Advisers, Governments and why blunders happen?

By Colin Talbot

In democratic government the general rule is supposed to be simple: advisers advise, ministers decide, civil servants do.

In the UK system, that emerged fully at the beginning of the 20th century, the civil service were both the advisers and the doers.

Top civil servants told ministers what options there were to achieve what ministers wanted. Ministers chose, and the civil service went off and “made it so”.

Lots of people challenged this cosy and rather naïve view, not least the ever popular ‘Yes Minister’ series. In reality there have always grey areas on the boundary between elected politicians and permanent civil servants. Continue reading

Plugging the Energy Gaps: The (Small) Nuclear Option?

By Colin Talbot

I was recently asked to provide some comments on the issue of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs).

These are small reactors built in a factory and shipped to where they will be used. They can be shipped back for decommissioning when the fuel runs out.

Below are the questions I was asked and my replies. This is a conversation we should be having, but aren’t.

 

Q: What are your perceptions, hopes and concerns about the development and use of advanced nuclear technologies (including SMRs)? Continue reading

The Home Secretary allegedly pushes senior civil servant out of the Home Office – is there a parallel with an earlier Home Office crisis?

The nearest (only?) parallel to the Sir Philip Rutnam affair was the sacking of Derek Lewis as Director General (DG) of the Prison Service in 1995.

This was another case of a Home Secretary and a senior Home Office civil servant falling out, and the latter ending up without a job.

The Prison Service (of England and Wales) was, back then, part of the Home Office. It has since moved to the Ministry of Justice.

Derek Lewis was brought in, an executive in Granada TV, by Ken Clarke, then Home Secretary. He was tasked with running the Prison Service which had newly been established as an ‘Executive Agency’ within the Home Office.

Continue reading

Levelling Up Government?

by Prof. Colin Talbot and Dr. Carole Talbot

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The current government has committed itself to “levelling up” – as opposed to policy of “levelling out” – the UK. This means bringing the so-called “left behind” regions, cities and towns up to the levels of the highest, which is mainly London. The government’s focus is clearly on place rather than people. Continue reading

Unrepresentative Democracy: the poison of first-past-the-post.

By Colin Talbot

First-Past-the-Post is not just deeply unrepresentative, it is poisonous to democratic politics. It fundamentally undermines real democratic values. The UK general election has just demonstrated this, again.

UNREPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY?

That first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral systems can produce unrepresentative results is well known. Even in two-party races this can happen, if there is an uneven distribution of votes. In multi-party elections this can be much more distorting.

This election in the UK demonstrates this. In England the Conservatives won just under half the popular vote but almost two-thirds of the MPs.

As the table shows, if the number of MPs were genuinely representative of people’s votes the Tories will have only won 252 seats, not the 345 they actually got in England. The Liberal Democrats would have 66 MPs, instead of the meagre 7 they actually won. Smaller parties like the Greens and Brexit Party would be properly represented. Continue reading

Coup, What Coup?

By Colin Talbot

The UK has not suffered a coup. No tanks on the streets. No martial music from the radio stations. No seizing of the presses. No curfews. No coup.

Because that is not how democracy is dethroned these days. At least, not in well-established democratic systems, or even in some less long-lived ones. No. The process of establishing authoritarian rule is far more subtle, prolonged and insidious.

The global rise of authoritarian populist and nationalist leaders is a well-established fact. Bolsanaro, Duerte, Modi, Erdogan, Orban, Putin and of course Donald Trump all, to varying degrees, have or are trying to, establish authoritarian rule.

What is notable in all these cases though is that they rarely involve the classic coup, the military-led overthrow – the coup in Chile, 1973, with Allende being bombed in the Presidential Palace and tanks on the streets?

Some have proceeded much further than others, but the neo-authoritarian play-book is now clear to see. Not every creeping dethroning of democracy occurs in the same way, at the same pace or in the same order. But most of the elements of the process are common and it’s notable how they – the nationalist authoritarians – seem to be learning from one another across national boundaries. Continue reading