Monthly Archives: February 2010

Cameron’s Vision of ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age’

Today I attended a conference hosted by the grandly titled ‘Post-Bureaucratic Age Network’.  Forget the pompous sounding name, make no mistake – the ideas promoted by the PBA Network will rock our world for the better.  The keynote address was given by David Cameron.  One thing that was certainly  ‘post-bureaucratic’ was the venue – a freezing old brick warehouse in Shoreditch where we all shivered our way through the morning.

The ‘big idea’ is that if you open up Government data to the masses then inevitably better decision-making, better behaviour and thus better government will follow.  The more you think about it the more compelling this becomes.  Remember what happened when the expenses data reached the public domain?  Think about the change in behaviour from MPs that has driven.  Reflect how much better a job the public and press did at auditing that data than the civil service ever managed. The tragedy is that none of it would have been possible without an illegal leak.  The Government has always contrived to protect data from the taxpayer and the taxpayer has always been the poorer for it.

Openness of Government data changes the very nature of government.  It empowers the citizen.  It gives us the tools to make decisions locally based on facts rather than instinct.  Anyone who has worked at  senior level in business  will have been taught that, yes, good decisions can be made by people with no more than good judgement and good instincts but the very best decisions are most often made by people with good judgement  and a credible fact-base (i.e. data).   Inversely, poor decisions are made when you swap the word ‘good’ for ‘poor’ in any one of those three variables (judgement, instinct, data). Sharing the whole fact-base rather than a cherry-picked sub-set of it gives us transparency. Transparency removes the political elite’s monopoly of access to ‘good’ data.  This gives us the power to better assess politicians judgement and instinct. I’m sure that will terrify them.

For Cameron this new age isn’t just about technology or having ‘government data’ (really ‘taxpayer’s data’) available to us all on-line.  He was careful to link this ‘big idea’ to his wider theme that it is not the ‘state’ that should try to solve our problems – it’s ‘society’.  There is a big difference between the two.  We are all passive slaves to the ‘state’ – we are all empowered leaders (if we wish to be) in ‘society’.  His policies are aimed at allowing a renewed sense of ‘society’ to flourish after years of abrogation to the State.  In much the same way he wants groups of parents with a coherent plan to set up their own schools outside of Local Authority control he now plans employee co-operatives taking over various other local services such as libraries and job centres.  He also sees a revolution in planning law to let neighbourhoods have first call on their own development plans and greater use of technology to speed these processes up.

When you listen to these disparate policy threads being pulled together you realise that Cameron really does have a vision for Britain which has far more substance and genuine philosophy than his critics would dare admit.  This philosophy is attractive to me because it is so closely aligned to my own. Unfortunately, only the geeky dweebs like me intuitively ‘get’ this stuff.  The big problem is that Cameron hasn’t yet mastered the best language or killer phrases that lands the enormity of these ideas and this coming new age with the majority of the electorate.   Cameron is often charged with being sound-bite over substance.  The irony here is that he has real substance and he hasn’t yet found the sound-bite!

You cannot roll back technology.  Make no mistake these changes are coming. We will either get there quickly because of government or we will get their slowly despite government.   Change is difficult – you can embrace and adapt, or take the King Canute route.  David Cameron’s instinct is to adapt and embrace the times he lives in. Just one example of speeding us down the right path is his x-prize style competition.  Meanwhile, Gordon Brown has central control instincts to his core and he would continue to resist these forces and Britain would suffer for it.

The Conservatives  need to work harder to get these messages across.  Predictably, despite Cameron talking for 45 minutes on the subject today the only reportage of his appearance in the media I’ve seen is his reply to an off-topic question on the bullying PM.  The vision thing doesn’t seem sexy enough for for the main-stream media to cover – we need to change this.  This is ‘progressive’ politics in the purest sense of the word.  We are talking about fundamentally shifting power from the state back to the citizen – that is the very essence of liberation.   The new society we build can be an engine for solving many (not all) of the nation’s ills at very low cost to the taxpayer.  The same way technology has lowered the barriers of entry to, and cost of doing business – it can be just as transformative on government.  It is a new age, whilst our first steps into it may be ugly, painful and chaotic – on the other side it will be a golden age – but only if we have the bold leadership and the right policies to shepherd it in.

