Babble in the Bubble: UFSM, Clegg’s lies, and the general dysfunction of the British state

I’m going to blog more on recent events later but for now, a rushed response for various people interested in Clegg on WATO just now… (Please post errors in comments and I’ll fix later. Updates at the end… UPDATED again 15/5.)


In September 2013, Clegg announced the UFSM gimmick at LibDem conference with no proper preparation or costing, and giving the DfE only hours notice. Absolutely typical of modern Westminster and a small example of broader dysfunction (HS2 and aircraft carriers are bigger examples of the broader dysfunction).

On 29 November, Gove wrote to HMT pointing out the DfE was already 400m overspent on capital.

On 3 December 2013, Clegg’s office told DfE that it would announce the next day new capital funding for kitchens. (Clegg’s office had forgotten about kitchens when they made the original announcement.)

DfE said (paraphrase)… Don’t announce stuff on this yet again on the back of a fag packet or it will go even more wrong. The numbers you want to announce are junk. 150m is not enough. You’re claiming 80m of it comes from ‘underspends’ – ‘it’s untrue’ (direct quote), we are 400m OVERspent on capital, what on earth are you talking about. You do not have clearance to announce this. (Clegg’s office: the media bids are booked, all systems are go, the DPM thinks you’re just jealous of his ace announcement.)

The next day on 4 December 2013, Clegg announced it all anyway without changing anything. Officials in the DfE press office refused to endorse Clegg’s figures because they knew they were lies. Clegg’s spin doctors went mad and told the BBC that the DfE had ‘gone rogue’. (They’ve got a partial point there but not in the way they mean.)

In January 2014, Laws then did a deal with HMT. 80m of unspent revenue was ‘converted’ to capital as part of an obscure HMT process called ‘budget exchange’. This 80m of newly created ‘capital’ was then dropped into the UFSM pot. This meant that technically the DfE could say that this was both ‘unspent money’ and ‘new’. Hey presto, Clegg hadn’t lied at all! It was ‘unspent’ and ‘new’ money! (Ps. I doubt Osborne was aware of this – I think it was signed off by Alexander.)

(Although I did have some very big disagreements with some officials, DfE officials behaved properly on this. The faults here cannot be blamed on them.)

In March 2014 I revealed some of this to WATO in the hope it would prompt some reflection in Downing Street about the way they let Clegg rampage around using his HA Committee as a blackmail weapon to extort money for his speeches / gimmicks.

Clegg and Laws said I was talking ‘utter balls’, I’m a ‘fantasist’ etc.

Some public spirited person leaked a load of emails to WATO showing that all my specific claims were true and Clegg and Laws were talking ‘utter balls’.

Instead of re-evaluating, Clegg went further off the deep end. Bad move. By yesterday, people in the Cabinet Office were wrapping cold towels around his head and pointing out this was a disaster for him. He then ran to Cameron begging him to ‘make Cummings stop’. In Downing Street, people sucked their teeth and said that might be tricky. Might Gove be able to? No, he doesn’t listen to anybody, he’s obsessed with his bloody essay… Mmm, Cleggy – best pipe down on this for a while…

WATO Today

Today Clegg goes on WATO. Is ambushed. Another public spirited person has tipped off WATO that the DfE Performance Committee has just moved UFSM to ‘red rated’ meaning there are serious chances of big problems. (Schools have a huge amount of change to cope with in September. Think of all the effort now being wasted that could have been spent on implementing the National Curriculum, or improving Ofsted. Gove warned Clegg and No10 of this happening and now he has to waste huge amounts of his time trying to sort out the mess, along with a load of officials who should be dealing with priorities.)

Clegg’s WATO response – this happens all the time in Whitehall [unintentionally this is both true and black comedy], everything will be fine, no it doesn’t mean Cummings was right about anything… He then uses the dodge Laws worked out in January – but botches it. ‘It’s unspent capital’ he said. Somewhere on the 7th floor of the DfE, the Permanent Secretary put his head in his hands and said to himself, can anybody make Clegg shut up about this, please, anybody…

When James McGrory tells the lobby ‘it’s all new capital, no story, nothing to see hear’ this afternoon, the answer is – This ‘new capital’ is funny money created out of thin air by budget exchange, and the DfE remains hundreds of millions overspent on capital because Danny Alexander (and others in government to be fair) never took Basic Need and maintenance seriously enough. And the programme has gone ‘red rated’ because too many people have no idea about a model for government other than government by gimmick and rubbish media grid…

Quick conclusion

A few people have asked why I am bothering. It obviously makes Gove’s life harder in some ways. UFSM is hardly the biggest issue around. True. But it is a good case study of general political dysfunction. In a small way it shows why we live in a constant series of gimmicks, cockups, and waste. It shows the daily routines of Westminster that operate against having serious people in charge of things – people who know how to set priorities, focus, and manage complex processes. It is a case study for my essay.

