Sunday, 28 November 2021

Why do governments blunder?

 Since reading ‘Blunders of our Governments’ by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe, published in 2014, I find I often refer to it especially when reviewing or commenting on the very poor state of our governance.

The purpose of this post is to outline and summarise the chapters of the book which I hope you will read as it supports the need for THA in so many ways.

The book is divided into four parts as follows :-

Part I
Sets the tone and acts as an introduction

Part II
Lists over a dozen examples of government blunders from the Thatcher years up to the last Coalition government.

 Part III
Lists five ‘Human’ reasons for government blunders.

1.Cultural disconnect – Typified by Tony Blair’s idea, in 2000, of marching louts to cashpoints to pay £100 fines for anti-social behaviour. It failed because he was made aware that most louts don’t have bank accounts. In short far too many MPs have no idea how the other half live.

2. Group Think  - Has some relationship with the above but is different and is often summarized as the’ Westminster Bubble Syndrome’ in which MP’s often resort to circling the wagons to fend off criticisms. GT is made far worse as MPs seldom if ever, allow grit into their oyster and only hear form people they want to hear from. GT makes blunders far more probable.

3.Prejudice and pragmatism – In politics this often falls under the heading of ‘ideology’ which could be either right or wrong and applicable to an individual or the whole of government. For example, for 30 years after WW2 nationalisation was accepted without question.

4. Operational disconnect – This is summarized by the old maxim that anyone planning a military operation should be the same person to lead it, which ensures that they are personally involved in the outcome of their deliberations. 

5. Panic, symbols and spin  - Summarized in the saying “ something must be done” which led to such disasters as the Dangerous Dog Act and the fiasco that was the Millennium Dome.
All of these five areas could be less prone to blunders if the voice of people could be better heard as advocated by THA.

Part IV
Lists seven ‘System Failures’ as to why blunders happen.

1.Centre cannot hold – Points out how PMs are the furthest ministers removed from any need to address problems of implementation and they do not have as much power as some might believe and also the situation with ministers being isolated in their departments. Central control is therefore largely a myth.

2. Musical chairs – discusses the problems with ministers coming and going through reshuffles, and not forgetting misdemeanours! Quite simply, our system of government does not allow for the build-up of expertise.
A separation of power, as advocated by our third demand, would allow for a cabinet to be made up of real experts as it does not rely on ministers only coming from the ranks of the government’s MPs.

3. Ministers as activists – Far too much is expected of ministers who all seek to achieve a lasting legacy in office and thus in their hurry for fame end up blundering.

4. Lack of accountability – No minsters are ever punished for blunders on their watch and even if they are sacked they often end up promoted into the Lords. Minsters are not implementing policies with their own money and there is a non-existent relationship between long term success and failure and personal triumph or disgrace. Lastly success is seldom recognised. 

5. Peripheral parliament -  Summed up by the author’s comment that ‘parliament occasionally barks, frequently nips but seldom bites’. I must also add my own comment that the current Speaker of the House is a disgrace and brings the whole House into disrepute.
THA of course believes the people need a greater say in their governance and in the performance of their MPs.

6. Asymmetries of expertise – Put simply there is a lack of real expertise and knowledge in governments.

7. Deficit of deliberation – Governments hoard power and never have serious debates to discuss both sides of an argument. Further, the need to keep the governing party ‘popular’ means unpopular decisions are seldom dealt with, as contentious issues are avoided for fear of losing the argument.  As mentioned above grit is never allowed to enter the government oyster.
THA would allow the ‘grit’ of the people to have a greater say in their governance.  

Brings the book up to publishing date by covering the blunders of the Coalition Government. 

In summary, the book shows how blunders are not a sequence of unrelated episodes but follow a pattern. It would seem if blunders are to be reduced it is the British governing system and the ways in which officials function within that system that needs to change. Individuals should be held to account for incompetence but the most important factor is the radical reform of our system of governance.

The Harrogate Agenda, with its six demands, offers us the radical political change that is long overdue and for me the wisdom or folly of the ‘people’ is imminently favourable to the short supply of wisdom but abundance of folly from our governments. 


  1. "...the most important factor is the radical reform of our system of governance." Slowly people are waking up to this.

    It might be of interest to some that Film 4 is, once again, showing "Peterloo : (2018)..Mike Leigh's dramatic take on the events at St Peter's Field in Manchester in 1819, when the cavalry attacked peaceful protesters.!" It is on Thursday 16/12/2021 at 00:50:00.

  2. Thanks but saw this too late :-(