48 questions

Time for the return of the Court of Blair to the public arena. Like ducks in a row, on the subject of the EU, Blair, Mandelson, Campbell weighed in with all the wisdom of the most successful Labour Government ever.

There is plenty on what Blair said elsewhere, and was well summed up by Patrick Kidd in The Times:

The trouble is that Mr Blair’s tribe — those of the Essex estuary and the Kent marshes who thought that things could only get better — have taken a different road. They voted to leave the European Union last June. It is Mr Blair’s mission now to persuade them that they were wrong.


Mr Blair also retains the marvellous ability to say two contradictory things at once. “I make no personal criticism of the prime minister,” he said, yet only three sentences earlier in his speech he had accused her, if not by name, of “hideously abusing the mantle of patriotism” with her conference line about citizens of the world being citizens of nowhere. Two-faced Tone is back.

Mandelson of course believes that voters feel ignored over Brexit, which, given that the No campaign focused a great deal on the point of ‘voters feeling ignored’, kind of doesn’t make sense if this was an appeal to CDEs but might be relevant if he is talking to those who understand perfectly, as he does, and may fill Tony’s coffers to support the cause – Think Tank to follow.

Then there is Mr Campbell, who set out a challenge to ‘Brexiters’ to answer 48 questions! Had Mr Campbell brought these questions in the context of experience – that incomplete information leading to action where there was no plan as to what happens next – then perhaps his questions would have carried greater significance. Oh that he should be ever so humble.

Have to admit at this point that, having looked at the 48 questions and thought ‘ is there a 45 minute time limit’ on this task, it seemed like there were so many better things to do.

Helpfully a friend, Dominic, decided to make a stab (though not spend too much effort) on the 48. So here is his quick fire response to the 48. I’ve added a few minor points (red) as short comment where I would have perhaps added a little more, had I been bothered to do the initial graft.

So, apparently, according to Alastair Campbell I *need* to answer 48 questions. Alright, I’ll play along.

1) Do you accept that many people who voted Leave did so without knowing the full terms of Brexit?

Yes – and so did many people who voted Remain, or who vote in just about every election ever! 

2) Do you accept that it is open to the people to change their minds if they decide Brexit will in fact harm their own and the country’s interests?

Of course, we can all change our minds at any time. However, that doesn’t change the outcome of the Referendum.

3) Do you accept that there is no monopoly on patriotism and that there might be a patriotic case for wishing to reverse the referendum decision, if enough people feel it will be damaging to the UK?

What’s your point here? There are all sorts of reasons to hold whichever view. Moot point.

4) Do you agree the government approach can now be defined as ‘Brexit at any cost’?

No. We are only just starting to outline the negotiating positions for Brexit.

5) Do you accept that people are entitled to be concerned at the scale of that cost, economically and politically?

People are ‘entitled’ to be concerned by whatever they want. That doesn’t change anything. Again, a moot point.

6) Do you accept that the financial cost of withdrawal, the UK having to pay for previous EU obligations but not benefit from future opportunities, could be as high as £60bn?

In other words, about six years’ worth of of our ‘net contributions’ as part of EU membership? What’s your point?

7) Do you agree with the Prime Minister’s and the Chancellor’s former views that maintaining our partnership with the biggest political union and largest commercial market on our doorstep fulfills rather than diminishes our national interest?

Again, what’s your point here? We will continue to trade and work with the EU.

8) Is there not something surreal about the Prime Minister and Chancellor now claiming hard Brexit is a huge boon for the country when during the campaign they said the opposite, in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s case with real conviction?

Perhaps some people learn from their mistakes, particularly when faced with evidence to the contrary. Or maybe they simply recognise that the biggest ‘boon’ is our attitude, and that whinging about how bad things are isn’t going to help anything.

9) Do you accept that politics, not economics or the genuine national interest, is now driving the hard Brexit chosen by May?

Brexit has always been a political discussion. As rightly it should.

