Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Conclusions of the Iraq Inquiry Will Be….

So then, the Iraq Inquiry is finally on.  Just for sport let me predict what the Inquiry’s headline conclusions will be:

  • Those at the top genuinely did believe an active WMD program existed in Iraq
  • This false belief was hardened by political interference in intelligence analysis.  Anything that seemed to raise the possibility of an active WMD program was given more weight than anything that contradicted it. This cemented the ‘group-think’ faith in the WMD case.
  • We did not plan sufficiently for the post war ‘occupation’,  Or at least we didn’t protest enough to the Americans that they were not planning sufficiently.
  • We faced a greater threat from Afghanistan/Pakistan and our energies would have been more usefully spent there.

There you go, Inquiry done.  Millions of man hours and tax payer’s money
saved.  I’ll link back to this post when the Inquiry is done and we can see how close I got…

I’m always very sceptical of these quasi-judicial show pieces. Think Bloody Sunday, think Arms-for-Iraq, think Diana, think Butler.  Millions is spent, much is said, the documentary record is completed – but then what?  Don’t get me wrong – I will avidly follow the Inquiry for two reasons:  First, you hope that at least a small grain of genuinely new information comes into the public domain. Second there is a guilty schadenfreud.  Watching people being grilled by armchair generals who have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight is like picking a scab.  You know it is of little benefit but you can’t stop yourself doing it.

Sadly, the outcome of these things rarely has a material impact – those who had inklings before the Inquiry that align with the final judgement will jump up and down saying ‘I told you so’, those who leaned the other way will reject the outcome and use the words ‘government white-wash’.  The lessons learned that are produced will be filed, then ignored, then forgotten, then repeated.  It was ever thus.

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Internship: How the increase in ‘Work Experience’ is damaging to our economy and society

One of the more worrying American imports in recent years is the so-called ‘internship’.  The trend was recently highlighted by the BBC in relation to MPs use/misuse of them.   The beeb have now followed up with a timely article explaining how the trend is spreading across numerous industries in the UK.
For anyone with no idea what a internship is – basically employers offer a program that gives students, new graduates or ‘gap-year kids’ the opportunity to get ‘work-experience’ for the company, unpaid, often for a University summer, sometimes for much longer.   The argument goes that that the company is doing the kid a favour – these aren’t real jobs, really just admin – but it gives the interns a ‘foot-in-the-door’, a ‘network of contacts in the industry’, the chance to check it is really the right industry for them and most importantly the magic ‘experience’ to add to their CV.  This helps escape the job-seeker’s paradox that you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job.  The employers are often so impressed with interns that at the end job offers may be made. When presented like that it sounds like the company is doing a great social good.  ‘Helping job-seekers!’.  Very worthy.  The reality isn’t quite so straightforward nor is it the win-win for all it first appeared. 
I am a huge advocate of the importance of both meritocracy and competition (see my philosophy page).  Meritocracy is key to social mobility, which in turn is key to attaining social justice.  As we drift to internships becoming a ‘cultural norm’ in the UK we’re creating a blocker to meritocracy.  In the long run this will harm our economy and society.  
When you listen to the work that interns really do they are typically not ‘work-experience’ in the sense of shadowing someone doing their day-job or having a go while the incumbent looks on.  No, more normally they have interns doing ‘real jobs’.  They’re expected to arrive and work set hours, and often kicked out of the program if they do not.  They have set administrative duties to perform which keep the business going.  To me this crosses the line from ‘work experience’ to outright exploitation.  If the interns weren’t doing this work then somebody in paid employment would be.  That person would then be off the unemployment register and paying tax and NI and pumping those earnings back into the economy.  Instead we have them still on the dole whilst the student extends their debt and works for free with no guarantee of any reward at the end.   I can only spot one real winner in the arrangement.
We need to consider who has the means to take internships:  Who can offer three months of their lives working without pay, living in a big city?  Only people with alternative financial support.  Straight away that excludes a whole chunk of society.  The kids from the estates to who we’ve been preaching  if they work hard they can achieve anything; who then put their heads-down, ignored the peer-pressure, worked hard, got the GCSEs and A-Levels, went to Uni and got the 2-1  or first degree’s now find themselves stuck in the old job-seeker’s paradox and flipping burgers,   angry and disenchanted with society and saddled with university debt.   Meanwhile, the well-to-do kid who scraped through their GCSEs and A-Levels thanks to the kind of one-on-one educational attention you only get at the best independent schools, who drank their way through uni but pulled their socks up just enough to get an OK 2:2 sails into the intern post because they can stay with Mum and Dad and have an allowance.  They get the magic experience on the CV, they get the contacts and the reference, they get the end job.  Now,  they may well be ‘able’ enough to do the job, but the ‘better’ candidate has missed out.  That stinks to me every bit as much as those well meaning, misguided affirmative action plans companies have in place.   Both spit in the face of the idea of meritocracy.
The trend is embedding.  In some industries it is almost becoming a pre-requisite to entry that you have done an internship.  We must level this playing field.  It pains me to say it, because by nature I’m against regulation but  to get proper meritocracy and competition working we should legistlate that if the internship has the characteristics of real employment then legally it must be treated as such with a formal contract, fair selection process, and at least a minimum wage salary.  In the long run this will be a real win-win for every player in the economy. 

Rather than wait for such regulation I hope the companies realise now that they are being short-sighted by saving pennies here which could cost them pounds later.  The barrier to entry means they’re potentially missing out the very best, hungriest talent.  The outlay of paying minimum wage for administrative support is minimal.  The return on genuinely recruiting the best people into your firm for the long-run will pay back that tenfold.    Meritocracy is not just good for society – it is good for business too.

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A Moderate Centre-Right Fundamentalist?

Whilst learning how to blog I wanted a good header for my page.  I needed a strap-line to set people’s expections when they get here.  After all, not everyone will be bothered to plough through the About Me biog or the page explaining my political philosphy.  The phrase  ‘Moderate Centre-Right Fundamentalist’  was a bit of  fun intended to make a serious point: It’s the extreme wings of politics that always have the loudest, angriest voices.  Those either side of the centre  always allow ourselves to be branded as pragmatic chameleons absent of  ideological compass.  This branding must stop.

I’ve decided to tackle head-on anyone who chucks this at me.  I can be just as loud and passionate and unapologetic about my views.  Splitting every issue into a litmus test of someone’s left or right credentials drags us to the level of a sixth-form debating society where half the class has only just discovered Marx and the other half Freidman.  Back in the real world there are those awkward shades of grey needing far more subtle thought. Neither the left nor right-wing hardcore seem to cope well with the ‘subtlety’ needed in the real world.

For instance, “I believe in the miraculous power of competition in the free market” –  sounds much like –  “I believe in the miraculous power of the Free Market”.   But read again and there is a subtle difference.  Personally, I am an advocate of the first.  The gentle change of a few words brings as seismic shift in the substance of what is said.  I don’t think people miss the difference because they are not smart enough to get it.  It is rather because people like me haven’t shouted our view loud enough, we get drowned out by noise from the extremes.  The right wing nutter may hear me say my phrase and note I qualify the power of market forces, the left wing nutter  just hears that I admire the free market – both would write me off.   Well, don’t write me off!   There is nothing wrong with my idelogical compass.  It is set to the right of centre, I’m proud of it, passionate about it and ready to shout about it- I make no apologies that it requires grown-up sophisticated thought to grasp – the world is complex, and some complexity is requried to fix it.  So, please do call me a ‘fundamentalist’ for my views… bring it on.

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