Tuesday 18 June 2024

Almost comically statesmanlike

Sam Bidwell has a very useful Critic piece on the Labour manifesto.

Blairism at its most zealous

The Labour manifesto is a recipe for bland bureaucratic managerialism

If Michael Foot’s 1983 Labour manifesto was the longest suicide note in history, then Keir Starmer’s 2024 successor is surely history’s longest victory lap.

If Michael Foot’s 1983 Labour manifesto was the longest suicide note in history, then Keir Starmer’s 2024 successor is surely history’s longest victory lap.

At an eye-watering 133 pages, one might expect “Change” to set out a comprehensive programme for government, replete with details of Labour’s plans for the next five years. Instead, we’re treated to page after page of carefully-constructed prose that avoids committing to anything too specific, and several full-page pictures of Starmer looking almost comically statesmanlike.

The whole piece is well worth reading as an insight into deranged managerialism, but also as an example of a bureaucratic malady currently destroying the developed world. We see just that in Starmer's leadership, his anxious determination to take the evasion of responsibility to ever more carefully crafted absurdities. 

Yet if it’s radicalism that you’re looking for, Labour’s manifesto has it in spades. Not radical socialism, mind you, or radical progressivism — this is Blairism at its most zealous, a veritable Ma’alim fi’l-tareeq for bland bureaucratic managerialism. For every one of Britain’s major structural problems, Starmer has prescribed a new independent commissioner, a new knee-jerk regulatory intervention, or a new arm’s length body.

Don’t believe me?

For a start, there’s Labour’s new “Ethics and Integrity Commission”, which will be empowered to remove or censure ministers that fail to meet certain arbitrary “ethical standards”. There are also plans to expand the powers of the “Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests” to enable investigations into ministerial misconduct, and proposals for a new “House of Commons Modernisation Committee”, which will be tasked with policing the behaviour of MPs.

Then there are the open-ended plans for House of Lords reform, the new “Council of the Nations and Regions”, and the promises of further devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In other words, the sovereignty of our Westminster Parliament is set to be diluted even further.

The role of the Office for Budget Responsibility will be strengthened, meaning that Governments will no longer be able to undertake bold budgetary reforms without facing a Truss-style backlash from the economic establishment.

Mad? Yes it is, quite mad, but also an indication of the finger-pointing culture which is the other side of modern bureaucratic managerialism. Get on the wrong side of this machine, point out the lunacy, or even a few unwelcome facts and you place yourself at the wrong end of that pointing finger.

It's also a reminder of political courage, people who are not cowed by it all and are prepared to oppose the gross excesses of modern bureaucracy. Rishi Sunak doesn't have that courage, his party doesn't have it, Keir Starmer intends to make sure it doesn't matter anyway, nothing will come of it. 

Until Nemesis casts her ice-cold eye over it of course. 


DiscoveredJoys said...

The shorter Labour Manifesto:

Do you have an ailment? - We have a Commission for that.

Sounds like snake oil to me.... "Any of various liquids sold as medicine (as by a travelling medicine show) but medically worthless."

Or perhaps, as the manifesto grows the busybody state, not only worthless but addictive.

Bucko said...

Well when they said they were going to create 50,000 well paid jobs, we all knew this is what they meant

Sam Vega said...

The "background problem" - overshadowing the current kerfuffle over who gets the keys to number 10 - is the transfer of power to unelected bureaucrats and specialists. The "technocratic state", where nobody understands the overall system, or can even get to grips with the responsibilities which they have been allocated. A few little examples.

1. In the Alan Clark Diaries, Clark as a patriotic, energetic and committed Tory politician found himself completely bamboozled by the complexity of the benefit regulations in the Dept. of Work and Employment. He was amazed that no single person in the world completely understood all the benefit regulations.

2. The most intelligent person I have ever known, my old philosophy professor, went on to run a Cambridge college. I heard her on Radio 4 saying how she had thought that this would be a wonderful appointment, an appealing mixture of scholarship, high culture, administration, and making thoughtful balanced judgements to do with education and resources. In fact, it turned out to be an exhausting battle with intricate petty regulations relating to unions, health & safety, pay structures, investments, risk assessments, etc., etc.

3) The only politician who has ever knocked on my door to solicit my vote was Gillian Keegan, Tory Education Secretary. She was full of shite about how she and Rishi were going to sort the country out, but I don't notice much improvement. My guess is that the 172 pages of safeguarding guidelines that her department had produced, along with all the regulations about buildings, refurbishment criteria, pay structures, unions, recruitment, curriculum, etc., would have taken up too much of her time.

As Hannah Arendt said, bureaucracy is "rule by nobody".But it's worse than that, because thousands of skilful operators withing the bureaucracy are ready and able to use the regulations to tie up, frustrate, and remove those they don't like. Dominic Raab's defenestration is the best recent example.

And Starmer wants more of this, far more. That article is truly chilling when one goes beyond the clownish evasive behaviour of a born bureaucrat, and thinks about what it will do to the country over five years.

DiscoveredJoys said...

I wonder if (unconsciously) Starmer is acting as a would-be aristocrat. He gives a vague instruction to sort things out on the estate, waves a limp hand, and expects the minions (steward, games keeper, butler, cook) to make things happen to his liking.

Not very Labour, at all. At least not this obviously.

Anonymous said...

" remove or censure Ministers that fail to meet certain arbitrary "ethical standards"."
Will that include those Ministers who fail to pay capital gains tax when they sell houses they don't live in? Just asking.

Sam Vega said...

Rather off-topic, but I thought you would like to see this:

dearieme said...

Guy Fawkes's commenters are enjoying themselves with energetic speculation:

"When he says working in Hospital what he means is the legal department of said Hospital."

"Occupational health in the NHS is all about getting the work shy back to work or sacking them. She is working as nothing more than a Human Resources lawyer for the department although Starmer would like us to think she is another Florence Nightingale attending to the sick 24/7."

A K Haart said...

DJ - yes it could be seen as the busybody state and that fits Starmer rather well. It's endless fiddling with things which don't need fiddling resulting in yet more complexities nobody understands.

Bucko - yes, "well paid" was right but "jobs" was a lie.

DJ - he is acting as a would-be aristocrat in the sense that he seems to think that the peasants should have no say in anything because superior people and their agents will do all that. It's like a nineteenth century landowner discussing with his steward whether or not a tenant farmer should have his farmhouse roof repaired.

Penseivat - good point. It probably won't include Ministers who tell porkies though, that would never do.

Sam - interesting, thanks for the link. BBC climate people seem to live in a world of their own to an extraordinary degree. In this case, the response is so obvious that people outside BBC land are left wondering what goes on inside the BBC bubble. Seriously weird.

A K Haart said...

dearieme - ha ha, took a quick peek -

"As his wife 'works for the NHS', as a matter of interest, reporters and interviewers should ask Kneeler how many injections she adminsters [sic] each day, or how many bed pans she changes, or how many digital rectal examinations on men she does."

James Higham said...

The horror, to me, is anyone contemplating voting for that lot.

A K Haart said...

James - I don't understand it. Stupidity sounds too simple as an explanation, but hard to avoid.

A K Haart said...

Sam - for some reason your first comment only popped up a few minutes ago.

I agree, I saw the effects of bureaucracy then more bureaucracy and it kills everything worthwhile if left unchecked, which is what is happening now. As you say, Starmer wants far more of it and that's chilling. He believes in it and probably has done in one form or another since his teenage Trotskyite radicalism. He seems to see nothing beyond advocacy and argument, as if the real world isn't quite real to him.