10) Are you seriously saying the PM’s vision of Britain as a ‘great open trading nation’ is best served by leaving the largest free trading bloc in the world? Might her vision of Britain as a bridge between Europe and the US be more realistic if we remained part of the EU?

Yes, and No. We are best served by leaving the EU, and no, we do not need to be within the EU to have a realistic role as a bridge between the US and Europe.

11) In what way will her call for a fairer capitalism be met by moving to a low tax, light regulation economy?

What’s the question?

12) Do you accept that if the right-wing ideologues pushing a hard Brexit so Britain becomes a low tax, low regulation, offshore hub have their way, we will need huge tax and welfare changes? Were they voted for in the referendum?

Again, what’s the question? Doesn’t even make sense.

13) Will this approach in fact lead to less not more public money for the NHS? Less not more protection for workers?

The NHS needs reform and restructure. If leaving the EU helps to bring this about, then all the better.

14) Is it not the case that the UK government could make these changes now, but wouldn’t because they know they do not have public support for them?

What changes, exactly, are you talking about?

15) Is there any chance at all that Brexit will lead to £350m a week more for the NHS?

It will reduce our ‘net contributions’ to the EU to the tune of something like £200m/week (subject to the point at which you pick the exchange rate). What the government decides to do with that at the time remains to be seen.

16) Please define the ‘big argument’ that Tony Blair says is missing from this pursuit of hard Brexit, and how it will benefit Britain economically?

If Tony Blair things a ‘big argument’ is missing, then it’s his job to define it. Not mine.

17) Do you agree that of the many arguments put forward for Leave in the referendum, only immigration and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) are still really being pursued?

No. Again, this is the start of negotiations. Anyhow, I thought you were arguing for continuing trade with the EU?

18) Do you accept that the Leave campaign deliberately conflated the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)?

There were a lot of confused and conflated arguments during the campaign – many of which continue on today.

19) Can you confirm that that ECHR is not and never has been a EU body?

Yes, it is a separate body.

20) Can you name any laws the UK government has not been able to pass because of the ECJ?

I would expect that it seldom gets to that stage, rather it is something which inhibits our MPs range of options. Additionally, the impact of the ECJ lies in the difference between common law and civil jurisdictions. The ECJ often post-defines a directive, in keeping with civil law tradition of the courts being able to interpret meaning from principle. UK courts can only interpret what is before them, strictly in law. This is a fundamental issue that cannot be reconciled while the UK stays within the EU.  

21) Can you confirm that of net immigration into the UK in 2016, over half was from outside the EU?

I don’t know the exact numbers, sounds about right.

22) Do you accept that as May wants to keep those EU immigrants who come with a confirmed job offer, and students, this leaves around 80,000 who come looking for work without a job?

Again, I don’t know the exact numbers. What’s the point?

23) Do you agree that of these 80,000, roughly a third come to London, mostly working in the food processing and hospitality sectors; and that the practical impact of Brexit on our ‘control’ of immigration is on analysis less than 12% of the immigration total?

Again, what’s the point here. If something is addressing one specific aspect of an issue, then that’s how it should be assessed. One size doesn’t fit all.

24) Do you agree that most of the immigrants we are talking about in this 12% work hard and pay their taxes?

Immigration isn’t the issue for me. It is ironic that the issue of migration is largely the outcome of the Blair Government’s failure to assure transitionary arrangements with the accession of the most Easterly European states. This was compounded by the EU refusing to address David Cameron’s concerns in his ‘negotiation’ in respect of free movement; the EU only accepting the very broadest interpretation of free movement. The issue became primarily ‘control’ of the rules regarding immigration/migration. Remember, “Take back control.”

25) Do you think the biggest constitutional, political, economic and social change of our lifetime is merited by such numbers as set out in questions 23 to 26?

I don’t think the previous two questions are relevant to anything. Also, you don’t seem to be able to count: *this* is question #25.

