Sunday, 14 November 2010

Government: A Broken System

When I used to work in hi-tech manufacturing, one of the main elements was quality control: measuring how well each piece of kit that exited the factory performed upon installation. After all, its no good shipping equipment to customers that doesn't work: you lose orders and therefore your job very swiftly if that happens.

One of the key tools in measuring performance against targets was feedback: measuring how successful each installation was and feeding that back to the production process in order to affect immediate change if any negative trends in reliability happened. Effectively a closed loop where deviations from predetermined targets effects changes in the process to bring the process back towards those targets.

Now, this is an area where I think government at all levels, national and local is broken. There is no immediate feedback. Sure we get to tell the government how well we think it is doing every five years, but its hardly an immediate system. Engine management systems in cars check the loop several times a second, manufacturing processes should work within days, but our system of government works on a glacial timescale by comparison: huge amounts of damage can and have been done while the country waits to provide its feedback.

This is the nub of where things are going wrong in government: we have a free-running open system, with very little feedback and none of the supposed checks and balances working. For instance the huge majority that Labour had in the last few terms ensured that virtually any policy, no matter how damaging to the country could be effected without any commensurate corrective action to curb it. Today we have a weak opposition and a coalition in government that consists of a major partner able to dictate to a minor one who are so desperate to stay in power they'd sell their granny, children, spouse and a few of their own organs if necessary.

Our system of government is so broken, that the house of commons makes policy and puts forward legislation, but little time is given to debate these measures, so the first part of the feedback loop is nullified.

 The second line of defence, actually voting on a proposal is nullified by party whipping: an MP may think a policy idea is ludicrous, but will be forced to vote by the whips, under verious methods of duress.

The third possibility to effect feedback is the House of Lords, but again, the system rigs the house with patsies of the political elite who will vote any way the government likes, either because they're getting favours, its their party's policy being invoked, or maybe the majority of them couldn't be arsed to turn up and vote against. By far the most damaging factor in this part of the feedback loop is the Parliament Act, whereby the house of commons can push through legislation anyway without the consent of the upper house.

Every piece of legislation requires Royal Assent. But again, we miss a trick here because our Monarch sees herself very much as a ceremonial one, keeping well out of anything political. No matter how damaging to the country she reigns over, she rubber-stamps whatever crap comes out of Parliament.

So, all of the relatively immediate feedback loops are broken, which allows the system to runaway. This is dangerous, because a runaway system allows any outcome, no matter how extreme.And we've seen what would be considered extreme policies in a moderate democracy become law: you name it; climate change legislation, billion pound bank bailouts, detention without trial, illegal wars, RIPA, the list goes on.

The system is broken and it may end up that the 60 million human beings that live here in the UK become the final feedback loop if and when we say no more and put an end to the current system of government. Maybe it'll have to come to that.

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