Archive for the ‘managerialism’ Category

Rob Farley has reviewed a book I’ve just been rereading, Marc Levinson’s The Box. It’s a history of containerisation and how it had a massive impact on the economy – Levinson argues that port and cargo handling costs were so great pre-containers that containerisation itself was enough to bring about a huge reorganisation of world trade. I think he makes a strong case, although it’s hard to judge as (as he points out) historical data on shipping costs is surprisingly troublesome.

What interests me, though, is the when. When Sea-Land’s first container ship, SS Ideal-X, sailed from Newark, New Jersey, for Houston in 1956, containers weren’t new. There had been a trade association promoting them for twenty years, issuing possibly the dullest periodical in the history of journalism (Containers). It had been formed by a consortium of European railways. In the late 20s, the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway had a fleet of three thousand boxes in use.

Postwar, other shipping lines and railways were at it too. There was no particular technical change that either required, or made possible, inter-modal container shipping. Levinson offers a lot of the credit to Malcolm McLean, the founder of Sea-Land, for envisaging it as a whole system. (So does everyone else – when he died, container ships around the world sounded their sirens to mark the moment.) But it’s also very interesting that, well, Sea-Land and later US Lines went bust. The world’s biggest container line is AP Möller-Maersk, owners of M/V Emma Maersk, which missed the boat on containers and didn’t own a single box or ship until 1973. First mover advantage? Don’t make me laugh.

The only people who did indeed experience an advantage from moving first were ports, rather than shipping lines. Because the relative location of the port and the final customer was less important, the ships tended to go where the cargo was, and where the cranes were. Hence, unless you got started and began handling boxes, the ships would go elsewhere; and there wouldn’t be the cash to build a container terminal later to win them back. No scope to wait and see. The shipping lines, though, were considerably more able to adapt. This remains a serious problem for most of Africa – without a reasonable promise of a load, nobody will build a terminal, and if you do, they won’t call. And without good shipping, there is unlikely to be much to ship..

Containers have been likened to packets in telecommunications. Certainly, containerisation has similarities with IP networking; the point of IP is that you only need to agree that you are going to exchange data in a particular way in order to internetwork. If you agree that you’re going to handle boxes of sizes 10/20/30/40″ by 8″ by 8″ with ISO standard twist locks, it doesn’t matter how they are transported or by what route, as long as they are. (This doesn’t mean, however, that standardising them was easy. Pas du tout.) Equally, it makes no sense to charge differential rates according to the contents of a container, and it didn’t take off until the shipping lines stopped trying to do this and just charged per box.

The Net Neutrality analogy is pretty obvious. Like the US telcos, they also fought bitterly about it, and lost out to those carriers who didn’t pry in the boxes.

McLean is also an interesting character. A classic example of those canny, obnoxious people from obscure bits of America who the mid-century boom and the great compression unleashed – like Richard Feynman, John Paul Vann, Steve Cropper, and more according to taste – he started off in trucking, and considered Ro-Ro shipping as a way of gaming the regulations, before realising it would be better to ship just the box body of the truck, not the chassis. Having made it with Sea-Land and a variety of distinctly funny financing, he decided to buy a huge swath of the North Carolina backwoods where he grew up and create a vast agricultural development, including a monster, super-industrialised pig farm and a scheme to strip the peat and process it to methanol.

Fortunately for all, he ran into a new trend on its way up – environmentalism, which forced him to leave the peat unstripped. Not long after that, US Lines went bankrupt after betting the company on one of McLean’s big ideas for a second time. The first time, in the late 60s, Sea-Land had ordered a new class of unprecedentedly huge container ships, the SL-7s. These were built to make 33 knots on passage, positively blistering speed for a freighter (not bad for a modern destroyer, in fact), and to provide a round-the-world service that would provide a daily sailing from each major port.

