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April 23, 2006

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Why write yet another piece on La Polla Toynbee and her idiocies when Chris has done it so much better than I could have. [Read More]

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Phil

"And the real tragedy is – she is considered to be on the “left”."

She's on the “left“ that's in power, and that's shown itself to be serious about gaining and retaining power. But then, what other Left is there (that counts)?

In his book about the Moro kidnap, Leonardo Sciascia says that some of the Italian Communist Party's thinking seemed to "come straight from Hegel - and from the Right of Hegel rather than the Left". It's an insight with surprisingly wide application, I've found.

EU Serf

Its interesting that a woman who openly hates one of the main political parties, tells us that politicians are by and large decent people. Or perhaps she only mean't those that share her prejudices.

Francis

In re: "It’s us tax-payers who are taking the risks. It’s us who pick up the bills for the failure of almost any IT project you care to name*. It’s us whose freedoms are at risk. "

And when you have the ID card scheme you get two for the price of one. I'm willing to place bets that this thing is a disaster on a level that makes your prior list look like being charged for an extra tin of baked beans in Tesco

Luis Enrique

I'm not sure about this.

Right off I am loathe to give credit to politicians, whom I suspect of being an unpleasant bunch because of what I imagine you need to do to get to the top of the heap. But generally speaking I don't like reading righteous and confident criticism from people that appear to have made no effort to understand what they are talking about. So I am sympathetic to Polly's theme.

What a shame it is for the nation that all the knaves and fools have ended up running companies and in government, while all the clever and good people have chosen to write blogs and newspaper columns. If only it was the other way round!

Take IT for example. You list a bunch of failures, but how do you know if that represents a good or a bad failure rate? I have read that 70% of large IT projects - private sector too - either fail or come in substanially over budget and time. How difficult is it to make an ambitious IT project succeed and why? I've met more than enough smart arse techies who think their bosses are idiots, but whom I suspect wouldn't know where to start negotiating and managing a big project, and I very much doubt would do a much better job if they did. So why are all those failed IT projects so often unquestioningly taken as proof of government incompetence? The state does manage to offload some risk to the private sector (EMC, ITNet and others occasionally take big losses from failed projects) and do you really think nationalised state IT departments would be more competent than the big private sector contractors? You may have some ready response like "well they shouldn't take on such ambitious projects then" but what do you know about enterprise IT? How would you replace legacy systems then, clever clogs?

So what do things look like from the politicians' side of the fence? What constraints and competing considerations do they have to cope with? OK Mr S&M you may argue that the nature of their job ought to change, or you may lament how they have to spend so much time concentrating on getting re-elected. But still, I'd be happier if I thought that their critics had at least made an effort to understand what they are criticising.

The Blind-Winger Jones

I wouldn't trust my own dishonourable member, Sir Hugo Bayleaf of the Manchester Liberals as far as I could throw him, which I can assure you isn't very far, considering his size, and the logistics of one dead bloke trying to lob another.

angry economist

I think there's some valid criticisms of politicians here. Thinking about the labour candidates for my local council coming around my door, and for me, the worst problem is litter and the waste collection service. Why can't they get the simple stuff right first before meddling in things that are way beyond their ken - e.g. the Ealing Tram.

And then there's my job as a public servant, having to deal with the batty politicians now and then. OK some people malign so-called managerialism, but if managerialism is telling the politician that the wheel doesn't need reinvented, and we won't be building shiny new things on their constituency patch, and we have things like competition law and EU state aid which prevents us from handing their mates company a bag of cash, then its well-intentioned managerialism.

Justin

But Luis, these people have decided that they have what it takes to run the country which by anybody's measure displays a level or arrogance. You yourself said: "I suspect [them] of being an unpleasant bunch because of what I imagine you need to do to get to the top of the heap".

They thought they knew better than anybody else that's why they took the job. They get paid very nicely to do what they do and are very able at parroting their successes.

Why should those who are not being admirably recompensed tell these people exactly how to fix a cocked-up job they said they could do in the first place. Or even summon the empathy/sympathy?

And these IT failures have direct and dangerous impacts on people's lives. How would you define a "good" failure rate in these circumstances? I imagine a farmer or a family stuggling to pay back the Tax Credit overpayment would warm your heels right now.

My response to the as-yet-unimagined scenes of carnage that ID Cards are about to cause will be: "you made the mess and now you clear it up." Why should I help? I don't see Charles Clarke out helping vandals paint over their handiwork.

Luis Enrique

I am half in agreement with you - as you point out my instinct is not to give politicians benefit of the doubt.

Yes, there is a certain arrogance about going for the job of politician, or writing in a newspaper or on a blog, or working for a charity, and so on and on. I'm not sure that angle has much mileage.

No failure is good, but I would define a good failure rate as "as good as can be expected, or better" which I appreciate is a definition with some circularity.

Say the average Premiership centre forward scores from one in every three chances, then I'd say that a striker who converts one in two has a 'good' failure rate. I just do not understand how people can so easily lambast 'IT failures' without making any attempt to grasp what the background probabilities are in a similar fashion. It seems to me that it really is meaningless to rage at Crapita because it screws up say three projects a year, without also knowing how many it also gets right, how many its rivals screw up and how often alternative methods (state provision etc.) screw up. This is not to say the failures you mentione are not cases of incompetence or worse, and neither does it excuse how the consequences were handled.

Sure, being well paid is compensation for responsibiltiy and having to take flack when you screw up.

I think it is as important to "understand" politicians when seeking to condemn them as it is to understand kids from sink estates or angry Muslims. The trick as I see it is to be able to "understand" and still be able to condemn, as deserved. I think that's genuinely difficult. It's hard not to understand without also leaning towards excusing, and yet if you don't seek to understand you're going to be wrong, aren't you?

This is not a subject where I feel that I have a definitive view, by the way, but it is one that I think about a lot. I don't like to see politicians condemned without some effort to understand the choices in front of them, the pressures, the constraints and so forth, and a genuine effort to understand why they've done whatever it is they'v done. But then again if you set too high a standard, you'll never form a view on anything. And even if you spend ages trying to understand, are your chances of forming the right view materially better than flipping a coin?

I apologise for the lengthy digression.

laika the space dog

People are disappointed with politicians because they endlessly promise things they can't possibly deliver, and yet it's the electorate's fault as they'd never vote for someone who said 'most problems in life are your own fault and voting for me won't make much difference'.

Every time anything bad happens the media pop a blood vessel crying that 'something must be done'. That 'something' is always the government's responsibility of course. A sensible government should say, 'actually, it's not our fault, shit happens, get on with it' but that wouldn't get them elected, it would get them crucified.

For instance, only an unusual accident gets media attention. By definition this type of accident is no threat to the vast bulk of the population but, for example, if a child is killed in a caving accident then the press is full of calls for this to never happen again. It's the fact that children hardly ever die in caves which makes it newsworthy, it's that same fact which means it's not a real problem and doesn't require government intervention but that media pressure will force to rush the 'prohibition of minors underground act' through in record time.

The unintended consequences kick in when no school dares do any outward bound activities because of the endless paperwork and risk of getting sued, so the kids get fat and get diabetes when they're 30.

In a free society, government is the problem, not the solution.

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