NAUGHTY NUMBERS – How Politicians Spin Public Finance Stats

Another Budget – another torrent of numbers twisted to suit the arguments of all varieties of politicians. So here’s a simple ‘bluffers guide’ to how to understand some of the figures, and how they can be “massaged”.

Let’s start with a few definitions. Continue reading

The Invisible Hand of Government?

Don’t worry, this isn’t some paranoid fantasy about the ‘Deep State’ so beloved of conspiracy theorists of the far right and far left. It’s about me and you and our everyday lives and the part Government plays in them.

I can’t recall who it was, but it was an American academic colleague who gave me this idea from something he used to do with his students.

At the start of courses that had anything to do with Government I’d ask my students to put their hand up if they’d had an encounter with Government so far today?

Generally, they’d look a bit blank – especially if it was an early morning course. A few brave souls would put a hand up and I’d ask what it was. Usually it was something obvious like a student loan letter.

Then I would say simply: every single one of you is wrong because you have all had multiple encounters with Government. You just don’t recognise them. Continue reading

Christopher Pollitt RIP

ChristopherMy friend, mentor, critic and collaborator and great scholar Christopher Pollitt has died after a long illness. You will be hugely missed Christopher.

My thoughts go out to Hilkka and the extended family.

Christopher had a wonderfully dry sense of humour. When my wife Carole became pregnant with our son Alex (my first biological offspring), I emailed Christopher with the news. His response was typical: “don’t worry, the first 30 years is the worst”. Continue reading

Putin, Trump and Cyber Warfare – Sir David Omand’s dramatic warning

Prof. Colin Talbot, Research Associate, University of Cambridge

Sir David Omand, former Director of GCHQ and former Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator for the Government, is to issue a strongly worded warning about threats of external subversion and internal sedition being enhanced by cyber-warfare techniques.

untitledIn a lengthy article published in the Journal of Cyber Policy,* Omand warns that the Russian government is continuing in the tradition of the Soviet Union in engaging in ‘hybrid warfare’ and ‘active measures’ (aktivinyye meropriatia) to subvert European and American governments.

(*Which I was given pre-publication access to by Sir David, for which thanks).

These can include highly targeted propaganda and misinformation; attacks on ‘critical national infrastructure’ and increasingly extending into the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) – all assisted or enabled by cyber-space. Continue reading

Nationalisation vs Privatisation (Part 93….)

With the Party conference season behind us the big idea back on the agenda is, apparently, socialism versus free-markets. Stirring speeches about the return to socialism rang out from Labour in Brighton, to be met by counter-blasts of free market rhetoric from the Tories in Manchester. It was all quite nostalgia inducing for some of us – forward to the 1980s! And, of course, thoroughly specious from both camps.

In reality the debate quickly descended from the lofty heights of imaginary alternative social systems – neither socialism nor free markets have ever existed and are ever likely to – to a rather more prosaic debate about nationalization versus privatization as almost as devoid of serious thinking as it was the first time around in the 1980s. Continue reading

It Wasn’t The Cough That Carried Her Off…..

I have been thinking about THAT SPEECH by Theresa May all day today. Why?

Well, on a very personal level, first I have a cough problem. Not a “here today gone tomorrow” cough problem. I’ve had it chronically since 2009 on and off before that. I’m receiving treatment at a specialist and experimental cough clinic. I recently discovered it may go back to an industrial accident I had in 1970!

Be that as it may, I therefore have some sympathy with anyone caught out by an uncontrollable cough in public speaking situations. I have had them. I have had lectures where I’ve collapsed into fits of coughing so alarming the students got worried I was about to expire. I have had to leave meetings. I have had to decline live radio and TV on days when I knew I was at risk.

So, I understand.

Which is why I am totally and utterly dumfounded by the sycophantic drivel being spouted about “poor Theresa”. Continue reading

Blogging as academic public policy engagement – a personal journey (Part 1 – 2009-2013)

Cambridge Policy Lab

Almost a decade ago, in 2009, I decided to experiment with blogging as a way of engaging with public policy and management debates.

It wasn’t easy.

I was an academic employed by Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.

I said I wanted to start a blog. They said – no you can’t. I asked why? They said, first we don’t know how to and second we don’t want you freelancing and possibly “damaging the brand”.

Let’s back-track a bit to see how I got to this point.

I am not a conventional academic. I left school at 16 with only 5 “O” Levels and went to work as a Lab Tech with what was then ICI Pharmaceuticals research in Alderley Edge.

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