The Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King & Ivor Crewe

A significant proportion of maternity leave involves navigating Rufus’s perilous bowel activities –  flying poos*, ‘poonamis’, and good old-fashioned leakage – and, although prompting Conradian cries of  ‘L’horreur! L’horreur!’ and constant fear of having undetected baby poo about my person, I optimistically maintain that such vicissitudes keep me limber for a return to Her Majesty’s Civil Service, my ‘real’ job which often comprises sh*t storms of a (supposedly) higher-brow kind. The Blunders of Our Governments was recommended to me during a policy-making course as a lesson in How We Could Avoid Government Sh*t Storms If We Really Wanted To.

King & Crewe, not an upmarket toiletries brand but professors at the University of Essex Department of Government, recount a number of post-Thatcher government blunders  – some well known, such as the Poll Tax, the creation of Child Support Agency and the Millennium Dome; and others less so, such as the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) formed to upgrade the London Underground in the late 1990s and the creation of Individual Learning Accounts in the early 2000s.

Following in-depth analysis of what in each case went wrong and why, King & Crewe identify several blunder-friendly characteristics of British Government. Those embedded within the ‘system’ include a weak centre at No 10 providing insufficient cross-department oversight, frequent ministerial change preventing deliberation and accountability, and a Parliament set on hurling abuse across the chamber precluding co-operative testing of policy ideas. Challenges wrought by individuals include cultural disconnect (exemplified by one minister suggesting elderly couples struggling to pay the Poll Tax ‘could always sell a picture’), group-think (‘we all think the same thing so we must be right, right?’), conscious and unconscious prejudice (e.g. ‘private sector GOOD, public sector USELESS, obvs’), the divorce between policy-makers and policy-deliverers, and the belief that spin and symbolism can replace well-considered policy making, particularly when that old pal blind panic sets in (‘British politicians…have a curious habit of functioning in crisis mode…even when no crisis exists…It seems to give many of them a high’).

King & Crewe keep it impartial (not difficult, given it’s clear that blunders are not limited to one political party) and positive – reminding us that overall the British Government does a rather good job (the wonder of the London 2012 Olympics being a solid example). But their anger is infectious, when one considers that the huge costs of some of these blunders  – up to £30 BILLION quid in the case of the PPP tube debacle, for example, that was effectively robbed from schools, hospitals and other public services – could be avoided by implementing their proffered solutions, which include more cross-party working and longer ministerial terms and overall would require radical systemic change.  I am hoping that the wisdom of King & Crewe, combined with my post-natal Intolerance of Any Kind of Unnecessary Fannying About, will inspire me to challenge bad policy-making practice, even if the wider system takes a bit longer to come round.  I have tired of  sh*t storms of all varieties. Although at least Rufus has a cute bum.

*they do fly. And occasionally may shoot out like a champagne cork before landing behind the sofa. Yes, I was surprised too and do believe such information should be included on the National Childbirth Trust course as a matter of urgency.



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