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Who are Covid’s guilty men? The British state and its parasitic para-state are unfit for purpose

Thinking about whether 2020 has been a fantastic year for Britain.(Photo by Jack Hill - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

Thinking about whether 2020 has been a fantastic year for Britain.(Photo by Jack Hill - WPA Pool / Getty Images)


January 5, 2021   7 mins

In 1940, immediately following the fall of France and the humiliating retreat of the British Army at Dunkirk, three then-anonymous journalists rushed out the short polemic Guilty Men. It catalogued the complacency, incompetence and total absence of strategic vision at the summit of British politics, which threatened to lose the war less than a year after it had begun. The Government had refused to take the looming threat seriously until it was far too late; even when war was inevitable, the writers alleged, it had failed to mobilise the full resources of the state, terrified of harming the economy; the nation’s system of procurement and supply for the goods vital to prosecute the war was vastly unequal to the task ahead, and the Government saw no urgency in rectifying the situation until total defeat seemed almost certain.

“To grasp these facts we must patiently and clearly trace the origin and monstrous growth of this rĂ©gime of little men,” Guilty Men’s authors wrote, whose “half-baked, uncoordinated scheme of economic mobilisation” was driving the country towards defeat. The hard truth was that “the dead bureaucratic hand of the Civil Service, coupled with the complacent willingness of some of our Ministers to relax their exertions so long as they could keep the public quiet by pouring the soft and soothing oil of optimism over their heads, was putting us in peril”.

The analogy with today is painfully clear. Our Government has indeed mounted a wartime response to Covid, in that tens of thousands of fellow countrymen are now dead due to a series of catastrophic errors. The lack of foresight, the inability to plan effectively or marshal the full resources of the state, the incompetent governance and series of defeats snatched from the jaws of victory, all call to mind the series of disasters which characterised Britain’s first three years of the war. So who are the Guilty Men of the Covid crisis?

As the Atlantic journalist Tom McTague observed back in August, the entire British state has been found wanting, as this country “has found a way to be simultaneously overcentralized and weak at its centre”. The problem is not just the Conservative Government, though that has failed entirely: it is the entire superstructure around it, the Civil Service, Public Health England, the media. The British state and its parasitic para-state are both entirely unfit for purpose.

It is the very malaise identified by the pantomime villain of our expert class, Dominic Cummings, when he said, back in 2014: “We do not have a problem with ‘too much cynicism’ — we have a problem with too much trust in people and institutions that are not fit to control so much. When faced with the ‘fog of war’ in nonlinear systems such as the financial system, disease outbreaks, or terrorism, the current system is absolutely bound to respond with sloth/panic, chaos, and blunders.” Working within the heart of the British state, Cummings identified its fatal flaws long ago — so it is no wonder that the para-state’s immune system, the Westminster lobby, spat him out as a threat to its continued survival.

It is unfortunate that his suggestions for its reform suffer from what the writer Paul Kingsnorth identified in his essay on the scythe as an ingrained tendency to hope for technological quick fixes instead of simple, timeworn solutions. Surrounded by hapless administrators, Cummings identified the over-powerful yet ineffective state bureaucracy as the problem, and markets and Big Tech as the solution. Yet the global response to Covid reveals the opposite: surely the state is the solution. The market is as parasitic on the state for its survival as steppe nomads are on settled farmers: not the freebooting corsairs of neoliberal mythology, but entirely reliant on the state to pump taxpayer’s money into correcting their errors.

Back in the spring, distracted by the global crisis of liberalism, the pandemic was presented as a test between liberalism and authoritarianism. The success of East Asian democracies such as Taiwan and South Korea, however, shows that the crucial distinction is in fact simply that between functioning state bureaucracies and inept ones. 

It is noteworthy, perhaps, that Taiwan and South Korea, as well as the also-successful Israel, are neighboured by enemies, and have experience in military mass mobilisation as a result; tucked away on our island at the most pacific corner of the European continent, we have lost a necessary appreciation of threat, like the flightless birds on previously undiscovered islands which waddled heedlessly into hungry sailors’ outstretched arms.

Surely an island nation with few entry points could easily have sealed the borders back in the spring, or at the very least instituted a system of health checks and quarantine for travellers from the outside world — something which, incredibly, has not been attempted nearly a year into the pandemic. Like the prewar government shrugging that “the bomber will always get through”, the British state decided that the virus will always get through, and that there was no point trying to limit its spread. Tens of thousands of people are dead, and thousands more will soon die as a direct result.

This defeat has many fathers, and among them is the enfeebling culture war that derived from the Brexit vote. Had the Government taken this simple, achievable step back in the spring, the cries of “rainy fascist island Brexit Britain” from our witless comment class would doubtless have caused Johnson some discomfort: his greatest failure is failing to appreciate that the opinions of these people simply do not matter, as the past series of election results show. With a strong majority in parliament, the Government could have taken decisive action swiftly, and been rewarded for it afterwards by a grateful nation. 

The primary function, and duty, of the state is to keep the people safe; all authority flows from this compact with the nation. Yet instead of Hobbes’ Leviathan, the modern British state resembles a giant tutting HR administrator looming over the country, cautioning that decisive action is impossible: borders can’t be policed; volunteers can’t administer vaccines to those at risk, without an official certificate of correct opinions; the Army can’t be brought in; even if they can do it in other countries, we couldn’t possibly adopt such radical solutions here.

It is ironic, then, that the Government is engaged in a simultaneous struggle to defend the British state from Scottish separatism. On the basis of its current performance, there is little evidence that the British state even exists. What we are ruled by is only a negative state, that can pass laws in ever greater numbers to prevent people doing things, but is incapable of actively performing even the simplest and most important acts of governance itself. Who can blame so many Scottish or Welsh voters for wanting rid of this useless system inhabiting the hollow carapace of the British state? The temptation is to allow the Union’s dissolution, in the hope that some better system of governance might arise from the wreckage. But there is no reason to be confident that what replaces it will not be the same broken system in a shrunken form or, as in Scotland, something even worse.

There is a tragic quality — in its Classical sense, of protagonists brought low by an intrinsic character flaw — in observing prominent neoliberal thinktankers correctly diagnosing the British state’s total absence of capacity and pleading for action. The neoliberal logic of eroding the state was to make us freer — but trapped in our homes, nearly a year after the beginning of this crisis, by an incompetent and incapable state, it is clear these alleged freedoms are purely notional. We are now imprisoned by them. 

Certain organs of British conservatism have been so captured by libertarian thought that their commentators disgrace themselves with Covid conspiracy theories in support of age-old British freedoms. Meanwhile, their brains addled by Right-liberalism, Conservative ministers view the state like a recovering alcoholic views an ice-cold glass of gin and tonic: afraid to give in to temptation, lest it take control and ruin them utterly.

This disaster has gone on too long, and Labour has been too meek not only in holding the Government to account but in proposing radical solutions. Surely the solution is this: to rebuild the capacity of the British state as quickly as possible, through a vast new programme of public infrastructure projects, and an immediate program of nationalisation of key industries and utilities, just as in the Second World War, while carrying out a root and branch reform of the Civil Service to remove the dross. The primary aim would not be to bring public goods back into public ownership, as they were a mere generation ago — that would just be a side benefit. The goal would be to rebuild a class of bureaucrats who are competent at actually administering the state and running major infrastructure projects, instead of merely handing out emergency contracts at inflated prices to friends and randomly-chosen private sector profiteers. 

Starmer’s mooted proposals for radical reform of British governance along radically devolved lines sound promising, and it will be good to examine the details carefully when they are finally presented. What about a form of Tory Anarchism — in truth, a system of radically more localised governance across the country — which is not, paradoxical though it may seem, incompatible with a stronger state. Instead of being simultaneously too centralised and too weak, as Tom McTague noted, the British state ought to be both more decentralised and stronger: strengthened local governance with deeper and wider responsibilities ought to be seen as a real-world school of administration, identifying and promoting talent from the wider populace and incorporating their skills within the greater British state.

In France, suffering from its own Covid failures, Macron has suggested choosing 35 citizens by lottery to advise on rolling out the vaccine, and why not? Literally any 35 people plucked at random from the street would have closed the borders back in March, and exhibited greater urgency rolling out the vaccine than our own sclerotic state functionaries. Britain’s governance is simply too important to be left to its current political class. 

Britain’s essential problem, revealed by the pandemic, is that the state simply does not function. To rebuild capacity, the state needs practice. The French and Chinese build our power stations and run our transport infrastructure not because they have inherited some unique genetic capacity for administration, but because they have preserved their states, which are, as a result, well-practised at actually doing things. Like a developing nation, we rely on others to do things we ought to be able to do ourselves — and perhaps, like a developing nation, we should invite bureaucrats from Taiwan or South Korea to audit our civil service and suggest improvements, like benevolent colonial administrators liberating us from our own ignorance and ideological superstition. 

But first of all, we need a clear-out of government, which has failed this country at a moment of crisis. Johnson has fulfilled the role granted to him by history, of delivering Brexit. The time has surely come for him to leave the stage, along with those around him, and the incompetent civil servants beneath him. As the authors of Guilty Men wrote in 1940, “the men who are now repairing the breaches in our walls should not carry along with them those who let the walls fall into ruin. The nation is united to a man in its desire to prosecute the war in total form: there must be a similar unity in the national confidence. Let the guilty men retire, then, of their own volition, and so make an essential contribution to the victory upon which all are implacably resolved.” 

The failures of Dunkirk, of Norway, of Malaya and Singapore led, once the battle was finally won, to the total reorganisation of the British state: if the British state of 2021 cannot reform itself after its failures in this crisis, surely it does not deserve to survive the aftermath.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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David Lawler
David Lawler
3 years ago

The state is incompetent, corrupt, and self-serving. Yet I fail to see how your solution of yet more state, is going to help matters.

Very few of our politicians, and civil servants have ever had a real job, where you have to perform or be sacked. All PPE graduates should be barred from public service.

