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.

Jun 302012

I think, in some senses, I’ve mentioned this before – but today, in the light of all the recent news about how criminal in some quarters big banking would appear to have become, I feel for some reason it’s time to mention it again.

We’ve had a lot of grief from both New Labour and our present cohort of Coalition politicians on the dependency culture which supposedly makes us weak and spineless.  I did point out a while ago that (the bold is mine today):

[...] Let it first be understood I am entirely on the side of those who would remove through democratic means all vestiges of this Coalition government.  It would, however, be remiss of me not to argue – as I have already mentioned above – that some potential good is being lost to the blunt battlecries of our current crop of politicians.

They demonise benefit fraud; they look to remove disability and incapacity allowances; they blame the unemployed for not finding jobs when jobs are not to be found.  And yet, if given a different slant, all these ideas could be grounded in positivity.  For example: benefits are good as amelioration strategies for short-term distress but should not create a social environment of dependence as has often happened.  Supportive alternatives (and the word here is “supportive”) should kick in as soon as they can with the objective of ensuring people remain as proactive and independent as possible.

And what about blaming the unemployed for not being able to find those non-existent jobs?  It’s the wrong tactic all round.  We should be encouraging – not rhetorically but practically – as many people as possible to want to strike out into an economy of the proactive.

Business should not be a fearful beast but something people find absolutely fascinating.

Of course, in a very great sense, big business encourages its participants, customers and employees to be as dependent on its services as possible.  They’re not looking in the least to create independent – that is to say, disloyal – subjects who pick and choose as the fancy takes them in an unpredictable and dangerously freedom-loving way; or who might either switch brands or even set up their own competing ones.  The very dependency culture which people like Iain Duncan Smith criticise in the public sector and Welfare State mindsets is – quite paradoxically – promoted aggressively and actively in that private one I describe above.

Working as an employee for a large corporation is to be cocooned in an environment where every few months little rewards come along to make you give up on the idea of spreading your wings; of leaving your safe and secure little role; of moving out of that comfort zone.  Buying as an end-user from a large corporation is to be cocooned in an environment where spreading similar wings to other providers is either dangerous or uncool; either risky or unwise; a choice the advertising messages pumped out daily encourage you to believe can’t exist.

Big business is as (perhaps corruptingly) effective at deliberately creating a dependency culture as the public sector and the Welfare State could ever be accused of.

With the single proviso that the Welfare State doesn’t seem to do it intentionally, whilst big business most definitely does.

And so to my main question – and the reason behind this post: big business – or at least banking big business (which is where my experience of such organisations lies) – is a web of dependent relationships.  Now I’m not saying this is necessarily bad – for myself, as an employee, and at a particular moment in my life, it actually proved very positive.  But if we can see in the private sector positives to be taken from such a set of relationships, why do we argue that in the public sector and the Welfare State the same cannot apply?

Why is it good to be dependent in the private sector but not in the public?

Why is dependency only to be contemplated as permissible by those who run transnational organisations?

And what does this mean for the morality of those who create such empires; their behaviours and attitudes; and, indeed, the wider ability of society to generate the entrepreneurial spirit that creates new economies?

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?

Feb 202012

I remember, whilst living in Spain, working as a language-learning provider for a car components manufacturer.  Their job it was to build the plastic linings of car roofs and doors; car and coach seats; and a multitude of other items.

Their customers were companies like Mercedes and Renault.  The factories in the group we supplied the language services for were never larger than about 250 workers – and specific to each customer.  The machines they used and the methods of working they employed were imposed by the customers too.  The relationship was close, claustrophobic, hard-bitten – but relatively long-term.  The latter factor was therefore the upside which supposedly helped justify all the other pretty hard-to-live-with downsides.

I also remember my students telling me how they had to work till eight in the evening, designing and redesigning industrial objects of art; and this extra time was never paid as overtime.  They were glad of their jobs – and complied with the unspoken requirements.  Even though theirs, in the main, were not executive responsibilities.  Clocking on in the morning was one of their primary duties; it was just the clocking-off in the evening at any time possible to predict that they were allowed to forgo.

Their philosophy of working was called total quality management – or TQM for short.  In their particular version of TQM, they had a decalogue – a kind of industrial Ten Commandments – which the workers in each factory had created for themselves.  The first item on the list was common across the group: “The customer is king.”  But theirs was not the baleful appeal to external pressures designed to make workers work harder in the absence of effective people managers; the con, that is, which is competition.  No.  When they said the customer was king, this was on the understanding that everyone in a company was both customer and supplier at different moments in the processes that led to external customers being supplied with their products and services.

For example, if my boss required a report of me by Friday and promised me data to complete it by Thursday, the report made me the supplier and my boss the customer and the data made me the customer and my boss the supplier.  The beauty of such a philosophy was that good person management – at least in theory – became par for the industrial course.

In reality, I am pretty sure that in very few places in our latterday capitalism is such a circular paradise of rights and responsibilities properly and pleasingly implemented.  Competition is more often than not used – by those who appeal to its supposed virtues – to supplement the insufficient abilities of the managerial class to effectively and humanely carry out their day-to-day responsibilities.

So when ideologues ask for more competition in public services, they should be encouraged to explain why better management wouldn’t – in itself – work just as well.  That is to say, the application of a similarly circular form of TQM as described and experienced above.

For it’s not fear on which we should be building the foundations of this 21st century but trust, respect and professionalism.

It’s not the indignity and pain of losing one’s job that should be used to drive us but our pride in doing everything we do as well as we can.

So where – and when – did we begin to get it all so wrong?

Nov 292011

This tweet says it all:

This #Tory #LibDem coalition was so blinded by it’s excitement at the prospect of dismantling the state they’ve wrecked the economy. #Resign

But a thought does come to me.  Which came first – the Autumn Statement today or the #N30 Strike tomorrow?  Did the unions plan with incredible foresight the date of their strike or does the establishment have something quite awful up its sleeve?

And, by positioning all this dreadful economic news right before a massively supported outpouring of public emotion in favour of public sector workers and their labour, will the aforesaid establishment now try and stoke these emotions to their ultimate benefit?  For as another tweet quite wisely pointed out this evening:

It is perfectly fair that public sector wages don’t keep up with inflation whilst bankers pay themselves bonuses from taxpayers’ money.

With that backdrop of communal logic, I don’t which scares me more.  That the establishment have lost control and they don’t realise it – or the establishment are in control and we don’t realise it.

Nov 202011

Its heart is in the right place.  There are some complaints about patriarchy in the YouTube comments stream.  It’s cheerful enough, mind.  A missed opportunity in the video itself, though.  It does seem the dancing man who ties the narrative together might be a member of the banking fraternity – you know, one of those hard-working branch staff who earns less than the national average.

Not the unhealthily bonused sort – just the ordinary ones like you and me.

In the end, of course, he works elsewhere – though I shan’t reveal where exactly.  And so the thesis becomes clear: this strike is entirely to do with the public sector.

The missed opportunity I mention?  To reach out to the private sector too.  The challenge in the encroaching battle with the elite who would divide us all is precisely in this area of interface: the interests of the public versus the interests of the private.  If only we were able to weave together the two so that those who suffer in private industry feel properly identified with their similarly pained public sector colleagues. 

For if we can’t convince ourselves we’re all in this together, what chance have we really got of convincing anybody?