If you’ve ever sat in an NHS management meeting, then you may be familiar with the claim that “I’m strategic not operational”, which is the cue to start counting the spoons, every time.
I’m not sure of the origin of the spoons bon mot, but Herman Goering is said to have claimed that “whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver”, and The Knife usually has the same impulse at the word ‘strategic’.
Unless you’re Churchill circa 1944, ‘strategic’ in public service such as the NHS is a catch-all term for sitting around laying down the law, creating stacks of unproductive work for people who probably are far nearer reality than the strategic genius themselves. There is a lot of this crap in the NHS, the BBC and no doubt in education, local services etc. All taxpayer funded, naturally.
So it was nice to read Steve Richards today in The Independent tackling this divide in politics, where the Strategists are Romantics, and the operational crew is everyone actually doing the work. Richards reasonably enough paints Blair as a Romantic/Strategist, as is the arch-waffler and somewhat confused James Purnell.
The bizarre corollary of this is that it almost paints Gordon Brown, as the antithesis of this, in a good light. Almost. To quote Richards:
“..Take the current fashionable theme of empowerment, giving power to the people. On one level there is no dispute around the issue at all. Every politician in the land is in favour of empowerment in the abstract. Imagine an election slogan that argued the opposite: “Take Power Away From The People!” It is hard to imagine voters giving the thumbs up to that.
The theme is similar to “Choice”. When he was Chancellor I recall Gordon Brown pointing out to me at the height of his rows with Tony Blair on the subject: “Who is against ‘choice’? It is like being against ‘freedom'”. Brown’s issue with Blair was about the degree to which promising “choice” in schools and hospitals was illusory when there was no spare cash or political will to fund a surplus of places, the pre-requisite for genuine choice. ..”
To quote William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, in his Some fruits of solitude, 1693:
“For a Covetous Man to inveigh against Prodigality… is for the Pot to call the Kettle black.”