Simon Burch
Simon Burch
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

In fairness, I don’t think that Aris is necessarily suggesting ‘more state’; rather a ‘better state’. Of course, identifying the problem is easy – solving it is a different matter.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Burch

Roll on the Revolution.

rhugheslustleigh
rhugheslustleigh
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

As a PPE graduate I can but agree with you BUT after 20 years in the private sector and proving you can hack it then may be you should be allowed in!!

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

Mark Francois is an idiot but I don’t think he is corrupt or self-serving (all of us are self-serving to a degree).
Who/what is stopping UK state from hiring Jimmy (PhD in Aerospace) that worked for Airbus for 20 years – in Toulouse & Hamburg – and speaks fluent French & German?
A former colleague of mine works for the Treasury – part time. She has an MBA from Ivy League University and worked for years in Investment Banking in NYC & London. She (being a mom and all that) works pretty hard and is highly competent. According to her the problems are political not technocratic. People (Aris and most of the commentators here) pretend lunch is free – be in political or financial terms. It is not.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Some idiots, like Thatcher, are useful and necessary, and Francois is one of those.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Maggie was everything but an idiot.

Richard Walker
Richard Walker
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

‘anything’ I think

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

She single handedly destroyed British research and higher education. British scientists post-Thatcher have not won as many Nobel prices as they used to pre-Thatcher!

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Absurd.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Germany won 20 Nobels between 1950 and 1969 and 11 between 2000 and 2019. Was that huge decrease Thatcher’s doing too?

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago

When there was no competition from Britain, German scientists probably just took it easy!

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

joking aside get real.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The civil service is full of Phd types. We’ve had enough of experts.

nick harman
nick harman
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Ah yes experts, what do they know? I met a bloke in Wetherspoons who told me you can cure this virus with a cocktail of meths and drain cleaner. He seemed to know what he was talking about.

Brian Burnell
Brian Burnell
3 years ago
Reply to  nick harman

The guy in the pub was right. He could fix the virus with meths and drain cleaner. Sadly the patient died from side effects.

Come to think of it now, a car mechanic would flush out the sludge from your car engine and refill it with clean oil. So why cannot a doctor flush out his patient’s blocked arteries with a suitable degreaser? Without killing his patient of course.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Burnell

They can, the ‘degreaser’ is called a statin, and I for one am well beyond the ‘finishing post’ because of it.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Brian Burnell

There are drugs the can do that. Unfortunately when the fat / calcium deposits are released, they travel through the blood to the heart and cause a heart attack.

Lesley Q
Lesley Q
3 years ago
Reply to  nick harman

You probably can. Death cures everything.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  nick harman

I saw a Professor on TV who said you can cure this virus by shutting down the economy, asking people to stay in their homes, closing all the schools and then paying people not to work. I was a bit skeptical, but he seemed to know what he was talking about.

That was in March…..

Zach Thornton
Zach Thornton
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Lockdown did reduce transmission rates resulting in a reduction in the number of hospitalisations ensuring that the NHS did not collapse. The Government’s subsequent failure to create a test and trace system that could decisively pin down new outbreaks of the virus is not the fault of lockdowns. Social distancing remains the best way to break the transmission of infectious diseases. Look at the data comparing US cities that enforced social distancing during Spanish Flu with those that did not. The results are stark.

Lockdowns have never been without risks. They cause death in other ways and sabotage the economy. However, our social contract must be that we are all willing to suffer economically so that more people do not have to prematurely bury their family and friends. Other nations managed this crisis more effectively because they were better prepared and made the right decisions at the right time. Our Government has failed us but instead you question whether social distancing reduces the spread of infectious diseases.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Zach Thornton

I agree lockdowns work insofar as they reduce transmission, hospitalisations and deaths. The problem is when they end, everything reverses. They are always temporary.

The UK has built the largest test and trace system in the world per capita, of any major country. However unless the testing and isolation is mandated, through legislation, it can never be effective. The system is entirely pointless if people once tested positive or contract traced do not isolate. That has been the case for every country in the world.

Personally I would mandate testing and attach electronic tags or force apps on people to monitoring they are isolating. I would arrest them if they breach isolation. But we are a liberal democracy and I can understand why the government will not do that.

Almost every major western country in the world has been impacted in a similar manner. Germany was lucky in the first wave, now they have mass infections and 1000 deaths a day. Deaths per capita are similar for France and Italy, Spain. Unlike those countries we test and trace more people and have vaccinated more people. We are fortunate to be in the UK. We are unfortunate to have the new variant in the UK, although it was our world leading genomic testing that identified it and enable us to act.

Colin Reeves
Colin Reeves
3 years ago
Reply to  Zach Thornton

“The Government’s subsequent failure to create a test and trace system…”
This is partly true – Dido Harding has a record of incompetence – but overlooks the fact that the “test” part of the system is inadequate. PHE’s own figures show that the RT-PCR test is neither sensitive enough in general, nor specific enough at low prevalence (which, despite the hype, is what we actually have) to provide useful results when used in the community. False negatives and false postives abound, so we’re in a fog of confusion. (They could improve things a little by reporting the Ct values – below 25, most people are not infectious.) The lateral flow tests are reported to have better specificity, but their sensitivity is woeful. You might as well toss a coin. Politicians don’t understand statistics, nor does the MSM.

JJ’s totalitarian prescription (see below) would mean locking up large numbers of false positives at the same time as you let the false negatives roam free. A recipe for disaster.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

A PhD in International Relations is just about as useful as a rolling pin is to a bullfighter!

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

It’s probably useful if you are dealing in international relations.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Rolling pin to bullfighter? Applied forcefully onto the animal weak spot, it might work.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Yep, let’s fire the medics…Are you sane?

J J
J J
3 years ago

I’m not suggesting we fire the medics. I am suggesting we don’t let them have the power to destroy the economy.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Let’s simply agree that there is a realm for experts and a realm for the use of public and personal opinion. They are not the same.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

YES.

PPE is literally just a employment ticket for political office/civil service. Pre-packaged opinions wrapped together in a nice bow ready for joining the mandarin class. I remember being shocked in my teens reading that there was degree for Politics (a massive subject in itself), Philosophy (even bigger) AND Economics (as large as Politics, and with more application). All in three years. I thought: There is no way you can seriously study all these subjects in one degree.

Later on I realised that actually PPE students were literally only studying a small sampling of these subjects, and – surpise surprise – they all conformed to the Conventional Wisdom and Received Opinion of the current political class. Graduates of this subject(s) all think and sound alike. You mention one slightly unusual economist or philsopher, and they look as you as though as you are quoting an alien text.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

The Four year Greats/Classics course should a mandatory requirement.

Learn how Ancient Greece and Rome did it, and we may still have a slim chance against the Mongoloid hordes massing on ‘The Limes/Frontiers’.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

David Cameron is living proof of what a c**p degree is PPE. Strangely, it turns out that Ancient Greece, Rome, Latin and Greek (Bojo) provides a much better, and stiffer intellectual framework. Econ 101 – lines going everywhere – is total s..t. I know, because I used to teach it at b-school. Will it change ? No, because the vested interest of university economics departments in neo-classical econ rubbish, with their inconsequential hypotheses and multiple regression analyses suitably rejigged to look meaningful, is much too great. We’ve seen it before: in the Middle Ages, when clerics argued with each other about how many angels could be located on a pinhead. Look where that ended up.

David J
David J
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

The classics make a fine foundation, because our culture is literally built on them.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

The industrial revolution wasn’t ushered in by classics Oxbridge scholars! The modern culture is the outcome of the last industrial revolution.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Quite correct, none of the Titans that started the Industrial Revolution were the product of Oxbridge.
In fact Oxbridge essentially a ‘ Priest Factory’ for the Anglican Church, was diametrically opposed to all those who toiled in/with ‘dark satanic mills’.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Quite correct, none of the Titans that started the Industrial Revolution were the product of Oxbridge.
In fact Oxbridge essentially a ‘ Priest Factory’ for the Anglican Church, was diametrically opposed to all those who toiled in/with ‘dark satanic mills’.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Quite correct, none of the Titans that started the Industrial Revolution were the product of Oxbridge.
In fact Oxbridge essentially a ‘ Priest Factory’ for the Anglican Church, was diametrically opposed to all those who toiled in/with ‘dark satanic mills’.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Quite correct, none of the Titans that started the Industrial Revolution were the product of Oxbridge.
In fact Oxbridge essentially a ‘ Priest Factory’ for the Anglican Church, was diametrically opposed to all those who toiled in/with ‘dark satanic mills’.

Gordon Mackay
Gordon Mackay
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

But those who aren’t clever enough to understand algebra can confuse the masses with their abstruse vocabulary.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

You can build a crappy house on fine foundations.

Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
3 years ago

Correct – but you can’t build a fine house on crappy foundations.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Classics is/was useful if you have to run an Empire.
Sadly those days are long gone, and the world is poorer place as a tsunami of greed and corruption now overwhelms it.

Sic Gloria Transit Mundi.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Classics is/was useful if you have to run an Empire.
Sadly those days are long gone, and the world is poorer place as a tsunami of greed and corruption now overwhelms it.
Sic Gloria Transit Mundi.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Classics is/was useful if you have to run an Empire.
Sadly those days are long gone, and the world is poorer place as a tsunami of greed and corruption now overwhelms it.
Sic Gloria Transit Mundi.

Tom Griffiths
Tom Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Our culture is built first on sheep (as emphasised by the wool-sack in Parliament), and later by international trade (as witnessed by our once-enormous merchant marine). So perhaps the ideal training for MPs would be sheep-farming combined with freight sailing?

Simon Diggins
Simon Diggins
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Griffiths

Agreed, though with the current crop that would quickly become sheep-shagging, followed by some ‘frigging in the rigging’…

charles.baily
charles.baily
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

It doesn’t seem to have rubbed off on Johnson. And I speak as one.

Michael Cowling
Michael Cowling
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Where did that pin end up?