My point is: we need a serious change in how we are governed. My essay is an attempt at sketching some features of such a new approach that could bring people into politics with real talents, instead of just those who climb to the top of party hierarchies, and how we could build new institutions. Why do we have to be governed by Cleggs while our finest minds, entrepreneurs, and so on are shut out of government? Project management is not hard in the same way that theoretical physics is hard – there are tried and trusted methods that a lot of people without exceptional talents can use – yet we can’t embed it in government. Surgeons and pilots create ‘checklists’ to avoid repeated errors but we have… UFSM, aircraft carriers, HS2…

My essay also suggests that we should put education and science at the heart of our national policy instead of treating it as a piggybank for Cleggs to use when they need to fill a hole in their media grid.

Read a summary here:

Clegg now is asking Cameron for ‘a truce’. It’s the wrong question. This is not about personal grudges or party politics – it’s about whether we can do better than the system we’re stuck with. I don’t care whether powerful people are cross – if I cared about that, we’d never have done anything in the DfE. He’d be better off if someone puts a copy of my essay  in his weekend box and (as he gazes out the window, closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath) he spends 20 minutes reflecting on the question: ‘am I bending the truth too much, is it possible that this prick has at least a bit of a point?‘ (Don’t think ‘the rest of the Cabinet does the same’, Nick, focus on yourself.)

Ps. 1. I don’t care about this myself but there’s a depressing irony for Clegg. Clegg is so rubbish at communications that even if the public is happy with UFSM in September, nobody will know it was Clegg’s idea: Cameron will get the credit with the public and Gove will get the credit in Westminster for sorting out the mess.

2. Clegg thinks he can overcome the strategic disaster of tuition fees by picking fights with his own government on page 10 of the papers. If he or his staff understood strategy and communications, they’d know he has been on a doomed mission for the past two years. 1000 page 10 stories of babble in the bubble won’t undo one big mistake…


[Added later as things occur to me…]

Ps. 3. To hacks looking for follow-up angles tomorrow, it’s been mentioned before but has not got proper attention… The nonlinear effects of  ‘Clegging’ an announcement… Clegg and Laws forgot that by bringing in UFSM, they accidentally knackered the mechanism for distributing the Pupil Premium. The PP is based on eligibility for FSM – but if you make FSM universal, there is no ‘qualification’ for FSM. So because they did not think through one gimmick, they accidentally blew a hole in a multi-billion pound project that they had planned to make a centrepiece of their ‘achievements’ at the next election. When I left on 31 January there was no solution for this. Is there one yet? The UFSM gimmick removed the focus of FSM from the poorest and instead extended middle-class welfare. It would be particularly black irony if the manner of its introduction hit the poorest hardest by undermining the PP. Fingers crossed some brilliant DfE officials have managed to find a way to get everybody out of this hole…

Ps. 4. I said yesterday that in his rage Clegg had accidentally repositioned himself against Free Schools and he would execute a clumsy double reverse ferret. On C4 now, he’s pursuing both lines – he’s back to ‘Cummings is an unknown loopy’ (having told Cameron and Heywood yesterday he was going to shut up about me) and is claiming ‘I’m really pro-Free Schools’. ‘Loopy’ doesn’t work with the lobby. (If he’d said ‘eccentric’ he’d get more traction.) But he’s also boxed himself in on another front. Like Labour, he can’t decide whether to attack Free Schools to win votes from one subsection of the public, or to support Free Schools to win votes from a different subsection. And by making it obvious to everybody that everything he says is motivated by self-preservation, he lacks any moral credibility – the most vital commodity in politics.

