Thursday, October 08, 2009

Will Davies on the 'post-bureaucratic state'

This is a cracking post - really, do go and read it. I've got a few comments that I'll come to in a moment, but Will picks up Tom Steinberg's 'capture' by the Tories.

I think I'm almost alone in this one, (Will articulates it better than me though) but I've never found MySociety's work to be politically neutral, and the way that others seem to have done so has bothered me for a while. Their work could be described as audacious and capable, but not neutral.

Tom Watson raises some questions of his own and I'd add to them:

I've always found the concept that politicians work for us to be slightly fatuous in the same way that the concept of politicians 'spending our money' doesn't work. It's not our money, it never was. It never will be. No amount of minarchist fantasy will ever change this.

Politicians don't work for us. They work for the interests of the nation as a whole. We live in that nation and every few years have the option to pick better politicians.

This is a question that should divide the left and the right. It may be the case that a lot of the left is intellectually impoverished to the point of not realising this, but large sections of the political right understand it very clearly.

If I could take issue with one aspect of Tom's justification of his position, it's this one:
I am not a political partisan - party politics bores me rather. I'm not a member of any political party, nor have I ever been. I've worked for the Institute of Economic Affairs, and I've worked for the Blair era Strategy Unit, as a civil servant.
The IEA coupled with Will Davies observation about...
"...the paradox of the neo-liberal state has always been that it is managed by self-loathing bureaucrats. It has conducted a recurring rationalist critique of its own rationality, constantly restructuring, reinventing, reimagining its own loathed inefficiencies, but never being able to settle on anything that can be agreed on as efficient."
... doesn't suggest any kind of political neutrality to me.

Back to the post though. Reading it, I was hoping that Will was going to get onto the question of pluralism. I agree with pretty-much everything he's saying here, but would suggest that the answer would be to work towards a range of crowdsourced adversarial poles of 'distributed wisdom' (if that's not too jargonny?)

In less geeky terms, I mean political parties and the way that they form policy. But not political parties entirely in their current form. I'd argue that the changes in the way that we process, share and aggregate information means that political affinity groups can have more capacity than they used to - as long as they can evolve into less hierarchical structures - in the way that Wikipedia or Mixed Ink's contributors are.

And in crudely political terms, I mean local franchises based upon such clubs - ones where the political centre has the option to withdraw the right to use that franchise under certain circumstances, and local groups are feeding back on the dirty old stuff about what you need to say and do to actually win elections.

It also raises the old question of a more politicised civil service. The way that inner-and-outer relationships between civil servants and parties work is, surely, more appropriate if we want to come up with an alternative to the Hayekian nightmare that Will sketches out.

But, as I said, these aren't quibbles. It's a really good post - go read it.

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