Jenni Russell has an excellent article in today’s Times in which she points out the sadness and irony of the prime minister’s attempt to sell Labour as the party of optimism in his New Year message, particularly in light of Labour’s fundamental lack of optimism about human beings and what they are capable of. She points out the party’s controlling, centralising, mistrustful approach which has let down large numbers of former supporters. Particularly, I imagine those in England who are natural Tory supporters but who moved to Labour when Blair came along.
She talks of people from various walks of life disillusioned by the way that the Brown administration micromanages: a consultant who has resigned from the health service because his policy of seeing every patient in need within 24 hours broke all his targets for clinic numbers and readmission rates, and his hospital managers ordered him not to continue; an experienced teacher who gave up her job because she saw bewildered children fall behind, yet the straitjacket of the national curriculum left her no time to help them; a woman in Devon who saw the old-age home where her mother lives closee because its Grade-II listing means it can’t meet new regulations on space and access.
She points out that the disenchantment goes beyond Brown’s feeble leadership and people’s anxieties about the economy. It comes from the experience of living with Labour’s ideas about how society should be organised, and finding them mean and thin.
Mrs Thatcher tried to run the country like she ran her household, not realising that a household and a country are not the same. Russell maintains that Labour’s fundamental mistake has been to manage the country, its people and its institutions as if it were running nothing more than a collection of factories and businesses. But it has trusted no one to do the job correctly and so, to manage everything, has instituted a series of targets and checks so that nothing individualistic can ever be done. No one can fit the job to the needs of the consumer. It reminds me of reading of the USSR in days gone by. They have been obsessed with delivering efficiency and accountability measured in numbers. But there’s more to delivery of services than that.
I’ve said before here that when the target becomes the job, the customer goes by the wayside. You can see it in education where pupils who cannot deliver good results for the school are pushed aside while those who can are factory farmed to bring in a table topping place for the Head. In hospitals patients’ needs are secondary to throughput. And not only do pupils/patient/customers suffer. Those members of staff who pride themselves in giving value resign (if they can afford to) or work through miserably until they make themselves ill from stress.
Whatever the next government brings, may someone preserve us from another bunch of stupid target setters.
I borrowed the excellent cartoon for the site at :
which is well worth a visit.