Priti Patel: what a vindictive operator she is – smirking as she goes about her mischief.
It seems clear that – no matter what the official line is – there definitely is a rift between Home Secretary Priti Patel and the civil servants running her department.
It is vindictive – and extremely insensitive – of any boss to try to sack somebody on the day before Christmas, no matter what they have done.
Communications director Andy Tighe had overseen public relations disasters like the response to Grenfell and the Windrush scandal – but those were precipitated by the actions of elected Conservatives and it would be unfair (in This Writer’s opinion) to use them as an excuse to sack him.
But of course we don’t know her reasons; maybe she just doesn’t like the guy.
In any event, Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Rutnam was quite right to postpone the sacking until after the New Year.
But we hear that this act of compassion has contributed to a rift between Ms Patel and Sir Philip that has prompted her to demand that he be removed from his post.
Who is at fault, here?
The civil service manager who struggled to take care of his staff – or the smirking politician who was determined to cause upset wherever she went?
She has already been accused of racism in her support of Boris Johnson’s decision to allow the employment of the racist Andrew Sabisky.
What are we to make of her demand for a report into the ethnicity of grooming gangs?
Does their race really matter to anybody – unless they want to make racist points?
Isn’t it more important to find the perpetrators – whatever their ethnicity – and bring them to justice?
One has to question Ms Patel’s motives.
Better still, perhaps she should be ejected from the government in favour of someone with less of a personal agenda.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Lord Lawson of Blaby served as chancellor between 1983-89 [Image: BBC].
It depends on your priorities with regard to Europe.
Certainly the civil service may be uneasy about Brexit as it would make UK foreign policy objectives harder to achieve – especially if they really are as described by Sir Humphrey Appleby in the legendary sitcom Yes, Minister:
“The Civil Service was united in its desire to ensure the Common Market didn’t work. That’s why we went into it.”
“Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years – to create a disunited Europe.”
“Divide and rule. Why should we change now, when it’s worked so well?”
“We tried to break it up from the outside, but that didn’t work. Now that we’re on the inside, we can make a complete pig’s breakfast of the whole thing!”
Now we’re going back to being on the outside, and – no matter whether politicians and civil servants really do want to break up the EU or not – our foreign policy objectives will become much harder to achieve. EU nations will view us with distrust – the Quitters of Europe.
But it seems wrong – to This Writer – to suggest that the civil service would actively try to spoil Brexit. It doesn’t have to.
All anybody has to do is wait.
If events tick along according to ministers’ – and permanent secretaries’ – desires, then all well and good.
If not, then the nation will get a sobering lesson in what happens when we deliberately decide to have less influence in the world.
Either way, the civil service wins – because government will always need somebody to do the actual work.
Civil servants will “do their best to frustrate” Brexit, Lord Lawson has said in an interview with BBC Newsnight.
The former chancellor said Whitehall felt uneasy about Brexit because it represented radical change.
His remarks highlight unease in the cabinet at the civil service’s handling of Brexit.
Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood responded by saying that the civil service prided itself on supporting the mandate of the government of the day.
It is said that you can get the measure of a man, not from his words, but from his actions. Iain Duncan Smith brought bodyguards to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee yesterday. (Monday)
Why did he need the muscle? Probably because he knew how his behaviour would be received. This is a man who is absolutely not going to accept criticism, in any form at all.
The man whose benefit reforms were mocked by Ed Balls last week as “In Deep Sh…ambles” batted away concerns about inaccurate statistics as somebody else’s fault and, when confronted with a whistleblower’s claim that jobseekers were being sanctioned indiscriminately, said he wanted to see the evidence.
That’s a bit much, coming from the man who is still withholding the mortality statistics of people going through the assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance. Where is that evidence?
Our evidence that he had a bodyguard comes from Paula Peters on Facebook, who attended the meeting. She wrote: “The police, and they were armed, hustled him into the room. He had a bodyguard in the room with him! What the hell for? We are entitled to watch proceedings and follow due process.”
Dame Anne Begg, chairing the meeting, pointed out that the UK Statistics Authority has received more complaints about the Department of Work and Pensions’ use of statistics than any other government department.
His response: “Yes, but I’ve had two letters. One was about two years ago, concerning something about the use of them on immigration, but they let that one sit – and the last one was where we had a discussion on the use of where I referred to those going back to work on the back of the benefit cap. They said that … I should not make the link. I believed it to be the case – that those people were going back to work due to the fact of reducing the cap; that’s my belief. They said it should not remain as a flat statistic, which we’ve accepted.”