RALPH TIFFIN
RALPH TIFFIN
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Quite, but it is not simply PPE that is cheating students and then the country – there are so many more light weight degrees.and their ‘professors’ doing the same.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Only real engineers should be allowed to run anything as complex as a government, NHS, treasury, etc. These guys are the only ones who can grasp the concept of balance in complex systems.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Go and hire them.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Pay them.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

They have tried to but private sector will always pay more. And there is little evidence that Jimmy (there is a shortage of grads BTW) with an aerospace degree wants to work for GOV instead of Airbus.

Sax Guy
Sax Guy
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

These days Jimmy will struggle with engineering employment . Jemima , not so much.

Tom Griffiths
Tom Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

I agree. I am available at very reasonable rates.

Yours sincerely, a Real Engineer.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Actually, I would be happy were doctors to run hospitals, and accountants to run the treasury – the NHS should be replaced by copies of those systems with which we it is adversely compared, e.g. Germany.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Engineers have been running governments worldwide for the past 25 years..Social Engineers….Manipulators of ”Data” & ”Models” skewered to their particular ‘argument’ or field

Rick Sareen
Rick Sareen
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

It’s CP Snow’s Two Cultures problem still with us:

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question ““ such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? ““ not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.

And that was 1959.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  Rick Sareen

I am reminded of the experiment where MPs were asked what the odds were, when tossing a fair coin twice, of two heads in a row. About 50% of Tories got it wrong, about 80% of Labour too.

The party split is not so much the issue as the innumeracy – it comes out in idiotic policies like the “gender pay gap” nonsense, and in energy policy where most of them seem to know nothing about how energy is generated, stored, or how it is distributed.

Paul Marks
Paul Marks
3 years ago
Reply to  Rick Sareen

Except that when CP Snow himself expressed an opinion about a policy – he was normally wrong. Still his general point, the need for more scientific understanding among policy makers, may have been correct – even if not in his own individual case.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

I agree Aaron. 3 years PPE will only result in somebody fit to be part of the political system if they spend a lot of tme studying out of the beaten track. The main issue with PPE, in my opinion, but I will be happy to be proven wrong, is that most PPE students are public school persons (mostly masculine ones at that, seems to me) who felt entitled in the first place. It is so contradictory in a way: if you feel you are entitled, then you should not be afraid to venture away from the beaten tracks…you should not fear losing your entitlement. Yet, they do just the opposite. So maybe they are scared of losing their places in society??? So they can be toppled.

Helen Hughes
Helen Hughes
3 years ago

I read PPE. It was really boring, I got a 2.2 and never did anything remotely
connected with it ever again. Maybe I am an exception, no idea. My fellow PPE students in my college were pretty normal people, no high-flying entitled types. One became a civil servant. To be honest, I don’t see it as being
any worse than a lot of other Oxford degrees. Don’t forget Johnson
read Classics.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

“Never had a real job”? Do you actually know this, or is it just standard shoot-from-the-hip-at-something-or-other rightwing rhetoric? When I was in the Civil Service (a long time ago) there were many section leaders who had done plenty of outside jobs before. Since then, I hardly think they are likely to have reduced, because there has been pressure to increase them. After leaving, and self-employed in the private sector (where I worked successfully if I wanted to eat), I found there were plenty in the public sector (with whom I often worked), and in other sectors such as social work and law (with whom I also worked). I appreciate that one person’s experience (mine or yours) isn’t a representative survey. I would ask where your figures come from, but you didn’t present any.

As for “yet more state”, the past year should have taught us all that state intervention is sometimes essential. Left to market forces, the health system was prepared for nothing, run down to the bare minimum. Overseas fully privatised systems have fared no better – the US is a disaster area. Then, the US health system has always been a disaster. That is why their (no doubt very efficient) methods result in a shorter life expectancy and poorer outcomes in many fields, such as infant mortality. We need to understand that public services spend money, and it’s how they do it that matters.

Agreed, too much state can be a bad thing as well, but we are nowhere near that yet. We need more decentralisation, not London functioning like a colonial government and ignoring the local knowledge and capabilities of everyone outside the M25.

Taking back control? Brexit was only the half of it.

Martyn Hole
Martyn Hole
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

There are two points here which do reveal a staggering level of let’s just say innocence. “When I was in the Civil Service (a long time ago)” so how relevant is that experience today ?

“Left to market forces, the health system was prepared for nothing”. There are no market forces in our health service, it is state run (the clue is in the name.) It is a command economy: Infinite demand, limited supply and no clearing price mechanism.

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

Quite wrong, it is infested with corporate interest through bodies like Public Health England, NICE etc. The great idea about the NHS was to provide service free at the point of delivery, but our institutions need to be accountable to us, not global interests.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

Hi Martyn. I think you will find that the government has included market forces into the NHS, mostly concealed, even the way they buy medicines or PPE is/was actually partly due to market pressure. Do your research.

Second about Robert Forde’s experience: we do not know how long ago, but we know a lot of people stay in the civil service for decades, so there is no saying that part of what RF says is not relevant today. You are not proving your point.

Martyn Hole
Martyn Hole
3 years ago

Goodness, you clearly have a lot of time on your hands given your volume of posts. And thanks for the patronising comment. Given you are such an expert, you can tell us what percent of the NHS budget is spent on medicines/PPE ? 50, 60, 70% ?

fletcherkathy8
fletcherkathy8
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

Off the top of my head, no. However, the enormous burden of admin costs which were brought in beginning with Thatcher’s/Major’s “reforms”must form a sizeable part of the budget.

Martyn Hole
Martyn Hole
3 years ago
Reply to  fletcherkathy8

“Do your research.”. Anne’s comment. “Must form a sizeable part” Kathy’s comment. Maybe you should do the same.

fletcherkathy8
fletcherkathy8
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

Perhaps learning a little about the privatisation by stealth of the NHS (since the mid 80s) might improv your argument.

Martyn Hole
Martyn Hole
3 years ago
Reply to  fletcherkathy8

And what pray, are the areas that have been privatised. Please tell me what to read to enlighten myself.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

We know of one part of the health system which is private; vaccine development.

erylbalazs
erylbalazs
3 years ago
Reply to  Martyn Hole

Look at acute mental health beds and complex learning disabilities as a place to start. I am not commenting on good or bad but it would be good for more to understand the hugely valuable supply chains that operate – linked to private equity global companies. This is is where alot of our NHS budget goes. The workforce was left to the market about 10 years ago – nurses and all the other professions had to pay for their own training – we now have unhelpful shortages across all clinical specialisms.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  fletcherkathy8

“…privatisation by stealth of the NHS (since the mid 80s) “
What privatisation? This is a Guardianesque fiction. There has been no privatisation.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Agreed with everything you said…except I do not think Brexit will prove a wise move.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

The author is presumably too young to remember the last time when government officials ruled the commanding heights of our economy, when swathes of manufacturing, steel, coal and utilities were under state control, as were telecommunications (wait weeks for a line and then only one phone model on offer).

It was a disaster. With the depredations of the unions also contributing (made super-powerful by ruling over nationalised industries where they had governments over a barrel), Britain was called the ‘sick man of Europe’.

There’s a reason why the Thatcher government rolled back the state. The one area that was untouchable was … the highly centralised NHS. We’re paying for that now.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

We could re-nationalise the railways though.
Call me sentimental, but have you tried booking a ticket across different operators, without getting overcharged and/or threatened with a fine all on the same journey?

David J
David J
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

But why nationalise as a knee-jerk policy?
Take Chiltern, which I have been using since 1994.
A fine service, well-priced, and continual improvement to both trains and infrastructure throughout that time.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Okay, as a concession I will leave Chiltern out of my plans.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Then put the people running Chiltern in charge of the nationalised network. They have proved themselves. That is meritocracy, what was wrong with nationalisation was not the nationalisation per se, but how they were run. A lot of countries with nationalised railway and other infrastructure do a very good job (Germany/Switzerland). Bad administrators then, bad administrators now. Don’t confuse the system and those running it.

grier.dorian
grier.dorian
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

Depends which Chiltern line you are on…

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Indeed. And nationalise the supermarkets. Have you tried getting Sainsbury to supply Waitrose ham, Tesco cornflakes, Morrisons beef, and Mark’s and Spencer mountain bars? It’s a national disgrace

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

I only said the railways
Not my beloved ladies on the delicatessen counter at Waitrose.

David Smith
David Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

You clearly never had to use the filthy outdated and unreliable nationalised British Railways .
I pray it never happens again

Micheal Lucken
Micheal Lucken
3 years ago
Reply to  David Smith

I did I commuted regularly on them. They use to be crowded because most people preferred using them to driving and they could afford to. I don’t remember the reliability and frequency of trains getting any better post privatization. The trains and stations got a nice new paint job whilst prices went up and a simple fare system became unintelligible. The points still failed, leaves on the line and the wrong type of snow still brought services to a halt. Each time I got on a train I had no idea what time it would get to its destination during rush hour. Before privatization each yearly fare rise was roundly condemned by the press and whichever side was in opposition even though they were below inflation. Ever since fare rises have consistently been higher than inflation justified by “investment”. Furthermore it was once very cheap to park the car at the local station. One of the first things post privatization was parking charges went up massively. It used to be cheaper to commute long distances by train than car. By the time I stopped commuting I would drive as far into London as I could without incurring parking charges despite the extra journey time. Property prices in the London went through the roof whist many commuter areas they were static because commuting became so expensive, you now need a pretty well paid job to justify paying train fares. If the old British Rail was allowed to increase prices to the level they have done since I suspect it would have been a pretty good service like many nationally owned railways you see across the world.
I am not a fan of big government for the most part but privatization of our major infrastructure service industries seems to have produced little improvement beyond cosmetic presentation and huge price rises, telecomms possibly being the one exception, even then a lot of modern technology was developed under public ownership, the GPO were just rubbish at marketing and a competitive market offered real alternative services and products not just an alternative bill collector.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  David Smith

Speaking of filth, nothing could be worse than the toilet in the 1st class Virgin train I travelled in a few years ago.