Naturally, making a giant container ship do 33 knots takes a shitload of bunker fuel, and the ships were ready just in time for the ’73 oil shock. Whoops. He was back, though, with another class of even bigger slow ships intended to save fuel – but he was still obsessed with the idea of a round-the-world service. Its failure brought US Lines low, and tripped him into a depression he only left by starting yet a third shipping line at the age of 72. It’s interesting that, having launched a brilliant piece of evolutionary technology, he was always unable to get away from the technocratic vision of an endless belt of ships circling the planet.

Ziff-Davis Baseline carries a huge report on exactly why the NHS National Programme for IT is a disaster. (Thanks, Charles.)

First of all, a reiteration of a past point: they mention as one of the few successes the N3 tranche of the project, which turns out to be the deployment of DSL lines to GP surgeries and the national VPN-over-MPLS backbone. Well, if BT couldn’t get that right, it would have been astonishing. Why it even needed a project is worth asking – why not give each doc £25 a month and tell them to get their idle legs over to Carphone Warehouse, then get the VPN client from the NHS website? (Answer: because a nontrivial proportion probably think computers are for secretaries.)

Anyway, it looks like Blair’s inability to critically assess the statements of powerful actors has got us into another fine mess.

“The inspiration to digitize this far-flung bureaucracy first surfaced in late 2001, when Microsoft’s Bill Gates paid a visit to British Prime Minister Tony Blair at No. 10 Downing St. The subject of the meeting, as reported by The Guardian, was what could be done to improve the National Health Service. At the time, much of the service was paper-based and severely lagging in its use of technology. A long-term review of NHS funding that was issued just before the Blair-Gates meeting had concluded: “The U.K. health service has a poor record on the use of information and communications technology—the result of many years of serious under-investment.”

Coming off a landslide victory in the 2001 general election, Blair was eager to move Britain’s health services out of technology’s dark ages. Gates, who had come to England to tell the CEOs of the NHS trusts how to develop integrated systems that could enhance health care, was happy to point the way. “Blair was dazzled by what he saw as the success of Microsoft,” says Black Sheep Research’s Brampton. Their meeting gave rise to what would become the NPfIT.”

Couldn’t they have introduced him to Richard Stallman? But, as ever, the one eye was shining and we were all off on a happy crusade.

After a February 2002 meeting at 10 Downing St. chaired by Blair and attended by U.K. health-care and Treasury officials as well as Microsoft executives, the NPfIT program was launched.
In quick order, a unit was established to purchase and deliver I.T. systems centrally. To run the entire show, NHS tapped Richard Granger, a former Deloitte and Andersen management consultant. Granger signed on in October 2002 at close to $500,000 a year, making him the highest-paid civil servant in the U.K., according to The Guardian.

In one of his first acts, Granger commissioned the management consulting company McKinsey to do a study of the massive health-care system in England. Though the study was never published, it concluded, according to The Guardian, that no single existing vendor was big enough to act as prime contractor on the countrywide, multibillion-dollar initiative the NHS was proposing. Still, Granger wanted to attract global players to the project, which meant he needed to offer up sizable pieces of the overall effort as incentives.

[snip]

The process for selecting vendors began in the late fall of 2002. It was centralized and standardized, and was conducted, Brennan and others say, in great secrecy. To avoid negative publicity, NHS insisted that contractors not reveal any details about contracts, a May 2005 story in ComputerWeekly noted. As a byproduct of these hush-hush negotiations, front-line clinicians, except at the most senior levels, were largely excluded from the selection and early planning process, according to Brennan.

I’ve bolded the key failures here. First of all, letting the producer interest poison the well. Microsoft execs, eh? The big centralised-bureaucratic proprietary system vendor Microsoft was permitted to influence the whole process towards a big centralised-bureaucratic proprietary system from the very beginning. This occurred at a time when Health Secretary Alan Milburn was constantly railing against “producer interests” blocking his “modernising reforms”. This was code for the trade unions that represented low-waged nurses and cleaners, and the British Medical Association that represented doctors. Can anyone spot the difference between the two groups of producer interests? One of these things is not like the other..

