Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tabloid government on the wane

Also in the Sunday Times, Simon Jenkins wonders Could this be the beginning of the end of tabloid government?

"Welcome to a week in the life of the Home Office. On Monday it was “super Asbos” (yet again) to crack down on crime without bothering judges. On Tuesday two Islamic groups were banned under new speech censorship powers. On Wednesday came a “top level purge” of disloyal Home Office officials. On Thursday we had 8,000 more prison places, a 10% increase, to accommodate “violent and dangerous prisoners”, and longer sentences for rapists and paedophiles. On Friday we had army boot camps back again to toughen up young prisoners and more summary justice by police on the street. This is the new Britain.

The arrival of John Reid at the Home Office has elevated the HGI (headline-grabbing initiative) into a medieval book of hours...
For all this the worm is beginning to turn. If only out of exhaustion the system seems to be rejecting the present government’s overriding HGI culture. Recent months have seen a lengthening list of initiatives shrinking as if removed from political life support...

The huge mainframe computers sold to gullible ministers and laundered through the “Office of Government Commerce” have never worked as promised. In most cases billions of pounds have gone up in unaudited smoke. At the Home Office alone, the prison service cannot keep tabs on released prisoners or talk to departments dealing with probation or immigration or asylum or even the police. The whole sales pitch of computers — joined-up government — was nonsense.

E-government was the application of technology to an insoluble problem, the straightening by government of Kant’s crooked timber of mankind. This was well demonstrated last month when an official was asked how many illegal immigrants there were in Britain. He pointed out that the question was impossible to answer, like the number of “failed asylum seekers” at large. He was excoriated for stating the obvious. "

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