Enter Ross

There stands a new party leader: Douglas Ross, chosen swiftly without contest when lesser candidates withdrew in the sight of his coming. The new Leader of the Scottish Conservatives is barely known outside his own circle, or at least so the BBC would leave it, as they know no one but the main players. (The political newsmen also seem to have a mental block over anything north of the Tweed.)

I will admit that I had hardly heard of the man but to note his triumph over the SNP in Moray, which had been their fiefdom for years – it was the awful Margaret Ewing’s seat. He also glinted into publicity recently by resigning a ministerial post over Dominic Cummings, and I thought he would slip into obscurity, for Boris does not forget these things easily.

On the other hand, Douglas Ross is a man born in Aberdeen, which is Michael Gove’s home town and so he has a recommendation at the top. He is not a university man, studying instead to take over his father’s farm, and a man of the soil always has a common touch to recommend him. He is not a titled man (Fay tells me his title is “the Dashing”, but I’ll take that with as much seriousness as anything she says). He studied in Forres, as in ‘How far is’t call’d to Forres?’ and is rooted in the soil of Morayshire. He has been politically sacked and politically resigned, suggesting more independence of mind than is healthy in a dedicated party politician, but which is an advantage to one who would make an impact on his own.

He has a heavy task ahead of him. The BBC do not entirely block Scotland from their coverage – it is just devolved, which means it is forgotten for most of the country. The corps of journalists o’ the North, so they say, would sell their souls to win an interview with ‘Nicola’, and Snoopy (sorry, the SNP) control access, forbidding it to any who are unfriendly – it ensures positive coverage of the Snoopy government at all times.

As Holyrood is looking to muzzle speech more effectively now under cover of hate-speech legislation, breaking through is to be harder still.

Ross might well lament like his namesake who also came to Forres:

Alas, poor country!
Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
Be call’d our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air
Are made, not mark’d; where violent sorrow seems
A modern ecstasy; the dead man’s knell
Is there scarce ask’d for who; and good men’s lives
Expire before the flowers in their caps,
Dying or ere they sicken.

Courage though. Ruth Davidson made a breakthrough, somehow, by making an impact, and Douglas Ross has more conventional charm to turn upon the voters.

Actually, I feel more admiration for Jackson Carlaw, his immediate predecessor. Carlaw resigned without warning, without a great uprising in the ranks. He did so for the best and most rare reason – he felt he was not up to the task. What other politician has ever admitted this without facing actual defeat? The cause of Conservatism is more than one man.

For that I saw the tyrant’s power a-foot:
Now is the time of help; your eye in Scotland
Would create soldiers, make our women fight,
To doff their dire distresses.

See also

Books

The Russia Report: was that it then?

I read it. It is short. It says nothing we did not know already: Putin’s Russia has a persecution complex and is trying to subvert western powers largely out of habit, but does so incompetently.

Speculation over what might be in the report could fill volumes, for a report of 55 pages, where the live content could be fitted on about two of them. Conspiracy theorists are furious.

The idea that the Brexit referendum was influenced by Russian operatives was exploded long ago: the only noticeable activity by Russian bot factories was after the result, and very few people saw whatever inanities appeared on Twitter anyway. The Scottish Referendum could have been meaty, but again the only thing the Report could identify was some clumsy disinformation after the event trying to suggest irregularities, and that explicitly came from Russia so nae bother, eh?

The voice of frustration comes out in the Report: we cannot see what the Russkies did to our votes! Well, no – because they didn’t do anything except the things which were done so clumsily and so late they might as well have hung a banner saying ‘Vladimir was here’ on them. Twitter is not magic; it does not sway elections on its own.

The big splash story trailed beforehand was that during the election campaign Russian intelligence leaked to their pal Jeremy Corbyn parts of the trade negotiation with the United States. We knew that at the time though – Fay even posted about it at the time on this site (in cod-Russian: sorry).

