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The Blunders of Our Governments [Hardcover]

Anthony King , Ivor Crewe
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
RRP: 25.00
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Book Description

19 Sep 2013
blunder/ bl nd (r)/, n., A gross mistake; an error due to stupidity or carelessness.

There are a handful of cock-ups that we remember all too well, from the poll tax to the Millennium Dome. However, the list is longer than most of us realize and it s growing. With unrivalled political savvy and a keen sense of irony, distinguished political scientists Anthony King and Ivor Crewe open our eyes to the worst government horror stories and explain why the British political system is quite so prone to appalling mistakes. You will discover why:

  • The government wasted up to £20 billion pounds in a failed scheme to update London s Underground system.
  • Tens of thousands of single mothers were left in poverty without financial support from absent fathers.
  • Tony Blair committed the NHS to the biggest civilian IT project the world has ever seen, despite knowing next to nothing about computing.
  • The Assets Recovery Agency cost far more to run than it ever clawed back from the proceeds of organised crime.
  • The Coalition government is at least as blunder-prone as any of its predecessors.

    Groupthink, constantly rotating ministers and a weak parliament all contribute to wasted billions and illogical policy. But, it doesn t have to be this way. Informed by years of research and interviews with senior cabinet ministers and civil servants, this razor-sharp diagnosis of flawed government is required reading for every UK citizen. With its spirited prescriptions for more fool-proof policymaking, it will prove to be one of the most important political books of the decade.


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    Product details

    • Hardcover: 488 pages
    • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (19 Sep 2013)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 1780742665
    • ISBN-13: 978-1780742663
    • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 16.2 x 4.4 cm
    • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
    • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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    Product Description

    Review

    ‘Compelling… David Cameron is said to have read about Winston Churchill’s early warmongering during his summer holidays. It would have been much better for all of us if he had read this.’
    Independent on Sunday

    ‘Illuminating and disturbing… [four/five stars]’
    Philip Johnston, Telegraph

    ‘One of the hottest books of the season… a deeply depressing catalogue of major projects championed at the highest level that have turned into turkeys.’
    Scotsman


    ‘Compelling… David Cameron is said to have read about Winston Churchill’s early warmongering during his summer holidays. It would have been much better for all of us if he had read this.’
    Independent on Sunday

    ‘Illuminating and disturbing… [four/five stars]’
    Philip Johnston, Telegraph

    ‘One of the hottest books of the season… a deeply depressing catalogue of major projects championed at the highest level that have turned into turkeys.’
    Scotsman

    ‘Rivetingly told… a feast of fiascos, a banquet of balls-ups.’
    Francis Wheen, Literary Review

    ‘Fascinating.’ Alan Johnson MP, New Statesman

    ‘Grimly entertaining… King and Crewe, veteran and incisive commentators, shatter the delusions… This book should be a compulsory text for every would-be minister and permanent secretary.’

    ‘Timely and intelligent.’
    Prospect

    ‘The closest politics gets to pornography’
    Simon Jenkins, Guardian

    ‘Two of our most brilliant political analysts focus entertainingly on an endless succession of great British cock-ups… thoroughly entertaining and erudite.’
    Observer

    ‘Rivetingly told… a feast of fiascos, a banquet of balls-ups.’
    Francis Wheen, Literary Review

    ‘Fascinating.’ Alan Johnson MP, New Statesman

    ‘Grimly entertaining… King and Crewe, veteran and incisive commentators, shatter the delusions… This book should be a compulsory text for every would-be minister and permanent secretary.’

    ‘Timely and intelligent.’
    Prospect

    ‘The closest politics gets to pornography’
    Simon Jenkins, Guardian

    ‘Two of our most brilliant political analysts focus entertainingly on an endless succession of great British cock-ups… thoroughly entertaining and erudite.’
    Observer

    Review

    ‘This is an astonishing achievement – that very rare thing, a genuinely original book and an immediately essential guide to the failures of British politics. King and Crewe go deep, without a shred of pomposity or a phrase of false rhetoric. From now on, every political journalist, civil servant and would-be minister needs to start here.’ Andrew Marr, presenter, The Andrew Marr Show

    ‘One of the mysteries of our political system is how often it fails us, despite the best intentions of politicians and planners. Blunders is an enthralling analysis of how things go wrong and why. It should be every minister’s bedside reading.’ David Dimbleby, presenter, Question Time

    ‘This book is not only hugely enjoyable, it is also a truly shocking cautionary tale. King and Crewe provide spectacular examples of British misgovernment, from the Suez fiasco by way of the Dangerous Dogs Act and Thatcher’s poll tax to the present day. The cost of such blunders comes not only in billions of pounds wasted but in the enormous amounts of damage caused to public confidence. The lessons are clear. Don’t shuffle ministers every few months. Give parliament time to make legislation effective and understandable. Above all, listen and deliberate.’ Baroness Shirley Williams, leading Liberal Democrat and former Labour cabinet minister

