Whitehall Watch has gone, to a better place…

Dear friends, colleagues and readers,

Whitehall Watch has gone – but just to a better place. It has now joined what will be a suite of blogs under the umbrella of Manchester Policy Blogs.

If you have come here (by mistake) then please just click this www.manchester.ac.uk/whitehallwatch and it’ll take you to the new home of Whitehall Watch.

After nearly four years and over 180,000 hits I have to say it’s been a wrench “letting go”.  It has been quite a journey, with more than a few unexpected twists and turns. Above all WW has had far greater impact than I ever thought possible. And reach – it’s extraordinary that its been read in over 140 countries. But, onwards and upwards… so join me and us at our new home.

Colin

Government defeats over public money in Parliament (crowd sourcing examples)

This is an appeal for a bit of research help from Whitehall Watch’s highly knowledgeable readership…..

There is a widespread belief – often repeated  in serious academic texts – that any defeat on ‘budget’ or ‘money’ motions in the House of Commons is tantamount to a vote of no confidence. I’m grateful to Prof Philip Cowley for pointing out this isn’t actually true in practice   – there have been about 20 cases, at least, of defeats since 1918 (see table below) none of which was treated as a vote of confidence. Continue reading

Britons say no to smaller state (BSA 30)

By Colin Talbot, University of Manchester

Britain is still a majority social-democratic country. That is, politically, the most significant finding of the latest British Social Attitudes survey published this week. Most people want a country which “gets and spends” about what we do now, or even more, rather than less. The BSA figures seem to contradict the often heard assertion that the British people want Scandinavian levels of public services for American levels of taxes. Continue reading

Why ‘Homo Janus’?

Why do I use the term “Homo Janus” for this approach to human nature?

It is to contrast this theory of human nature to various others – such as for example the idea of ‘homo economicus’, the rational utility maximising human so beloved by economists. The ‘Janus’ bit is to emphasise the paradoxical, contradictory, nature of human social instincts.

The Roman God Janus is most often depicted as having two faces, but also sometimes as having four (Janus Quadriphons) – see the picture of the four-sided ‘Janus Arch’ in Rome on another page.

As the theories developed here humans have four basic social instincts – H. Janus seems appropriate.

‘Universal Credit’ Crunch Arrives (as I predicted it would)

Today’s NAO Report on Universal Credit implementation is one of the hardest hitting critiques in living memory from a usually restrained institution. I would say “I hate to say I told you so”, but I don’t ‘hate to say it” and I did, three years ago. But first the NAO’s verdict:

“The National Audit Office has concluded that the Department for Work and Pensions has not achieved value for money in its early implementation of Universal Credit. …

Today’s report concludes that the Department was overly ambitious in both the timetable and scope of the programme. The Department took risks to try to meet the short timescale and used a new project management approach which it had never before used on a programme of this size and complexity. It was unable to explain how it originally decided on its ambitious plans or evaluated their feasibility.”

Devastating stuff, but not unexpected, as there’s been a steady trickle of stories about UC’s problems.

So Predictable.

In a post on my own Whitehall Watch and on the ‘Public Finance’ blogsite, in November 2010, I spelt out why the implementation of Universal Credit was likely to be a disaster. I think the broad thrust of what I said then still holds true today.

I have heard some blame being attached to Iain Duncan Smith – the funniest quip I’ve heard is “what do you expect when you send a Lieutenant to do a Generals job?” (a reference to IDS’s undistinguished military service, which he’s always made a lot of). He has certainly suffered from a large dose of hubris about what it is possible to do and on what timescales. Continue reading