Ps. 5. A few have emailed saying what should No10 do? The most obvious thing that is also just faintly imaginable, depending on the psychological state of No10 at the time, is: a) After the euro elections when Clegg’s eyes are straining at the TV watching for signs of a coup, DC calls in Heywood and tell him the HA Committee system is changing, Cameron will chair HA from now, no more blackmail from Clegg; b) shunt Clegg into a corner with a fig leaf for his ego, something grand-sounding but fundamentally trivial (Heywood is very good at this); c) DC tells Llewellyn ‘we are going to stop using the DfE as a piggybank to buy off Clegg, he’s finished, we don’t need to, that phase is over’; d) Osborne has a friendly chat with Danny – ‘Danny you’ve done SUCH a good job, I now need you to have a crack at X, so-and-so will be taking over these other trivial duties from you from now, time you moved up in the world…’ Won’t solve everything but it would be a start (and it would give Gove’s team space to embed reforms and think about explaining them without constant stupid Whitehall battles over trivia). Odds of Clegg walking out on Coalition (which is what Llewellyn has nightmares about)? <5%.  There’s a decentralised ‘what Tory Cabinet Ministers could do themselves if they don’t mind a cross call from Llewellyn’ version of this idea but I’ll keep that to myself for now while I try to persuade someone (not Gove) to do it. Have a crack in comments if you want…

Ps. 6. UPDATE: Clegg, a Manchurian Candidate…

I’ve explained my goals and why prolonging the story suits me, and how Clegg can’t win. I’ve posted it on a blog for Clegg’s staff and No10 to read. And the BBC has printed a string of emails proving that I am telling the truth and Clegg is lying. And Clegg is trying to fight an election yet steps on his own story every time he does an interview because he won’t stop talking about me and food.

Yet, and yet… Does Clegg decide to pipe down? No! Does anybody in Downing Street lock him in his study? No – they send him out this morning like a balloon that they’ve let go of, to whizz around the broadcast studios making himself even more of a laughing stock and advancing my goals again.

Clegg has become a Manchurian Candidate…

A mole has filled me in…

Yesterday, Clegg storms along that funny little corridor from his office to Cameron’s office, an increasingly frequent event. ‘Gove’s making me look a fool, I demand that you make him sign a joint op-ed with Laws.’

DC wearily, with that bored pained expression he gets: ‘Yeahsss, ok, Ed will call him if you reeaally want Nick. You did say on Monday that it’d be best to pipe down though, are you suuuuure this is wise…?’

‘Yes, if Gove signs up then the media will change the story, they’ll see Cummings is lying.’

‘Mmmm, ok, Ed, call Gove, he’ll play ball, Nick, don’t worry. Jeremy, have we got anywhere with…’

Yes, this is how the people in charge of dealing with nuclear weapons, the EU, ‘flash crashes’, and terrorism are spending their time these days.

Gove being Gove says, ‘Yes no problem Ed [Llewellyn]’, before giving the piece a few little twists. Laws, himself now deranged on the subject and searching under his desk hourly for my moles (he won’t take them alive), signs it off not realising that the piece is a Gove joke.

Gove is very happy – the PM, happy. Henry Dimbleby, happy. Cleggy and Laws, happy. And Dom… VERY HAPPY! (Droll, Michael, very droll, I would have said ‘take out the Bruce Willis bit, Laws will never wear that’ but you got away with it.)

Then, it gets worse. Clegg tells his spin doctors ‘make sure the Times realise I got Cameron to order Gove to do it’. Yes!

And nobody in No10 said, ‘Errrr, but Nick I thought we were trying to convince everybody that Gove really does love this policy, if we brief that we forced him to do it, then we make our own story incredible, maybe we should shut up and stop talking about food since that prick wants us to keep going and his bloody moles keep leaking on us…’ (It’s a bit like that scene in Dr Strangelove where the guy screams – what’s the point of having a doomsday weapon if you forget to tell anyone about it… What’s the point of forcing someone to say ‘I really do agree’ if you tell everybody you had a gun to his head?!)

Clegg, let me explain a few things to you, I am telling you the truth if only you would believe that.

A. My motives are what I’ve put on my blog. You think I’m trying to help the Conservative Party. No no no!

B. This op-ed helps me. It does not help you. You see, I want this story to keep running. I want people in Whitehall to think, ‘I don’t want to be the next school food story.’ You, if you had sense, would be trying to make it stop. The more you push back, the worse it will get. Every time you rant in another interview that I’m loopy, it helps me. It just means more people read my blog, read the leaked emails, and conclude you’re a liar – and it makes it more likely that people will do what I want.

