Brexit – A Very British Blunder


Departments of State, the Confederation of British Industry and all serious British media daily tell of the despair of British industry. Revenues falling, strategies frozen, investment stalled, goods stockpiled and preparations late. Industry leadership tries to plan for various horror scenarios, while a dysfunctional Government fails the nation. A catastrophic blunder looms.

Britain has significant blundering form. In a thirty-year sample, the UK Government committed many major blunders. Visit “Why is Britain Badly Governed? Policy Blunders 1980 – 2010”, in which two brilliant political analysts examine why the UK Government makes so many costly mistakes – blunders which they argue are increasing in scale and frequency.  Sir Ivor Crowe and Professor Anthony King describe twelve major blunders over the period and distil reasons for this frequent failure of government. These are both structural, where policy-making and delivery structures produce or permit mistakes, and behavioural, where politicians and officials are inexperienced, incompetent or delinquent: –

  • Deficit of Deliberation (Structural): The British political system is biased towards strong action rather than deliberation. A First-Past-the-Post system enables a Cabinet and Whips to drive legislation without cross-party or expert scrutiny. “Ministers now wish to be seen as men and women of decisive action, sweeping aside doubters and cowards, and in this they are encouraged by the 24-hour media, always demanding that something be done, impatient of delay and eager to portray as ditherers those who think carefully and consult widely before they act”.
  • Deficit of Accountability: In the British system, tenure in a post is about two years. Blunderers move on and go unpunished.
  • Ministerial Hyper-activism (Behavioural): Ministers’ ambition and drive allied to over-confidence, simplification and a deafness to officials’ warnings are the stuff of modern Whitehall culture.
  • Cultural Disconnect: Ministers and officials live in a bubble deriving from top schools, top universities and straight into policy or politics. Born to rule prats abound. Their insulation gives them little idea of the mindsets, values and habits of those who will be affected by proposed policies.
  • Operational Disconnect: Policy makers operate in an implementation vacuum. To solve the “How” question is for the lower orders to grapple with. (The authors list many recent senior ministers who had never run anything nor addressed practicalities of implementation).

Seems the UK Government is hard-wired to blunder! Maybe it has always been. The loss of the American Colonies, the Boer War and the Partition of India were monumental cockups.

We now watch history unfold, as the peoples and economies of the British Isles cope with the appalling governance of their United (for now) Kingdom.