So in that one respect, he admitted that he was wrong.
But he also said: “We have published, over the period that I have been there, over 500 statistical releases. We’ve also started the innovation of ‘ad hoc’ releases – which, actually, we were congratulated for by UKSA… We try and publish as regularly as possible… We try to sell a positive message, and I know there have been issues around negativity with regard to disability benefits.”
Pressed on the fact that Grant Shapps had claimed nearly 900,000 people shuffled off ESA because they weren’t willing to take the work capability assessment, the Secretary of State denied responsibility: “We didn’t actually – and have never – given them that idea about those figures. It was something that they put together and released themselves. I wasn’t even aware that they were going out with that comment at the time… I have had conversations with him and others about being careful to check with the department.”
Committee member Debbie Abrahams wanted to know about the claim by a whistleblower in Job Centre Plus, that JSA claimants were deliberately being set up to fail, contrary to the Civil Service code, with ploys including making appointments without telling the claimant, in order to create an easy opportunity for a sanction and thereby distorting statistics – not after they had been collected but in the collection itself.
She said the whistleblower had tried to raise the issue with managers at all levels, but had been rebuffed each time.
“Well, I’m not aware of that,” drawled Mr Duncan Smith, “and I have to say that I would like to see his evidence for that. With respect, he is making an allegation about some of the incredibly hard work that job advisors do. There’s always one or two people who have a different view about operating in an organisation. I happen to believe that, unless it is proved to the contrary, people in Job Centres do a very good job, work very hard, and they apply sanctions within the rules.”
Challenged on this by Dame Anne, he started to claim that sanctions are always issued because of failure to comply with the strictures imposed on claimants, provoking an interruption from Debbie Abrahams that caused his mask to slip momentarily. “I have listened a lot to what has been said – and moaning about this… You’ve had a fair crack at this.”
So there you have it. Statistical errors are nothing to do with Iain Duncan Smith. Sanctions are always applied fairly and never to distort the statistics.
And anyone who thinks otherwise is “moaning”.
Paula Peters, in her Facebook post, said that disability minister Mike Penning met people from organisations representing the disabled. She reported his words as follows:
“Our disabilities are our fault.
“Diabetes is a lifestyle choice.
“Everyone who claims benefits is frauding the system.
“Everyone who uses the access to work programme is frauding it.”
The public verdict on the meeting has been universally negative. Nicola Clubb (again on Facebook) summed it up well: “I have just watched an hour’s worth of IDS and the DWP evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee and they let him and his three cronies off the hook.
“They did not push him him to explain his use of dodgy stats, they just asked him about a couple of pieces of data released by people.”
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Don’t blame Whitehall: Civil servants are highly-trained experts in their field; Conservative politicians are amateurs with opinions. Who do YOU think is responsible for the cock-up called Universal Credit? [Picture: Daily Telegraph]
Isn’t it a shame for the Tories that they hung their ‘welfare’ ‘reforms’ on an incompetent like Iain Duncan Smith?
Accused of wasting £140 million of taxpayers’ money on his white elephant Universal Credit scheme (or is it scam?) he can at least take comfort that the latest report followed his lead and fell back on what is now becoming a Conservative Party Standard Excuse: Blame the civil service.
We call him ‘RTU’ because we believe his incompetence as an Army officer led to him being ‘Returned To Unit’ and eventually shuffled out of the service and it is this history that seems to be repeating itself here.
Let’s have a look at the “alarmingly weak” management for which the Secretary-in-a-State was rightly criticised by the Commons Public Accounts Committee this week.
We know that the project is now well behind schedule, despite protestations to the contrary from RTU and the Department for Work and Pensions. A planned pilot roll-out in April was restricted to just one Job Centre, where they handled only the simplest cases, working them out on spreadsheets because the IT system is open to fraud.
“From the outset, the department has failed to grasp the nature and enormity of the task; failed to monitor and challenge progress regularly; and, when problems arose, failed to intervene promptly,” said Public Accounts Committee chair, Margaret Hodge. She described the system’s implementation as not only poor but “extraordinarily” poor.
And she said the pilot scheme was not a proper pilot, as “It does not deal with the key issues that universal credit must address: the volume of claims; their complexity; change in claimants’ circumstances; and the need for claimants to meet conditions for continuing entitlement to benefit”.
The report by the committee singled out the DWP’s permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, for particular criticism, saying he only became aware of problems in ‘ad hoc’ reviews, because reporting arrangements were inadequate and had not alerted him to problems. Even after he knew of major problems, he did not closely monitor the project, the report stated.