The managerialists inevitably called on a management consultant to run the show – as we all know, we are living in a new world, and the status quo is not an option, so nobody who actually knew anything about the NHS, hospitals, or for that matter computers could be considered. (Granger failed his CS degree.) With equal inevitability, he called on management consultants to tell him what to do. The great global consulting firm McKinsey duly concluded that only great, global consulting firms could do the job.

Choosing which ones was clearly a job only central authority could undertake, and the intervention of the press, the unions, competitors or elected representatives would only get in the way, so the whole thing vanished behind a cloud of secrecy. Secrecy enhances power. It does this by exclusion. The groups excluded included the doctors, nurses, technicians and administrators of the NHS – which means that the canonical mistake, the original sin of systems design was predetermined before the first requirements document was drawn up or the first line of code written. Secrecy specifically excluded the end users from the design process. There are two kinds of technologies – the ones that benefit the end-user directly, and the ones that are designed by people who think they know what they want. They can also be described as the ones that succeed and the ones that fail. Ignore the users, and you’re heading for Lysenkoism.

Among the “problems” of the NHS system was that most hospitals had their own computer systems, developed either by small IT firms or in-house. The contracts stated that each of the five new regional service providers and the “spine” (BT) would have to replace them, design a single regional system, but also maintain “common standards” nationally. The sharp will spot the contradiction. If you have common standards for information exchange, why can’t you have them within the region as well as between regions? Why do you need the regional system at all? Why do you need the big global consulting firm – standards, after all, are for everyone, from Google to the hobby programmer cranking out a few lines of Python or such. In fact, almost all developments in computing in the last 10 years have been in the direction of separating levels of abstraction. It doesn’t matter if the web server runs Linux and the database Windows Server if they both speak XML at the application layer.

This was actually recognised for some purposes. The NHS bought 900,000 desktop licences for MS Windows and further commissioned Microsoft to develop a common interface for the NPfIT, thus ensuring that any common interface would be proprietary and unalterable except by Microsoft. But no-one seems to have thought through the implications of common standards. Instead, the contracts specified that the old systems must be torn out and the data transferred to the new, thus adding a huge sysadmin nightmare to the costs.

Trying to keep down the costs, iSoft outsourced the development to India. But the Thomas Friedman dream of hordes of crack coders as cheap as chips showed some flaws – specifically:

the programmers, systems developers and architects involved didn’t comprehend some of the terminology used by the British health system and, more important, how the system actually operated, the CfH conceded.

Neither did IDX’s developers working with Microsoft in Seattle know anything about the NHS. This choice, like the secrecy, ensured that no NHS institutional memory would be available to the developers. So, 100 medics were shipped off to the coder farm to explain. Naturally, this effort to fix fundamental architecture problems by tinkering just added complexity and cost, as Pareto’s theory of the second best bit. Eventually, one of the regional systems contractors decided to take iSoft’s off-the-shelf product and hack it into something vaguely suitable, and another walked away. IDX and GE Healthcare’s product was so dire that even BT couldn’t make more than one implementation work in two and a half years, and then sacked them.

But, there is no sign any of this will affect policy whatsoever. Instead, the managers content themselves with intermediate statistical targets (apparently they are installing 600 N3 lines a month, a rather poor performance for any normal ISP), rigged definitions (the deal with Microsoft is said to have saved £1.5 billion – compared to what? certainly not open-source..) and bully rhetoric about feeding the slower huskies to the faster ones (I am not joking). The inevitable signs of failure, meanwhile, emerge – it doesn’t work.