The main lessons to be learned from this report concern influencers finding their way through high society, but that should be no surprise. It is the usual practice of intelligence agencies to search for influential men, easily flattered, to act as their ‘useful idiots’ – it is just the experience of Russia to find the word ‘useful’ is not the right one.

(Russia’s intelligence community has repeatedly proven itself to be maladroit, blundering, incapable of effective action. They can’t even assassinate a dissident without leaving clumsy great paw-prints over everything. That is a comfort at least.)

A positive was that the report acknowledged that our paper voting system is robust and largely impenetrable to would-be fraudsters. Electronic voting could be vulnerable if Russia took an interest (and yes, Estonia, we are looking at you.)

The Report wanted to find more. It was, it must be remembered, written by a committee of the Zombie Parliament chaired by a man of great intelligence but who was so determined to overturn Brexit that he repudiated the Conservative manifesto and was even willing to conspire with a hostile foreign power to defeat the interests of his own country. A worthy winner of the Casement Award indeed. The Report wanted to find that Brexit was tainted by Russian interference, and expresses frustration that it was not.

Move along: there’s nothing here to see.

Of course there are calls to change the law after a report that has generated so much publicity. Some want to censor the internet (now what true sociopath wouldn’t want that job?) Maybe they will try to deal with those useful idiots. This might though prompt a change in the law that Andrea Jenkys one proposed: locking up anyone who assists a foreign power to defeat the British government in its negotiations.

There is something missing as I read through these paper, and something that Mr Grieve did not ask to be investigated: when will we see a comprehensive report on European interference in British elections or the Brexit referendum?

See also

Books

A hard rain’s a-Cummin’

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed SpAd?
Oh, where have you been, my eager young lad?

I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve hundred pointless quangos
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six moribund ministries
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad offices
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead committees
I’ve been ten thousand miles in lost worthy intentions

And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, (yes, I heard you the first time) it’s a hard, and it’s a hard (now it’s getting indecent)
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed SpAd?
Oh, what did you see, my eager young lad?

I saw a newborn policy with wild wolves all around it
I saw trillion-dollar bills lying on the street to be picked up
I saw an FDA branch with bile that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with no purpose in meeting
I saw a career ladder open to no one
I saw ten thousand talkers who knew only cliché
I saw powers to cancel in the hands of young children

And it’s a hard – rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed SpAd?
And what did you hear, my eager young lad?

I heard a branch chairman who roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of the public who could drown the whole state
Heard one hundred lobbyists whose hands were hidden
Heard ten thousand voters to whom nobody’s listenin’.
Heard one person ask, I heard many people scornin’
Heard the sound of a good idea dead in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the Cabinet Room

And it’s a hard – rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed SpAd?
Who did you meet, my eager young lad?

I met a Permanent Secretary flogging a dead horse
I met an old Tory who talked like a Red
I met a young woman scolded for thinking
I met a junior assistant, demanding I wear a rainbow
I met one manager promoted for failure
I met another manager demoted for tryin’

And it’s a hard – rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed SpAd?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my eager young lad?

I’m a-goin’ back out to make the rain fall
I’ll walk through depths of the most wasteful offices
Where the people are busy but their work is no value
Where mistakes of the past are poisonin’ their practice
Where the expected knighthood meets the cold face of sackin’
Where the executioner’s face is one they are seein’
Where workload is fiction, where souls are forgotten
Where red is the tape, where none is achievement
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And straight from the Cab’net Office all souls can see it
Then I’ll dry up the ocean of worthless bureaucrats
So they’ll know my song well before I start singin’

And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

A cabal of its enemies

Hercules diverted a river to clean the Augean Stables, so a Hard Rain is quite a modest response.

Still, it will have to be a very hard rain indeed to change bureaucracy. Standing outside, it is incomprehensible but one feels a slight guilt at doubting the dedicated work presumed to go on behind the walls of Whitehall and of endless agencies and offices the purpose of which is unknown even to those who work there.

Robert Conquest’s Laws of Politics notes cynically that “The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.”

