Saturday, September 16, 2006
Why there is no hope under New Labour
I rarely blog about national political issues as there are others who do it far better than me, but today there's something I want to talk about.
Earlier this week, I was listening to the normally innocuous Radio 4 programme, Word of Mouth. It addresses issues of language, word usage and so on. Eighteen minutes into the programme, they started talking about something that almost made me crash my car. Visit the Word of Mouth website and click 'Listen to the latest edition.' I promise it's worth it.
The presenter Michael Rosen had two guests: former management consultant David Craig, author of Plundering the Public Sector, and Tony Thorne, author of Shoot The Puppy.
They quote Blair in a speech on the public sector, '...whether it's the transformation in primary schools... all of them have actually been through change and reform, and that's why it has to be continued and extended.'
David Craig speaks from his experiences as a management consultant, '...we wanted to sell bigger projects, lots of consultants, and big IT systems. And we came up with this idea of organisational transformation. We published a book called Transforming the Organisation... When our book came out, the Economist reviewer said that any client stupid enough to buy this concept of transformation would find that he was employing an army of consultants for a century... But the thing really took off under New Labour, who adopted the tranformation concept hook, line and sinker... Guys, we didn't mean it seriously, nobody actually needs to buy transformation, it was only a trick, only a way of selling lots and lots of consulting with lots of IT systems behind it.'
Here's another Blair quote: 'But recently we have moved increasingly from a centrally driven approach - necessary to address the worst of the problems we inherited - to try to make change self-sustaining by the use of incentives, user choice and contestability of service.'
Of course, this sentence is meaningless jargon. According to Craig, it really means '...we're going to privatise anything that moves...' Blair can't use the word 'privatisation' because everyone knows what it means. Similarly, 'constestability' equals competition; it's been deliberately smuggled in amongst a load of other buzzwords to get the message across without anyone noticing.
Craig explains that Government policy is formed and implemented by the Downing Street Strategy Unit, run by a McKinsey & Company consultant, and the Downing Street Delivery Unit, run by an Accenture consultant. Craig continues, 'Under New Labour, most of our policies are made and implemented by management consultants, which is why we see politicians speaking like management consultants.'
Gordon Brown doesn't miss out, '...the means by which we can personalise services for the patient, pupil or citizen and enable professionals, like you here today, to pioneer innovative approaches to delivering these services and drive up standards all round.'
Craig again, 'Many people assume that this person Gordon Brown is the dour, down-to-earth Scotsman... not at all like Tony Blair... but actually what we're seeing here is the worst case of being struck by jargon than Tony Blair ever had... it's completely out of control.'
(David Cameron got a bit of a ticking-off for using the phrase 'to leverage', but it's hardly in the same league.)
Massive hat tip to Michael Rosen, David Craig, Tony Thorne and all the BBC Word of Mouth team for helping to expose a serious political issue at least as well as their colleagues at BBC News.