“As an example, in July, mission-critical computer services such as patient administration systems, holding millions of patient records being provided by the CSC alliance across the Northwest and West Midlands region, were disrupted because of a network equipment failure, according to the CfH. As a result, some 80 trusts in the region were unable to access patient records stored at what was supposed to be either a foolproof data center or a disaster recovery facility with a full backup system. Every NPfIT system in the area was down for three days or longer. Service was fully restored and no patient data was lost, the CfH says.

That was not the first such failure. In fact, in the past five months more than 110 major incident failures having to do with NHS systems and the network have been reported to the CfH, according to ComputerWeekly.”

But, of course, the users are lying and everything is wonderful.

“The CfH responded in an e-mail to Baseline: “It is easy to misinterpret the expression ‘major incident.’ Some of these could have been, for example, individual users experiencing “slow running.” We encourage reporting of incidents, and we are open and transparent about service availability levels, which we publish on our Web site.”

Perhaps they’ll put the chocolate ration up there too. But guess who is driving the march into the marshes?

Still, for every setback, Granger, CfH and Tony Blair’s Labour Government announce a step forward. Blair, in fact, is CfH’s biggest ally. Addressing some 80 senior doctors earlier this year earlier and, according to The London Times, sweating profusely under the bright lights, Blair said, “The truth is that we have now reached crunch point where the process of transition from the old system to a new way of work in the NHS is taking place. Each reform was in its time opposed. Each is now considered the norm. The lesson, especially at the point of difficulty, is if it’s right, do it. In fact, do more of it.”

I remember thinking, when I first heard of the project, that Palm had just confessed to a huge stockpile of unsold PDAs in a warehouse in Long Beach, and that we ought to buy the lot at firesale prices and turn loose the programmers at local level, with a common data exchange standard. Standards, not standardisation, as David Berlind says.

Oh yes, guess who’s still running the world?

Update: This post has been approvingly linked by the Adam Smith Institute’s blog, which positively scares me. But I think it’s worth pointing something out here, which is that this story is not really about planning versus markets or private versus public. The Government brought plenty of stupidity to the table, but so did the Big Consultants, and so did little iSoft. Commercial motives led to as much stupidity as planning did. Very likely, had there been 10 more bidders for the Regional Service Provider contracts and therefore more competition, the same institutional factors would have entrained the same stupidity.

D2’s post on statis (it’s the new change) and crap government IT brought something to mind. Dan mentions the success of the Bank of England-run Crest settlement system for the London Stock Exchange, contrasted with the hellbroth of disaster the NHS National Programme for IT is descending into. One thing I think he should have mentioned, but didn’t, is the role of institutional memory.

He correctly points out that managerial stupidity loves the idea of change and the notion that past history is no guide. Very true. But one of the worst things about this is that the accumulated knowledge in an organisation is also irrelevant. In his example, the Bank profited from its experience – you didn’t see any Big Consultants in that post – and succeeded.

On the NHS IT project, the failures so far are iSoft, which illustrates the fallacy of thinking that dynamic young start-ups necessarily know anything, and Accenture, which illustrates the fallacy of thinking that management consultants know anything. The only sections successfully delivered are those being built by BT, which has been doing big networks and big databases for donkeys’ years and working with the public sector for as long. It’s possible BT’s job was easier. They did the so-called national spine (some fine distinction between a spine and a backbone network..), which is essentially a big VPN deployment over their MPLS network and some data centres. So far, so cookbook engineering. But BT also has one of the much more complicated regional integrator contracts, and none other than the London Region one. That hasn’t gone to ratshit yet, as far as I know, so they must be doing something right.

Similarly, the disaster that was Railtrack had a lot to do with listening to people other than the people who knew what they were talking about. The BR engineering department was asked to piss off out of the West Coast Main Line project so consultants could prepare cost estimates more congenial to the government, and then the consultants were asked to work out how to run the company (bang goes the BR operations department). They turned out to be as wrong as they could possibly be.

IBM turned up the old documentation from the days of modular mainframes when they designed the first Bladeservers. Some engineers on the project remembered them.