It seems Conservatives on the committee wanted more criticisms to be included, and The Guardian has stated that senior Tories have said they would accept Devereaux’s resignation, if offered.
Let’s face it: we’ve been here before.
Michael Gove’s Education Department is now in a terrible mess because he brought in a gang of “advisors” to operate “above” his officials – who have meanwhile faced huge cuts in their workforce and a disastrous fall in morale. Gove brought his ignorant mates in to force their foolishness on the professionals, as this blog reported in June.
Civil servants do what elected Members of Parliament tell them to do. They pay attention to the wishes of their political leaders and apply their considerable expertise to the problems set for them, in order to produce the required result, within budget, while complying with the strictures laid down by those political leaders.
They are very good at their job.
If they are failing, then the problem must lie with the politicians. If a goal is unrealistic, then blaming the ‘help’ is totally unproductive – it only serves to make them hostile.
And, let’s face it, we’ve all seen sheep with more intelligence than Iain Duncan Smith.
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What Britain Wants: Delegates at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester were outnumbered three-to-one by the 50,000 demonstrators against the party’s austerity policies, who chanted “Out, Tory scum!”
Do rank-and-file Tories really believe their party’s “achievements” in taxation will propel it to victory in the next election?
To recap: The Coalition government has cut taxes to allow 13,000 income-millionaires an extra £100,000 each, but at the other end of the income scale, raising the tax threshold nominally gave the poorest in society an extra £600 per year – which has been completely wiped out by the rising cost of living and cuts in social security benefits. Most people in the UK earn less than the average wage so it is easy to conclude that many more people will be affected.
It might be a mouth-watering policy for the ‘have-yachts’ who now appear to comprise the majority of party membership after the mass defections and membership card-burning displays of recent months, but party leaders know that they need to keep that sort of thing quiet and woo the masses with a more attractive proposition.
They’re not stupid. They have learned a trick or two from David Cameron’s short-lived “detoxification” before they came back into public office, and they believe their “bait and switch” tactic is serving them well. They need a user-friendly “bait” to get the average citizens’ votes, after which they can “switch” back to the terrifying policies of oppression that we have tasted – yes, only tasted – over the last three years.
So Andrew Rawnsley in The Guardiantells us: “The high-speed rail link is to be rebranded ‘the north-south railway’ in an attempt to convince voters that the Tories want an economic recovery for all regions of the country.”
And Andrew Gimson on ConservativeHomestates: “There is a bit of window-dressing about cautions, which is meant to show that the Tories are tough on crime. And there is an irresponsible scheme to help people buy over-priced houses, which is meant to show that the party is on the side of people who do not have rich parents.
“If I were a floating voter, I think I would find these attempts to gain my support rather patronising,” he adds – and we can all agree with that.
Then he has to ruin it with: “Why can the party not rely on the substantial reforms being made in such fields as taxation, welfare, education and health?”
Simple answer: Because nobody wanted them.
We have already covered taxation in part. To the regressive changes in income tax that have helped the rich and attacked the poor, we should add the non-attempt to handle tax avoidance, which amounts to a few weasel words spoken for the benefit of the public while the ‘Big Four’ accountancy (and tax avoidance) firms continue to write the law on the subject, ensuring that their schemes – together with the people and firms on them – continue to avoid the attention of HM Revenue and Customs.
Is that fair? Do you think it will appeal to the poverty-stricken voter-on-the-street?
Welfare: George Osborne was set to unveil a new intensification of Workfare today (Monday), in which everyone who has been unemployed for more than two years will have to go on work placements in order to receive their benefits. This is, of course, utterly pointless. Such schemes ensure that fewer real jobs are available (why should an employer pay anyone a living wage when the government is supplying a steady stream of workers for free?) and have proved worse than useless at getting anyone into the few positions that remain. The announcement may cheer the Tory faithful but Andrew Gimson’s article suggests that these people are further out of touch than their MPs!
It is interesting that the new plan is not being unveiled by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, but by his rival. It seems that Smith really has been ‘Returned To Unit’ for the time being – perhaps because he has done more to re-toxify the Tory brand than most of the party’s other front-benchers put together!
It is, however, a sad example of the power of media censorship that people are more stirred up by his bedroom tax than they are about the fact that his Unum-inspired and Atos-driven work capability assessments for Employment and Support Allowance claimants have led to so many thousands of deaths – yes, deaths – that the government is refusing to release the fatality statistics.