26) Do you accept that the immigration most people worry about – that of people determined to challenge our security and way of life, in the name of a perverted view of Islam – is not affected by Brexit?

I don’t know what sort of immigration ‘most people worry about’.

27) Do you agree that the post Article 50 negotiations are going to be as complex as any we have experienced, covering a vast number of areas?

Yes, extricating from the EU will involve broad and complex negotiations.

28) Do you accept, as a matter of fact, that the Single Market covers around half of our trade in goods and services?

It’s about half of our Imports, less so our Exports. And the significance of the EU is diminishing for both Import and Export.

29) Do you accept that leaving the Customs Union may adversely impact on trade with other countries like Turkey?

It *might* adversely impact such trade, or it might not. Depends on both the Brexit negotiations to come, as well as the way the global economy develops over the years ahead.

30) Can you confirm that we will need to negotiate the replacement of over 50 Preferential Trade Agreements we have via our membership of the EU?

We won’t necessarily *need* to renegotiate them.

31) Do you accept that EU-related trade is actually two thirds of the UK total?

What? Are you not satisfied with the “around half” from above (Q28), so you’re inflating the numbers?

32) Do you accept scientific research and culture are both going to suffer as a result of Brexit, and indeed already are?

No. I do not accept that at all. Scientific research and culture do not require the EU. Yes, there may need to be some readjustment in funding models, but that’s just a temporary issue – and a reason to get on with Brexit sooner, rather than later, so that we can establish the new basis.

33) Are you content to have the WTO as a fall back strategy should we fail to reach a satisfactory deal within two years?


34) Do you accept this too has enormous complexity attached to it; that we would need to negotiate the removal not just of tariff barriers; but the prevention of non-tariff barriers which today are often the biggest impediments to trade?

Yes, there are complexities. What’s your point?

35) Do you agree that the fall in the value of sterling against the euro and the dollar as a result of Brexit is an indication that the international financial markets believe we are going to be poorer?


36) Do you accept that therefore the price of imported goods is up and so will be inflation?

The BoE target rate of Inflation is 2%. We are still well below that.

37) Do you agree that the Single Market and enlargement were huge foreign policy successes for the UK?

There have been benefits and disadvantages from it.

38) Do you agree that the Single Market has brought billions of pounds of wealth, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and major investment opportunities for the UK?

It’s the political union I object to, not the Single Market.

39) Do you agree that enlargement has enhanced EU and NATO security?

Enlargement of what?

40) Do you accept that in the early 21st century, most countries are seeking to forge rather than break regional and economic alliances?

Regional and economic alliances are not a political union. Just because another country – and under entirely different circumstances – wants to do something, doesn’t mean we need to copy them, under different circumstances.

41) Do you agree we can do more on issues like the environment with others than alone?

I agree that cooperation amongst countries is generally beneficial overall. We don’t need a political union to achieve that.

42) Do you agree that the route taken on and since June 23 has helped revive the argument about Scotland leaving the UK?

No. While some people who supported both Remain and Scottish Independence are trying to bang that drum, it’s ringing hollow for the majority. Is there anything that the SNP or nationalists elsewhere wouldn’t find to be a reason to bang their drums?

43) Do you accept that the failure to address the question of how to maintain EU freedom of movement without a hard border between Ireland and the UK is destabilising the peace process?

No. We’ll figure out the border issue soon enough. How is it ‘destabilising the peace process’? How? The only thing destabilising is the use of the term ‘threat’ to the peace process without any explanation of how or in what way this is the case. The only threat is the idle and irresponsible histrionics of politicians, who have bigger more local issues to address that they’d rather not just now, *talking* us back into conflict. It is as true today as any time that ‘idle talk costs lives’.

44) Do you accept the government is obsessed with Brexit, and has no choice but to be so?

No. It’s actually the media and Remain camp who are obsessed with Brexit, not the government. On the other hand, it is right that Theresa May, and her government are focusing significant attention and resources on the issue.