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Filed under Center right, IT Policy, Politics, UK, UK Politics

UK Police Miss Open Goals

The BBC have posted this article about efforts for the police to improve ‘Customer service’. Based on no more than my own anecdotal experience I reckon the police have improved over the last five years. But not enough. Despite the new ‘customer focus’  efforts they still seem unable to score an open goal. Allow me to explain…

About five years ago someone broke into my car nicking the stereo and a credit card. I knew nothing about it ‘till I got one of those security phone calls from my bank asking if I was in a certain shop trying to buy x amount of goods. I told them I wasn’t and they stopped the card. The thief was turned away at the till in a minor victory for computerised fraud detection. I knew that if someone had the card they must have been in my car and rushed to the garage to find the damage.

I rang the police to report it.  They saw no reason to send anyone to me but did say that if I could be bothered to drive the car myself to the police station they would dust it for prints.  I told them about the credit card “We’re less bothered about credit card fraud than we are about breaking into the vehicle – the credit card is a matter for the banks”.  I protested that the two were directly connected – the card was stolen from the car, and suggested that given the bloke had been standing in the shop for some time whilst the card was refused maybe someone in the shop would remember him.  “We might send someone around” the officer told me.

A couple of days later, having heard nothing, I rang the shop myself and spoke to the manager.  No policeman had been round.  However, he did say that he remembered the chap well.  “Everything about him had been ‘dodgy’”– he had been so struck by the thief’s behaviour waiting for card authorisation he had even saved and printed CCTV images of him!

Triumphant – I went round to the shop, picked up the 4×4 clear mugshot – took it to the police station and declared ‘There’s your thief!’.  I don’t know what reaction I was expecting: at best maybe them to bang an alarm bell which instantly gathered the crack anti-theft squad who knew all the villains on the patch to ID the photo then charge off on an instant ‘knock’; at worst at least some begrudged gratitude for doing some of their job for them.  What I actually got was a weary sigh and that “I probably shouldn’t have picked up the photo, with data protection and that” and an “I’ll pass it on to the investigating officer but just because he had your card doesn’t make him the person who broke into your car.  It’s circumstantial”.   I never heard another thing.

A full photo, fingerprints, a witness.  None of it of interest.  They weren’t bothered about me, they weren’t bothered about solving the crime – they were just bothered about completing the paperwork and logging the crime for their metrics.  The whole episode was a depressing experience.

Fast forwards to 2010.  I had been away for the weekend can came home to find a letter from an electrical store – it was a receipt for about £2k worth of computers, all bought on my card but with a different delivery name and address –  someone, somewhere I had never heard of in Nottingham.  Thankfully, the electronics store had a policy that whenever someone ordered something for a different delivery address they also send a copy of the receipt to the billing address.   A quick phone call to the bank and it turns out this joker had run up £6k in total elsewhere over the weekend.  Card stopped.  Another phone call to police.

This time, the police where surprisingly polite and interested.  They said they could send an officer over right then, but with it being 10:30 at night would I rather wait until morning?  If so what time? Oh, we’ll send a text message to confirm the appointment.  Great.

Sure enough at bang on the agreed time the next day a uniformed officer turned up.  Polite, courteous and reassuring.  She took notes, gave me advice about the National Fraud Reporting Centre and took the name and delivery address of the fraudster.  So far, so good –  I would say I was very impressed.

“What happens now?”, I asked. “Well, I pass these details on to our control room, who will probably pass them onto the intelligence lot, who may then get in touch with Nottingham – they’ll wait for a report from the bank who will put together a full pack on when the card was used – it is actually the bank that is the victim here, not you.  On the basis of that info they’ll decide if there is anyway to proceed.  It’ll be weeks”.