To prove or disprove Conquest’s observation, the lid is to be ripped off the obscure world of bureaucracy, and what it reveals may be embarrassing or may correct misassumptions.  The senior civil servants reassure us they are misunderstood, but that is itself misunderstanding the complaint: the target is a system, which is the collective network of individuals, who are individually dedicated to their roles, but somehow collectively getting things wrong and spaffing the taxpayers’ money up the wall as they do so. The test is not good intent: it is good achievement.

Governments have tried for decades to get over failures by hiring more brains. It has not worked, so it must be something else going wrong.

One thing observed, by one who is preparing the rain machine, that there seems to be no sanction for the individuals whose failures they are – just move on and up to another position, and watch it fail too. That cosy system will be opened up to the hard rain. On the other hand, you have to ask why someone with a head full of brains and a team working with them will goof so disastrously as we have seen so often. That may come down to the inability to handle novelty, because novelty is outside the expertise of the person entrusted with it.

The obvious response to novelty outside ones expertise, and the criticism that will descend, is to establish systems and practices in place of actual action: and therefore the biggest efforts are in risk-avoidance and back-covering, not achievement of allotted tasks.

This looks not like Conquest’s rule, but very like the Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

Invoking the Peter Principle leads me on, for what happens in Whitehall is a mystery to most of us, glimpsed only through satire.  There is Parkinson’s Law too, starting with “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”, but Parkinson went a great deal further in his book about the rise of increasingly bulbous bureaucracies, and is worth dusting off and re-reading.

I hope that these satirical observations are just that, but each example of failure appearing in the press, and each interaction I have with the higher levels of bureaucracy seems to suggest they are accurate.

The obligatory COVID-19 reference comes in here. There is a two-edged sword reaction to the Civil Service’s response in lockdown: firstly they showed that speedy action is possible, but secondly that they can work perfectly well, and arguably better, when they have sent most of their staff home and restricted themselves just to urgent work.  This suggests that the people are not at fault but that the system which the senior officers impose on those people is at fault, as the problems are eliminated when it is lifted. Further, the ability to work better with a skeleton staff suggests a major redundancy in capacity.

Recently this blog carried an analysis of one systemic failure in bureaucracy, which (if I can summarise so briefly) is the tendency, through natural means, to ossify into a homogenous block with no variety in character nor accordingly much breadth of thought.  Many similar observations have been made by commentators: another ‘law’, by Robert Michels, is the Iron Law of Oligarchy, or a version by John O’Sullivan, one of Margaret Thatcher’s advisers), that “Any organization not explicitly rightwing sooner or later becomes leftwing” (presumably because those of a conservative mind are willing to hire anyone who can do the job, but those on the left-wing will hire only other left-wingers). Perhaps the Little Hobb version would be that “Any organisation will coalesce into a small range of character-traits”.

The point of the civil service however is not to make jobs for the sort of people who coalesce there: it is to achieve the ambitions of the elected politicians. If they are unable competently to handle novelty then they must give way to those who can, and that means leaving the service to do the bare minimum clerking work and going outside for actual expertise. That immediately hits a bigger wall: the Civil Service is unable to procure contracts competently, so they cannot go outside.

The result of all these factors suggests that the Civil Service is dedicated indeed and full of highly intelligent men and women but for solid reasons is unable to do what it is there to do. Bureaucracy in indeed controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

See also

Books

Ochlocrats

I need not write yet another article on the idiocy behind the felling of statues – enough have been written, and more will come. Collaboration with lawlessness is more serious. Every age has outbreaks of ochlocracy; the rule of the mob, but authorities in league with the rioters? That is a modern disease, and it is deadly to democracy and to society itself.

Riots happen, and mob come together for the release it gives them, whatever the excuse. In past centuries it might be a section of the rootless poor with nothing to lose (hated by most of their fellows, who understand the need for order). Now we have rootless middle-class thugs, with one idea, if that, in the heads, and hatred spewing from every pore. This was the same contingent who burned Paris in ’68, but in 1968 the authorities and the respectable media were on the side of law and order: today as often the rioters have confederates in office.