The Grauniad yesterday interviewed David Nicholson, who’s just been appointed chief executive of the NHS. The text is illuminating in the extreme, especially in terms of managerialism and technocracy.

David Nicholson, the new chief executive of the NHS in England, took up the reins of office last week and set about dispelling the notion that he might provide the service with a period of consolidation and calm.

Of course not. Change is good in and of itself, because things are different now, and only the managers know what to do about it. History is irrelevant.

When his appointment was announced seven weeks ago, there was a huge sense of relief among managers and clinicians that the job had gone to a person steeped in NHS values. People seemed to think that he was somehow less threatening than the two American managers on the final shortlist, who might have been expected to further commercialise healthcare delivery.

But, in his first interview as chief executive, he has told Society Guardian that it is his NHS pedigree that has made him determined to push through reforms even faster than before. He thinks that up to 60 hospital trusts may need help to survive the pressures of change, as they lose work to primary care services operating in the community – and to specialist tertiary hospitals where the harder cases will be treated. In some cases they may have to be taken over by stronger neighbours with the management muscle to carry through the necessary changes.

Management muscle=people who agree with me and are willing to help coerce others into accepting my ideas.

And NHS trusts in England, both weak and strong, will have to come to terms with a reconfiguration of key services that will reduce the number of hospitals offering a full A&E department, paediatrics and maternity services.

These are three of the hospital services that are most cherished by their local communities. Up and down the land, the NHS will have to handle the job of reorganising them with extreme sensitivity if it is not to spark local revolts that could have huge political implications in the runup to the next general election.

The only really satisfying form of change is that change that affects the allocation of resources. This is because only adding or subtracting power can really affect other managers’ constituencies. It’s also because the essential currency of managerialism is itself the power to reallocate resources. Resistance to this is of course coded as resistance to inevitable change, which attracts the opprobrium of the whole elite.

Nicholson has been with the NHS for 29 years. He joined as a graduate trainee in the same year he joined the Communist party, which he then saw as the best vehicle to take forward his passionate support for the anti-apartheid struggle. He says he was not a Eurocommunist: he was among the Tankies who did not see an ideological need to distance themselves from Moscow. During the interview, the working-class lad who has reached the top pokes fun at himself by asking how much of this early baggage needs to appear on the civil service security vetting form that is sitting on his desk awaiting his attention. Perhaps former Communist John Reid, Patricia Hewitt’s predecessor as health secretary, might be in the best position to advise?

Well, at least he’s honest about it. More importantly, why should the head of the NHS have to declare his past political affiliations to the secret services? It’s not as if he was going to be trusted with nuclear weapons or the names of informants within Al-Qa’ida. In fact, the most secret documents he will handle will be those subject to commercial confidentiality. These must be secret, of course, to enhance the power of the managers.

Nicholson drifted away from the Communist party and abandoned his membership in 1983. But he has stuck with the NHS in a career that has spanned three phases. For the first 10 years he worked in mental health, mainly in Yorkshire, where he was involved in implementing the policy of closing the old asylums and developing services in the community. He says the lesson he learned then was how it became possible for the NHS to deliver big changes if managers could harness the support of patients and relatives.

He’s not, apparently, proud of helping to treat the mentally ill with greater humanity, or to have helped to treat their illnesses more effectively, or even to have saved money. No. He chooses to highlight not what was actually achieved by his management, but the management itself.

For the next nine years, Nicholson moved into the acute hospital sector. He was chief executive of Doncaster Royal Infirmary, one of the first wave of NHS trusts to break free from Whitehall control under Margaret Thatcher’s policy of NHS reform. That “liberating” experience taught him the benefits of independence and the need to mobilise support for reform among clinical staff. “Once you engage them and gain their trust, there is nothing stopping you,” he says.

Decentralisation leads to efficiency, then.

The third stage of his career, which has led him to the top of the NHS tree, was in regional and strategic health authority management. It was there, he says, that he learned how to deliver change on a grand scale by getting all the bits of the system pointing in the same direction.