    ‘Governments don’t usually set out to do wrong. They just do it by mistake. This excellent guide to past cock-ups in policymaking and implementation should be required reading for every aspiring minister and civil servant to ensure that in future they at least make their own blunders instead of repeating those already made by others.’ Jonathan Powell, Chief of Staff to Tony Blair, 1995–2007

    ‘Everyone makes mistakes. The question is: will we ever learn from them? This is an excellent account of blunders made by successive governments over many years. I am sometimes asked if bankers will ever repeat the mistakes they made in the years prior to 2008. The answer is undoubtedly yes – just as soon as memories fade and the institutional knowledge so vital to any organisation is lost. Most of us have made decisions which looked good at the time but two years later made us cringe with embarrassment.’ Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 2007–10

    ‘All governments appear to learn little from the mistakes of their predecessors in translating fine-sounding new initiatives into workable policies on the ground. They ignore the problems of implementation. Anthony King and Ivor Crewe apply their lengthy experience not only to highlighting common patterns in the blunders of recent governments but also, more importantly, to suggesting remedies.’ Peter Riddell, Director, Institute for Government

    ‘We are all human and few can resist the index of any account of contemporary history to see how we fared. My initial disappointment at such scant recognition for nearly half a century of frontline political exposure was only modified by the memory that this book is about the great blunders of our time! I am lucky to have escaped. This book is a valuable guide from two well-qualified observers to the pitfalls of politics. Will it help new generations to avoid them? Don’t invest your money on it!’ Lord Michael Heseltine, Conservative cabinet minister, 1979–83 and 1990–97

    ‘A timely and compelling analysis of why we have been so badly governed for the last thirty years’. John Campbell, author of The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher

    "This book will make you gasp in disbelief and stamp your feet in rage, and quite frequently reduce you to helpless laughter. It will also make you tremble in terror at the realisation that the people in charge of our destinies are, in many respects, idiots. With clarity, elegance and wit, Anthony King and Ivor Crewe recall the most egregious blunders committed by British governments over the last three decades.... It is hard to overpraise this book, which lays bare the weaknesses of British government so clinically and entertainingly." Guardian


    Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews
    30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
    By Brian R. Martin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    A blunder is defined as: a gross mistake; an error caused by stupidity or carelessness. The authors make clear that it is not to be confused with a bad judgment call, something we all make from time to time. Blunders in the political context have a long history, but a major difference between early blunders and modern examples is the scale of the latter, often made possible by the rise of technology, particularly computer system, which have `enabled' vastly greater sums of money to be wasted. It is a source of wonder that huge schemes, whose success relies heavily on IT system, have been commissioned by people with scant knowledge of the capability of such systems. An extreme example of this, which led to the loss of many billions of pounds, was when the largest IT project the world had ever seen (to modernise the NHS) was commissioned by Tony Blair, whose knowledge of computer technology could probably have been written on the back of a postage stamp.

    The book opens with a quick summary of blunders made in the last 40 years and then turns to a detailed examination of major examples, starting with the uncollectable Poll Tax, and including the hopelessly optimistic Child Support Agency, the pointless Millennium Dome project, the corruption-destroyed Individual Learning Accounts, the hugely expensive failed IT system for the NHS, the attempt to modernise the London Underground system using hideously complex PPP contracts, and many others. Each is examined in forensic detail. It is made clear why the projects failed so spectacularly and why each failure could, and should, have been seen very early on. The blame is clearly laid at the door of those responsible, usually senior politicians, although civil servants were often complicit.
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    19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
    By D. P. Mankin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    At times it felt as if I was reading a satire on the political class and our increasingly discredited civil service. Time and time again we read in the papers about the latest cock-up or the one waiting around the corner (HS2 springs to mind). I suppose you can take some comfort from the realisation that incompetence is not a new phenomenon in the world of politics. This book offers a sufficiently comprehensive review of failed projects that it doesn't actually matter that the odd project is missing. After all who cares when there are so many to savour or despair over. The authors are credible academics which means people, especially those currently inhabiting Westminster should sit up and take note. Their analysis is fair and impartial - which makes the content of this book all the more scary. Although I don't agree with every aspect of their analysis of the causes of blunders, this is (perhaps wrongly or myabe not) undoubtedly one of the most entertaining books I've read in a long time; which is, I suspect, an appropriate indictment on the supposed competence of British parliamentarians. Highly recommended.
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    18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed triumph 18 Oct 2013
    Format:Hardcover
    In many ways this is an important book, delineating not just many horrible blunders but also the reasons why they have occurred. Two particular examples are the Poll tax and the part-privatisation of the London Underground upgrade, but there are many - too many - others (and that's a criticism of government, not the book itself). Others could have been added, the whole area of "defence" spending being one: from the TSR2 fiasco of the 1960s to the business of the two unneeded and unavailable for years aircraft carriers of the present day; but defence spending blunders could make up a whole book in themselves.