C. You cannot turn the story around now. Nobody with an IQ >75 is going to believe you when the leaked emails show I was telling the truth.

D. Not only do you not understand what my goal is, you don’t know what your own goal is. If you walk into your private office right now and say ‘Lucy, everyone, what the hell are we trying to do in this row on UFSM?’, everyone will have different answers. And someone will be thinking ‘you don’t know yourself Nick, you keep screwing your own interviews by engaging with that prick Cummings’ (but they won’t say it because you, like most people at the top of the greasy pole, don’t encourage criticism, hence constant errors.) You have a vague hope this nightmare can be turned around, but you don’t know how to do it. It can’t. Because your organisation, strategy, and message are hopeless and you don’t even have clarity about your own goal.

E. I blew this up because I want people in No10 to realise that every time between now and next May that they interfere in the DfE with some stupid gimmick, the story might go badly wrong because someone will leak something. I want Cameron to grit his teeth and say ‘Cleggy, I know you need your gimmicks, and you can have them, but why don’t you go and play somewhere else, if you go near the DfE again, it will probably just go tits up. Now, look Cleggy, Transport, trains, they’re shiny Cleggy, men in overalls and hardhats Cleggy, very good for TV Cleggy, aren’t they Dre-ster?’

The Dre-ster: ‘Very good PM, MUCH better territory than schools, you are so clever PM, you always get it right.’

‘Quiet, Dre, Nick’s thinking…’

Of course, maybe you’ll all just plough on. But you see – I haven’t lost anything. At least I’ve tried to keep your incompetent noses out of schools.

Back in 2004 I helped with the campaign that won the referendum on the North East Regional Assembly. Thanks to the talents (not of me but) of James Frayne and my uncle Phil, a 70:30 Yes turned into a 80:20 No, with a few thousand quid against an entirely hostile North East establishment. One of the things I remember from that campaign is that a moment arrived after which every time our opponents did anything, they lost and we gained. It didn’t matter what it was. It didn’t even matter if it was a good idea. The media turned it into a disaster. They were screwed, their internal cohesion imploded. Colonel Boyd used to call it ‘being inside your opponent’s decision-cycle’. In communication campaigns, this happens because your organisation works and your strategy and message are right. It doesn’t happen often. (NB. Frayne became director of communications in the DfE in 2011. No coincidence things turned around.)

Clegg – it looks to me like you are in this position now. Of course, I could be over-optimistic and maybe something will turn up for you. But it seems to me that, now, whatever you do advances my goals. Your credibility is zero. Everything you try will go wrong. You have become a Manchurian Candidate – you force people to read my essay and think about my critique of the system. As they say in Moscow, ‘thank God for fools.’ 





41 thoughts on “Babble in the Bubble: UFSM, Clegg’s lies, and the general dysfunction of the British state

  1. On the PP thing. Surely you can still be ‘eligible for FSM’ as per the rules for every other year group and you would just run the calculations off that? Just because everyoe *gets* FSM it surely doesn’t mean you can’t simply apply the rules from other years.


    • Not sure if I understand, I don’t know much about PP, but – why would people apply for it in first place when it no longer gets them anything directly? And if they don’t apply…


    • Aha. Two things: One, most schools actively tell parents the rules around FSM anyway because of the influence on PP, this will simply continue even if they don’t want FSM as schools will make clear that it affects PP. Two, the system is moving towards automatic eligibility anyway, so that if you pop up in one part of the welfare system the school is automatically alerted, these numbers can then be fed to govt.

      Either way, getting parents to continue to sign up is not going to be much more of a hassle than previously.


      • You could well be right. Officials were not so sanguine in Jan re your first point. If your second point refers to Universal Credit and the IT system, I can only wonder open-mouthed at your faith!


    • I wish I could be so optimistic. The effect will be mediated by the six year calculation on PP and I doubt the 14/15 year will be affected, but I suspect it will be increasingly hard to get parents to sign up when there is already a stigma amongst some. There will be knock on effects. And I would be amazed if the Univ Credit train ever leaves the station – I fully expect that to be taken out into the yard and shot soon after the election.


  2. On picking fights, it does appear that bashing Gove is a strategy that works with the electorate at large. Your issue with ‘the politicial system’ may be that it works the way it does because people are swayed by the things that they are swayed by (like random Gove bashing).


    • According to Clegg and his pollster, it works with at least a small subsection. I don’t know how large. Maybe a lot.

