Article 21

The Failure of Bureaucracies.

Perhaps the most significant media comment thus far on the failure of bureaucracies was that of Daniel Hannan, entitled “We say we want politicians to be kept out of the picture, but we blame them when state agencies mess up” which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph of 23/8/20, and which opened by recalling that ‘clandestine migrants from France are able to enter (our) country without fear of deportation, but tourists making the same journey are subjected to two weeks of house arrest’; that when we ‘play the game by the rules and fill out the forms correctly, the system will pursue us’ while those who break into the country illicitly are eventually given leave to remain’; that ‘this is not deliberate policy, with every home secretary, Labour and Conservative, having sought to toughen our border controls’; that ‘the trouble is that all bureaucracies left to themselves, prefer easy tasks to hard ones’; and that our bureaucracies generally are left to themselves because that is what we, the voters kept demanding. “Stop treating everything as a political football!” we said, and “let the professionals get on!” Thus, he concludes by way of examples that ’we’ve got what we claimed to want, namely an administrative machine beyond the reach of our elected representatives’, that ‘our exams are run by Ofqual’(“keep the politicians out of the picture”); and that ‘our epidemic preparedness is left to Public Health England’( “listen to the experts”) . However, in contrast to Daniel Hannan, readers of this website now know that nothing will work as expected so long as those in charge, whoever they are, act on belief rather than on knowledge as I definitively differentiate these terms in this website.

However, Daniel Hannan unknowingly reinforces the need for my definitive knowledge/belief differentiation, in going on to state that ‘the public did not react to the current mess-up’ by pursuing Ofqual, with its armies of directors, strategists and press officers over the exam algorithms nor did it complain about the NHS’s calamitous decision to send unscreened patients into care homes in readiness for a tidal wave which never came’; and that ‘the public did not demand to know, as late as March, why PHE was still mainly fretting about unhealthy food preferences’, as it still does; and that ‘we suddenly called these agencies the government’. However, my reinforcement is to state that the reason for the absence of any such reactions is the failure of public, bureaucrats, politicians and commentators such as Daniel Hannan, to recognise the need for my newly definitive knowledge/belief differentiation, the absence of which results in every issue being a matter of belief/counter-belief and/or opinion/counter-opinion in the absence of debate-terminating conclusive knowledge and in the absence of any recognition of the need to acquire such knowledge when and where it is not already available; and to apply it when it is, or becomes, available.

Nonetheless, Daniel Hannan’s article helpfully recognises that ‘commentators and politicians have been abuzz all this week about an excoriating article in the US magazine The Atlantic which sets out why Britain fared so badly compared with other countries, by observing that ‘expert advisory committees proved too slow and ponderous though he and the quoted article mistakenly attribute these shortcomings to ‘not enough dissenting voices’; that ‘crisis response cells could not cope and had to be by-passed’; that ‘the Cabinet Office had buckled under the strain’; that ‘the NHS had no adequate way of sharing data’; that ‘authorities could not meet the sudden need for mass testing’; that ‘the Foreign Office could not get people home fast enough’; that ‘the Department of Health could not design a contact-tracing app that worked’; and that ‘the Government overall could not sufficiently procure key pandemic equipment’.  ‘All true’, says Daniel in concluding that ‘every item on that list is an indictment of our standing bureaucracies; that ‘before the corona virus arrived the desire to overhaul the government machine struck most people as slightly wonkish’; but that ‘we can now see it to be an urgent national priority’. I agree, but I hasten to add that this overhaul will be unavailing if it is arrived at through the usual debate of belief/counter-belief, rather than on knowledge of what needs to be done and of how to do it, as the terms knowledge and belief are definitively differentiated in this website.

Again, Daniel Hannan unknowingly supports application of my newly definitive knowledge/belief differentiation when he states that ‘those who share the prejudices of our (belief-only) quangocracy – a fondness for high public spending, Europhilia, an obsession with identity politics, even to the exclusion of what is supposed to be their primary task – don’t see the problem’ which I see as the unrecognised absence of knowledge.  Yet again he is unknowingly supportive when he adds that almost every minister who has struggled though the last six months now grasps what has gone wrong is that an imperium in imperio has grown up, self-appointed and self-sustaining, which pursues its own priorities even when they flatly contradict the Cabinet’s stated objectives, but which proves useless when called upon to discharge its notional functions’; that ‘the solution is to ensure that people on the government payroll work for the rest of us rather than for themselves’; that ‘in some cases this will mean scrapping quangos altogether, as with PHE and (one hopes) the deeply partisan Electoral Commission without which we managed perfectly well in the pre-Blair era’; that ‘in areas where MPs need to delegate authority, it should be done narrowly and contingently’; that ‘public bodies should be required to plead before the relevant parliamentary committee every year for their budgets and indeed their continuing existence’; that ‘where possible, the function of quangos should not pass to MPs but to local authorities’; that ‘Town Halls are not nearly so prone as Whitehall to waste gargantuan sums on consultants and software cock-ups’; that ‘county and metropolitan authorities be permitted to raise their own revenue and to reassume primary responsibility for poverty relief‘.  

He adds that ‘they or their elected police commissioners should set local sentencing guidelines’; and that ‘residents should have a direct say through local referenda’; that ‘these changes are too extensive to be made piecemeal’; that ‘there is an overwhelming case, as we leave the EU, for recalibrating our constitutional arrangements’; that ‘as powers come back from Brussels, we need to decide which of them to pass directly to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and indeed to local councils and we need to negotiate a high degree of fiscal autonomy for devolved assemblies – and for English counties and cities’. However, I say that while the foregoing might be beneficial, none of it is achievable in reality, unless available debate-terminating conclusive knowledge replaces the otherwise interminable debate of belief/counter-belief to this or that transient belief-consensus pending further debate; and unless general agreement is reached as to the need to make good any absence of knowledge before legislating.  

Daniel Hannan’s article concludes by observing that ‘those who are happy with the soft-Left setting of the current administrative state will doubtless protest that all that he has said is a massive distraction from the epidemic and the consequent recession’; that ‘he, in contrast, points out that the past six months have made the opposite point; that ‘the corona virus squall has shown that our ship of state was in a lamentable condition, leaky and dilapidated; and that ‘an altogether rougher tempest looms’; that ‘our debt has risen to above two trillion pounds’; that ‘we are in the sharpest economic contraction in our history’; that ‘we cannot hope to navigate the coming storm unless we first caulk our hull and clear our rigging’; that ‘the sea water is flooding in’; and that ‘we have no more time to lose’. 

Again, while I can only repeat that no positive and enduring change is possible without a formal decision to replace belief/counter-belief debate with debate-terminating conclusive knowledge by submitting belief as hypothesis to the reality-evaluation (cause/effect experimentation) which validates belief to positive knowledge or refutes it to worthless belief as advocated in this website.  It is only by this means that the above and all other bureaucratic failures can be rectified and prevented from recurring. If the fiasco so ably described by Daniel Hannan is insufficient to ensure this replacement of belief with knowledge as of now, I hesitate to imagine the calamity which will ultimately ensure this replacement. I hope it can be achieved sooner through this website. 2/9/20          

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