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February 06, 2006

A Pan-European military?

I recently discovered this on a blog called "Dodgeblogium" and think it makes interesting reading. If I get the drift of this argument right, the current constant cutbacks in the UK's armed services could be to make it fit into a new EU controlled European Defence Force. If that is so, surely we should be told? Or perhaps, in Blair's secretive and "internationalist" government, the last people he wants to know about it are the voters. After all, we might not approve.

But I must say that there is, buried in the item by Mr Fawkes, an interesting concept. Put simply, he suggests that, once a Whitehall Department has set something in motion they essentially cannot stop it. I must say, that that makes some sense as I have, in the course of a career spent building a professional service now largely destroyed by the Civil Service, that they do seem to have a complete inability to think through consequences and to change direction until their heads are lopped off for the final disaster. And everyone knows they never do have to account for the mess anyway, so they simply move on the the next disaster in waiting.

Putting aside my personal prejudice for a moment, I have several times noticed that the momentum of the Whitehall juggernaut is such that it rolls happily on no matter what, apparently completely unaffected by any change of government or policy for some considerable time. In fact, a friend estimated while I cogitated on this, that it is about ten years between any change of policy and direction from the politicians before the effect actually works its way down to the coal face. That would certainly seem to be born out by the fact that Primary Care Trusts (who run the Hospital parts of the NHS) are still closing Cottage Hospitals and transferring their services - at great expense - to the part of the NHS that delivers GP services. This despite a several times declared policy change from the Minister of State that they have changed the policy and now want to keep the Cottage Hospitals. I reckon the last Cottage Hospital will have closed it's doors to patients before the Minister's new policy actually gets implemented by the Trusts.

There are other even more serious examples, some of which will, I think become evident as Mr Brown's profligacy in spending taxpayers money starts to bite. In my own experience, and I suspect that Mr Fawkes may have shared similar ones, it takes on average around five years to get any Civil Service Department to actually accept that a change of policy or direction might be necessary. And that is only the start, now you have a battle of endless rounds of "consultation" most of which is ignored unless it coincides with the Departmental agenda, numerous "meetings", further "studies" - the outcomes of which are written well in advance of the actual research - and this will take up another three to five years before the actual change is even put into force.

After that inertia may delay the full implementation and impact of the change for anything up to twenty years.

The author John Winton once described the old Admiralty as "decision robust", meaning it took years for the effect of any decision to be felt. That is, sadly, no longer the case, but it certainly describes both the Civil Service and the Government in general. I think, when all is said and done, I rather prefer the style of government described in the Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta "Iolanthe" which has a line in one of the songs that goes along the lines of " In good Queen Bess' glorious days, when England was governed by the Lord's; they did nothing very much, but did it rather well ..."

Probably explains why, under the supposedly "corrupt" government of the Lord's we actually built the biggest Empire ever - and threw it away when we gave it to the Civil Service to run.

On the other hand, perhaps this is the example we have been looking for of "perpetual motion". Directionless, lacking leadership, but grinding on in an unstoppable forward motion into oblivion. There must be a way we can adapt the formula for calculating kinetic energy to calculate the inertial energy of any given government departments policy activity ......

Posted by The Gray Monk at February 6, 2006 05:08 PM

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Tracked on February 7, 2006 06:11 AM


I've seen an intriguing poster at Picadilly Circus over the last few weeks for a new book. It tells the story of Easter Island roughly along these lines:

"A man carved a stone head and everyone liked it so much, that they carried on carving bigger and bigger stone heads, which had to be rolled along on trees. Eventually there was only one tree left and the man who was in charge of it had a choice: survival or death. As his axe bit into the tree, was he aware that he had chosen death for all of the inhabitants of Easter Island?"

It's called "Collapse" by Jared Diamond. I'll let you know if it was any good when I get hold of a copy!

Posted by: The Postulant at February 7, 2006 08:32 PM