Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What is the role of a government?

It seems that increasingly governance is about managerialism, and the perceived competent management of the bureaucracy of state, than driving forward an ideological vision; perhaps it was ever thus and those who deny the fact are idealists kidding themselves. However the recent criticism of Alastair Darling highlights some of these issues.

Darling's competence is called into question because a junior civil servant did not follow sensible procedure when handling sensitive information. I presume the junior was sacked, his boss resigned, but should the minister join them? Do we expect the Minister to accept responsibility for everything that occurs within departments for which he is nominally responsible or is he the person that reports to parliament. In other words can and should a Minister abrogate responsibility on departmental minions or accept responsibility for the fact that there are insufficient checks on procedure?

And this is not solely a New Labour problem, though it is an easy way to attack a government that seems to be losing public support for existing (the boredom with this lot factor). It was this same question that Michael Howard faced as Home Secretary when prisoners wandered out of Dartmoor with their own set of keys. His role, and whether he had personally intervened in guiding the governor, was famously the subject of the famous Paxman interview where the question was asked a ridiculous amount of times.

Hence the question can be depoliticised as being about what any Minister should do. Should we set a standard for competence that can be deemed the responsibility of either the department or the Minister? Failure of policy seems logical, though of course proof of failure is difficult; but if a Minister sets out guidance which is then not followed, should they be responsible. What would happen within a company? What is something a Director of CEO would resign for? Would they face political point scoring, as every minister has throughout the last 30-40 yrs, or media pressure to be accountable?

The bottom line, is Darling responsible? Should he go? If so, on what grounds?


Anonymous said...

sack him, he's got funny eyebrows

David Phillips said...

Perhaps the issue is, or should be, about culture. The Minister offers the culture of the government to the Department through policies and legislation.

This the cultural issues surrounding the merger of Revenue and Customs could be to integrate taxation under one roof or it could be to cut costs.

If the latter then culturally, the Minister has to insist on retaining only the best talent.

Good talent can manage the banking industry and digital security. Cheap labour will always struggle.

That, surely, is why darling is under pressure

sid said...

I see parallels with a certain academic institution in your comment David. Are about being a good university or a high cost cheap output university. If the boss says be cheap we cut corners. Very good point, Did Brown instruct departments to do this? If it was a protest it would be good if the junior came out and said 'Hey you said dont spend money, so I didnt, thats what you get you arse'

Ralph Miliband's Biggest Fan said...

Darling has been in the job for what three months, it is not yet his culture and this started when Brown was Chancellor; so who is the incompetent manager. Bet you that Brown spent too much time over the last year preparing to be PM that he took his eye off the ball - its like in any company if the boss relaxes the mice get at the cheese.

Is that a crap metaphor or what??

Sack Brown, Miliband for PM, not not them two their dad!!