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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 March 2015
If you are unfamiliar with the topic, then this is a decent enough introduction on how and why the UK government often gets things spectacularly wrong. The authors have fixed upon a catchy title, and go on to provide a definition of blunders, examples of blunders, and advice on how the system could be fixed to avoid blunders.

If you are familiar with the topic then you are likely to find relatively little here that is particularly new or surprising. Familiarity with the topic would include reading the odd issue of The Economist or Private Eye. Despite an incredible breadth of research and interviews, this often reads like a quick collation of various news stories from the past few decades. Relatively little use seems to have been made of the direct interviews, though the very extensive research and engagement does at least mean that the book is free of the sort of glaring misunderstandings that can pepper such books.

For my money, the book could easily have been shorter on recommendations, and longer on the case studies. I think that a more polemical book written by one author (and fewer researchers) might have given more punch to the topic. While this is not up to the standard of Whitehall by Peter Hennessy, it is a reasonably astute analysis of the state of British government.

For a completely different perspective, try The Utopia of Rules by David Graeber.
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VINE VOICEon 9 June 2014
This book is about the mistakes that governments make. Not where they make a call that turns out to be a wrong one, or when things happen and the response isn't right, but where governments press on regardless of what the evidence is telling them. Everyone knew the poll tax wouldn't work, that the football ID cards would be a shambles, that ID cards wouldn't work, that we got the CSA all wrong that the privatisation of the Tube was the wrong thing to do. But still ministers and civil servants went on - often wasting billions of pounds in the process.


This book attempts to answer the question, and the authors' analysis is fascinating. I worked in government at the time some of these were happening, so recall them well. We knew that the policies we were implementing would not work., but nobody listened. In some cases, nobody spoke up.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in politics. Should be essential reading for anyone taking up ministerial office
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on 12 May 2014
Although the authors have some amusing turns of phrase, this is a very serious book. A blunder, as defined by them, isn't just something that goes wrong. It is something that couldn't possibly go right. The Poll Tax is probably the best known example, but there are many, many others. The book is meticulously researched and the authors have obviously had unrivalled access (mostly anonymously) to those involved. The writing is extremely clear and they forensically take the reader through all the stages of flawed decision making.

The second section is more general, detailing the reasons why things can go so badly wrong. Again, it is very clear, but it seemed repetitive at times. It would have been a more interesting book to me if they had incorporated these insights into the chapters about the blunders.
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on 17 February 2015
A very insightful and eyebrow-raising read where I learned a lot of stuff I had no idea about, but I was also surprised that so many notable blunders had been omitted. I was pretty shocked to discover the utter unprofessionalism with which government offices are apparently run and feel that one of the criteria for holding any position of note should be that a candidate must have a proven track record in the field which they are about to enter. It seems to me that governments of whatever colour are merely amateur dabblers. A PPE degree means nothing without experience gained in the real world, doing a 'proper' job before entering the portals of Westminster.
I must also say that the book was over-written and repetitive, but despite these shortcomings it's still a must-read.
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on 24 April 2014
Although this is not a great book nor revolutionary one in terms of new knowledge,
it is extremely useful, well written and informative.
because it records in detail successive and half forgotten details
of previous governments'(all parties) failures and errors.

The authors try to find out what the basic fault lines are
that result in repeated failures of our internal (and in too small a part foreign) policies.

Their approach is both precise and broad-based with an unusually clear awareness
of the London bubble think tank culture which is driving Westminster towards remoteness from England and Scotland.
The question itself is the key. The answers are vital for the UK's , or England's(?) future.

One could wish for more analysis on European policies - which appear to be disastrous and to have been on an aggressive losing track for decades resulting in the potentially Pyrrhic victories of the turbo- capitalist based UKIP.