But someone has to make those independent units all do the same thing in order to deliver – guess what? – “change”. Note that, again, the actual final goals – the strategic aim, the results – are never mentioned. Also note that he is the Vicar of Bray; when he managed a local trust, he was for independence – when he managed a group of them, he was for centralised control.

Nicholson says the NHS is in much better shape than five years ago, thanks to increased resources and reforms to link hospitals’ income to performance. But this is not enough.

“People don’t feel the reforms are relevant to them. We haven’t made sure we connect the reforms to benefits for patients. There is a strong argument for driving reforms forward faster, not slower. That is what we need to do. But we need to make them relevant to clinical staff and help them do the jobs they need to do.”

We know what is good for them. The problem is how to make them behave, which is to be achieved by PR.

He says it is already clear that not all acute hospital trusts will be ready to apply for foundation status by 2008, the original target date. Many will not be strong enough to achieve independence without significant reconfiguration. In some areas, the answer might be for the weak trusts to be taken over by the strong.

But:

“I am reluctant to get into [a wave of] mergers across the system,” he says. “Very few mergers I have seen in my career have delivered the benefits that people said they would. The problems remain in the organisation. Often these problems are more deep-seated than [can be solved by] having a new set of managers come in.”

Indeed. It’s almost become a business-book cliché that mergers and acquisitions are usually value-destroying. In today’s civil service, being up to date with fashionable management advice is career positive, so Nicholson is quick to pick up on it. But there is so far no sign that mergers are becoming any less common in the private sector. This is because strong structural forces promote them. The end-goal of competition is to crush the competitor and become a monopolist. Joseph Schumpeter’s principle of creative destruction. Also, the professionals involved in mergers are perhaps the most strongly incentivised people around – the financial rewards are gigantic.

“I think we will see some of the better hospitals acquiring others that are in difficulty.”

Although the problems are more deep-seated than can be solved by having a new set of managers come in, right?

The government’s proposals for treating more patients closer to home by expanding primary care would put a big strain on the district general hospitals. “I have not seen any that have to close, but they are going to have to work in a networked way,” he says. “And you are going to have to use the ambulance service in a more creative way.”

Nicholson does not spell out the implications, but his remarks suggest the closure of some departments, allowing hospitals to specialise in what they do best. Patients may get a better service, but would have to travel further to access it. “Undoubtedly there will be tough decisions to make over the next 12 months to reflect changing services,” he adds.

The toughest would involve reorganisation of emergency care, paediatrics and maternity services. A key decision has had to be taken about the number of major trauma centres across England for dealing with the most serious emergencies. That has had implications for the number of hospitals running a full A&E department. Many patients with minor ailments could be looked after better in local walk-in centres rather than A&E.

Similarly, the NHS has had to decide the number of births needed to sustain a 24-hour consultant-led maternity service and the most appropriate size for paediatric departments.

Surely the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better to decide how much maternity service is needed for the number of births? Classic confusion of target and control.

Were these not the three most bothersome areas of NHS care in terms of likely revolts against closure of local facilities?

Yes, says Nicholson. But he is determinedly optimistic about winning public support for change if consultation is managed properly. Trusts have to ask: are the clinicians on board; will they stand up and argue the case; can the trust demonstrate the health benefits of a reconfiguration of services; and can it say how many lives will be saved, to set against the claims that will undoubtedly be made by protesters that lives will be lost?

“We will be going out to consultation later this year or early next on a whole series of reconfigurations. I understand the politics of it. But this is about the way we deliver care that is predominantly closer to home.”

Consultation. The public is to be “consulted” not in order to determine their opinion or canvass their views, but to persuade them to accept the managers’ a priori decision. The accurate term would be propaganda. Further, the lower ranks of management are asked to make the professionals – the clinicians – lend their authority to the non-experts’ decision. And the whole thing is based not on whether lives will indeed be saved, but whether criticism can be discredited.

