Intrigued by reports of Tony Blair’s “lessons I have learned from being in g0vernment speech to the Institute of Government the other day.
It’s a strikingly managerial account of government – as you’d expect from a philosophy-lite PM who believed that “what matters is what works” . The ten lessons are:
- Governance is a debate about efficiency rather than transparency
- We are operating in a post-ideological politics
- People want an empowering, not controlling state
- The centre needs to drive, but not deliver, systemic change
- Departments should be smaller, strategic and oriented around delivery
- Systemic change is essential in today’s world – as the private sector demonstrates
- The best change and delivery begins with the right conceptual analysis
- The best analysis is based on facts and interaction with the front line
- The people you appoint matter dramatically – private sector skillsets are needed
- Countries can learn from each other
“good politics boils down to good policy – to ‘a serious intellectual business’ of conceptual and technical analysis of the problem, and competent and efficient delivery of the solution.”
And so it does. The mantra of evidence-based policy will be familiar to anyone who worked in Whitehall over the past few years and it’s evidently right. It’s sad that the evidence was so often bent to fit a political timetable, with initiatives piled upon each other to catch a headline and maintain an impression of dynamism, rather than because the evidence dictated them. If only he’d stuck to his guns (on reflection possibly not the best choice of words…)
Social change takes a long time. Even gathering the evidence of where the problems are, to start indicating what to do about them, takes longer than political parties are willing to wait. It takes even longer to see results. So Labour didn’t wait, and while they had lots of good instincts and some of the right answers, it was a lack of patience, a shortage of managerial skill and a fatal habit of over-promising and under-delivering that did for them in the end.
I wouldn’t disagree with anything on Blair’s list between numbers 3 and 10. But Lord what a depressing picture is conjured up by 1 and 2. Governance is a debate about efficiency rather than transparency. Really? I’m not even sure I know what that means – it’s more important to be efficient than honest? It’s more important to be efficient than fair? Whatever happened to the idea of politics as a moral crusade? What I’d really like to hear from the Labour leadership hopefuls is an intellectually coherent, passionate argument for what they believe in. What do they want to do with power when/if they get it back? Otherwise we might just as well hand the country over to McKinsey (not that we can afford them).