45) Do you accept that the scale of government focus on Brexit is having a detrimental impact on their ability to deal with other issues, such as the NHS, education, the new economy, crime, prisons – and, er, immigration policy?

I agree that other matters are no longer as high of a priority. But if we want to talk about having a detrimental impact, that is squarely you, and the Remain camp who keep trying to revisit the outcome of the Referendum, rather than moving on.

46) Do you accept there is a cartel of right wing newspapers skewing the debate in the broadcast media, and whose support for May is contingent on her pursuing a hard Brexit policy?

Load of BS conspiracy theories, which should be beneath even you! If you want to talk about cartels of media outlets, the media as a whole is still disproportionately Remain. Your argument is invalid. Bit of a Trump one here. Actually, this argument is to be expected. It’s all about the media, fake news etc. Really?

47) Do you agree that had the business survey mentioned by Tony Blair said the opposite – namely huge confidence in Brexit – it would have led the news because the cartel would have splashed on it, not ignored it?

There is no shortage of surveys, saying pretty much whatever you want them to. People will choose to focus on the ones which conform with their existing biases.

48) Do you accept Brexit has divided the country across its nations, regions and generations, contrary to May’s claim to have 65 million people behind her?

No. Brexit hasn’t divided the country – the only thing doing that is sore losers harping on about it. If you are so petty that you genuinely want to see Theresa May fail because you disagree with her opinion, then I don’t really care to hear anything else you have to say. Theresa May has moved on in respect to the referendum result. Others need to look forward at what is best for the UK rather than constantly re-running the referendum campaign over and over. 

The problem with all of this is that as in the referendum campaign, the emphasis is on why the Leave voters were wrong. What characterised the Remain campaign was that no-one was arguing in favour of the EU; the emphasis wholly on a reformed EU that Cameron’s failed ‘negotiation’ had showed was highly unlikely. If the Remain campaign believes it has a case to make then it needs to work out what the EU offers positively, that overcomes what was broadly believed by the majority of the voters last June. So far, that hasn’t even started.

The tide isn’t turning.


The Blame Game

First: Cover Your Ass.

First: Cover Your Ass.

Having been focused on travelling and/or working in the later half of 2016 the RHI story was in the background, though hard to miss the heat and noise around the issue.

At the start of 2017 it seemed that despite the heat and noise, there wasn’t much light on the subject. Nolan was on repeat. While plenty of titbits were being bandied about as if Moses had just revealed them himself, nothing seemed to be moving the story forward. The story of RHI had become left behind by the political story unraveling before us.

Worthwhile at this point to rewind. Helpfully, early last July the Northern Ireland Audit Office produced a report on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme. You can read the report here along with the summary contained in the accompanying press release.

If you want to know about the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme then you really should read the NIAO report. It provides a timeline of events, the likely immediate impact on budget finances and a series of actions that had been agreed within the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment in particular.

And it is worth listening to the short two minute item here from UTV(ITV) on the scheme, closing with the Minister, Simon Hamilton, confirming a pathway forward in respect of addressing the failures of the scheme. The NIAO summary of what was launched into the public arena back in July 2016, is easy to recognise:

The RHI scheme encouraged the installation of costly eco-friendly heating systems by paying a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period. It was administered on behalf of Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM). Read more… »

The big, beautiful, election


From the UK it might have been expected that on landing at Dulles just a few days before election day there would have been a palpable air of outright ferocity, divisiveness and hostilities arising from the mutually corrosive election campaigns of Clinton and Trump.

In the event, all was calm. As were the mostly Republican friends encountered over the next few days. There was no great enthusiasm for Trump as President, but generally agreement that it should be ‘anyone but Hillary’.



Trump / Clinton

This blog piece has been a little while in the making. Earlier, in March, the effort to try to better understand what was going on in the American Presidential Primaries prompted a trip to Washington DC. Probably overdue and making good, finally, on often made promises to visit, this was a chance to meet old friends and gain a first hand sense of what was going on.