      I’m not talking about public opinion and communications, I’m talking mainly about: who gets into positions of power, what are they trained for, how do they operate, how do they set priorities, why is Whitehall broken etc. I’m not complaining about people disliking Gove – Gove has nothing to do with my general points… On the communication/psychology front: we are evolved creatures, we are susceptible to all sorts of emotional influences, people will inevitably be swayed by all sorts… I ignored comms almost entirely because it was a waste of time – I’ll blog on this separately, though there are some bits in my essay about it (no eye rolling! – e.g. CTRL+F ‘too fuckin long’ and ‘Most communication problems are really failures of management’).


      • Don’t worry, I’ve read your essay! And I know that these are issues you think are important, and are *actual* issues. But some of them are a product of comms (it’s not as much as a waste of time as you might thing) and a product of (at the very least a perception about) what causes people to vote.


        • I don’t think comms is a waste of time ‘in general’ but I mean in my particular circumstance – i.e part of a Government which does not do ‘communication’. Ten years ago I helped run the referendum campaign against the North East Regional Assembly (it was mainly run by James Frayne and my uncle). It turned a 70-30 Yes into a 80-20 No. We had a message that worked. But you can only do that if the management of the organisation works. Hence why in DfE I focused on management not communications… There are real issues viz DfE that are (partly/significantly) because of comms failures but usually the ‘time required v payback’ calculation did not favour bothering… Also, even Bismarck struggled to manipulate public opinion. It is doable – but it is much harder than people think and you only have a shot if there is agreed goals.


          • You might be right. Also, getting most people in education to believe Tories will be responsible when in charge of it is likely to take more effort than you would ever have had available.


  3. If this is a case study in the failure of competent governance then, like you, I am most interested in what can realistically be done to improve the system (I’m not particularly interested in media comms or the specific case of Clegg and his public image… and probably shouldn’t comment on it publicly in any case…).
    You mentioned more than once that the civil service is not necessarily to blame – “officials behaved properly”, “brilliant DfE officials” – so is it here that we need greater skills and finer minds? Is there any mechanism for drawing talent into higher levels of government departments, other than traditional (& conservative) graduate recruitment schemes (e.g. the fast stream)?
    Or does the fault lie within the political class? If the latter, I’ve always thought that need to have a near-lifelong focus on that career, including a willingness to self-promote and ‘play the game’, severely limits the constituency of potential leaders. I saw that lot as an undergraduate and that was enough for me.
    Or, does the solution lie somewhere in the interface between civil service and ministers? I was talking to Dr Burghart about this over a few pints of strong cider (as you do) and his summary was that an expert CS is there to appraise (particularly new) ministers of all the very good reasons why they can’t do the things they want to do. And what they can, in fact, do. Is this the set-up you would prefer and, if so, how can it be better built into the system?
    Sorry, I am probably not being as cogent as I could be. But, I do have a wriggling 2-year old and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion in the background to contend with, as I write this.
    There is a risk in all this that we become overly pessimistic or even fatalistic about the quality of how we are governed. I am, however, a remorseless optimist and as I said to you when you first published your essay, I have a preference to go to the heart of a matter and find a practical solution. I particularly like your line, “we should put education and science at the heart of our national policy”. So I guess my final question is, “where do we start?”


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  5. Fascinating insight into Mr Clegg and his world.
    You mention tuition fees – are these not the next big issue. They will soon cost more than the old system. Listen to teenagers today and they all discuss the ways they are going to get out of paying their fees. It has not worked. Is there a plan B?


  6. Clegg repeatedly lied throughout the World at One interview, the evidence base for UFSM is very poor, he justifies the whole policy on the back of a pilot that couldn’t even assert that UFSM actually caused the marginal improvements it found.

    The School Food Plan which seems to be the catylist for the UIFSM policy, in my opinion overplayed the evidence base but sensibly suggested a phased roll out to all primary (note not infants) starting in the most deprived areas.

    Politics changed the SFP sugestion into the UIFSM policy we now see, a Big Bang, put into statute targeting all infants. These changes allow Clegg to “help” all infant parents (target voters), save £400, (obviously better than just helping deprived areas), In September Clegg will stand there in a smart school lunch hall claiming it is his legacy, ignoring the unnecessary problems his changes caused so many schools.