    Chapter 14 on the part-privatisation of the Underground (brilliantly and appropriately titled "Down the tubes") is a complete horror-story, and King and Crewe list (pp 207-14) the 13 major weaknesses that led to possibly as much as a 30 billion (30 billion!) loss on the whole farrago. The two worst of these, in my view, were (a) the crazed decision to adopt the scheme because it would take the borrowing off the (government's) books to reduce (but only nominally) the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement - unnecessary, because LU could have issued bonds for the money and have them guaranteed by the government - and (b) the fact that the whole thing was designed so that the private sector would take the risk, except, of course, that when things went haywire the private sector dumped the risk back on the government. But these two are features of all Private Finance Initiative schemes, and one criticism of the book is that it might, instead of majoring on the Tube PFI, have considered the PFI racket as a whole, as there are so many, especially in the NHS, that have put an intolerable load on their finances.
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    12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars A fine book, but with one qualification... 6 Oct 2013
    By AlanB
    Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
    While I found this a very fine analysis of the many ways in which governments serially and severally have managed to squander taxpayers' money, to the extent that budget deficits are trivial by comparison, I do have one quibble: while affecting a 'non-partisan' approach, the authors several times remark with approval on something they regard as a 'successful' government policy, namely, the sale of council houses to private tenants started by the Thatcher administrations.

    While it was certainly administratively successful in the short term (how could it not be? sitting tenants were subsidised according to the length of their tenancies and often received a generous windfall from the taxpayer), the real effects of the policy are now evident: the UK now has one of the smallest stocks of regulated public-sector rented accommodation in Europe and those who cannot buy are forced into the unregulated private sector, where rents are high. As a result, the provision of housing benefits (which mostly go to the working poor and pensioners, not the unemployed) has undergone an extraordinary inflation. Cui bono? Not the taxpayer, surely, and not those who live in overpriced, often sub-standard rented accommodation.

    Was this really a success and not a long-term blunder?

    Perhaps I should write a book about it...

    They also comment favourably on other contentious issues such as privatisation and the anti-union legislation piloted through the house by Norman Tebbit. I think 'non-partisan', while certainly applying to their analysis of the cases they cover, does not really apply to their general world-view.
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    Most Recent Customer Reviews
    5.0 out of 5 stars Will they ever learn ?
    This is an excellent book though on reading the reviews by leading politicians one is not overwhelmed by a sense of humility. Read more
    Published 1 day ago by D. G. Jones
    5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, exquisitely written
    One of the most interesting and entertaining books I've read for a very long time.
    It will make you shake your head in despair and confirm all your suspicions about how our... Read more
    Published 21 days ago by S. Collins
    3.0 out of 5 stars Bring back the Anarchists
    This book is important: it demonstrates that governments, of whatever colour, are quite incapable of running anything!! Read more
    Published 1 month ago by Donald Hughes
    5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
    Describes the successes and failures in a general way, then a few failures in detail and then some conclusions. Read more
    Published 1 month ago by Mr. N. Clatworthy
    5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
    My husband has really enjoyed this book , it is a must for everyone who is cynical about our government
    Published 1 month ago by Elayne Chantrell
    4.0 out of 5 stars political hubris and incompetence
    This is the sort of book every aspiring politician should be made to read and then read again when (and if) they make it up the greasy pole. Buy your local MP a copy!
    Published 2 months ago by D. N. Pinder
    4.0 out of 5 stars A Parliamentary Candidate's Primer
    Too awful to read, too compelling to put down. We thought it was bad, now we know for sure. No better justification for letting practitioners who do the work make the decisions.
    Published 2 months ago by Richard Monk
    5.0 out of 5 stars required reading
    Thius should be required reading for everyone thinking of voting for any politician of either left right or centre. Read more
    Published 2 months ago by smirrells
    5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, comprehensive and damning
    A fascinating, horrifying and totally unsurprising read.

    As a civil servant I have seen all of the human factors described play out in front of me; indeed I have come to... Read more
    Published 2 months ago by Miss Layton
    2.0 out of 5 stars Why do public sector IT projects fail?
    Facile and lacking depth. More tabloid than The Times. No real analysis. Why do big IT projects fail? This book, written in a breathless style, doesn't provide any credible answer.
    Published 2 months ago by Paul M. Mather
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