Education: Michael Gove is working hard to dismantle state education, so schools may be run for profit, rather than to educate our children. He has distorted international statistics to make it seem that our performance had worsened when in fact it had improved – and got an official warning about it from the UK Statistics Authority. He lied about the advantages of schools becoming academies – all schools already control the length of the school day, teachers’ pay and the curriculum. His claim that autonomy would improve performance remains entirely unfounded – non-academy schools outperform them. His expensive Free Schools experiment is pointless if intended to improve education – in Sweden a similar experiment increased racial and social divisions while education standards dropped. American ‘Charter’ schools were also held up as examples of “extraordinary” change, but almost half showed no improvement and more than one-third worsened. Gove’s next stop, following the ‘Charter’ schools’ example, will be privatisation – schools-for-profit. Meanwhile, he intends to worsen academic achievement by promoting an outdated, learn-by-rote, system of teaching that is scorned by the other countries he says he admires, in favour of creativity. And he has undermined not only teacher morale and conditions, but also the morale of his own civil servants. Our children don’t even have the right to a qualified teacher any more. Now he wants performance-related-pay, rather than national pay awards – further undermining teachers and teaching standards.
And Tory policy on health has been the biggest betrayal of the lot: If David Cameron had any support at all in 2010, it was because he had promised to support the National Health Service in the then-upcoming time of austerity. He promised no top-down reorganisations of the NHS, even though he knew his then-health spokesman, Andrew Lansley, had been working on exactly that for many years. After worming his way into Number 10, they immediately embarked on the piecemeal privatisation of this country’s greatest asset, and this is now well under way, with contracts worth billions of pounds awarded to private companies for work that was previously carried out by the nationalised service, and a quarter of the commissioning groups – that we were told would be run by GPs and other health specialists – now run by the private accounting firm (also one of the Big Four and a subsidiary of Atos) KPMG.
Even their performance on the economy – which both Cameron and Osborne made the yardstick for determining this Parliament’s success – has been poor. The current upturn has nothing to do with Osborne’s policies and everything to do with the UK’s current position in the economic cycle – in short, things had to get better eventually.
This is why the Tories are gathering under the false slogan “For Hard-Working People”, rather than the more appropriate “For The Idle Rich” that Andrew Rawnsley suggests. The party’s leaders understand what their dwindling support base does not – that they need the masses to believe the Conservatives are on their side.
This is why they can only wheel out watered-down or repackaged policies that they hope will please the crowds – the party’s leaders understand that anything more solid will turn us away.
If you get the chance, have a good look at the speakers in this year’s conference. Every one of them will be terrified that their message isn’t strong enough or that the public will see through it – and remove their snouts from the trough in 2015.
The fact is, they had already blown it – long before they got anywhere near Manchester.
“Not even this much”: Iain Duncan Smith demonstrates how much he cares about the damage his policies are doing to public health, and to the public finances. (Image: Evening Standard)
When it comes to Iain Duncan Smith, it seems the point still isn’t being made forcefully enough.
So let us be perfectly clear: This man is a liability to the United Kingdom. He is costing this country billions of pounds with his failed pet projects like Universal Credit, his contracted-out work programmes that are more likely to hinder people looking for a job then get them into one, and even his enormous expenses claims – £39, just for breakfast!
Now it seems he has lied to Parliament – yet again. He told the House of Commons, and the country at large, that his Department for Work and Pensions expected to write off £34 million of investment in the IT systems being developed to administer his real-time, six-benefits-in-one Universal Credit. The actual amount, revealed to Parliament’s public accounts committee yesterday, is more like £161 million.
Not only that, but he was lying when he said he had been monitoring the project constantly. If that is true, then why was a civil servant’s personal assistant allowed to sign off contracts when the responsibility lay with himself, or at least his ministers?
Even more damning, it seems the DWP has spent the last six months sitting on this information, rather than actually doing anything about it!
And this odious little liar last week tried to blame the civil service for Universal Credit’s failure. He is a lower form of life than an intestinal worm.
He described her call to abolish the tax as “outrageous”, claiming that it undermined the impartiality of the UN. Isn’t it more accurate to say that she has revealed the truth, and now he is panicking?
He said he wanted UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to investigate Ms Rolnik’s conduct – a line already pointlessly taken by Grant Shapps, all of whose claims were lies, as we discovered yesterday.
