Friday, August 31, 2007

A frustrated Returning Officer writes…

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, there are mutterings about the European selections and, as one of the Returning Officers, perhaps I should comment (actually, I’m going to anyway…).

Yes, candidates aren’t allowed to attack each other, because we have anti-defamation rules. Frankly, I would be perfectly happy to see candidates attack each other’s records, especially if they have a record which merits it. I also see no difficulty with policy or strategy disagreements, in principle. Such an approach would make my life easier as Returning Officer, although I am leaning towards a concept of putting the candidates in an armoury, bolting the doors from the outside and then leaving them for a week or so…

There are four issues that make this less than desirable;

  • A more assertive dynamic requires the right to respond, and the limitations of cost and access make this less than viable, except on the e-hustings forum.
  • An aggressively fought selection provides ammunition to our opponents – this may be an internal process but you had better believe that, in particular the Tories, they are watching with interest.
  • We’re apparently a jolly nice bunch of people (apparently, we are - despite some of the evidence to the contrary).
  • People who seem like perfectly charming individuals become pedantic, nit-picking ├╝ber-bureaucrats when faced with an opportunity to get elected (and I like to think that I know what I'm talking about here).

So far, I’ve had a rash of complaints about websites (and which part of ‘links are not allowed except for those specifically authorised’ is so difficult?), and about an Annual Report (yes, it was permissible, yes it did comply with the Selection Rules as far as they applied, and no, I didn’t have authority over it).

I’ve noted that, on one hand, the Rules are too restrictive, but on the other, we should have more rules about MEP communication. We've tried to free up campaigning as far as possible, and I propose to spend desperately little time staring endlessly at candidate websites unless forced to. That's what self-regulation is all about, after all.

Amidst all of the bickering, it would be really nice if a campaign broke out and so, on that note, I'm going to prepare for a weekend in Suffolk being a normal(ish) human being... and you never know, I might encounter one of East of England's potential candidates...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A weekend away, and a return to the real world

Ros and I were in need of a break, and she wanted to take me to see a part of the country that is close to her heart, so we set off on Saturday morning for Shropshire, and a cosy little bed and breakfast.

I must admit to having spent time in Shropshire only to get somewhere else, and bearing in mind the frequent references to the county in the works of Jonathan Calder, was more than a little intrigued. And I have to say, the area around Church Stretton is really rather gorgeous. We walked and drove around the Long Mynd, where the heather and gorse are in full flower, visited Bishop’s Castle, Montgomery and Ludlow, and generally wandered around in the sunshine wondering why people don’t do this more often.

On the way back, we passed through Broadway (a bit twee for my taste, if truth be told) and stopped in Moreton in Marsh for tea, noting the extent of the flood damage there, before reaching home in good time.

There is only one problem with that sort of idyllic weekend though, which is the difficulty encountered in returning to ‘real life’. I do have rather a lot to do at the moment, and there is a very strong temptation to just throw up one’s hands and say, if it is that important, somebody else will do it. Unfortunately, painful experience reminds me that they won’t, they’ll simply moan about it. Ah well, back to work…

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bureaucrat in love: now the story can be told...

Regular readers will have noted that Radio Bureaucrat has been an infrequent broadcaster of late, and the occasional cryptic reference will not have done anything to help explain it. So it is about time that I explained.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoicePut simply, I fell in love. I fell absolutely, completely and utterly head over heels in love when I least expected it, with someone I could not have possibly envisaged beforehand. Our relationship was kindled gradually, if falteringly, partly due to my rather gauche inability to read signs that aren't actually tattooed on my forehead, before blossoming into an all-encompassing passion that quite swept me off of my feet.

"Who is this magical soul?", I hear you ask. So without further ado, let me introduce my new fiancee, Ros Scott. A lightning romance has been followed by an equally lightning proposal (it would have been sooner but for my usual hesitancy in such matters), and plans are reaching the drawing board for a wedding some time next year (yes, I know, you normally think about all of those things first but I was only focused on forever...).

Ros has managed to free the bureaucrat from the box, and I love her for it. She is warm, tender, thoughtful and so many other things that words cannot properly convey, and has made me feel alive for the first time for a very long time indeed.

The side effect was that I became functionally useless for a few weeks, and for those of you who have been expecting me to do something (and you know who you are), I apologise but hope that you'll understand (you will, I know). On the plus side, I've now become incredibly focused in an incredibly vital way, having had my proposal accepted, and things are beginning to happen in an amazingly ordered and disciplined way.

So, for my friends, family and colleagues, welcome to the future. I'm in love, and I want the world to know it. Many of you have been part of the process that has allowed me to find happiness, and I am grateful to you all for your friendship, your support and your tolerance through a difficult phase in my life.