Here was an opportunity to hear the views of people involved in education, lobbying, journalism, policy and politics. With the exception of the ex-pat journalist, of whom I would not presume to ask political affiliation, everyone else was a Republican. Anyway, morning TV included CNN, MSNBC, CBS, etc, as well as FOX. Balance restored.

At the time of the visit Trump was still in the end stage battle with Rubio and Cruz, and Clinton still had some months to go of a slugging match with Sanders before getting over the line with the delegate vote required.

So in a few short days, what sense could be made of American politics generally, Presidential primaries in particular?


Where to start?


Political life can be very dull and quite predictable. For a time commentary seemed all too often no more than a variation on a theme. Then, all at once….  These past few weeks in the UK have been anything but dull, or predictable.

Except it is usually that big event merely captures what has been happening in the background, perhaps unseen, or commented upon only in the margins.

Since the Tea Party became a much talked about though little understood political movement in the USA, politics has been changing – it may have been changing before, but that was an early manifestation of a wide-spectrum revolt against mainstream politic/ians. Yes that does ignore nationalist movements in Europe, because nationalism (or race) is so often the only thing that defines those movements. The Front National is a French “Nationalist Party”, but that simple descriptor ‘nationalist’ cannot be attached to the Tea Party.

For some time, no doubt,a voice has been making efforts to be heard. Echoes of that voice were occasionally noted, in passing, in the mainstream media. Without an event it was hard to pin down, and easy for mainstream politicians to ignore.

Some such as leftie journo Paul Mason did try to pin down the change to come. He was very excited by the prospect of revolution in Arab Spring and extrapolated this to “Twenty reason why it is kicking off everywhere” back in 2011. Yet more recently he seems to have been horrified that most of his reasoning is embedded in the campaigning that ultimately delivered Brexit – the shock perhaps that the revolution has not being secured by the young, engaged and educated, but by the poor, disengaged and abandoned ‘worker’ that today’s left appreciates only for the rhetorical value they lend to the ’cause’.

Making some sense of the shifting political sands over this past year has been a challenge. Hence, the absence of posting. Instead, a trip to the Washington DC in March 2016, and in early May a meeting with friends from across Europe (politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, bankers, business people; many no longer politically active, some who now live in North America). Most recently a trip to France, for the Thiepval Commemorative Service and the opportunity to speak casually with many who attended that event from across the UK, from all walks of life. And reading widely.

So in a series of posts, time to look at the USA, Europe and politics closer to home and some observations on some common threads. That will be the summer’s challenge. Making sense of it all.

Not telling.


With the new larger Local Councils up and running there have been a number of stories in the local news about the cost of rebranding – new logos or, in this recent case, a new coat of arms.

There are many arguments for spending on rebranding to create an identity for a new body where it is about bringing a community together, good and bad. Very often this revolves around the final visual identity, the logo, and whether it is considered good or bad design.

Whatever the cost of the process this is voted on by Councillors and agreed by Councillors. So to not be prepared to reveal the cost where the spending was unanimously supported by all parties at Monday night’s Council meeting” seems a little odd and overly-secretive.

If Councillors they are prepared to defend the project on which the money was spent, Councillors should be equally prepared to reveal how much is cost. After all it is the local rate-payer, the taxpayer, who is funding the ceremonial trappings of Council. It is the taxpayer to whom the Councillors are accountable.

The Government is currently looking at Freedom of Information requests, and their cost. Here is a very small example where a Council is not being open, not being accountable. In the total budget it may not be a big item, but it tends to a reluctance of elected representatives to be very forthcoming about how much of our money they are spending and allowing the taxpayer, and voter, to make up their own mind on what is value for money and what is not.

The Government should not be looking at the cost of Freedom of Information requests, instead it should be working harder on more open and accountable government at all levels that reduce the need for FOI requests in the first instance.