In the Daily Mail, he said she had not asked ministers or officials for their input, adding: “I find it staggering that without this official information Mrs Rolnik feels she is in a position to be able to properly prescribe what the future of the policy should be.” In fact, she met many officials and government representatives, all of whom are listed in her preliminary report.
So IDS – or RTU, as we like to describe him here (it refers to Army personnel who are Returned To Unit for failing to make the grade) – has lied again. And he joined a deeply dodgy cadre of Conservatives in denouncing her for – among other things – being born in a country with worse deprivation than the UK. Doesn’t that put her in an excellent position to point out the faults in our system?
But then, what can we expect from this vile creature. There are strains of syphilis with more charm and social grace.
Is the point made yet?
Back in May, Vox Political published ‘Iain Duncan Smith has committed contempt of Parliament and should be expelled’. That article has been read by more than 12,600 people who almost unanimously supported it. Now we see that he has shown the same contempt, to Parliament, to the British people, and now to a respected and senior United Nations representative. Go back and refresh your memory if you need to do so.
Is the point made now?
No, it probably isn’t.
The fact of the matter is that most people won’t care, because most people don’t think they are affected by the disasters Iain Duncan Smith is inflicting on us.
They are wrong.
Just go back and consider the cost of all his mistakes: Billions of pounds wasted. Possibly tens of billions, when you consider the cumulative effect (although this would be a hard concept for him; he has resisted all attempts to get his Department to provide a cumulative assessment of his regressive changes’ effect on this country’s poor for many months, claiming it would be “too difficult”).
Tens of billions of pounds have been wasted on his so-called attempts to cut the benefit bill, while that bill has increased, year on year, because of his government’s policies.
As Adlai Stevenson said of Nixon (and the comparison to Nixon is well-deserved): “He is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree and then mount the stump to make a speech for conservation.”
This hypocrite does not speak for you. He doesn’t speak for the taxpayers because he is robbing them of their hard-earned money and wasting it despicably. He doesn’t speak for the unemployed, the sick or the disabled because he is a social darwinist who would steal a wheelchair to see how the owner managed without it. He doesn’t speak for Parliament because he has lied to Parliament.
Why aren’t you demanding his dismissal in your millions?
Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it’s your right to criticise.
Here’s a long-standing Conservative policy that has served that party very well over the years and continues to be alive today: Incrementalism.
This is the process of putting several changes into a single policy – or using one change as an excuse for another – so that, even if the main aim is defeated by public opinion or Parliament, others are achieved. Their plans progress by increments.
This week we are seeing it in several ways.
Did you think Chris Grayling’s announcement about Legal Aid was a victory for common sense and freedom? Think again.
He announced yesterday that plans to cut the Legal Aid bill by awarding contracts only to the lowest bidder have been dropped, after they attracted huge criticism.
The policy had been mocked because it meant smaller legal firms would be priced out of the market and replaced by legal outbranchings of large firms like Tesco or even Eddie Stobart. For these companies, there would be no financial incentive to fight any cases and they would most probably advise defendants to admit any crime, even if they were innocent. Meanwhile, habitual criminals, used to accepting the advice of their regular representative, would distrust that of the man from Eddie McTesco in his ‘My First Try At Law’ suit and would most likely deny everything. Result: The innocent go to jail and the guilty go free.
That was the headline issue; it has been defeated.
But Grayling still intends to cut Legal Aid fees by 17.5 per cent across the board. How many law firms will find they can’t operate on such lowered incomes?
The government’s war on immigrants will be stepped up with a residency test; only those who have lived in the UK for more than 12 months will be eligible for Legal Aid. Otherwise, for poorer immigrants, there will be no access to justice here.
Thousands of cases brought by people who have already been imprisoned will no longer be eligible for legal aid. Grayling says it won’t be available “because you don’t like your prison”. One supposes we are to hope this loss of one more right will not adversely affect people who are fighting wrongful imprisonment, or who have crimes committed against them while they are in prison, but we should all doubt that.
There is one block on Legal Aid that we may support, in fairness: An income restriction meaning that people with more than £3,000 left over every month after paying their “essential outgoings” will not be entitled to it. That’s a lot of money, and people earning this much should definitely be paying their own legal fees and not asking the taxpayer to do it for them.
According to the BBC report, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the dropping of ‘price competitive tendering’, as the plan to award contracts to the lowest bidder was known, was “a humiliating climbdown”.
It would have been better for him to take a leaf out of the charity Reprieve’s book. Its representatives said blocking Legal Aid to immigrants who have been here less than a year would deny justice to people wronged by the UK government, ranging from victims of torture and rendition to Gurkhas and Afghan interpreters denied the right to settle here. Legal director Kat Craig said the government wanted to “silence its critics in the courts”.
