Monday, February 16, 2009

Ruler From A Parallel Universe

The joke is he winds up as Prime Minister

I want you to imagine a parallel universe. A universe where everything is pretty much the same as it is here, except for one small detail - somehow Big Government actually works (yes, I know it's far-fetched, but just try, OK?).

Now imagine a visitor from that universe. He's a trillion light years from home, and he kinda looks a little weird - like, maybe he can't smile normally. But once he's dressed up in his M&S suit, he just about passes for one of us.

Now, here's the twist - because of some kind of comedy mix-up (to be decided), this visitor becomes Prime Minister!!!! Yes, he's actually trying to make all that Big Government stuff work here!!

How hilarious would that be??!!!!

No, it's not the pitch for a pants 70s TV series - it's actually happening right now.

Last week, we got the final proof, when our visitor appeared before the Commons Liaison Committee. He was there, dressed up as the PM, to answer questions about his financial and economic meltdown. Here are some extracts:

Picking losers

Every Labour government we've ever had has poured taxpayers cash down the drain of "picking winners" (eg see this blog). This time, says our visitor, it is different:

"The picking winners strategy was about taking one company or a second company and saying that we were going to back this single company to the hilt, and it led, of course, to some of the problems of the old industrial policies. This is a policy of saying, look: there are sectors where we have got great genius. Biosciences, life sciences, is one; advanced sections of information technology is another; the creative industries are another. Let us back the development of skills and research in these sectors.

Q41 Mr Willis: But you have to pick them, because everybody says that they are good at everything.

Mr Brown: Yes, but they pick themselves in a way, because we have got -----

Q42 Mr Willis: They pick themselves?

Mr Brown: We have got great world-class success stories, or potential success stories, in a whole range of industries and sectors, and that is why some of the pessimism about our economy must be replaced by optimism about what we can do in key industries and key sectors of the future."

Pick themselves, huh? The alarming thing about this is that Brown really does seem to believe winning industries and sectors do pick themselves. And that as long as he steers clear of backing winning companies, all will be well - broader is somehow easier.

He has clearly never heard of the great Selective Employment Tax debacle of the 60s. The then Labour government took the broadest possible sectoral view, deciding to give massive backing to Britain's "winning" manufacturing sector at the expense of the service sector. It certainly dragged down the service sector, but in terms of backing manufacturing "winners" it was another hugely expensive flop.

Public sector inefficiency

Brown promised us he was going to make huge efficiency savings right across government, but as we've blogged many times, most of his so-called "savings" are pure Marx Brothers (see all previous Gershon blogs here). Brown, though, is in total denial:

Q59 Mr Leigh: No; that is precisely my question, Prime Minister. You have not achieved Gershon. The independent National Audit Office said that only one quarter fairly represented efficiency gains. We all know that achieving efficiency gains is the most difficult thing in Whitehall. Now you are dramatically increasing spending and we want to know how you are going to ensure that you meet your present targets.

Mr Brown: I do not accept that we have not met Gershon. We have met Gershon. I think it is generally recognised that what we set out to do with Gershon was achieved. It was £25 billion of savings. We achieved them before the time that we had set for achieving them... I do not think you should doubt what we achieved."

Actually, in denial doesn't capture this: it really is an entire parallel universe in which the detailed and authoritative analysis conducted by the NAO somehow doesn't count. All that counts is what goes on inside the alien's head.

NHS Supercomputer debacle

Something else we've blogged so often it hurts (see previous blogs gathered here). Again, Brown can't seems to wrap his head around it:

Mr Brown: I disagree with you about the NHS computer. I think it is a necessary project. I think the fact that it is a difficult project does not mean to say that it is not -----
Q61 Mr Leigh: £12 billion spend, four years late, Fujitsu having pulled out, Lorenzo only working in one ward in primary care trusts. Do you think that is a great achievement, Prime Minister?
Mr Brown: And patients are getting electronic prescriptions now, people are being able to book their hospital appointments from their computer... it is easy to say it is of no use to anybody, but actually it is providing the electronic prescriptions, doctors' records are being kept, at the same time as providing a means by which people can book hospital appointments."

Again, he seems to have no idea how this disaster is actually playing out down here in our universe. Just last week, the chief executive of London's Royal Free Hospital, which is being seen as a test case for the new system, said "the technology... is "incredibly disappointing." The software was taking staff four times as long to book appointments for patients and soaking up money the trust would have otherwise invested in new X-ray machines." Overall, it's costing them an additional £10m.

We could go on through the transcript and pick out many further examples, but we all get the idea. Brown has simply lost touch with the reality in which we live. Despite all the evidence, he still reckons Big Government can somehow fly.

The parallel universe TV series was never very funny back in the 70s. It sure ain't funny the second time around.

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