His appreciation of the value of “closer to home care” came early in life. Nicholson was brought up in Nottingham, where his father was a plasterer who became incapacitated by emphysema and confined to a wheelchair. “One year he was admitted to hospital 14 times. Then they decided to provide him with an oxygen cylinder and the phone number of a nurse who could come round if there was a problem. In his last two years he was hardly admitted to hospital at all.”

The family scattered his father’s ashes on the pitch at Nottingham Forest. Nicholson inherited his passion for the club: last year he attended 34 fixtures, home and away. He went to Forest Fields school in Nottingham – a grammar school when he arrived, a comprehensive by the time he left. He played hooker for the city’s rugby side at 19 and attributes his uneven facial complexion to experiences in the scrum.

Nicholson has a flat in London where he will spend most of the week, but the family will stay living in Doncaster. He plans to work one day a week from Quarry House in Leeds, headquarters of the former NHS Executive.

Blah, blah, blah.

Nicholson says he begins his period as chief executive with three priorities. “First, we need more discipline and rigour in the way we manage our business in the NHS in many parts of the country: I need to design that.”

Stronger centralised control, in other words.

“Second, we need to reposition reform in terms of identifying the benefits to patients.”

PR comes first.

“And third, we need to work on leadership. We are not producing people with the right skills to lead organisations and we need to do something about that.”

To carry out 1 and 2, more managers are needed. Parkinson’s Law in action.

“Unusually, in the developed world we have few clinical people in charge of organisations. We need to change that.”

What? Actual experts? Surely not!

“And there are not enough women and black people in senior positions. I need to do something about that as well.”

If they are the right kind of experts, clearly.

David Nicholson, the very model of a modern managerialist.

All right then, can anyone tell me why we are suddenly in a crisis regarding illegal immigration? We weren’t, as far as I can tell, yesterday. Now we are, and the BBC is running BNP-it’s-OK-to-like deep stater Andrew Green’s pet thinktank and a special feature from resigned-on-principle-five-minutes-before-his-line-manager-got-there IO Steve Moxon, intercut with fuzzy video of folk scrambling the fences at the Coquelles railyard. That’s right, film from..was it 2002 or 2003?

Apparently Dave from PR announced the crisis at prime minister’s questions this lunchtime. So that’s it. Like the bleedin’ dreidel song, crisis, crisis, crisis. The meat of the story, such as it is, is that the government doesn’t know how many illegal immigrants there are.

Well, obviously. If the government had seen their papers, they wouldn’t be “illegal” immigrants, would they? No government in the world knows how many illegal immigrants, or emigrants for that matter, it has. Because they’re illegal, see? The stupidity level here is so high, by the way, that anyone who reads this post will rapidly approach their maximum weekly dose of stupidity and have to recuperate in a clue-chamber for months if they are to have any chance of regaining their former IQ.

More importantly, there is a real non-wanker story waiting for a good reporter to dig in. That is how a succession of four utterly unscrupulous Home Secretaries mismanaged the IND in order to please the prime minister and the Murdoch’n’Associated press, through a cocktail of absurd numerical targets applied to people in quasi-judicial positions, exterminationist rhetoric, management by fear, and destabilisation of the chain of command.

But unfortunately, the people who suffered most were scared brown people, and also civil servants, a lot of whom were also brown people and not really first-division our kinda people, being in delivery, not policy, old chap. So that’s that. Nobody really does close reporting of Whitehall anyway, especially not after it zapped Gilligan.

I’ll just say – was it really impossible to imagine that the end of the Cold War and the outbreak of a major war in Europe might mean more refugees? Michael Howard didn’t do anything until they were here and the system couldn’t decide claims within three years. I think it was quite deliberate, or wilful neglect at least, as he hoped his first attempt to starve them out might save the 1997 elections.