Another attempt to silence critics of the government is the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill, which is due to be discussed in Parliament next week.
The publicised aim of this legislation was to curb what comedy Prime Minister David Cameron himself has called “the next big scandal” – but none of the measures in the first part of the Bill would achieve this. A statutory register of all consultant lobbyists – those working for independent companies who represent the interests of others – as recommended by the Bill, would have prevented none of the lobbying scandals in which Cameron has found himself embroiled during his premiership.
Instead, it seems likely that this will make lobbying by smaller-scale individuals and organisations more difficult, while larger concerns, with in-house lobbyists, may continue to walk through the doors of Number 10, chequebook in hand, and buy any policy they deem beneficial to their business. If this Bill becomes law, they’ll be rubbing our faces in it.
The Bill was introduced on the very last day that Parliament sat before the summer recess – and ministers waited until the very last moment to bolt two new sections onto it. There had been no consultation on the content of these sections, and the timetable proposed for the Bill meant there could be only limited discussion of them.
These were the provisions for gagging political campaigners who do not belong to a political party, and for tying up trade unions in excessive and unneeded red tape. The only possible reason for the first of these is to stop anyone from publishing material that criticises the government in the run-up to the next election – a totalitarian move if every there was one.
And the restriction on trade unions, having their memberships audited independently, is totally unnecessary as the unions already adhere to very strict rules on membership. The real reason would appear to be a plan to make union membership a matter of public knowledge in order to allow businesses to ‘blacklist’ anyone in a union – stop them from getting jobs.
The Bill “will now undergo more detailed scrutiny from MPs”, the BBC website story states. This scrutiny will last a mere three days, next week. This is far too short a period, and rushed onto the Parliamentary schedule far too early, for MPs to subject it to proper scrutiny.
Some of the provisions will be altered, but the Tories are sure to get their way in others. The possibility that union members will be ‘blacklisted’ seems extremely likely, since this is something Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats are not keen to oppose.
And then there is Iain Duncan Smith, who came under fire from the National Audit Office yesterday, over his extremely expensive and utterly unworkable bid to remake social security in his own image – Universal Credit.
The report hammered the project for the poor leadership shown throughout – nobody knew what Universal Credit was supposed to do or how its aims were supposed to be achieved, the timescales imposed for it were unrealistic, the management structure imposed on it was unorthodox and (it turned out) unworkable, there were no adequate measures of progress, and nobody working on the project was able to explain the reasoning behind any of these decisions.
Smith himself, whose likely inadequacies as a bag-carrier in the Army have led to him being labelled ‘RTU’ (Returned To Unit, a sign of shame in the armed forces), was revealed to have lied to Parliament last year, when he claimed the process was running smoothly just weeks after having to order a rethink of the entire project.
The article in which that description was made also described ministerial attacks on civil servants as “the Conservatives’ latest wheeze”. Michael Gove has already hammered morale in his Education department by making huge staff cuts and then employing his ignorant mates to impose their stupid views on the professionals.
It also foreshadowed RTU’s outburst this week, quoting a Spectator article that said, “If Universal Credit is a flop, then it will prove our current Whitehall set-up is failing. But if it succeeds, it will be no thanks to the Civil Service either”.
So the scene is set for the government to attack the very people who try to enact its policies. This blog stands by its words in the previous article, when the plan was described this: “Blame the Civil Service for everything, cut it back, and leave the actual mechanics of government unusable by anybody who follows”.
Meanwhile, ministers such as Mr ‘Denial’ Smith have made the British government an international laughing-stock.
Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Strategy and Leadership at the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth, in the USA, tweeted the following yesterday: “Shocked to hear top guy not take full responsibility for bad execution. Never happens in America.
“140 character twitter not enough to convey amateurism of leader who can’t lead.”
He might not be able to lead, but – by devious means – he and his odious ilk are getting almost everything they want.
Here’s a good anti-Coalition soundbite: It’s based on a well-known saying and it tackles the falsehoods put out by Iain ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith.
Sitting in the cafe yesterday, I was discussing the situation in Egypt with a couple of friends. One was getting quite heated because he considered the problem to have been created by the “fundamentalist Islamic government they elected”.
He said something like, “These fundamentalists promised everyone the world. They said they would make everything better, did whatever they could to secure the vote – and then once they were in power they forgot all those promises and did whatever they wanted instead. They got what they wanted from the people and then the people could go hang.”