And now I ought to return to the blissful existence that is being in love...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Shock horror - another Labour minister who doesn't really get localism

Ros had returned to Suffolk, leaving me her copy of Prospect Magazine to read with the suggestion that I read an article by John Kay entitled “The failure of market failure”. Now, one of the things about being a bureaucrat is that ideas are something to be mildly suspicious of. However, I like to think of myself as being moderately informed so, this evening, I pulled the magazine out of my briefcase in the IKEA restaurant at Brent Park to read over dinner.

Unfortunately, as usual, I allowed myself to be distracted, and my attention was drawn to a piece by John Denham, entitled “Elect the inspectors”, in which he suggests that the “inspectocracy” isn’t working, and that inspectors should be accountable to local people, not ministers. He’s right (up to a point), but his conclusion is a rather odd one, given that the power of inspectors is solely the creation of successive Conservative and Labour governments (John, you might recall that you share a collective responsibility for much of what has happened since 1997).

His example is that of tackling MRSA in NHS hospitals, where he notes that the responsibility body if a hospital trust is failing to meet the required standards lies with a group of appointees, unlikely to be sacked except in extremis. And this is where his argument seems to be flawed. On one hand, he says that we should elect the people who are meant to respond to the inspectors’ reports, in this instance the hospital trust board. In the next paragraph, however, he starts by saying, “We don’t need new elected bodies for this job”. I’m clearly missing something here, but he goes on to suggest that local councils should scrutinise local services, noting that they already hold the power to do so.

Apart from the seemingly obvious contradiction here, I have to say that I don’t actually agree with him. The question of who employs the inspectors is quite important, and their independence is the best way to guarantee that they provide honest data. What is actually needed instead is a clear, public statement of the criteria to be used by the inspector/inspection team, in advance of them starting work. In turn, the criteria should be based on those goals set out by the local council or other elected authority, and the results published in a manner most accessible to the community.

A good inspector will examine those elements most likely to influence an outcome, and a bad one will do just about enough to avoid trouble. However, if they are directly accountable to those whose work they are scrutinising, there will inevitable be a trend towards saying what local elected officials want to hear, rather than what they, and more importantly, the public, need to know. I look forward to having John Denham reassure me on this point, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting…

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Normal service will be restored... eventually

As you know, we in Amaranth have long been fond of Mark, for all of his foibles, inconsistencies, and puzzling eccentricities, and some of you will recall that we had planned to take him in hand and carry out a few 'improvements'. To be blunt, we hadn't had much success, and I was deeply concerned that he was regressing rather badly.

So you can imagine my surprise to run into him in the library in the East Wing, looking surprisingly chipper, a smile on his face, and a map of the United Kingdom under his arm. "I can't find this place on the map at all," he said, eyes sparkling, "but it probably doesn't matter anyway.". "Maybe I can help?", I offered, but he was gone. leaving behind only the memory of a smile.

Curiouser and curiouser...

Anyone could lose 189,000 AK-47's, really they could...

I'm vaguely intrigued over the fuss that has been made over the news that US forces in Iraq have 'misplaced' huge amounts of equipment, and that it is probably being used against those very same US troops by insurgents.

Firstly, this American administration probably has less interest in gun control than any of its predecessors. They, and I am particularly reminded of Dick Cheney in this regard, really aren't keen on the idea of licensing guns, so why on Earth would they be interested in keeping tabs of weaponry anywhere else?

Secondly, and rather more seriously, it was always likely to be the case that any internal Iraqi security force was going to need to be armed by the Americans. Frankly, conditions are not ideal for bureaucrats (we don't like to be shot at, as a rule), and quartermaster skills are probably not at the levels we would expect from the British Army. In addition, losses through desertion (sometimes in sizable numbers, as at Falluja), death or simply cowardice, were always likely to be significant. Add the impact of infiltration by the Al-Sadr militia, potential insurgents and of corruption, always a risk in a society where moral standards have been debased over a generation or more, and the figure of 189,000 almost seems laughable.

The Americans have always had a tendency to be sloppy over supplies and armaments. From Vanuatu after World War 2, where they dumped huge amounts of equipment from Jeeps to toasters into the harbour, rather than give them away, to Nicaragua, where they illegally co-operated with the Iranians to arm the Contras, to modern day Iraq, the desire to 'make friends (albeit rather dodgy ones) and influence people (the less said, the better here, I suspect)' has led to a charmingly frivolous approach to arms distribution, with the inevitable aftereffects.

It merely goes to show that having too much money can be worse than not having enough, as at least you learn the value for frugality and prudence from the latter...