In turbulent times, conspiracy theories abound. His Majesty’s Government, it is said by some, deliberately colludes with disaster capitalists to damage the country and its currency. They will then be able to rip cheap pickings from the twitching carcass of the United Kingdom.
A government with much to be modest about
It’s possible. It sometimes looks like it. But let’s assume no conspiracy. What do we then see, when we look at the government, and a party in power for over 12 years?
For my part, in the great offices of state I see people who have little or no experience of running anything of any size or complexity outside or inside government. And that’s a huge problem.
Outside experience? Well, look up the CVs of the ministers involved. There’s very little of real substance.
And, with the partial exception of the prime minister, whose record is hardly inspiring, experience of running major government departments is vapour thin. In the case of the foreign secretary, effectively none. The home secretary, likewise. The chancellor had 20 months heading the Business Department. Nothing else. Although he did produce a doctoral thesis on Political thought of the recoinage crisis of 1695-7. So that’s something.
Arrogance, ignorance and blindness
For a party long in opposition and just come to power, a lack of top level (or perhaps any) government experience would be understandable. Although having shadowed major departments should have revealed at least some signs of relevant political experience and policy judgment.
With realism and humility, alongside the natural determination to get things done as the government senior team, that lack of government experience can be overcome.
Troublingly, with the current great office-holders, what I also see is arrogance and ignorance. And blindness, deliberate or otherwise, to the yawning chasm between leadership ambition and leadership capacity; and assumptions of understanding or knowledge, and reality.
The jobs are hugely important. So this is fantastically dangerous.
Am I seeing tangerine trees and marmalade skies?
The problem has always existed to some extent.
Margaret Thatcher and the ideologues in her team suffered from it. (And, to a vastly greater extent, suffering was visited upon the country). I saw the Thatcher government very close up. It was disturbingly odd in many respects. But even had I viewed it through the distorting lens provided by LSD (not the sort of thing I would ever have tried, I hasten to add) it would still have appeared to me less cartoonishly terrifying than this administration, especially in its (literally) incredible current incarnation.
There are four great offices of state: prime minister, chancellor, home secretary, foreign secretary. Beyond those, the disturbing list of ill-adapted ministers is a long one. I’m sure you don’t need reminding who, for example, is business secretary. You most probably don’t know who the chief secretary to the Treasury is. But Private Eye does, and is unimpressed by the circumstances surrounding his multiple bankruptcies, and his apparent continuing business and financial arrangements. So it goes on.
Government is big and difficult
I once had the misfortune to work for a truly awful minister whose self-image was as a great business leader – in reality, never a true business leader, certainly never great. And with no experience of government; but someone with unbounded self-belief in their comprehensive knowledge of it. Also, unsurprisingly, someone who ended up being one of the least successful, least respected ministers.
By contrast, one of the better ministers I experienced had, very unusually, genuinely been a major business leader. He rapidly understood he could bring something important to the job, and to the government as a whole, which others lacked. The prime minister at the time recognised that and made good use of him.
The startlingly positive feature of that minster was – although sometimes a little afflicted by the excessive self-belief which attends many who have reached the highest levels – he deeply understood that he was bringing his (undisputed) skills and knowledge to an area and a set of tasks – government – vastly more complex and challenging than he or any of his top CEO peers in the UK or around the world had ever had to deal with in business.
How do I know that was his view and understanding? Because we discussed it, and he told me so. He was dead right.
It’s the duty, stupid
I’m not suggesting every member of the cabinet should have been a top CEO. But they should have an understanding of how major decision-making, operational delivery and so on within large, complex organisations look outside government. (The same should be true, by the way, for senior civil servants. Too often, still, it isn’t).
I don’t ask that every one of them should have a decade’s experience heading government departments before they take on a great office of state, or other particularly vital and challenging government roles (although it would be far preferable that they did).
Whatever the case, I do insist, and I believe you and 67 million others in the UK have the right to demand, that they: act humbly; genuinely seek and respect impartial, expert advice; learn; hang up their ego, emotions and ideology at the office door; put country before party or cronies; and serve.
If that’s too much for them, in the national interest not only should they be thrown out on their … backsides, they must be.
It’s profoundly important that the constitutional processes for achieving prompt ministerial (and prime ministerial) defenestration – removing the inadequate and the pathological from the system – work. If they don’t, as history illustrates in Britain and around the world, the eventual consequences are catastrophic.
For the country.
And not infrequently for the connection between the heads and necks of those responsible for the mess. And, tragically, often many, many others besides.
Do I ask too much?
We need your help!
The press in our country is dominated by billionaire-owned media, many offshore and avoiding paying tax. We are a citizen journalism publication but still have significant costs.
If you believe in what we do, please consider subscribing to the Bylines Gazette from as little as £2 a month 🙏