torsdag 12 mars 2009

La crème de la crème

Britain's civil servants, I am talking about. La crème de la crème. The system was invented in Victorian times. Recruitment of top civil servants is by examination and a selection board. Each year, the finest products of academia join the ranks of the elite who advise the government. Mostly, they are Oxbridge products, coming straight from university. They are chosen for their ability to absorb and digest and summarise complex information and for their powers of logical thinking and razor-sharp analysis.

There is only one problem with this perfect system. Too often it gets things perfectly wrong. Why this should be is not immediately obvious. Betjeman remarked on it. Anyone who has written to their MP and received a response drafted by a civil servant will recognise the syndrome - a perfectly argued case will be presented, showing that the government's present policy is the best possible policy imaginable. One often knows it is wrong but it can be difficult to identify the flaws in the underlying assumptions - though it is an ability that improves over the years. Never, ever, will one receive an admission that there is an issue that might need looking into, or that things could possibly be arranged better. As for an admission that a mistake has been made...

This could account for, amongst other things, the persistent cost-overruns and failures of government defence, IT and transport projects such as the Department of Transport sponsored Inter-City Express which is costing four times as much as it should.

What we have here is a classic example of a self-perpetuating caste, which recruits individuals with minds of a similar kind and then conforms them to the mould. Nothing can change.

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Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

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