Tom Griffiths
Tom Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  David Smith

I was working for BR when it was split up and privatised. It was a colossal step backwards, as cutting-edge technology was abandoned in favour of outdated less efficient methods, which earned a higher % profit. It was depressing. It was good for lawyers, though, and what had previously been run by a single board of directors now needed 50 boards of directors (at inflated pay rates).

chris carr
chris carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Yes. Quite often. All went very smoothly.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Railtrack is nationalised….Royal mail constant Stamp price rises shows too much Privatisation is as bad as too much state control..

John Stone
John Stone
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Perhaps the worst favour that Thatcher did us was making higher education dependent on corporate patronage – quite the wrong type of market solution.

Tom Griffiths
Tom Griffiths
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

In many ways the public ownership of the late 1940s didn’t go far enough. Not in extent, but in depth- falling short of making real changes in management. The state took over the bankrupt major industries, which had been starved of proper investment since 1914 by warfare, profiteering, incompetent leadership, depression, and then more warfare. Instead of re-structuring them for improved efficiency, much of the existing management and organisational structures were left in place. The Unions were as bad: offered a German-style representation in management, they refused, feeling safer in their comfort zone of “us & them” antagonism. Failure was more-or-less inevitable.

Rail lines which had been loss-makers since their construction in the late 1800s were left open, and drained the system. The ‘modernisation’ of the 1960s with electrification was 20 years too late. Tiny and archaic steelworks and coal mines were left open, and new up-scaled plants again not developed this time for 30 years. The Labour administration was truly too deferential towards the British managers who had been failing for 40 years or more, during our long slide from industrial leadership into irrelevance.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

PPE is considered fairly right of centre, yet most of our politicians and politicians are left wing. Discuss.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

They read The Guardian. And watch BBC.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

They really don’t.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

What makes you say most politicians are left wing? Prove it.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

“All PPE graduates should be barred from public service.”
I cannot agree with that, and not for reasons to do with my own education (which is all STEM).

Rather, require that nobody can become an MP until they are at least 35 years old, and have minimum employment criteria. Being a “research assistant” to the likes of Ed Milliband (who likewise never did a real day’s work in his life”) does not count as a real job.

The Civil service might be capable of being reformed – though it might require Cummings to be brought back and given the job of doing so…

Stephen Giltrap
Stephen Giltrap
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

David Lawler spot on. No incentive to succeed, little or no downside for failure.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

We need to get rid of the political parties. We vote for a representative, but they do not represent and serve us, they serve the political party they belong to. We should keep the first past the post system, but a candidate will only be elected if they get more than 50% of the total registered voters. Reduce the Commons by half and get rid of the House of Lords.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Do you intend to ‘ban’ political parties? How would you form a government? How would you appoint a PM? You can’t let Parliament decide these things as there would be chaos.

If you need 50% of the vote, it’s not really FPTP. You would have qualified majority voting.

Political parties, in the context of FPTP, help force collaboration between similar minded people (big tent politics). Without them you would have allsorts of loonies standing and you would never get anywhere near 50%.

We need political parties more than ever, as consensus politics is under massive stress with the advent of the internet (everyone is now an expert and usually has multiple different views that never remain static).

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Can you state a democratic country which doesn’t have political parties?

Zach Thornton
Zach Thornton
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

The work of a politician is a real job. It requires particular set of skills and parliamentarians can be good or bad at their job. What is a real job exactly? A toilet cleaner, astrophysicist, AI programmer or shelf stacker. An MP is good at their job if they are a strong voice in Parliament for those that they represent. Running a government department is a different proposition altogether, granted. However, this ‘real job’ narrative is tabloid rubbish and if anything seems to code for anyone who is middle-class and well-educated. University of life, bro.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

Perhaps there is no solution. https://www.telegraph.co.uk

Ben
Ben
3 years ago
Reply to  David Lawler

I quite agree David. Everything was nationalised after the war and look what happened to our economy? It collapsed amongst recrimination, poor productivity, poisonous industrial relations, lack of investment and lousy performance. We were a basket case by the 1970’s, seemingly incapable of governing ourselves which is one reason we joined the EEC to ask them to help us out.

I do understand the idea of a de-centralised state and the need for local, determined leadership and investment by those who know what they’re doing: experienced investors, business people, administrators, entrepreneurs etc. These are the people who make things happen not bureaucrats and Whitehall officials who have never visited most of the rest of the country.

Bob Bobbington
Bob Bobbington
3 years ago

“Root and branch reform of the civil service” sounds great. You’re not the first person to suggest it. It has never been achieved, so how do you propose it can be? “Clear out the dross” of course but again this is a vacuous statement.

As for ideas like “a
vast new programme of public infrastructure projects, and an immediate program of nationalisation of key industries and utilities”, absolutely not and definitely not until the mythical competent state has been achieved. Ditto the government by random lottery. Bonkers.

By the way, do you really think the French state is “well-practised at actually doing things” (competently)? 500 vaccines administered to date, and a huge shortfall in doses ordered doesn’t seem that competent. And the gilet jaunes say ‘hi.’

I don’t want to sound too provocative. I’m with on the whole lack of competence in government and the civil service thing. I actually think that the Tories are at least making some waves about reform of the most seriously dysfunctional institutions. I’m not sure Johnson is fully committed to the program, and the myopic reliance on SAGE is a worry, but I don’t think anyone else would be doing better – and certainly not Starmer.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

Relative political newcomer Macron through his nascent, upstart party En Marche! apparently famously achieved his lofty position seeing off all the big main long established political rivals and defeated Marine Le Pen in the presidential run off with barely any party machinery or funding to speak of at the time and through his grassroots supporters going door to door asking hundreds of thousands of people, many of them younger voters, what they thought was wrong with France.

And in the space of only a few years…..

Vive la plus ça change!!

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Yes, once you’ve got your hands on the chauffeur-driven Citroen and got accustomed to having your coffee served by an obsequiously smiling pretty girl in a uniform, then why change anything ?

Lickya Lips
Lickya Lips
3 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

Surely gerontophile Monsieur Macaroni would prefer the pretty girl’s granny to serve his coffee.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

People talk about reforms but are not willing to pay the price. Schroeder did the right thing for Germany (Agenda 2010 and Iraq War) – he lost his re-election. There is the lesson for you.

spayne6466
spayne6466
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

..the globalist propaganda machine moved against him and voila…..he’s out. Just like Trump, just like..XXXX…..(insert any ‘right-wing’ or ‘far right’ labelled politician or public figure.

spayne6466
spayne6466
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

….and he’s just another identikit globalist like almost every Western politician. I may be wrong but I seem to remember that although Macron was unknown politically, he was backed by serious multinational financial cartels and their money.
Not such an outsider after all?

Sophie Korten
Sophie Korten
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

Isn’t the lack of anyone in mainstream politics that you would truly wish to vote into power a major, a large part of this problem? Why the system has been in play too long and needs to be replaced. I am not politically minded enough to suggest how!
Yes, Macron suggesting use of a lottery is madness and I live in France.

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  Sophie Korten

Sophie, please explain why it is (lottery 35) madness, other than the fact that you are not politically minded. You might be right, but you might not, just explain your point please.

Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
3 years ago
Reply to  Sophie Korten

We already have government by lottery. Random individuals put themselves up for selection as candidates. Random candidates are then selected by a random set of members of a party and put up for office. Random voters vote in these random candidates and they randomly become part of the largest party. This party then picks random members to form the government. Any picking of Hancock, Grayling, Williamson, Corbyn, Abbot and a good few others must surely be random, please tell me it wasn’t by design!

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Wylde

With all due respect, that is just not sound. Random individuals apply for medical school – it doesn’t mean doctors are just selected by lottery. There is selection, on the basis of some assessment of presumed competence and aptitude. So it is with elections: anyone can stand, but voters choose – and it is wrong to say they do so without thoughtful discretion.

They were wise enough to reject Corbyn, for example…

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Wylde

I have offered My services in the Last 5 General Elections & been rejected 5 times,So the country has to Suffer…Will prince Charles make it to King,before i’m MP ..discuss?…;)

Simon H
Simon H
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

I live in France, the farce is beyond parody. Under pressure…?…the EU procured 300 million vaccines with Sanofi, yes you guessed it a French Pharma Major…declining an early invitation from Pfizer in favour of a European solution. They have now secured 100 million doses from “Pfizer” enough to vaccinate 10% of the -EU- population.
The more I see the more I believe, we the UK really have confidently arrived in the sunlit uplands.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon H

Because many thought that Sanofi was ahead of the curve. US too placed a large order for its vaccines.
Did you miss the BioNTech part of Pfizer vaccine?

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon H

You mean in favour of a solution that benefited a French company? What a price such national self-interest / chauvinism has come at. And this from the little upstart (far better funded and much more the insider than is thought) who saw fit to lecture Britain for leaving the EU regularly and very recently. Proof that as if it were needed, that France (and Germany) put themselves first, not the EU.

Hilary Arundale
Hilary Arundale
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon H

The more I see the more I believe, we the UK really have confidently arrived in the sunlit uplands.

Leaving France and moving back to gambol on the sunlit uplands, then, are you?

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

I agree about the French State not showing great efficiency, but the UK did not do great in the first few days of vaccinating, so give them 10 days to show what they are made of. I am always happy when people mention the Gilets Jaunes as a proof of whatever they want, as long as it is negative, in French governance. Do you not think it is remarkable that there is a country which is in fact able to function WHILE large numbers are protesting, without resorting to Chinese style crushing? Moreover, the Gilets Jaunes have achieved some victories. Apart from Markus Rashford (Markus Rashford for Prime Minister is my motto) who in the UK has protested and got results???? The Dizzy Blonde in Westminster being what he is and saying what he does say, the Scots will try to get out (and I know a fair few in Manchester who wonder if a case can be made for us to become Scots). I am not sure said Dizzy Blonde won’t try to crush them militarily, because he’ll think people want that, or, corection, his back benchers want that.

