A government of spinners for spinners by spinners

Today we learn that various NHS trusts have lost data concerning their patients.

We seem to be living in a surreal world, where the government spins out the stories about data loss, to try to drive the stories about house price collapses, mortgage shortages, the credit crunch, the black hole of Northern Rock, overborrowing and the balance of payments off the front pages.

Or maybe, for once, they have just lost control of the media. Harriet Harman’s attempt to get a debate going over cash for sex may have been their last counter spin ploy, to change the media weather. It is unusual – but not suprising with this government – to see a very senior member debating an issue in a "personal capacity" to avoid committing the government she is meant to represent and defend.

It is not surpising that the NHS like much of the rest of the public sector under Labour has been casual with our data. The whole government is casual or mismanaged from the top.

When we are allowed to cross examine them, Ministers are on the whole poorly briefed, and lack detailed control over their policies and their departments.

This is a government which never prepared itself to run anything properly. It was born of spin and will die from spin. In opposition they honed their skills at generating stories . They were an effective, hard hitting opposition, always willing to blame the government for anything that went wrong, and always able to put the worst construction on events.

In government they have carried on in a similar way, seeing their role as being to expose and destroy Conservative policy, ideas and party management as if they were still the opposition. They spend too much time on this, and too little time discharging the responsibilities of high office.

When I was sent by mistake a copy of a Cabinet Minister’s diary I could not help but notice when I was trying to find out whose it was and where to send it back to how little there was in it. There were the usual political and constituency meetings you would expect, but there was no morning to night bookings for meetings with officials to review and improve administration of the departments policies, and no rash of meetings with users of their services and those affected by their regulation to see if it was working properly. I remember as a Minister these dominated in my diary.

Too many of these ministers define their jobs in relation to media interviews and the opposition. They should start defining their jobs in relation to the public. It is not easy providing a good service with the large empires they have built up. All of them should spend more time with their departments getting things right. They should start by sending a clear message from the top,that the public matters and their data is important. They then have to have endless meetings to ensure that message is taken to every part of their empires, and reflected in operating procedures that will keep the data safe and lead to the public being better served.

Until they do so, the public will conclude that we do not matter to this government. We are necessary as a source of money to pay for the poor performance. We are the people they intend to regulate out of freedom. We are not valued customers of the state, so keeping our data secure is not a high priority.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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