My heart sank.  They have a name and delivery address – the goods are due to be delivered that day.  A quick phone call to Nottingham police, who could in turn ring the courier company to find out when the goods would be delivered, the police could then wait outside, watch the goods signed for, and then grab their fraudster.  Another toe-rag who is probably a one man crime wave off the streets.  Job done.  You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to sort this stuff out.  It is common sense.

Sadly though, common sense does not trump ‘process’.

For all the obvious improvement in ‘customer service’ and in making me, the victim, feel like I am being taken seriously, it is apparent that everything is about ‘process’ and not about ‘outcome’.  I am sure that this process has been carefully designed, and will have been executed as intended and if audited they’ll get a great big tick and be rewarded for doing an ‘excellent job’.

But if the outcome isn’t ‘the thief is caught’, then really what is the point of the process?

Both these cases were relative open goals for the police.  They failed to score either.  Yet the paper shuffling and form filling have created a taxpayer funded industry to give the illusion of action and crime fighting.  I’d honestly sacrifice some of the touchy feely ‘customer service’ improvements just for the sense that someone was empowered to use their common sense and circumvent the ‘process’ to get the bad guys quickly when any obvious opportunity arose.  Such agility of thinking it seems is not allowed.  We will all remain more vulnerable until it is.

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Filed under Centre Right, Crime, UK, UK Politics

Why ‘Cameron Direct’ Works

This evening about 100 people gathered in a School in Edgbaston for one of the  ‘Cameron Direct’ events.  The concept is simple.  ‘Dave’ pitches up to a bare stage, yards from the crowd.  There are no speeches, no notes, just questions from the audience and answers from the man.   It isn’t a specially invited audience.  All sorts can and do turn up.

I’ll not bore with the specific details of what was said.  Suffice to say the questions jumped around topics as diverse as ‘Sure Start’, the NHS, Wars, Student Finance, Capital Punishment with a few very testy moments on unemployment and immigration.  Those who went would have learned nothing about policy that they could not found on the Conservative website.  But this isn’t about policy announcement – this is pure campaigning.  The attention spent in Edgbaston is another boost to the campaign of Deirdre Alden who is well on course to reclaim this seat.

What interested me was deciding if this is a good way of campaigning?  Is it a good use of Cameron’s limited time?   On reflection: You bet.

Insofar as Cameron has an image problem it remains his background.  People hear he went to Eton then hear he is loaded and for many that makes him from Mars.  He cannot change those things and is always upfront that he wouldn’t if he could, they are part of what makes him who he is – but he can try and get across that ‘despite’ his background he is not totally removed from humanity in Britain.  Whilst he makes a reasonable fist of getting this across on telly the small screen still shows ‘another’ world in our perceptions.  When we want to really judge the character of a person we want to look them directly in the eye and see them in the flesh as they interact. Without the human contact we feel we are being ‘spun’.  These flesh pressing events are therefore the perfect vehicle for Cameron to help shed the last doubts of the floating voters:

  • The venues are intimate: Voters see him from a few yards away, hear him speak with no pomp, and can see the event is not stage managed.  This is him – for real.
  • People will make their own judgement if he is sincere.  Mine is he is.  And I believe that most people who attend make that same judgement.
  • That judgement will be passed onto friends multi-fold.  Mary will tell ten friends like Jane “I went to see Cameron.  He surprised me.  He came across as genuine.’ – Jane will tell ten friends like Sid “A mate of mine met Cameron – he isn’t actually that bad”, Sid will tell ten friends like Paul “A friend of a friend of mine has spent time with him.  He’s OK”.  Multiply those conversations by many, many thousands and you begin to chip away at the doubts that may linger.  This is human engagement  with thousands directly and then with hundreds of thousands only a step or two removed. Social networking actually doesn’t always require trendy new social media tools on the ‘interweb’ – human networks can be powerful enough.