Anna Tanneberger
Anna Tanneberger
3 years ago
Reply to  Bob Bobbington

“Our Government has indeed mounted a wartime response to Covid, in that tens of thousands of fellow countrymen are now dead due to a series of catastrophic errors.”

Oh what piffle!

People have died with covid all over the world – where the sun has already set over the British empire. I can’t decide whether this statement comes out of the author’s arrogance (Britannia still rules the waves) or parochial ignorance of there being an outside world.

First everybody thought it was just another virus from China. Yawn. Then, when they realized it might be a virus escaped from the lab in Wuhan with gain-of-function features, they were terrified, because it would have enhanced functions that would just beat down human immune systems.

That’s why such unprecedented action was taken: shutting down, locking down, trampling over civil liberties, human rights and economies – in a life-and-death situation we can worry about that later.

Then it turned out that this virus cannot, after all, overcome regular human immune systems and it only kills people who are already weak and vulnerable and old and immune compromised and sickly.

But then they were locked in by journalists too lazy to do any research and make their names by yelling at officials with gotcha questions! “Why did you not lock down sooner and harder!” This attack made it impossible for governments to calmly reassess and admit: “We’ve overreacted, sorry about the inconvenience, it’s not as bad as we thought. Everybody go back to normal.”

Today’s media just makes it impossible for governments to do their work. Unless they are in a position to avert their faces from the journalistic halitosis and carry on with the job – like Putin.

There is now enough evidence all over the world of different countries having responded in different ways to enable us to compare and establish that it made not a damn difference.

Counter-intuitively, statistics even show that fewer people died of covid (per million of the population) in the poorer countries. One of the more obvious reasons is that poor countries have younger populations. (There are other reasons too complex to explain here.) It has nothing to do with how clever their governments were.

Martin Davis
Martin Davis
3 years ago

“There is now enough evidence all over the world of different countries having responded in different ways to enable us to compare and establish that it made not a damn difference.” Are you sure? Compare the UK with Japan, island nations of roughly a similar size. Some difference there, don’t you think?

Anne W
Anne W
3 years ago

Couldn’t agree more

ChrisK Shaw
ChrisK Shaw
3 years ago

Yes, the Media and Big Tech have a lot to answer for. Rather than investigating what works and trumpeting such, they find the bad and frame it to its scariest maximum and bast it lavishly with woke gravy. Now I’m hungry… er, angry…the MSM is the real problem, the Universities are our second.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
3 years ago

Look at the the 21-item checklist of form-filling for doctors who want to volunteer to give jabs to 80-year-olds: diversity, human rights, equality, conflict resolution, preventing radicalisation, fire safety (the list goes on and on). They are a stark reminder of a trend in UK politics since the Blair era: whenever the chattering classes get a bee in their bonnet about some topic, politicians introduce it into legislation. From then on, that legislation has got to take precedent over common sense as far as the civil service is concerned.

Chris Jayne
Chris Jayne
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

This is a good point. As a fairly senior local government worker I can recognise it clearly. As well as political trends there are also ever evolving and inter linked compliance regulations and standards that mean huge parts of governmental at levels is in a state of constant administrative flux. Plus constant metrics and reporting to internal and external boards and bodies. Many of these administrative hurdles also leads to a huge chunk of what appears to be incompetence or mismanagement as they all influence specifications for services that you’re procuring. You end up procuring people who are excellent at mirroring back the language of the state rather than doing the services you require. And you end up procuring people who are good at doing the secondary political trends over the ones who are good at doing the service you require.

If there were no people living in our local government area and no service to provide we could still do 30-50% of our work. And that’s not right.

I worked in the private sector before, and it’s a very different beast so it isn’t as simple as replication. I’ve thought about how to create more efficient public bodies quite a lot. The only thing I can think about is setting up dummy organisations afresh. But if you’re basing the operational requirements off the legislation and policy we have now you’ll end up with slightly
more efficient versions of the same monsters.

Aaron Kevali
Aaron Kevali
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

Diversity – Die white people die!!

Human rights – human wrongs, absurdities cooked up in courts to violate all sense of justice and proportionality.

Equality – “Screw men, white people, christians and people who fancy the opposite sex and but don’t want to dress up as them.”

Conflict Resolution – pussycats using psychobabble.

Preventing Radicalisation – identifying thoughtcrime and reporting to the police for punishment if required.

Fire Safety – “If there’s a fire, be sure to leave the building!”

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

This deserves a double uptick, but the technology doesn’t allow it!

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

I believe there are some good therapists for this sort of anger problem, though.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Forde

Therapists should come right after Fire Safety in his list.

John Ottaway
John Ottaway
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

Great post.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
3 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Kevali

If only that were the Fire Safety advice – see Grenfell Tower.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

If one of these doctors turns out to be the next Harold Shipman, you will be the first to scream outrage that there was no vetting process.

You can’t win.

A.N. Other
A.N. Other
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

And how would those forms spot the next Shipman? He was a doctor. Maybe he would have explained on the radicalisation form that he wanted to kill people. “Drat, I’d have got away with it but you had to ask me about that! Fair cop guv. “

Lickya Lips
Lickya Lips
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

What has Diversity training got to do with the ability to inject a vaccine?

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Lickya Lips

Okay, we can skip that bit 🙂

Anne Poitrineau
Anne Poitrineau
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

Yes but…the vetting processes mentioned will NOT weed out Harold Shipmans. Also, as I have done the courses, I can tell you with absolute confidence: they are time consuming box ticking exercises. They are unable to address the issues, except maybe conflict resolution and pro-social modelling (latter not on the list).

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

That’s hilarious.

How exactly do you think that filling in forms on “diversity, human rights, equality, conflict resolution, preventing radicalisation, fire safety” would have caught Harold Shipman, or stop another one?

The point of this bureaucracy is that it is at best entirely pointless, at worse, actively harmful.

A person should be required to have a medical degree to practise medicine.
Having attended a course in “diversity” or “preventing radicalisation” is of no benefit at all.

These things exist only to provide work for members of the brain-dead government class and they hurt everyone else.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
3 years ago
Reply to  Tom Graham

Spot on. In the context of a response to a public health emergency, I just want the volunteer medics to put a jabs in arms as quickly as is safe. I do not want the volunteer medics to spend time pondering whether the 80 year olds who they are about to jab look like they might have been radicalised by checking out the tell-tale signs enumerated by the plonker with the flip chart giving the spot-the-radical training course.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

This is slightly off-topic, but I noticed this morning that Talk Radio was no longer available on YouTube. I suspected the heavy hand of censorship, and it turns out that Talk Radio has indeed been banned from YouTube for talking to eminent doctors and scientists etc who do not agree with the line that almost all governments have taken on Covid.

This is very, very serious and proves once again that we are fast approaching a state of tyranny. I would encourage everyone to support Talk Radio by listening to them online while you still can. They are not perfect, but they are a million times better than the BBC.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Just search for it. The TalkRadio sites is better than YouTube.
Nonetheless, this is the last straw – What else is Google censoring without my knowledge?
I shall do what I had planned for some time and de-google myself.

PS: I gave Youtube some feedback to the effect that I don’t like a gang of rat-faced yanks censoring what I can listen to.
I realise that it does no good, but It might give the snowflake that reads it an attack of the vapours.

Herbert MD
Herbert MD
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

You guys really are the perfect marks for the free speech grifters out there.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
3 years ago
Reply to  Herbert MD

…and your name is?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Herbert MD

What is a free speech grifter?

nick harman
nick harman
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

There is a need in any crisis to prevent disinformation.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  nick harman

“Masks work”, Masks are ineffective”, “Social distancing is not necessary”, “Social distancing is mandatory to save lives”-these are only some of the many different positions taken by our masters in government and tech. The crisis is incipient totalitarianism, and controlling and banning non-approved statements is the need that animates these increasingly dangerous entities.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  stephen f.

The changing positions are less alarming that the speed within which people forget the old advice while demanding adherence to the new. We have more access to information than ever before – to include what today’s “expert” said yesterday or two weeks ago – but unfortunately, we have the attention span of toddlers.

Colin K
Colin K
3 years ago
Reply to  nick harman

All we are being fed from the government is disinformation.

Barbara Bone
Barbara Bone
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

What a revolutionary idea – listening to someone on the other side of the debate! If we have to have SAGE (a misnomer if ever there was one, along with NICE – who aren’t) why are economists, psychologists etc etc not included? Health is not just about curing/ treating illness. The problem with this country is we don’t take a holistic view. The other problem is having politicians with no imagination or ideas to begin with.

ray.wacks
ray.wacks
3 years ago
Reply to  Barbara Bone

And where did all these ‘professors’ come from?

Is there an assembly line somewhere?

Rick Sareen
Rick Sareen
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

And not a mention of it on the BBC site/news.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

And yet, listening to TalkRADIO last night after the green light to abandon Dry January early was announced, one had the option of enduring James Whale and his moronic sidekick trash any and all callers with a different or sceptical view.

According to the Whale, if the callers weren’t scientists then they had no right to a point of view because they weren’t as qualified or experienced as government scientists. We all know how consistent and transparent the latter have been. But the callers are equally not as qualified as the eminent and experienced scientists from all over the world who have a different approach or point of view. That however is not to be tolerated. It’s increasingly hard to see a way out of this as long as idiots like Whale can shut down debate. He represents all that is reprehensible about the majority of the last, feckless and complicit / compliant MSM.

Duncan Hunter
Duncan Hunter
3 years ago
Reply to  Duncan Hunter

Make that lazy, not last.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Youtube Google Twitter ALL Stop anyone,Views Who oppose Lockdowns, Global ‘Warming’ &climate channge ,or UN ..whether its Davos 2020 .Globalism is a failed ‘religion” Talkradio at least Presents both sides of An Argument,NOT cancel culture favoured by University Campuses

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

You mention the way Labour nationalise swathes of the country after the War.
Are you aware that they kept rationing?
It was only fully removed (by a conservative government) in 1954 – 9 years after the war!
That is how good the Labour party was and how successful nationalisation was.