Time enough…

breaking time

Back in January 2014 the DUP’s Trevor Clarke asked the Health Minister how much is annually paid to Trade Union officals. The Minister believed that within the Department and its arms length bodies the equivalent of 58 full time trade union officials were involved, at a total cost to the taxpayer estimated to be £1,840,540. The Minister said it was a spend being reviewed as he endeavoured to fund frontline services.

From information provided in an extensive FOI project the total cost to the taxpayer afforded to Trade Unions by the many levels of government administration in Northern Ireland is perhaps around £4.5 million. That doesn’t include agency or replacement in an essential frontline service. Nor is this a complete picture, with many public sector bodies reporting that they do not keep accurate records.

What arises from an overview of the data is that there is are no rules as to what constitutes facility time. There are two many estimates reported. Too often no records are kept at all. Facility time, it would seem, is what the Trade Unions say it is.

At a time when frontline services and budgets are under intense pressure, the taxpayer must ask if such a huge sum is justified, almost always increasing year on year. Surely, at the very least, a small service fee could be charged for collecting and forwarding members dues to the Union coffers. There is evidence of only three bodies doing this across the whole of the public sector – proving it is possible.

Trade Unions in Northern Ireland have a membership of around 242,000. Unions are not poor. In 2013 the total income of Unions based in Northern Ireland was £5.7million, spending £4.9million (an excess of £800,000). Income from Northern Ireland for all Unions (GB, NI, ROI) amounted to around £28.7 million. GB based Unions received £250 million more than they spent across the UK. Across these islands total Union income amounted to more than £1 billion. *

Facility time is justified if used responsibly. The scale of taxpayer contribution to Trade Union business in Northern suggests that closer monitoring is needed – you can’t make that judgement when records simply are not kept. A £4.5 million cost to the taxpayer also suggests that perhaps time is being spent beyond what is needed for that particular employer. Trade Unions can well afford to pay the cost of time spent on exclusively Union business.

Almost two years later it would be interesting to know how that Health Ministerial review was progressing.


* source NI Certification Officer for Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations Annual Report 2013-2014.

Wilful blindness…

At the core of Wilful Blindness is the question as to ‘why are facts ignored?’.  The counter is ‘Just Culture’, essential in a challenging and changing environment. 

Just culture: balancing safety and accountability.

There was something about this particular BBC Radio 4 Analysis podcast on ‘Just Culture’ which rang some bells (link at end of post).

Wilful blindness is a legal term associated most closely with Enron:

“Where there is nowledge that you could have had, and should have had, but chose not to have, you are still responsible”

Essentially, you could have had, and should have had, but somehow managed not to…

The ‘for example’ list is long, and not exhaustive:

  • Mid-Staffs patient care
  • Child abuse and the Catholic Church
  • Rotherham child abuse
  • The BBC and Saville et al
  • Iraq and Abu Ghraib
  • Banks – Libor, FX, and who knows what else
  • Safety issues and automotive companies

The Analysis podcast opens with an example from the commercial world, General Motors in the 1990s, when it was clear that commercial profitability depended on cutting costs rather new car sales. In that environment, where the goal was cost-cutting, ignorance is essential to avoid having to deal with the consequences. Costs (corners) were cut. An ignition problem existed for eleven years, resulting in 13 deaths, 54 crashes and at the ‘cost’ of millions of dollars in vehicle recalls.

In the the cost-cutting, deeply competitive, culture that developed within the automotive giant, its steep hierarchy and  sheer size (so large and complex where an assessment of consequences is almost impossible) an internal review of problems at corporate giant concluded that although everyone had a responsibility to fix the problem, nobody took responsibility.

At GM a whole language was created so as not to face up to responsibilities or consequences. Employees were told to ‘write smart‘ and not to use ‘judgemental adjectives and speculation‘. In language, don’t say ‘problem‘ talk about ‘the issue‘, don’t say ‘condition‘, say ‘matter‘, and do not say ‘defect‘ but instead ‘does not perform to design‘. Language was used to create plausible deniability.

