Sunday, December 07, 2008

From those that you wish to hobble, you first demand transparency.

This is an odd post over at the Ideal Government site. It has - it has to be said - the very reasonable contempt for civil servants that everyone who has ever been a supplier to government has. This bit...
"For years I told suppliers to think very carefully before taking on the business and political risk of dealing with people who didn’t know what they were doing and were wilfully blind to how unpopular it would be. I should have added: the suppliers should also expect to be treated with contempt, corporately and as individuals.

There’s a dark humour in this. The more the control model fails, the more desperate the attempts to exert more control. It’s well worth a read, and it does make for desperate reading.

If a court requires disclosure about the Benighted Scheme (think BAe/Saudi Arabia, illegal immigrant security guards in Home Office etc) suppliers are required by the NDA to be as uncooperative as possible with the request. Instead they must co-operate with Home Office/IPS agencies to challenge the validity of any requirement to disclose. This sums up the Home Office’s open government philosophy.

The Home Office will pick up half the tab of the legal challenge. Who cares? It’s only taxpayers money, and what better activity to spend it on than contesting legalistic do-gooders trying to be open about the Benighted Scheme?

Company premises, and the premises of individuals working for the companies, can be searched without warrant on the sayso of the Home Secretary. Who cares? These are but filthy profit-grubbing private sector people, barely worth getting a proper pension. They take the generous patronage of the Home Office IPS, and can expect to forego some basic rights for 25 years.

Too true. There are people who work in the public sector whose job it it to manage procurement, do the project management with selected suppliers and be responsible for producing the end result.

Now I don't like to go off the deep end too often**, but I've never been involved in a project like that where the 'client' (the civil servant) isn't a incompetent, obnoxious shithead who wouldn't be able to run a bath, and wouldn't give two fucks if it ran over because the blame can always be shovelled off onto someone else.

So, I'm with the Ideal Government blog so far. But earlier in the post, there's this:

How will the porous information-sharing made possible by the internet affect those in power?

To put it differently:

As we increasingly get our act together by self-organising, how are we going to coexist happily with the legacy of coercive control freaks?

Again, it seems to me that there is a presumption in favour of making government ministers conduct every transaction and conversation in public. I don't believe that it's possible to take this position and be in favour of representative democracy at the same time. When you win an election, you surely deserve the opportunity to govern without a running commentary from everybody who has a vested interest in taking a course of action that you wouldn't choose?

Certainly, looking at the list of like-minds further down the post (Henry Porter! Simon Jenkins! Oh-noes!), I doubt if this transparency would be expected to stop at incompetence in procurement and delivery of government projects?

Either way, wouldn't all of these people be better off arguing for in-and-outers? That may be a far more effective way of dealing with bureaucratic incompetence and indifference? I doubt if there are many government ministers that aren't close to despair every day at their impotence in the face of central government.

I've titled this post similarly to one I wrote a while ago about the BBC - from those that you wish to hobble, you first demand transparency.

It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. This truism reflects a very well defended set of bureaucratic interests. Their chief battle cry? An impartial civil service!

I'd love a Labour government to take on the FDA and defeat them in the way that the Tories took on the NUM.

Won't happen, will it? :-(

** Ok, ok, that may not be true

4 comments:

stephen said...

This is a comment on your Tom Harris post and this one.

Again, it seems to me that there is a presumption in favour of making government ministers conduct every transaction and conversation in public

Is that a general point you are making about those of us who want more 'openness'? It is perfectly legitimate for government to have secrets from the elected, just as it is legitimate for companies to have commercial secrets and for private citizens to have the right to keep secrets from the state. But you go onto say in a related post that it is right that some meetings in government should not be recorded. Or were you quoting Tom Harris? Blair's style of leadership in which politically significant decisions were taken in an entirely opaque fashion in small unminuted meetings lead to pretty poor governance, as was demonstrated by the Iraq fiasco. One might have thought the Labour loyalists might have learnt something from that.

I'd want to see the actual text of the Information Commissioner's decision before commenting on it in detail. I can certainly see problems in diclosing the attendee list of every meeting, as clearly much can be inferred about the topics of discussion from who attends a meeting.

But I am afraid that MPs have lost a lot of credibility to speak on such matters, when so many of them objected to the disclosure of their expenses, claiming quite falsely that they would be forced to disclose the contents of their correspondence with constituents. Such information is explicitly excluded from the FOI Act. So I'll take Harris's indignation with the large amount of salt it deserves.

Paulie said...

Stephen,

Don't know how I missed this, but I mustav.

"Blair's style of leadership in which politically significant decisions were taken in an entirely opaque fashion in small unminuted meetings lead to pretty poor governance, as was demonstrated by the Iraq fiasco. One might have thought the Labour loyalists might have learnt something from that."

I'd not want this argument to be taken out of a wider context of my arguments for more in-and-outers and a general challenge to the political centralisation that is - I think - one of the main targets of this blog. I'm quite keen on a much *much* more adversarial core within government than the New Labour model - one where cabinet ministers decide who is to PM rather than the other way around.

All of that said, no matter if MPs reputations are *tarnished* as you put it, as a democrat, I'd still rather that they were able to run the country instead of the various competing factions who would prefer to do it themselves.

stephen said...

Who do you think is stopping MPs from running the country? I happen to be a democrat as well but we disagree markedly on questions of the sovereignty of Parliament and the extent to which the law should circumscribe its actions.

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