar, Bill Bratton, is mired in a British court case accused of illegal bugging and hacking.

Incidentally, I do wonder about this fascination with using the word “tsar”, when we give someone a responsibility of massive societal importance.  Does it mean they then have the right to dictatorially impose?  Or do they want us to read between the lines that something even more unpleasant is bound to happen to one or other of the parties involved?

It makes you think, doesn’t it?


Anyhow, to get back to the original point of this post, it seems that £220 million is a nice round figure one of my Twitter friends has come up with (though I haven’t as yet been able to identify the source or doublecheck its veracity) for the total cost of a TV reality programme called Celebrity Big Brother:

#CBB11 cost £220m?… How? Why. You could elect an American President for that…

Which is probably all too terribly true.  For in amidst these moments of real financial crisis, it seems quite amazing how resilient and imaginative private industry can be – where, indeed, it can still find the dosh to continue doing the things it does.

I mean, of course, such as the above-mentioned activities.

And so to a final disparate thought – though not entirely unconnected.

Bear with me, if you will …

At the top of this post is a photo of a carton of UHT milk.  This is actually a Spanish one – but it references a conclusion I made a few months back in England, at the tail end, if I remember rightly, of my employment in a British bank.  Up to that point, the milk we’d bought for my daughter involved a similar carton with a different system of opening.  This system allowed for practically all of the milk to be used up.  A new type of carton was then brought in – simultaneously I might add – by two of the largest supermarket chains, with a similar system of opening to the one you can see in the photo.  Its avowed intention was to make life easier for people who found it difficult to open such cartons – which, indeed, it did.  A parallel virtue, however, for the private industry behind it (from the manufacturers of the cartons to the supermarkets themselves) was that it impeded an easy emptying of all of the milk from the carton.  Quite a bit of milk too.  I’d say half a small glass.

Just think about it.  The resilience, imagination and even ingenuity of private industry thus manages to solve two problems at one fell swoop.  How to first gain widespread customer acceptance for a new design of container which manages to increase sales immediately by probably a tenth through deliberately wasting its content.

Private industry has a real problem of image here – even more so when it is asked to get into bed with the public sector and government departments.  If in times of economic crisis, it’s bad enough to see how much money can be spent on relatively irrelevant cultural products, just think of the impact which the first story I link to today might have on how the public perceives private-sector integrity.

I’m a firm supporter of a public-private interface.  But when each party to the interface seems as interested as the other in squeezing out the public right to honest and sincere behaviours and attitudes, something very destructive is taking place – something very destructive which is leading us to a place surely no one, long-term, can be happy with.

Update to this post: the figure of £220 million can be found in this story from the BBC today.  Thanks to John Pollock for confirming this.