The podcast highlighted common patterns in such cultures.

Individuals are overstretched, distracted and exhausted. They don’t see because they can’t think. Too many people from same background share same biases, beliefs and blindspots. The organisations within which they work become places where it isn’t felt to be safe to raise concerns, or ask challenging questions. So individuals focus on their tasks:

Obedient, conformist, and unwilling to rock the boat with the knowledge they harbour. And because they know everyone can see problems they imagine someone will do something.

It is a pattern sadly all too recognisable in Rotherham, where there were seventeen reports over sixteen years and so many people involved: parents, teachers, doctors, voluntary organisations, police and Council.

Young people being abused in Rotherham; belonging to everyone, yet belonging to no-one.

A vast array of safe-guarding plans and protocols in Rotherham were never checked as to whether they were being implemented, or were even practically useful. The care of children became ‘process-driven’ with with large numbers of people attending any meeting: if an issue belongs to 35 people in a room, who is actually taking ownership of the issue? The complexity of inter-agency relationships, the exhaustion of competitive social workers, coupled with a climate of fear created a condition where no-one had the clarity, energy or will to speak up.

Many do no speak because they ‘know’ they will be shot down, or ‘imagine’ that they will.

The airline industry is an example where the dominant culture is one where the workforce has become the early warning system of potential disaster, and where everyone feels safe, and is safe, to speak up. It didn’t just happen that way.

After a series of problems in the 1970s the Civil Aviation Authority created a programme that would break through hierarchy and ensure that a concern would reach the person who could make a difference – this includes a third party advice line to offer pathways to raising concerns. The CAA created a ‘Just Culture‘ to assure the industry lived up to the open standards set. In 1980 around 300 reports of concern were fed to the CAA, over thirty years later there are 14,000 in a year. Despite (some would say cut-throat) competitiveness, Just Culture is shared across the entire industry.

Honesty saves lives.

Just Culture

A Just Culture requires systems to be in place that make it easy for people to speak up with their concerns, and where the everyday heroes who have the courage to speak up are praised not punished. People must feel safe, protected and see something done by way of resolution. Courageous leadership prepared to speak early before things go adrift makes organisations better, smarter and more informed. To create that culture takes courage, practice and time.

We need honesty to be equal cross all levels of an organisation, that those everyday heroes remembered and held up as examples.

Heroes such as Helene Donnelly the Mid Staffs nurse: bullied, intimidated, and resigned from the A&E department at Stafford Hospital; a hospital in which patients were failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and safety. She is now Ambassador for Cultural Change at Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust.

Heroes such as the anonymous Home Office researcher who wrote a report into the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham; who faced “hostility” from the council from a report which stated agencies working to tackle the abuse showed “alleged indifference towards, and ignorance of, child sexual exploitation on the part of senior managers”, and that “Responsibility was continuously placed on young people’s shoulders rather than with the suspected abusers.” Her report was never published and the council even tried unsuccessfully to get the researcher sacked. Yet her words did not remain silent.

Heroes such as the petitioners against electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets, who faced unprecedented official pressure and efforts to undermine the case.

Mr Erlam spent the last week before the case living away from home to avoid the Met. “To my mind, the clear intention of the police was to discredit me just as the case started,” he said.

Heroes such as the writer of the fifty-three-page report written by Major General Antonio M. Taguba: its conclusions about the institutional failures of the Army prison system at Abu Ghraib were devastating. But the words were out there. That report though was because of Specialist Joseph M. Darby, an M.P. who came across pictures of naked detainees and:

“initially put an anonymous letter under our door, then he later came forward and gave a sworn statement. He felt very bad about it and thought it was very wrong.”