You write that the state is not very good at managing things and then go on to suggest we need more state interference; have you ever considered how illogical that is?

Surely the lesson to learn, is that if the state is not good at managing, then there should be less state managing.

We have a perfect example of incompetence with the vaccine rollout. Some bureaucrat, or bureaucratic committee has decided that a practicing dentist cannot administer a jab without filling in loads of forms.

I live in hope that some, any journalist will expose this monstrous bureaucratic nightmare. But no, you all seem to think this is fine; why?

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
3 years ago

Don’t forget that after it cost Labour the 1950 election, the Conservatives kept rationing going for another four years before they finally had to accept that it would do the same to them.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Nick Faulks

1951 General election….& Clothes were rationed until 1956..

Alex Camm
Alex Camm
3 years ago

‘in that tens of thousands of fellow countrymen are now dead due to a series of catastrophic errors.’
No they are dead due to a virus that is probably not containable. Yes mistakes were made but statements such as this are purely emotive.

Current death rates are not out of the ordinary they may rise but I think they should have done that already.

We have ten times the ‘cases’ of France and Germany but the same death rate. We test more than they do … could it be the testing that is at fault?

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Camm

10s of 1000s are dead because 100s of 1000s are flouting health advice¬ giving a toss..

Sean Meister
Sean Meister
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Camm

The UK Gov did make catastrophic errors that led to a death rate which could have been mitigated. Chief among these are:

1) Not taking the virus seriously before March (where us advocating for strict border controls were branded racist cranks)

2) The disastrous policy on sending CV19 ill old people back to their nursing homes to free up NHS capacity for a wave of ill young people that never happened. They were literally allowing the virus to spread amongst the most vulnerable population possible. Exact opposite to what should have happened.

Everything that has happened since March is another matter, but there *was* something to be done before then and the UK Gov was found wanting.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

My company was following government advice in February about home working, distancing, hand washing etc. The lockdown was a full stage further but it doesn’t mean nothing had happened earlier. I think a full lockdown of a whole country in peacetime is not something you should do lightly. Chris Whitty gave an excellent interview on LBC explaining the expert rationale, and it was basically the Swedish approach. I honestly think the government just looked at the figures, heard everyone calling them evil Tories murdering grannies and saw what others were doing and succumbed to peer pressure.

Alex Camm
Alex Camm
3 years ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

If you can provide figures to demonstrate that lockdowns are effective and do not kill people then you may have a point.
No figures are given estimating the impact of lockdowns which I think is generally accepted to kill other people. Without that we cannot have a balanced debate.
It is also interesting that other types of flu have virtually disappeared is this not another indicator of a problem with using testing which was not designed for this type of use.

John Barclay
John Barclay
3 years ago

Our institutions are not dysfunctional. They are doing exactly what they have been designed to do – serve the needs of those working in them, and allow them to implement their worldview without too many obstacles. The public is of secondary importance, as are elected politicians.

This is what happens when left wing progressives occupy positions of influence inside institutions. They fail. Always. It’s inevitable when the process is more important than the outcome.

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 years ago
Reply to  John Barclay

Except that right wing reactionaries would succumb to exactly the same systemic pressures – institutions inevitably evolve to protect their own interests, first and foremost, if not exclusively, and to recruit into their ranks more of the same. This applies as much to corporations as to governments and state bureaucracies. As several have pointed out, a good war would do wonders. I’m not sure Covid is really up to the job.

I think the key point of the article is to make the state / country more effective by decentralising and empowering local people and communities while gutting if not utterly discarding our current introverted, self serving and over-centralised institutions of all stripes, public and private. Any attempt to do the former without the latter is doomed to fail.

Zach Thornton
Zach Thornton
3 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Great comment.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
3 years ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Good organisations especially private ones only recruit more of the same if that is reflective of community diversity to do otherwise is bad management.

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
3 years ago

The media’s role during the pandemic has been entirely destructive, sowing distrust and cynicism, providing a platform for every government critic, and with editorials and columns castigating the government written by journalists who between them wouldn’t qualify for a Girl Guide first aider badge. At the end of their book on the Falklands War, Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins provide assessments of the performance of all the ‘players’, governments, armed forces, etc. The UK media war correspondents are castigated as clueless, incompetent, and unfit in every respect for the role. Nothing has changed in journalism, whether in defence, health, science, and the rest.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
3 years ago

“The problem is the state. The solution is more state”…?

That way lies madness.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
3 years ago

There is much to like about this article, not least the clear statement that the blame is NOT just to be found with Johnson et al.

It is the same ghastly uselessness that left PHE smugly congratulating themselves for the quality of their pandemic preparedness, while quickly moving on to investigations of ‘systemic racism’… Examples abound:

>The police celebrating their own open mindedness as they ignore Rotherham and as they ignore vandalism and disruptive, destructive X-R demos.

>The failure of the NHS to prepare for extra demand every winter.

>The fact that the NHS HR director is still in post despite the debacle of volunteer vaccinator hiring.

>The whole NHS “National Program” IT fiasco.

It is however utterly unreasonable to expect any PM to clear away all that dross in the mere three or four months before the pandemic struck (the pandemic he would have been advised we were well prepared for) three months during which he had to clean up after the shameful incompetence of Theresa May and the collective actions of the BBC and other “parastate” actors (parastate – great word… and so coincidentally close to parasite) in their efforts to overthrown the will of the British people.

It is a massive, slow, painful and painstaking job to reengineer the British state so as to make it somewhat more fit for purpose. Step 1 must surely be to introduce real accountability to the public sector – more people must be removed, not promoted or shoved sideways, when they make such a massive mess of things.

Bring back Cummings, and give him the resources to really get the job done.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Another truly excellent piece from Aris that brings together so many of my own observations, beliefs and ideas/solutions. And the WWII comparison is surely appropriate. As Andre Walker said last night in his podcast: “Whitty and Vallance are the biggest threat to the UK since Hitler”.

Aris says: “The British state and its parasitic para-state are both entirely unfit for purpose.”. This has been obvious to many of us or many, many years. And I would agree with when he says that, to all intents and purposes, the British state no longer exists. Essentially, it was destroyed by New Labour, who ruined literally everything they touched, here and in Iraq and Afghanistan etc. I believe that far more subsidiarity is the only solution.

I didn’t know that Macron had proposed the selection of 35 random people to help with the vaccine roll-out (A somewhat moot proposal given that Sanofi will not even have a vaccine until the end of the year). Just yesterday I had been thinking – once again – that 650 people picked at random really would undoubtedly have far more expertise/competence, knowledge (of history, science etc), common sense and integrity than the 650 MPs in place. And you can say the same for the HoL.

Like the US, and like a number of other western countries such as Italy, Greece and Spain, the UK is a failing state, and possibly a failed state. In a sense I don’t particularly blame the govt/state for the deaths. Even reasonably well run countries such as Germany and the Netherlands have seen a large number of deaths. But I do blame them for destroying society and millions of livelihoods at the same time, and for not protecting the borders etc.

I do not believe that Labour under anybody, of the Tories under Cameron, would have handled it better. The political class and the surrounding superstructure is so rotten, so denuded of all sense of competence, that all one can do is watch in fascinated horror. The response to Covid is merely the crowing glory of a failure that goes back 25 years to run or respond to anything with any competence or integrity.

However, the solution to this is not, as Aris suggests, more state, and certainly not more of the British state, which will always lead to disaster Aris complains that the neo-liberals have eroded the state, but the state has only grown and grown alongside neo-liberalism over the last 40 years. The solution, instead, is a much higher degree of subsidiarity. This need not mean more layers of politicians and bureaucrats if we can find ways of administering local affairs with volunteer councillors and referendums on local issues.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Political class is elected by the people.
Aris and you pretend that there is a free lunch – politically or financially. There is not.
Although the PM does believe in “cakeism”.

J J
J J
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

The political class is elected, the civil service and all of the employees in the public institutions are not. And as we have seen, the political class have no control over the public institutions which are mainly full of left wing types.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

A civil service full of Mark Francois will be amazing!

Paddy Secretan
Paddy Secretan
3 years ago
Reply to  J J

As I understand it, in USA much of the Civil Service is appointed/brought in by the in-coming Administration. I’m not sure it produces any better Government, but at least it better embodies the philosophy and objectives of the Party that the voters elected.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Paddy Secretan

A % of it. The core civil service is apolitical.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Apolitical? Surely you jest.

Sean Meister
Sean Meister
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I have worked in the Civil Service and if you believe that then I have a bridge to sell you. There has been an institutional transformation of the Civil Service since the late-90s so that it is decidedly political (broadly aligning with Neoliberalism). Those who do not align with that view keep quiet lest they lose their plum jobs.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

More dopey Statements..Blair,Thatcher Politicized the Civil service,BBC, later Police & Elected Mayors &Judiciary (Supreme Court) Time for Non-political appointments..GLA &, P&CC unecessary

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

It doesn’t matter which 650 MPs you have if they use Covid as an excuse not to go to work.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago

The success of East Asian democracies such as Taiwan and South Korea, however, shows that the crucial distinction is in fact simply that between functioning state bureaucracies and inept ones.

Cambodia, with a barely functional, deeply corrupt government, has succeeded in avoiding all deaths from Covid-19. Using your line of reasoning, you would argue that the UK should adopt the Hun Sen approach to governance.

The UK has deep problems with managing the role of the state, but you clearly aren’t in a place to be offering advice if you can write the sentence above. (Get a clue — the success of South Korea and Taiwan have very little to do with government competence.)

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Cambodia, with a barely functional, deeply corrupt government,

Would love to know how that differs from the UK.

Toby Josh
Toby Josh
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Have you considered that the virus may have been designed to go easier on East Asians?

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Toby Josh

Umm, you think?

