So, recently I’ve been on a spree of reading and reviewing non-fiction books, often on politics (you can find reviews of ‘Unspeakable Things’, ‘The Establishment’, ‘Captive State’ and ‘Rise of the Political Class’ elsewhere on this blog) and continuing in that vein, this week I am reviewing ‘The Blunders of our Government’ by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. This book is a quite astonishing roundup and exploration of the biggest mistakes that British governments of the past few decades have made including fuck-ups under Thatcher’s, Major’s, Blair’s, Brown’s and even during Cameron’s time, though this book would benefit from an updated version and Cameron’s government is given very little space. This book is written from a non-partisan perspective and, while assigning blame to individuals and the system itself, it steers clear (wisely) of blaming more either the left or right and I think this is a very smart move. Onwards to the review!
The book covers many blunders, too many to talk about here, but it starts with probably the biggest screw-up of any UK government: the Poll tax scandal. Clearly this is the big one, the blunder that ended Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister and turned, not only her party against her, but most of the country. The authors then proceed to talk about mis-sold pensions that cost many of our citizens considerable sums of money, our exit from the ERM in the 90’s and ‘Black Wednesday’, the mess that was the Millennium Dome, the tax credit debacle that was instigated by Brown and still continues to this day, the billions spent on non-functional IT systems for the NHS, and many, many more, the combined cost of which is too much to even contemplate. Actually, there are a stunning number of other such mistakes including the London Underground Private-Public Partnership blunder that really should be better understood by the general public yet somehow seem to have remained poorly understood by the public-at-large.
In each and every case, the architects of the mistakes are identified and the blunder discussed at length and it is fascinating to read of the germination and eventual implementation of things that quite clearly were not going to succeed. One of the really interesting aspects of this book is how it explains that our system of government seems to encourage, or at least not discourage, blunders by not having enough checks and balances that would put across an opposing viewpoint. Or would, at the very least, challenge policies that are so clearly set up to fail. The Poll tax works as an example of this, with few Ministers willing to argue against something that so clearly not going to work. Yet none of the parties seem keen to change the system and avoid these catastrophic mistakes. Yet again, short-term self-interest maintains the ridiculously expensive status-quo! And every incredibly expensive mistake, and there are a great many of them, falls to the people to pay for.
One of the truly staggering aspects of all of these blunders, is the size and scale of the screw-ups and the astonishing amount of money that was lost in each and every case. The combined total of only the mistakes listed is an incredible amount of money and there’s little doubt that further blunders, like Osborne’s austerity agenda and Iain Duncan Smith’s failed Universal Credit scheme, will have added to this amount. I don’t even want to contemplate the grand total as to do so would be truly depressing!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s entertaining, while also being informative and shocking and it clearly points to changes that could be made to improve the UK system of government. But I don’t expect anything that to happen, and neither, I think, do the authors of this work. Almost everyone responsible for these mistakes was not punished in any meaningful way. Of course Thatcher took the fall for the Poll tax, but most of the architects of these screw-ups departed before their policies were implemented and many were even promoted! How bloody ridiculous yet until this changes, expect more blunders and more money to be wasted.
If you like non-fiction books and you have any interest in politics (and don’t mind a depressing read!), I would say it is worth your time to hunt out this tome and read it. Add it to the list of excellent non-fiction, politics books that I’ve recently read and reviewed and enjoyed. Cheers!
My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help Godsave the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!