Again the Wilful Blindness of a large organisation under stress and in need of results was clear in courtroom testimony: Specialist Matthew Wisdom, an M.P., told the courtroom testified that he told his superiors what had happened, and assumed that “the issue was taken care of.”

Expecting someone else to take courage and/or responsibility for doing something is hardly absent from matters here in Northern Ireland. From the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Report: “The administrative scheme for “on-the-runs”

104. Only with the benefit of hindsight, can it now be seen that there were several indications that an administrative scheme for OTRs was in operation, including, for example, from Ministers’ responses to Parliamentary Questions; the scheme was therefore an example of something being “hidden in plain sight”.

So many involved, yet the whole scheme required everyone being involved, but no-one being responsible. Mistakes were almost inevitable. Abuse of process ever likely. Everyone can see, but no-one can, is willing to, or is able to bring the facts of the issue to the fore.

There is the case of Declan Gormley, who had to go to court to protect his reputation.

There is the case of Jenny Palmer who was not a team player apparently.

There is the case of Maria Cahill, who largely still stands alone.

The Nolan Show thrives on people exasperated with ‘the system’ who often, in desperation, seek out someone who will listen. Whether or not one appreciates The Nolan Show, its success in in part a product of local public administrations (for there are many) which seem wilfully blind to what is actually happening in their name. Pick from any or all of the stories already outlined above and listen to the echoes on our airwaves, all too regularly. How many people in Northern Ireland could recount an example where they felt frustrated, alienated, and inadequate to stand up and speak on something where they thought someone must surely say something?

In the present febrile atmosphere of the deepening financial pressures on services, due to Stormont’s inability to implement welfare reforms and Sinn Fein’s intransigent ring-fencing of social benefit payments, all the negatives from the above will become even more acute. Even if there is an immediate fix, pressures on departmental finances are unlikely to ease anytime soon.

While political discourse, Unions, senior management, and media focus on ‘cuts’, little if any attention is spent on working out if public money being spent is being spent well, and could be perhaps spent better, more effectively, and more directly to addressing need.

It wouldn’t be speculative to suggest public services in Northern Ireland have frontline staff that are overstretched, distracted and exhausted. We have an engrained public sector culture which has created a management of too many people from the same (public sector) background sharing the same biases, beliefs and blindspots. Have those organisations within which they work become places where it isn’t felt to be safe to raise concerns, or ask challenging questions? Do the frontline staff simply focus on their tasks: obedient, conformist, and unwilling to rock the boat with the knowledge they harbour; believing or perhaps just hoping that because they know everyone can see the problems, they imagine someone will do, must do, something?

Northern Ireland has a bloated public sector. ‘Cuts’ are necessary. ‘Rebalancing the economy’ means less public sector, though that does not necessarily mean reduced or lesser services. Reform is long overdue. However, cuts out of financial necessity are unlikely to produce the change Northern Ireland needs. Yes, it is possible to do better on less, but that is only possible where there is reform emerging from a desire and willingness to have a more honest, open and transparent conversation about what services we need and how best to deliver excellently.

Northern Ireland needs ordinary heroes, and we need to praise them for speaking truth to power.

Just Culture on BBC Radio 4 Analysis is presented by businesswoman Margaret HeffananYou can listen by clicking on the image below.

BBC Radio 4 - Analysis - Just Culture

Margaret Heffenan also talks about the dangers of Wilful Blindness at TED.

And in this presentation she entreats everyone to Dare to Disagree.  Many are afraid of conflict in anorganization where they might ‘lose’ one way or another. She encourages people to dare to see – the truth will set you free. Freedoms are only secured by being used.

Finally, she says, in her book:

Willful blindness

Moving on… into another election year.

Nothing much changes in Northern Ireland politics, on the surface.

change same switch

So when three of eighteen Westminster seats have new Members of Parliament does that represent significant change, or just a wee bit of a shuffle? What do the percentages and numbers mean for the Assembly elections in 2016? Read more… »