With a small state, there is control over who is entrusted with power. The modern sprawling bureaucracies are a playground for activists with agendas. There is no conspiracy – there does not have to be – it just needs lots of seemingly innocuous positions to be filled by the sort of people who want the power they bring, to use for their own purposes, and for appointment panels to be staffed by cultural Marxists or those who are frightened to oppose the cultural Marxists. In this way the mindless, nihilist Marxists on the streets can know that there is no will to fight them. They have not won public opinion nor can they ever win an election, but they have power which bypasses democracy.

The Long March Through The Institutions has succeeded, in spite of the public will, in spite of democracy, and it is entrenching itself. The rioters are irrelevant really but provide a focus and an excuse for their collaborators in office to do what they wanted to do anyway. They are the ochlocrats.

(If I sound angry; I am. To hear my mother in law cowering in terror in her quiet country town, which has few policemen if any, because a mob of urban, white students have descended upon the town to take over the streets, scream their hatred and destroy the town’s soul, and nothing is done to oppose them – I am angry.)

For the woke thugs, the idea of personal autonomy must feel liberating, and the belief of utter rightness relieves one of the discomfort of having to think, while providing an internal justification for rebellion. It is not modern though: Hobbes, who had been through the Civil War described exactly that as one of the fatal diseases of a commonwealth:

To which may be added, the Liberty of Disputing against absolute Power, by pretenders to Politicall Prudence; which though bred for the most part in the Lees of the people; yet animated by False Doctrines, are perpetually medling with the Fundamentall Lawes, to the molestation of the Common-wealth; like the little Wormes, which Physicians call Ascarides.

We may further adde, the insatiable appetite, or Bulimia, of enlarging Dominion; with the incurable Wounds thereby many times received from the enemy; And the Wens, of ununited conquests, which are many times a burthen, and with lesse danger lost, than kept; As also the Lethargy of Ease, and Consumption of Riot and Vain Expence.

The disease of the state in having these ochlocrats in power will prove fatal unless drastic action is taken. It need not be what Franco did, however tempting that may be in the restless small hours, but tumbling as many as can be found out of office is needed. Make Joseph McCarthy look timid and slow.

Remember too that many of these dull officials doing the rioters’ bidding act that way not because they are fellow-travellers, but out of fear. Lift that fear then: burst open the Overton window, sack the ranks of driven ‘diversity officers’. Search the lists of daft ‘woke’ decisions, track them to their sources and hurl the guilty parties out. For those who try to get their fellow workers sacked for dissent, discipline and dismiss. (Let them find jobs in the commercial sector like the rest of us, where they might learn something of reality.) Lift the fear and allow honest decision-makers to shine and to do their duty.

One immediate thing can be done though: end the lockdown at once. It has already been ended by the crowds on the street, which has undone months of work. During the lockdown, the world is weird and nothing is normal. The structure of life is gone. It encourages the thought that anything might happen, and it might. Testosterone-filled youth are growing listless, bursting for action. Normality will begin to calm it down, just as routines soothe madness. We desperately need normality.

If the Government, those who are meant to be in charge, do not do this, do not take back control, then they are resigning their own authority to the ochlocrats. They should remember the dire warning Hobbes gave against assuming that the name of government means anything when it ceases to be real:

The Obligation of Subjects to the Soveraign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them. For the right men have by Nature to protect themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no Covenant be relinquished. The Soveraignty is the Soule of the Common-wealth; which once departed from the Body, the members doe no more receive their motion from it. The end of Obedience is Protection; which, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own, or in anothers sword, Nature applyeth his obedience to it, and his endeavour to maintaine it. And though Soveraignty, in the intention of them that make it, be immortall; yet is it in its own nature, not only subject to violent death, by forreign war; but also through the ignorance, and passions of men, it hath in it, from the very institution, many seeds of a naturall mortality, by Intestine Discord

See also

Books