I couldn’t resist. “So you’re saying they’re exactly like the Conservative Party over here, then,” I replied.
Laughter all around. We laugh because it’s funny and we laugh because it’s true. And because the only alternative is tears.
Let’s not dwell on the Egyptian situation beyond what I said afterwards – that the ‘Arab Spring’ countries seem to need help in establishing the basics of real democracy but there is nobody around who can provide it. They would (rightly) distrust any foreign power that claimed to offer help, but there’s no independent organisation that offers such a service either.
The UK would be one of the last places I would advise Egypt to look. Consider the last general election here. People with a lot of money to spend on it funded a hugely expensive election campaign to get the Conservative Party into power, in order to serve their interests which are to accumulate an even larger share of the available wealth, along with the power that goes with it, while removing and restricting the freedoms of the people from whom that wealth was to be drained.
Those people got involved in politics and worked very hard to make sure they got a government that genuinely serves their interests – selfish and cruel as those interests are. They ended up having to put up with a Conservative-led government, rather than a fully Conservative one, but are now working very hard to finish the job with a propaganda campaign – based on lies – that appears to be swaying public opinion.
So they say (and here I’m quoting Owen Jones in his recent analysis): “We’re clearing up Labour’s mess. Labour overspent and now we’re balancing the books. A national deficit is like a household budget. Welfare is out of control and lining the pockets of the skivers. The unemployed person or immigrant down the road is living off your hard-earned taxes. Labour is in the pocket of union barons.”
All of these are falsehoods. They’re lies. But they’re also very effective soundbites that stay in people’s minds and colour their perceptions of the way things are.
And those responsible get away with it, I’m sorry to say, because the people who stand to lose the most are lazy. They can’t be bothered to get involved and make sure the government they get is one that genuinely serves their interests.
Why do you think Her Majesty’s Opposition is filled with neoliberals who agree with the government that our public services should be carved up and handed to private companies, to run them for profit and not in the interests of the people? Why do you think the Labour Party has agreed to stick to Coalition spending plans for the first year of the next Parliament, if it gets elected? Why do you think Labour has stopped opposing social security policies that have been killing an average of 73 people a week (according to figures that are now well out of date, so the average today is probably much higher)?
Labour doesn’t stand up for you any more. That’s why it has had no effective answer to the Tory lies. The masses can’t be bothered to find out the truth – and certainly won’t lift a finger to get involved and stop the corruption that is eating our institutions away. But that is the only way it can be stopped. You stay away and they get what they want.
At this rate, we’ll all be slaves by 2020.
It doesn’t have to be so hard, though. We could all turn the corner, just by devising a few soundbites of our own.
I was thinking this last night, while I was writing a response to Margaret Johnson. Ms Johnson was commenting on a previous article as follows (apologies to anyone who’s offended; they’re her words, not mine): “It was Labour who signed up Atos, engineered so many civil service jobs that were not needed, opened the borders for the rest of the world’s trash to enter our country, brought in more taxes, actively encouraged the demise of manufacturing and the rise of the banks, signed up to allow Europe to rule us, doubled the rate for income tax for the lowest paid, gave GP’s 100K a year to work 9-5 Monday to Friday, got the most revenue in and still left this country in the worse mess ever.”
So we could say something like (and feel free to include ‘Liberal Democrats’ wherever I have mentioned Conservatives):
“It is the Conservatives who employed a private firm, paying £1 billion to ‘A-toss’ disabled people off the benefits they need to survive.” If Labour was doing its job properly it would add: “A Labour government would save that money by throwing Atos out”.
“No wonder the government can’t make anything work properly – they have been sacking all the professionals. More than 600,000 government employees will have lost their jobs by 2015, replaced by amateurs working for the Conservatives.”
“It’s strange that the Conservatives complain so much about immigration from Europe – they signed the treaties that allow it! The Conservative governments of Edward Heath and John Major allowed the free movement of European immigrants into the UK. Now they see it is unpopular, they want to shift the blame.”
“Simplified tax under the Tories mean the rich pay less and the poor pay more.”
“Conservatives destroyed Britain’s manufacturing base in the 1980s – at the same time they created the conditions that led to the banking crisis.”
“Conservatives want to blame Europe for your problems. Who will they blame when Britain is out of the EU and your problems have multiplied?”
Going back to Owen’s examples:
“Conservatives: The only people who think they can clear up a mess by making a bigger one.”
