The political pundit Ian Dunt opens his very perceptive book “How Westminster Works . . .and Why It Doesn’t” with a case study. In 2013 ambitious Conservative MP Chris Grayling joins the cabinet as Secretary of State for Justice. He understands that, since he’s likely to be be moved on in a couple of years or so, or his party defeated at the coming election, to make his mark he has to move quickly. So he decides to privatise the probation service, even though, apart from being under-resourced, there was nothing particularly wrong with it - in fact it had just won a British Quality foundation Gold Award for Excellence.
The privatisation proved to be a disaster, and the Probation Service was taken back “in house” in 2018, but in a much weaker state because by this this time most of the more experienced staff had moved on into other areas and most valuable “collective memory” had been lost.
No one was demoted, punished or otherwise held accountable for the debacle. Grayling had moved on to be Leader of the House and then Secretary of State for Transport.
Dunt points out that these short term stints by both Ministers and Civil Servants are typical are one of the major reasons the British Government and all it is responsible for is in such a mess.
I am indebted to a letter in today’s Guardian (15th November) from a John Boaler of Calne, Wiltshire for the following. Since 2010, thirteen years, there have been:
"Ten secretaries of State for Education;
Twelve Culture Secretaries;
Nine Secretaries of State for Pensions;
Seven Transport Secretaries; etc.,
The new Home
Secretary, James Cleverly, is in his seventh posting in less than five years, averaging just eight months in each role."
The message is clearly that it is not just the incompetence, craven pusillanimity and self-interest of our politicians which is responsible for the shambolic state of our country, but the system itself, which encourages, almost guarantees, short-termism and “grandstanding.”
There is need for root and branch reform. There is no sign as yet that the Labour Party, likely to form the core of the next government, has anything sufficiently radical in mind.