The Brexit Bus and the Japanese Boat Race

Whenever I see pictures of the Brexit bus promising more funds for the NHS  I am reminded of the speech below which was given in Parliament, by the late Tony Benn on 22 November 1995.

There was a boat race between the NHS and a Japanese crew. Both sides tried hard to do well, but the Japanese won by a mile. The NHS was very discouraged and set up a consultancy. The consultancy came to the conclusion that the Japanese had eight people rowing and one steering, whereas the NHS had eight people steering and one rowing. The NHS appointed people to look at the problem and decided to reorganise the structure of the team so that there were three steering managers, three assistant steering managers and a director of steering services, and an incentive was offered to the rower to row harder. When the NHS lost a second race, it laid off the rower for poor performance and sold the boat. It gave the money it got from selling the boat to provide higher than average pay awards for the director of steering services.

Twenty-three years later this approach remains prevalent in the 49 Government departments and the 391 other public bodies and agencies. They create middle-management posts whilst cutting front-line services then fool the voter into believing that money is the cure for their inefficiency.

Tresspassers will roam free

We hear a lot about online privacy but are we neglecting physical privacy, which potentially matters more to many people? I have witnessed numerous deliberate acts of trespass, such as people walking dogs on private land, jumping over fences to take drugs on school grounds, playing in other people’s gardens, using their swimming pools, and hunting. Often this lack of respect leads to other crimes, such as vandalism, burglary and squatting. Nobody listens to complaints. The authorities rarely act against vandals, burglars and squatters so you can’t expect them to stop trespassers.

There used to be signs saying Tresspassers will be prosecuted and they were. The UK Government is considering making deliberate trespass a criminal offence again, without apologising for downgrading it. This is inspired by Ireland, who introduced legislation against travellers, formerly known as gypsies, allowing the police to impound caravans. Allegedly the travellers then fled across the sea to camp illegally in defiance of local authority polices that should meet their needs.

Like most political ideas this sanction is flawed. If you want travellers to move it’s not a good idea to confiscate their vehicle and make them homeless. A better policy would be to impose a large fine for all acts of deliberate trespass and invest the funds in proper sites for travellers, signs warning against tresspass, and educating people so that they know it’s not okay to go on other people’s land without permission.

The Power of Discretion

Following his failed leadership challenge Peter Dutton faces allegations that he misused his ministerial powers to grant visas to people in immigration detention. Similar allegations occur almost everywhere that an individual is given authority to overturn decisions made by underlings or processes. Presidents issue pardons, Governors grant reprieves to those on Death Row, tax inspectors negotiate settlements and magistrates give reduced sentences. In our age of equality should we allow this use of discretion by individuals who may be prone to bias or easily corrupted?

Imagine that you appeal against a fine. Do you want that considered by a person who looks at all the facts or marked against a checklist of known acceptable excuses? Someone wrote the list and once it gets in the public domain everyone will stop paying fines. Is the risk of people abusing a known process greater than the chances of them paying an official?

Since 2014 Peter Dutton granted 25 tourist visas to people in detention.  If you took this power away that’s 25 cases that might have eventually found their way to an Adminstrative Appeals Tribunal. There a decision would be made by an officer, based on the facts. Exactly what Dutton claimed to do. Difference is that the officer has qualifications and experience. So who do we really want making decisions? Ministers or Public Servants? Your answer may depend on who you know.

Should Britain run Australia again?

In the last eleven years no Australian Prime Minister has completed a full term in office. As they can’t govern themselves perhaps they should consider reverting to British rule. Consider the advantages. MPs get to keep dual citizenship and their jobs. Farmers can relocate their businesses to the more suitable British climate and use the federal drought relief funds instead of EU subsidies. New Zealanders get freedom of movement and jobs vacated by EU workers.

Britain solves its overcrowding by exporting half the population to places with familiar names like Brighton, Ipswich, Warwick, Newcastle and Swansea. There’s a thriving drug culture to help them feel at home and the locals get a more generous welfare system that’s easier to cheat. They could transport convicts again because Australia has space to build prisons. And no more Ashes humiliation for either side as they combine to compete financially with India.

Britain can’t claim longevity for its Prime Ministers either, so the new empire would be governed by Queen Elizabeth II. With a succession plan and political stability, the offer is there to include other former colonies such as America. A British Union of once great powers and Australia.


Not the Hand of a Woman

In a slow news month, you can rely on a tabloid newspaper to recycle an untenable theory about Jack the Ripper. This week the Sun reinterviewed John Morris who wrote a book in 2012 accusing Lizzie Williams, wife of Sir. John Williams. She was not the first woman to be accused, and sadly won’t be the last. I discussed all the female suspects in my book, finding no evidence against any of them, but the myth of Jill the Ripper lingers.

Lizzie Williams was only connected because of a 2005 book that accused Sir John. The evidence linking him to Whitechapel and the victims was subsequently shown to be false and/or exaggerated.  Yet the Sun still states that he ran an abortion clinic in Whitechapel and had an affair with a victim. It makes no attempt to evaluate or question the information, even though it contradicts other articles published in the same newspaper.

In recent years The Sun has mentioned various other suspects, including Francis Thompson, HH Holmes and Walter Sickert. In each case it has provided a publicity platform for the theorist. When it first cover Morris’s claims the Sun’s circulation was 2.3 million. It is now 1.4 million and still falling. Lazy journalism that presents speculation as fact is being rejected by readers and that should serve as a warning for authors seeking to name Jack or Jill the Ripper.


Time to end homelessness

With all the pessimism around contemporary politics it is easy to ignore positive developments, such as a plan by the UK government to end homelessness within nine years. We’ve heard similar statements before but, this time, it offers real hope to 250,000 people currently sleeping on the streets of the world’s 28th richest country. The strategy sets out to tackle the causes of homelessness, including support for those with mental health problems and victims of substance abuse.

Several charities, who spend their time helping the homeless, have welcomed the objectives. That’s critical. No government can expect to solve a problem of this magnitude unless it is prepared to listen to, and collaborate, with others who have the experience. The next stage is to gain public support.

As I write Australia has just finished showing a television series, Filthy, Rich and Homeless about five celebrities who slept rough for ten nights. The most disturbing aspect of their experiences was the complete indifference of most pedestrians.

We cannot rely on the policies of politicians and the work of charities to ensure that everyone has a home. All of us can play a part and we need to ask ourselves if we really want to live in a society that turns a blind eye to the difficulties of our fellow humans.


Time to ditch the Out of Office

You can access your email anywhere so why do you send an automated reply saying that you’re not in the office? Do you intentionally give scammers and hoaxers your full contact details or are you setting the out of office function without asking if it’s needed? What it says is that you won’t reply to an email for a period of time. So what? We used to allow 28 days for a response to a general query. And who is it for? Your boss knows you’re not there because he or she approved your leave and surely you told your immediate colleagues about the absence.

Go through the emails you received last week. What percentage needed a reply from you? How many of them were not copied into your boss or another team member? How many of the senders are incapable of contacting someone else in an emergency, and how do the queries get answered when your leave is unplanned? If, after answering those questions, you’re still nervous after leaving a precious email unattended you need to look at alternatives to the out of office.

The first is auto-forward. You can send all or some email to an alternative address. The second is setting up a delegate. You can let a colleague access your email and check for anything urgent. If you ask nicely they might even delete all the junk and auto replies so that, when you return, you can concentrate on the few messages that you need to read.