One hopes the current UK front benches might find time to read it and hope they might understand it.
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on 18 April 2014
This is an excellent book though on reading the reviews by leading politicians one is not overwhelmed by a sense of humility. I attended the advanced Management Programme at Harvard Business School in 1991 . Part of the course was 12 case studies on various economies performance round the globe both good and bad. On enquiry it transpired that there was no case study on the UK so four Brits decided to do something about it. Three leading Cambridge economists under the supervision of Professor Scott for Harvard wrote up the UK study which clearly demonstrated that the UK economy had under performed other leading economies since the Second World War. There was no economic explanation for this underperformance but Messrs King and Crewe now supply an explanation. To a degree the explanation is also an industrial one but successive British government are more successful with foreign owned companies such as Japanese car and now train makers Hitachi , Indian car and steel makers and Spanish and American bankers to name but a few. The study is by no means exhaustive and the repeated failures of our financial regulators would be an interesting case study. Having recently also read John Campbell biography of Roy Jenkins it is instructive particularly on the subject of the EU and the Euro . The point there is that in particular we have failed to engage with Europe but simply treated it as an international opposition party. We also fail to distinguish between sovereignty and nationality. We are quite happy as in NATO to give up sovereignty but for some reason believe that the EU involves a loss of nationality. Take the Welsh we have lost our sovereignty and have little desire given referendum votes to regain it. Attend an England Wales rugby match to see how little we have lost our nationality.
Two further examples perhaps. The debate on London's airport capacity has dragged on for years . 30 years ago we were debating Maplin sands or Foulness . We now have Howard Davies , a former financial regulator and his commission which seems to exist to arbitrate between competing commercial bids. Why can't we do as they did in Hong Kong which was an all interested party involvement to get what was best for Hong Kong and get on and build it. It took about 5years , is a fantastic success as opposed to 50 years of UK dithering. Similarly when Singapore decided to be one of the best ports in the world , it is now number 3 , it decided IT was key. It appointed IBM and Microsoft in competition and set up a university to train 10,000 of IT professionals to take over in due course. It is estimated that Singapore by 2020 will be the richest nation on earth per capita overtaking Norway. Competence is the Key as Germany demonstrates in government , the Bundesbank , industry and penalty shoot outs.
We are creative as is demonstrated by our F1 successes but we need to lift the performance of government and our economy.
We do have a governing system which is not prepared to observe and copy best practice from around the world. Is the attitude we are British, we won 2 World Wars we must know best.
This is an excellent book, a worthy subject and well written. It does need the Government to take notice but will they. Hopefully the electorate may help but the complacency of those reviews is disquieting.
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on 2 November 2013
For anyone with an interest in British politics who wishes to understand how clever people can make stupid decisions, wasting billions of pounds of other people's money on the way. Politicians decide what they want to do, refuse to listen any arguments or evidence other than those they wish to hear, and persist in their policies until disaster occurs. King and Crewe cover both familiar examples (such as Mrs Thatcher's idiotic poll tax) and less familiar (such as Prescott's ludicrous attempt to privatise the Tube). It would be nice to think that our leaders might learn something from these cautionary tales, but we can be pretty sure they won't. HS2, anyone?
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on 11 June 2015
Brilliant book. Are politicians (of all parties) to be trusted? The short answer is no. The amounts of "wasted" money, time and effort are truly staggering. The distance between politicians and reality and "common sense" is unbelievable (or perhaps not)! What an appaling way to run things and how could this happen so often? Apparently politicians don't learn from theirs or others mistakes You couldn't make it up. But then again it ain't their money! Should be compulsory reading for anyone involved in public sector policy making, especially MP's, councillors etc.etc.. Let me predict that HS2 will appear in an updated version.
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on 19 August 2017
Good and presented a fair reckoning, as far as I could judge, of blunders. I appreciated that the authors were careful to define 'blunder' at the start and stuck close to the definition throughout. One blunder they did not judge as such was the fiscal austerity of the coalition government. Most economists had called it out before 2014, and provided clear evidence austerity was unlikely to achieve its aim of deficit reduction in that parliament. A few sections were meandering and repetitive, but overall well worth a read as it does highlight serious faults in the British system of government that can and should be addressed.
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on 25 May 2015
Essential reading for anyone interested in how the policy process run off the rails. Makes little matter that it is specific to the UK, highlights specific behaviours amongst system actors, in particular politicians and overly compliant civil servants. What ever happened of speaking truth to power? The wasted millions/billions of pounds is eye-watering and does justify increased scrutiny of publicly funded programmes with good evaluations. U-turns in policy are to be preferred to some of these punishing examples of hubris.
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