Hilary Arundale
Hilary Arundale
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

Consider also that there may be some existing immunity in East Asian populations

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

The civil service getting rid of the civil service, ok, they are really going to do that!
To many nice lunches to be had by people who have never had a job outside of politics, to many university educated half wits and no people with real life jobs and experience.
Jobs for the right, sorry, correct class will never stop when the right, sorry correct class run everything

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
3 years ago

So what the author is saying is “drain the swamp”. Unfortunately the swamp is so large and infested with so many undesirable, parasitic, species any government would have to be in power for 30 years to make any kind of progress on a project of that scale. The swamp is not going to drain itself anytime soon so I suppose all we can do is keep promoting the latest culture fashions by considering ourselves all victims and pointing the finger of blame at anyone other than ourselves.

Robert Forde
Robert Forde
3 years ago
Reply to  Carl Goulding

And a great deal of that swamp consists of private sector lobbyists. Whatever motivates them, it isn’t getting government policy right, only getting it closer to what they want.

Barry Coombes
Barry Coombes
3 years ago

I’ve been curious about what that suppressed Home Office report had to say. It had to be something explosive. Was it suppressed because it revealed cowardice, depravity and corruption at every level of the British state?

John Riordan
John Riordan
3 years ago

This started out well, but descended into nonsense quite quickly, which is a pity because the central premise is both important and requires debate. I don’t know the political leanings of the author, but in spite of that I have to say that this reads very much like a left-winger who knows that the State has dropped the ball badly, but who has no intention of admitting it without a healthy dose of whataboutery directed at the free market.

Well that won’t wash I’m afraid: look at how the free market adapted to the threat posed by Covid19. Did we run out of food, or require rationing of it? Did supermarket workers threaten to go on strike over working conditions? Even the queues we were forced to put up with were the direct consequence of the State intervening, not the the decisions of the shops themselves. And look at how the other shops that were forced to close adapted: restaurants became take out venues, safely providing restaurant quality meals at home to everyone, while cafes adapted by selling local fresh produce etc.

On the matter of the initial response last year, the suggestion that a Trump-style early block on international travellers would have worked is complete nonsense: the virus was propagating freely in the UK for weeks prior to the government action taken in March, so the notion that erecting a fortress on international travel would have made any difference is simply not true.

The last conclusion that attempts to conflate the need for top level reform in the Civil Service with Boris Johnson’s resignation is risible and outrageous. I do accept that there has been an unacceptable degree of cronyism in the past year, but here’s the thing: you can’t observe this on the one hand and then provide Dominic Cummings with what looks to me like a free pass on his record: he is just as guilty on this score. Frankly, the way Cummings is praised here looks more like an attempt to look balanced, but only by praising someone who’s already got the boot and can’t therefore form part of a solution provided by the existing government.

The truth is that the unusual popularity of Boris Johnson is an absolute prerequisite for any program of reform demanding such disruption. No other PM could have got as far as he has done with the draconian lockdown effects seen thus far, let alone then expect to mount a successful attack on the deep-state vested interests that make top-level reform almost impossible.

On a final note, I do accept the basic premise of the article: the State is unfit for purpose. It has too much power which it seems always to misuse, possessing the character of a bully: intransigent and vexatious towards the individual, and supine and powerless in the face of anything resembling its own size and strength. But the proposals for reform listed here are mostly worthless, other than a welcome recognition that localisation is a necessary component of whatever action is eventually taken.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Very well said.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
3 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Yes, very well said.

Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
3 years ago

I agree with the need to rebuild the functionality of the British State which along with many other European states has seen its agency eroded by the EU Treaties.

However, the premise for this essay is plainly false.
60% of the people that die from Covid-19, after contracting Sars-Cov-2, did so due to co-morbidities. The rest died because of age related weaknesses.

In South Korea, nearly 300,000 die a year from preventable forms of cancer. That is nearly 900 a day. In the UK it is 450 a day. Most people dying from Covid-19 were dying anyway, yet your entire essay is premised on saving the unsavable.

If the UK or South Korea genuinely wants to reduce yearly mortality rates as a sign of State competence then tobacco will need to be banned. Alcohol will need to be banned. Air pollution will need to be banned. Food additives will need to be banned. Because people aren’t dying from Covid-19, they are dying from the weakness of their immune system due underlying health issues caused by environmental toxicity.

South Korea might appear competent because of its low incidences of Covid-19 deaths but the underlying health issues which actually result in Covid-19 deaths prevail despite strict surveillance and border controls.

Today, like yesterday and like tomorrow, in South Korea, 900 people will die from preventable forms of cancer. If Sars-Cov-2 was freely circulating in South Korea, the same 900 people will be dead but with Covid-19 on their death certificates.

Time to get real. Nearly all Covid-19 deaths are due to a weak immune system caused by other preventable diseases.

Alexei A
Alexei A
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

“….they are dying from the weakness of their immune system due underlying health issues caused by environmental toxicity.”

You seem to overlook the considerable numbers whose health issues relate more directly from obesity than environmental toxicity. Obesity, unless the result of unavoidable enforced inactivity (i.e. paraplegics) is mostly the result of life choices – eating too much of the wrong foods and not exercising enough. The resulting obesity then entrains other harmful conditions, such as heart disease – a vicious circle. The weak immune system you refer to is a direct result of these choices much more than environmental toxicity.

simon taylor
simon taylor
3 years ago

Doesn`t seem to me that our government has cocked up handling the pandemic any more than any other. Yes our civil service is venal and sclerotic but the Gov`t are trying to make the best of the worst hand ever- they need support not carping, because if they go down the alternative does not bear thinking about.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago

The goal would be to rebuild a class of bureaucrats who are competent at actually administering the state

There are two or three separate issues. Once upon a time the civil service would attract the brightest young people, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time. This has to somehow be changed.

Also somehow stop the revolving doors wherby the very same people are engaged in creating strategies for improving the nations’ lot, as are engaged at a different point in time, in creating workarounds to those precise same strategies, through accountancy, law, economics, regulations, and the 900-lb gorilla: technology.

The west typically but especially the UK, picks Humanities Generalists (Economics, Law, History, Languages modern and ancient, Businesses Admin, Lit, etc) into top administrative positions, recent exceptions being of course, Thatcher and Merkel, both for good or bad, transformative for their countries. In contrast, Carter, a decent man, was overwhelmed by events.

The problem is, Humanities people, bright as they often are, do not understand the 21st century at a detailed enough level, because they don’t understand the nature of technology scaling effects and are reduced to making guesses at consequences. Humanities generalists also have an inbuilt tendency to look to the past. But for myself, I’m highly dubious the past can help us here. Because what we are facing next in terms of technology driven change, has never been faced before. Not even close. One example of this: in the past societies always had time to adjust to technological change, but this is no longer the case. We crossed the rubicon, some unmarked day in the recent past, where human societies are now slower at reacting to technological change than the speed of that change. China in contrast often picks scientists, engineers and technogists into governing positions. How many UK MPs and Lords and civil servants come from such backgrounds?

Fiona Pancheri
Fiona Pancheri
3 years ago

What has always struck me is that there are a: far too many politicians in Westminster and b: far too many of them have never worked in the rough and tumble of the private sector. My recommendation would be that all would-be MPs have to have spent 5 years minimum in a regular non state paid job. Secondly that all who take Ministerial posts have to have been trained in that speciality, eg: medic for health ministry, teacher for education minister and so on. We also need fewer lawyers and more engineers.

Chuck Burns
Chuck Burns
3 years ago

The situation we are in is a result of aggressive power hungry Leftist politics. That we have allowed the Globalist Left to take any power at all has been a fatal error. These end justifies the means Marxists, Socialists, and Communists are ruthless ideologues who will stop at nothing to force their agenda. The lunatic Klaus Schwab is the poster child for the movement. He has the accent down, all he needs are highly polished Jack Boots and keys to various re-education and extermination camps to complete his costume. We have our own examples of far Left authoritarian crazies in the USA. Cuomo, Witmer, Murphy, and nepotism Newsom in California. Might as well mention Canada’s virtuoso dancing clueless clown Justin Trudeau, Victoria Australia’s imbecile is Daniel Andrews. Honorable mention for New Zealand’s witless Jacinda Ardern. I had thought that the UK’s Boris was the real deal. He seems to be very educated but Boris has turned out to be a Manchurian candidate for the Great reset. The Commie COVID bio-warfare attack seems to be the catalyst that triggered all these A$$ holes to simultaneously start their Jack Booted marches to the Great reset.

mike otter
mike otter
3 years ago
Reply to  Chuck Burns

BJ is probably more in thrall to post modernist stupidity than even the sickening Arden or Trudeau. Its a great way of passing off guilt for decisions made in relationships, fatherhood or at work etc. BJ can simply pass the guilt over to the patriachy or people with light skin color. Very similar to Blair becoming catholic after figuring that their god may offer forgiveness for illegal wars, whereas a true protestant god offers fire and brimstone and protestant light like CofE offer at the very least a stern talking to.

Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

The article identifies a supremely important problem, but in very general terms. Unsurprisingly, the proposed solutions do not make a lot of sense. For example, it seems customary for articles on this site to blame neo-liberalism for most of life’s problems. In this case, I know neo-liberals argue for a smaller state, but I’m not aware of any that argue for an incompetent one, or one apparently tied up in a lot of PC nonsense. And, another example: does anyone seriously think the state would have handled the pandemic better if the utilities and major industries were in the public sector? I’d have more confidence in the vaccination programme rollout if it was being managed by Amazon than by the NHS!

David Owen
David Owen
3 years ago

In a 2018 Spectator article “The Rise of the Bluffocracy ““ Britain has become hooked on a culture of inexpertise”, James Ball and Andrew Greenway skewered the bluffers with PPE or law degrees who have never had “proper” jobs yet fill the senior ranks of government, civil service, quangos, think-tanks and media in a symbiotic bubble. They are insiders who know how the system works, how to use it and how to play the game. And end up with sinecures at the banks, consultancies, think tanks and public companies that have benefitted from their largesse with our money. James and Andrew thought only a “decent-sized war” will present an opportunity to effect change but, as our army admitted to the Defence Committee (09.10.20) that it can’t even field a single division, any war won’t last long enough to drain this foetid swamp.