    The fundamental issues remain,
    UIFSM never has offered value for money. NEVER!

    The timescale for a national roll out is nigh on impossible, better for schools to get it right ASAP than impose an artificial date based solely on the premise Clegg can get his picture in papers

    Infrastructure funding was initially ignored, (by SFP and Clegg) which counters claims this was thought through? Eventually a figure was guessed at, it was never calculated from what schools would actually need and therefore no one can know it is enough, even though Clegg claims it is.

    Most importantly the shortfall in initial set up costs (as a result of £150m being insufficient) will have to be paid for by schools. Even more worrying are the ongoing costs, any school whose total service costs are more than £2.30 per meal per day, will be forced to subsidise the policy from its teaching and learning budget. (For those who don’t think it will happen £2.30 was 2012 mean cost & many schools will pay more)

    Finally and typical of Clegg, genuine concerns are being supressed on the basis that he set up a helpline and a roadshow, as if that makes up for having no kitchen. This massively expensive PR exercise (it would have given £1000 to every primary school) doesn’t appear to be getting the hits he expected, not least because most heads see through PR puff and have better things to do than spend a day at a scarcely populated roadshow telling them what is readily available elsewhere.

    My bet is Clegg didn’t actually know if his policy was deliverable when he announced it at conference, since then it has been lurching from one crisis to another as the lack of planning comes out. He hasn’t even bothered to put in place research to check UIFSM has any ongoing benifit?

    Sad thing is, schools could do so much good with this money, insted UIFSM will actually become a drain on some schools scarce resources.


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  8. At my son’s small local CoE primary, (90 pupils), the children have to bring their own pack lunches. There is no dining hall or kitchen or space for one. The one large room is already multifunctional. Therefore,quite apart from the practicality of cooking and serving meals in house, the cost of staff equipment and building- for such a small number of pupils -will be prohibitive i.e the cost per meal will be enormous. Far better to outsource – as many organisations and companies do. But for some reason this does not seem to be under consideration

    When it comes down to it, you might just as well give the parents £5 per day per child to pay for them to prepare a pack lunch, with suggestions as to what they might contain.

    One good thing about the current pack lunch system is that the children do actually eat them. Has anyone actually tried to ensure that 90 children average age eight actually eat what is going to be put in front of them?


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  10. The decision loop thing reminds me of how Boyd’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was described as having been recast in Kosovo as Observe, Over-react, Deny, Apologise. From the sound of your description, you are so far inside the loop that they can’t even get to apologise…


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  12. Laura McInerney is sort of right. The PP is based on eligibility for FSM. So in theory what happens is that schools will ask questions to establish whether children are eligible for FSM – or strictly, whether they would be eligible for FSM if not all children were eligible anyway.

    There are problems though, and I speak as someone who was a governor of a school whose local authority already funds FSM for all pupils. The school has effectively to conduct a means test, asking parents about their income. But unlike the situation where parent is strongly incentivised to explain that they do pass the eligibility threshold – the incentive being getting their children’s lunches provided for free – the parents have no incentive to give this information. The result is that the number of children who pass the FSM test is artificially low. It doesn’t affect whether they actually get the FSM, because everybody gets them, but it does hold down the PP.

    Of course, proponents of FSM know this, because they base their argument on the ‘stigma’ of having to show eligibility. Why would someone go through the indignity of having to provide details of their benefits when middle class parents get free school meals as of right anyway? They wouldn’t. It screws the PP money up.


  13. Dominic – a compelling, if depressing, window into government decision-making.

    I fear, though, that your ultimate goal of having industrial-quality project management in government will fail; although pushing for an unattainable target will almost certainly result in some improvements.

    I have run large projects for the private sector (budgets in the order of £100m) for the last 20 years, hitting budgets and timetable every time. Thinking across my peer group in this type of work, I cannot identify a single person who would be prepared to do the same for the public sector, myself included. The upside potential is too limited and the downside risk too great.

    Stephen Hester is a great reminder (if one were really needed) that the public limelight has far more costs than benefits.


  14. This government could do with two Dominic Cummings’ in management of each department, and maybe a few more with license to roam.


  15. Apart from the schools that simply don’t have the space, with no space to expand, there will be lots of schools presumably forced to use space already used for other important educational things.
    Then we have the implementation. Many schools have little or no idea of the religious or medical dietary needs of their new intake. It will only take one school to accidentally feed pig meat to a family with religious objections, or food containing nuts to a nut allergy sufferer, and it will be front page news.


