Is the Coalition simply bad at Government?

I don’t have any intention of adding to the ocean of cyber-ink spilled over Murdoch, phone hacking and the Metropolitan Police.  But my jaw had to be winched from the floor after reading the exchange of emails between Ed Llewellyn, No 10 Chief of Staff, and then Assistant Commissioner John Yates, concerning whether the Prime Minister should be briefed on the appointment of Neil Wallis as a PR adviser to the Met.

The email exchange between John Yates and Ed Llewellyn 10 September 2010:

Ed,

Hope all well.

I am coming over to see the PM at 12.30 today regarding [redacted: national security] matters. I am very happy to have a conversation in the margins around the other matters that have caught my attention this week if you thought it would be useful.

Best wishes,

John

Response:

10 September 2010: Ed Llewellyn to John Yates

John -

Thanks – all well.

On the other matters that have caught your attention this week, assuming we are thinking of the same thing, I am sure you will understand that we will want to be able to be entirely clear, for your sake and ours, that we have not been in contact with you about this subject.

So I don’t think it would really be appropriate for the PM, or anyone else at No 10, to discuss this issue with you, and would be grateful if it were not raised please.

But the PM looks forward to seeing you, with Peter Ricketts and Jonathan Evans, purely on [redacted: national security] matters at 1230.

With best wishes,

Ed

Source

It’s that paragraph about being clear that Yates and Llewellyn had not been in contact – the very fact of recording it in an email demonstrating of course that they had.  It’s both self-defeating and desperately unprofessional. As a Civil Servant for many years before leaving the service at the end of 2010, I had always been guided by the eminently sensible doctrine that you should never write anything in an email that you would not be content to have read out in court.  It’s a powerful antidote to the Blackberry culture of simply dashing down your immediate thoughts in a quick email without really thinking through the consequences – in much the same way that one suspects Damian McBride, as Gordon Brown’s media adviser did.

But it seems to me to be part of a trend – in fourteen months of office Coalition Ministers have been caught out time and again by a lackadaisical attitude to governance.  I’ve blogged before about the apparent lack of grip on the machinery of Government, but there are plenty of other incidences – Michael Gove allegedly misleading Parliament over the level of interest in Free Schools , the allegations that Eric Pickles’ special advisers  smeared the head of the Electoral Commission.  More generally, there seems to be a wholesale abandonment of evidence-based policy making – Government under the Coalition appears so often to be about the implementation of an ideology regardless of the facts.

And, in an administration that is almost defined by cronyism, it’s hardly surprising that Llewellyn is not a career Civil Servant but one of Cameron’s old Eton and Oxford chums.

It’s a change from the day when the Conservative Party was supposed to be the natural party of Government, made up of men, broad of mind, beam and acreage, who knew how to make the system work.  It’s far from being a non-ideological approach to Government and there are plenty of objections to it as a political programme. But it’s ironic indeed that the most socially privileged Cabinet of modern times seems to find the natural assumption of the traditional role of their class so difficult.  It’s even more surprising when one considers the growth of a political class of people who have never done anything other than politics.

Perhaps that’s the problem:  Cameron, Osborne, Clegg et al don’t do Government; they do politics instead. In their inability to tell the difference may lie the seeds of their downfall.

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One thought on “Is the Coalition simply bad at Government?

  1. Pingback: The Budget Blame Game « Notes from a Broken Society

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