“Conservatives say Labour overspent – but they have always spent more than Labour. You can’t trust them to balance the books.”
“If the Tories handled their household budgets like they’re handling the deficit, they would all have been evicted by now.”
“Privatisation is out of control; the Tories are using taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of greedy bosses.”
“You paid for Iain Duncan Smith’s £39 breakfast. How much do you spend on your own?”
“The Conservative Party is in the pocket of big business and the bankers.”
Of course, the above are just essays in the craft of soundbiting; I’m just a beginner.
So let’s have a competition to see who can invent the best soundbite, challenging the government’s lies with facts!
Please send your ideas in to this blog – but also put them out to the national media as well, any way you can. Try to get anyone opposing the government to use them, because this may lead to them being picked up by the newspapers and TV news reporters as well.
Above all, please try to make this fun. A soundbite is many times more effective if it makes people laugh, and the Tories and Liberal Democrats are silly, silly people. Let’s bring that out.
The idiot: “A person lacking professional skill, having bad judgement in public and political matters, characterised by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private, as opposed to public, affairs.”
“If Universal Credit is a flop, then it will prove our current Whitehall set-up is failing. But if it succeeds, it will be no thanks to the Civil Service either.”
So says a Spectator article apparently examining why Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship policy has received an Amber/Red status warning from the Major Projects Authority.
If it works, the government will take credit; if it fails, the government will blame the Civil Service. Never mind the fact that the plan is trying to make three incompatible computer systems work together, in real time. And we haven’t even discussed the pros and cons of what the government wants that system to do, what it will mean for people who will be forced into it, or what it signifies for the wider economy (in one word: trouble).
No – because this is the Conservatives’ latest wheeze, in case they don’t get elected in 2015: Blame the Civil Service for everything, cut it back, and leave the actual mechanics of government unusable by anybody who follows them.
So let’s put a few things straight right now: The British Civil Service is the most well-developed, professional and able government organisation on this planet. Its officers are highly competent and are able to provide expert advice and assistance on any project to which they are applied. I know this because I have worked within a government department where they did not take incompetence lightly and they knew how to weed out underachievers – the same government department responsible for Universal Credit, as it happens.
The ministers responsible for foisting this unworkable policy on these professionals, on the other hand, are a group of amateurs from an organisation that treats politics as a game. They have no prior training in their jobs, other than perhaps expressions of interest in Work and Pensions, at the same level as a hobby.
Look how Sue Marsh describes Iain Duncan Smith – the Secretary of State – in her excellent Diary of a Benefits Scrounger: “He went to a council estate once, saw some frightfully poor people and thought he would sort out ‘welfare’ because, well, they couldn’t possibly need all that food and warmth and bedrooms and stuff.
“With his trusty right hand man, Lord Freud, failed investment banker (and yes, related to Sigmund and Lucian), who famously sorted the whole new plan out in three weeks, with no knowledge or experience of social security at all, clutching the Daily Mail as their handbook, what could possibly go wrong?”
Everything. And it’s no surprise to anybody (apart from the Conservative Party, it seems).
These threatening noises are not the first indication of trouble within the Civil Service. It is, in fact, deeply troubled as a result of Conservative – not Coalition – agitation.
Vox Political reported in February on Michael Gove’s for-profit plans to halve the Department for Education’s administration, with 1,000 job losses and the closure of six regional offices. Almost one-third of remaining staff will switch between teams working on time-limited projects, a plan that almost guarantees that these projects will be poorly-executed.
One presumes the Civil Service will get the blame when they are – even though, again, Tory bad planning is the real culprit.
The Spectator article describes the Education situation in the following, stunningly-blinkered, fashion: “Michael Gove owes his success in reforming schools not to the alacrity shown by his department in signing up to his agenda, but to a superstructure of advisers that he brought in to operate above the existing officials.” In other words, he brought his ignorant mates in to force their foolishness on the professionals.
No wonder Vox Political reported in February that “the changes have created an atmosphere of disillusionment across Whitehall, with two-thirds of Britain’s most senior civil servants now so demoralised that they are considering quitting public service, according to a survey by the FDA union.
“How will our public services function if everybody who knows how they work has walked away in despair?”
The answer is, they won’t. The Tories are banking on it.
That is why these dangerous idiots must never be allowed into power again – and when I use the term “idiot”, I do so with reference to Athenian democracy, which describes an idiot as a person lacking professional skill, having bad judgement in public and political matters, characterised by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private, as opposed to public, affairs.
That seems an accurate description of the entire Parliamentary Conservative Party.
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