Monday, 12 July 2010

The apprentices take over the workshop....

In France, young men of greatest promise who are at the best schools or studying the favoured subjects at the Sorbonne are spotted by their teachers and lecturers. Such individuals are singled out young, steered through the academic process and their careers monitored and nurtured. The most promising are regarded as "l'homme serieux".  These men of destiny will be from the right backgrounds, be exceptionally bright and have the right character and contacts. They will be nurtured through their academic studies and early careers because they are the future of the country, the coming establishment, the young men (and women) who will in twenty or more years will be running the country and  industry and academie.

Any hope that there might have been that the privileged group of young Conservatives who have taken over our country are the UK equivalent of the French chosen elite is fading fast. They do indeed come from the right background and they went to the right schools and clubs, they have the right connections and they formed the right relationships. They are the very heart of the old establishmnet, but on the evidence so far, they are far from prepared for power: they are not "serieux". Not by a long way.

The Observer had a piece yesterday, The Secret Diary of a Civil Servant. Purporting to be written anonymously by a senior civil servant, it was full of a misery and despair at the state of the civil service and, just a few weeks into the Parliamentary term, the quality of political leadership. It documented the growing gloom among civil servants at the actions of the coalition government.

The article pulls no punches. On a speech by David Cameron which was meant to boost morale, the author believes that; 
"Cameron meant well, but it was clear that he hadn't the faintest idea what a civil servant does, or the daily dilemmas we face."

Read that again: he is describing a Prime Minister who doesn't know how government works, a person who is totally unprepared for the job he sought and was given by the electorate.

The evidence is damning;
I have noted since the election that Conservative ministers seem very relaxed. I, like many others, interpreted this as confidence and competence. After last week, it started to look like naivety and arrogance. The gaffes were piling up and forming an edifice of stupidity. Ministers called to the Commons to apologise; Hillsborough survivors insulted; Jamie Oliver criticised; the Speaker called a stupid sanctimonious dwarf; school building programmes announced and then scrapped. It was a litany of carelessness and sloppiness, a series of avoidable own goals that illustrated a lack of preparation, a lack of seriousness and the failure to appreciate what it is to govern a country.
 And while the politicians are blundering about like a herd of bulls in a veritable mall of china shops, the civil service is in disarray;
At the very highest levels, some of the most experienced officials are packing their bags. Giddy with the glimpse of freedom, they are happily waving through these gigantic plans. Beneath them are scores of officials who would like to muster the fight to critique and improve them. Instead they are paralysed by the imperative to let the new regime make its own mistakes....
The most evident example of the incompetence that infects the coalition is the announcement, by Michael Gove, of the schools building programme in England. To call the announcement a fiasco is to unederplay the chaos and confusion leashed by the minister. Ed Balls has latched on the mess caused by Gove and intends to ask him some pointed questions in the House today.

Also today, Andrew Lansley will announce (although it's all leaked in advance anyway) his plans for the NHS in England. Trailed as the most radical change in health provision since the NHS was founded, the changes have been formulated with remarkable speed and absolutely no consultation. They are a real gamble with the Health Service as we know it. 

But if morale in the civil service is so low, and the politicians' grasp of the levers of power is so misdirected, it is unlikely that these huge changes to Health and Education (and much much more to come) can be introduced quickly or smoothly.  The confusion and chaos of Gove's cuts certainly doesn't encourage confidence in the future of the other radical changes that the coalition's plans, or for the good governence which is vital in the current economic situation.

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