Stanley Baldwin started precautions against German air raids in 1935. Rearmament and recruitment of citizen auxiliaries gathered pace (Territorial Army, Navy and RAF volunteer reserves). If the bluffocracy clergy is to be reformed it must be leavened by a laity of men and women, unaffiliated to any political party, think tank, trade organisation or quango. Active or retired members of the public who have had “proper jobs”, experienced professionals with practical knowledge from public and private sectors. Part-time auxiliaries in local groups throughout the country (the pandemic has highlighted the willingness to volunteer and efficacy of participation in web-based communications) who would not make the decisions but, unencumbered by party and political intrigue, perform sanity checks and
peer review of local and national government policies, plans and strategies, interrogate data and evaluate the results. They would replace the select committees or comprise at least 50% of their membership, perhaps populate a reformed House of Lords. These cadres would be think tanks without agendas – reserves of practical competence and experience to be mobilised when required. A sorely needed resource, given the educational and professional profiles of most civil servants and politicians of all stripes. The country’s innate latent wealth of skill, experience and knowledge was and is spurned. As anathema to the Civil Service, the cadres would hold its feet to the fire and force it to up its game.

David Foot
David Foot
3 years ago

If I had to name one responsible guilty man (system even) it must be Marxism and Xi President of the People’s Republic of China. Only a week or two ago the journalist who alerted the world of this problem was coming our way was imprisoned by Marxism and the doctor who saw this coming after having a hard time this hero of mankind died.
I don’t think that there is any doubt about these facts and how Marxism let mankind down yet again and is causing an untold amount of dead yet again.
The UK response was not at the same level as that of Taiwan or Japan which after being the best should be what we should be aiming for. The reason for this is that they have much better scientific leaders with experience in those parts and most likely the admission to civil servants is via a meritocracy and not parasitocracy as was here in this case. Advisors who don’t know what they are talking about Vance and Whitty were anything but. In a meritocracy they would have resigned already, they failed right from the start.

Our politicians out of necessity will do U turns when confronted with this problem because nobody knows what will come next except “Captain Hindsight” and we all know who the Brownie-Point scorer out there is with the crystal balls.
All in all some of the responses by the UK were very poor and others very good at a world level, there is a lot of room for improvement, like the big promised shake up of the civil service, media, judiciary, police all of which need to be decolonized of Marxists and made much more agile and less parasitic, for example such conditioning Marxists are concerned with retired doctors going through some “inclusive rubbish course” before they can join in with administering lifesaving vaccines!. How can Marxists like that be allowed even near such professionals and the civil service with so scarce or even missing intellect built to condition results with a total lack of MERIT.
This has been indeed a wakeup call, there could have been a much more challenging virus, and we need to be ready for it if and when it comes and then survival may well depend of having proper scientists, with real knowledge and whose reply to a sick animal is not just to shoot it.

William Harvey
William Harvey
3 years ago

Id recommend that the author of this piece do some research into the disastrously state of the UK in the later 1960’s and 1970’s.

Google searches for The 3 day week in the UK in the 1970’s or The UKs Winter of Discontent might be a good place to start.

Britain in the late 60’s and 1970’s was an awful , dysfunctional place to live and the idea that more state intervention will fix the current situation is nonsense.

Good government is about corralling the forces of the free market it to help make the country a better place for as many as possible. The current group of “people in charge” dont seem to have the background or intelligence required to run a modern technology driven state.
That said .. they are good at managing the main stream news media.

It may have slipped the authors notice but Communist China only prospered once it stopped trying to own and run everything directly.

Mike Hursthouse
Mike Hursthouse
3 years ago

In a long career I have worked in the professions, the private sector, the charitable sector, local and central government and nothing was as bad as central government, not even local government.

In fairness there are problems within the public sector not experienced within other sectors. For a start everything has to be judged within the framework of politics which warps the decision making process, and this in turn is not at all helped by having politicians in charge of huge departments, many of these politicians having run nary so much as an office lottery syndicate in their working lives. Then there is the sheer scale of the undertaking. The key to success is a combination of strategic vision and mastery of the detail. It is very hard to master details quickly enough in an unprecedented situation like the pandemic.

Having said that, the Civil Service falls into the almost inevitable trap common amongst large, sclerotic institutions: it recruits people “like us.” So what you get are policy wonks, people with good academic qualifications but often a limited experience of the real World, and, not least, people with no understanding of the business world and no creativity or understanding of the dynamics of enterprise. This recipe can work reasonably well when everything is normal, but it fails completely when things like national crises happen.

The author was right to pan the institutions of state but his remedy: renationalising key components of it like utilities and the railways, shows a complete lack of understanding about how things work in practice, and of history – he obviously didn’t live in pre-Thatcherite Britain.

What would I do? Reform of the Civil Service as Dominic Cummings wanted is key, but not in the way that he envisaged.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

The real great reset will come about as a result of our country and a great many others becoming bankrupt, after the way our governments have handled this disease.

The lack of trust in the state and in govts. of every political shade will be almost total. The lack of treasury funds to keep the state afloat will be almost total as the businesses that supply them will be non existent. The polarisation between the idiots who think the govt. have money of their own and should be investing it to keep the state afloat and those who know the govt. killed the goose that lays the golden egg will be almost total.

But the truth will emerge from that polarisation, people who are resourceful and creative will survive, but not flourish sufficiently that the state will be able to act as a parasite upon them. Either it will become Stalinesque and deal with them, as he did the enterprising peasant farmers scraping by, and will thereby kill the goose a second time destroying the golden egg laying breed forever. Or the surviving population will understand that it is the state that has ruined them and will never allow socialism to flourish again. There will be no mood for compromise only the will to power.

jodybigfoot
jodybigfoot
3 years ago

The real solution is devolution of budgeting and responsibility to smaller communities, the state’s beaurocrats no matger how efficient are far too removed from the real life situations they manage

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  jodybigfoot

Do the English people truly want more local power? I am not so sure. It is far easier to whine about Westm.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I like to think that we do want more local power. Now that we are rid of one level of malign interference i.e. the EU, perhaps we will have the confidence to slough off as much interference and incompetence from Westminster as we possibly can.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

How did EU membership stop W handing more power to (say) Leeds?
NuLab tried to do that (regional assemblies) – how did that work out? I remember Leavers claiming that it was a plot by EU to break up England.
It is not a conspiracy, despite English pretensions the modern English state (starting with Tudors) has always been centralized. If the English wanted Swiss style gov (cantons) it would have gotten it.
The reason that English local gov is weak it is because that is how the English want it. The problem was/is the gap between English perceptions of themselves and the reality.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  jodybigfoot

10,000 Andy Burnhams? No thanks.

William Gladstone
William Gladstone
3 years ago

So hang on you want us to put our faith in Starmer and France and China. Er no. Cronyism, crappism and just evil is no better than Boris and the awful civil service (I mean seriously as if Starmer who is a complete woke swamp creature will achieve any reform at all is just a joke). How about instead we trust the people and have direct democracy and yes we can then get intelligent deciosions free of corruption such as closing the border if needed.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

“…direct democracy…”
LOL

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

It’s that LOL again isn’t it?
Only used by children, Jeremy.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

You can not teach an old dog new tricks.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

P!ss off.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Is that kind of language really necessary?

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

When dealing with Jeremy, yes.
I answer him in his own coin.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
3 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

I don’t agree with the vast majority of what he says either, but he’s not (overly) rude. Keep it civil.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
3 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Harvey

He has been pretty rude.
In my defence I am polite to everyone else.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

When you are under starter’s orders to depart London Jeremy, you should consider Switzerland as an alternative to Luxembourg.

I have grandchildren living there and am a frequent invader. Its form of direct democracy works well and everyone appears much happier than the disgruntled Demos of the UK.
They are proud of their history, thrashing the Habsburg thugocracy of the 13th century, and the Burgundian bullies of the 15th for example.

They have managed to integrate their three majors linguistic and cultural divisions superbly, in total contrast to the fiasco that is the devolved UK, seething as it is with petty spite and envy, at every turn.

There is off course a slightly authoritarian streak, that you may not be used to in Quislington.
Recently one of my Springer Spaniels, to use a biblical term (Isaiah 36:12) ‘released a t**d from bondage’ by the village fountain, unnoticed by myself. On returning home the door bell soon rang, but on opening it there was no one in sight, just the lonely t**d, steaming in the snow on the doorstep! A lesson learned!
Good luck.

croftyass
croftyass
3 years ago

in that tens of thousands of fellow countrymen are now dead due to a series of catastrophic errors.
Presumably referring to the collateral damage due to lockdown?
The primary function, and duty, of the state is to keep the people safe; all authority flows from this compact with the nation.
I think you need to elucidate here -safe from what exactly-and within what parameters?Everything?Cancer/heart attacks/suicide?
and as for rebuild the capacity of the British state do you really think that Kneel Starmer and his mates are even vaguely qualified to design,implement and oversee such a project-?
Other than that-some fair points!!!!

John Lamble
John Lamble
3 years ago

Wonderful, especially the sub-title, but I’m mega-surprised that an erstwhile ‘war reporter’ doesn’t seem to be aware of the military circumstances of the British retreat at the start of WW2. After all, it happened largely under the command of General Alan Brooke who was arguably the allies’ most competent soldier and, later, as Chief of the Imperial General Staff was constantly at Churchill’s side and formulated the grand strategy to win the war which was accepted even by the Americans.

Sure, the UK forces were ill-equipped compared to the Germans but they gave Rommel quite a fright when they met him head on. However, it was the sudden total collapse of the French which left the UK forces with an open flank which necessitated the retreat to Dunkirk.

Yes, in the run-up to the war the British establishment and civil service were the usual incompetent menace and it’s a miracle that a few good men just had enough power to save the country and slowly turn things around.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  John Lamble

“Sure, the UK forces were ill-equipped compared to the Germans but they gave Rommel quite a fright when they met him head on”
What version of history is that?