  16. Dom – You well know my Politics. On this one, I’m with you all the way. I do think the ‘ Nick Clegg looking sad’ Tumblr page really says it all. Mind you I’d have called the page ‘Dominic Cummings’s Blog’ but that’s me.


  17. Loved reading this. I must say everything you say about Clegg confirms my view of him, and I have (thankfully) never met him. Anyway keep sticking it to him and with any luck he will lose his seat next year !


  18. I had always considered the Clegg to be an opportunistic, power crazed moron. Your blogpost has confirmed my suspicion.

    This also paints a very depressing picture of the dysfunction inherent in our government.


  19. You know, a pale grey typeface on a white background is terribly hard to read if you have poor eyesight. I wonder, have you ever seen a book printed that way? No – who would buy them? The article looks interesting, but it’s too much of a struggle to read it.


    • Also Dom
      1) Are you in favour of Vouchers at all ie full parental choice?
      2) Do you think the Tories should allow more Grammer schools to open if local areas want them?
      3) And finally, would the whole education system be better served if children changed school at 14 instead of 11 like in many other jurisdictions?

      Many thanks
      A fellow education reformist1


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  21. With changing family circumstances, I’ve started to think a lot about education recently – and the question above by osimosim on vouchers / funding, unleashed my pet hobbyhorse…

    I’ll start with university… there appears to be no connection with demand, supply and economic value of courses. Universities appear to be happy to churn out 1000’s of media students regardless of whether they’re needed or future earning potential, providing the university receives its 9k/year funding.

    A university will probably not go bust or out of business if a significant proportion of their graduates work most of there lives stacking supermarket shelves, because they took a worthless degree (this seems very wrong).

    University fee’s are good, but they shouldn’t be capped. Further I believe the University should make loans directly with the students and be responsible for collection (maintaing a relationship after graduation). The university loan would be underwritten by the taxpayer starting at 100% in year one, reducing to 0% over 20-30 years. At this point the university would be reliant on funding current students based on the income their loan portfolio – thereby taking a very active interest in how/what their student study; and their future employment potential on graduation.

    Back to vouchers – as a parent, why can’t I borrow money from the government under the same terms as university loans to pay or subsidise a private education (with a 30 year payback period). Would be nice to make the repayments a tax deductible expense – but I won’t hold my breadth.

    that’s my 2 cents…bottom line however: Dominic, please keep doing what your doing. I never thought anybody could make so much of a change in government over 4.5 years – let alone in the DoE. AND STICK IT TO CLEGGY!


  22. The most frightening thing about this whole episode is that there are people like you, with clearly a ridiculously inflated view of your own importance, who are allowed (unelected) into the higher echelons of government. This shines a bright light onto the incredibly poor judgement of Michael Gove, who,despite Andy Coulson’s advice, brought you in to the department and allowed you the access that you now abuse for your own ends. The man is unfit for high office and his years at the DFE with all his ‘special adviser’ problems, mainly you, have shown this. You have destroyed his chances of greater advancement.

    I am no fan of Cleggy, I think the man is a disingenuous, self serving toad but I would rather a thousand (Elected) Cleggs than one of you. Someone who thinks he has the divine right to behave in this totally destructive way, and why?? ‘because it helps me’. Oh dear, oh dear, you’re a nobody, a footnote, an irritant. Be gone you fool!


    • I’m not sure why you think I’m being ‘totally destructive’. If you look at my essay – or just the summary – you will see it is constructive. I’m trying to show how politics could be done much better because we’re all fed up with the current system.

      How would you have a system in which everybody is elected? All democracies have a mix of elected and unelected. Germany and France have far more unelected special advisers.


    • Being elected is no guarantee of competence – in fact the skills needed to win an election (appearance, presentation, debate, media-savvy, instant reaction, turn on a sixpence, simplistic repetitive polarising messages) are quite different from those needed to deliver real change that benefits people (persistence, methodical working, deep domain knowledge, complex problem solving, building bridges, not to mention real life experience outside politics).

      I think what the vast majority of citizens really want is services that quietly work well, constantly improving, at a reasonable cost, and as little government as is needed to deliver that. You can’t have that with the current political class.


  23. Pingback: Government by Bounce, Leak and Screaming Match | John Rentoul | Independent Eagle Eye Blogs

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