Wisely, to get most bang for buck, they’re scheduling as many of these as possible in marginal seats.  It is simply impossible to imagine Brown being able to pull off a similar level of human engagement.  Every attempt Labour has tried at this has been a disaster (the best one being the classic youtube video HERE).  Although Cameron Direct probably seems to immediately hit fewer people than other gimmicks like joining twitter could (see here for why that is a bad idea) – for all the reasons above it has far more tangible impact.  His campaign managers have got this spot on.

Of course, gaining public trust isn’t the be all and end all.  It is just an enabler. Cameron does carry extra disadvantage in his pursuit of trust because of people’s experience of Blair. Let’s face it Blair was the Crown Prince of ‘trust me’ politics.  There is a huge element of ‘once bitten’ that makes the hurdle Cameron has to overcome much higher. The good news is that through these events he is clearing it.  Cameron Direct works.  Let’s ramp them up in the run up to the election.

Ultimately, ‘being trusted’ is to seek to do the job.  ‘Judgement’ and ‘delivery’ is to actually do the job.  And it was the judgement and delivery where Blair failed.  Cameron does need to build trust – it is his permission to govern.  But he must never lose sight that earned trust can be easily lost.  He needs to follow up with judgement and delivery and I trust that from May this year – he will.

Cameron in Edgbaston

Cameron in Edgbaston

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Utter Lib Dem Hypocrisy Over Crime Stats

The Lib Dem’s bend over backwards to create an air of being somehow above the perceived rough-and-tumble games that the two serious contenders engage in.  A press release I spotted today underlines that they can be as hypocritical as the best of them when there is a whiff of political opportunism.

As background, Evan Davis tried to give Chris Grayling a bit of a kicking this morning on the Today program.  The target was the Shadow Home Secretary’s use of the Home Office’s crime figures. You can listen to the exchange here but in a nutshell Grayling was accused of gaining some political capital from comparisons of year-on-year violent crime, missing the notes in the dataset which said such comparisons cannot be valid.  If you’re geeky and interested the dataset in question can be seen here.  The rights and wrongs of this issue are well covered elsewhere – my perception was that Grayling got a bloody nose before recovering at the last (despite Davis being in full attack dog mode).

Vultures smell blood and circle.  And sure enough this afternoon a Lib Dem press release, with all the faux outrage that could be mustered tried to sustain the attack:

Liberal Democrats

Contact: Louise Phillips
Embargo: Immediate, Wednesday 3 February 201

Tories should think of policies, not fiddle figures – Huhne

Commenting on reports today that the Tories have distributed misleading figures on violent crime, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

“It seems that the Tories will go to ever increasing lengths to make David Cameron’s ridiculous claims about broken society seem credible.

“Before they start to point the finger on violent crime, the Tories should consider their own record – violent crime rose every year between 1979 and 1997 and nearly doubled overall.

“Instead of fiddling figures, Chris Grayling should think of some policies.

“The Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to putting more police on the streets, and have the best record of cutting crime in Lib Dem controlled council areas.”

The trouble for the Lib Dems is that nowadays anyone with Google (like me) can very quickly check if those proclaiming to be holier-than-thou on an issue pass the sainthood test.  And lo-and-behold it seems that Mr Huhne himself has had no problem in the past applying the same interpretation of the crime figures as Mr Grayling .  Take a look at the first two lines by Huhne in this speech here.   I quote: “Clearly, there is serious concern among the public about crime. There is excessive violent crime, which has doubled since the Government came to power. “   Now he could only have come up with that ‘doubled’ bit by using the exact same analysis he his now savaging Grayling for.

His leader Clegg has also been quite happy to read the figures with disregard to the comparatives notes – and in Parliament no less.  A quick search of Hansard here shows Cleggy declare: “In contrast to non-violent crime, violent crime has doubled since 1998.” Further down he also points out gun crime has doubled.  Again, both these claims use the same reading of the stats that they attack Grayling for.

So you can take this Press Release as a cynical, hypocritical piece of opportunism that the yellow folk like to pretend they are above.  They are not.  Mr Huhne is in a great big glass-house whilst chucking those stones….

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Filed under Centre Right, Politics, UK, UK Politics, Uncategorized