The ongoing shambles at the Home Office raises a a question: why do I call New Labour a managerialist party, if it's so terrible at managing?
Simple. Managerialism is distinct from management. The latter is a practice, the former an ideology. What's more, this ideology is distinct from technocracy, in several ways:
1. Managerialism is a faith. It says that a centralized organization, however complex or inept, can be well run with the right leadership. Hence the belief that Reid is the man to turn around the Home Office. Technocrats, however, ask: how, exactly, is it possible to run an organization?
2. Managerialists manipulate symbols and image - hence the importance of spin. Technocrats believe they can and should manipulate reality. Robert Protherough and John Pick, in their superb Managing Britannia say (p32-33):
The achievement of modern managerial goals generally involves a high degree of mental abstraction, but little direct contact with the organization's workers, with the production of its goods or services, or with its customers...when managers are 'creating a range' they are pursuing a conceptual notion rather than producing useful things.
Contrast this with the scientific management of Frederick Winslow Taylor. He believed in the minute management of reality, not imagery. He was a technocrat.
This aspect of managerialism explains the tendency deplored by Paulie:
When a headline keeps [ministers] awake, they arrive at work the next morning ready to add yet another ropey patch to bad legislation. Instead of fewer, better, bills, before Parliament, we get more and more worthless legislation.
New Labour uses laws not to change reality, as a technocrat would, but as symbols, to show who's in charge.
3. Managerialists don't learn from history. Technocrats do. To a managerialist, a failure is not something to learn from, but something to move on from, to draw a line under.
4. Managerialists are generalists. They believe that, if you can manage one organization well, you can manage any. Hence John Reid's shuffle from department to department. Technocrats, though, believe in mastering one aera of expertise. Clive Woodward is a managerialist, Arsene Wenger is a technocrat.
5. Managerialists believe in judgment, technocrats believe in following rules, inferred from empirical analysis. When I sold shares three weeks ago, it was a technocratic decision, not a managerialist one.
6. Managerialists have limitless faith in their ability; technocrats can have doubts. Here are Protherough and Pick again:
In the modern world, there are no bounds to what governments think they can shape and manage. Modern governments now affect to be able to manage everything, from how ambitious we are, to how fat women should be.
7. Managerialists don't acknowledge trade-offs; technocrats do. For me, the defining feature of New Labour is, in Blair's words, the effort to "marry together a well-run economy and a just and fair society."
For me, the fundamental political question is: just how wrong (if at all) is managerialism? (I have problems with technocracy too, but that's a separate issue.) Before asking: who should govern us? we should ask: what can government do?
In this respect, Paulie and I agree on what the question should be, even though I guess we differ on the answers. The problem is, the managerialist class lacks the self-awareness to even ask the question.