Thursday, June 07, 2007

A New Record

New computer systems to
cost around £335 per person
Even with this government it's rare that one minister can p*** you off three times, on three separate subjects in little more than a week, even if one of them remains only an unproven allegation for the time being. So as promised here I go again.

It is just coincidence and I'm sorry to be having a go at the same hapless NuLab moron yet again, but unfortunately Caroline Flint was first up at the dispatch box after PMQs yesterday. This time it was in defence of the new NHS fantastic hugely overdue, over budget computer system, especially the central patient record that soon will be accessible just about anywhere by just about anyone via the NHS 'Spine' network, and shortly afterwards once a few spotty geeks have got to work on it, or the tabloids have paid someone off, the Internet.

It was a performance full of the arrogance that we have all come to expect from Ms Flint, laden with contempt for people who have concerns over the scheme, be they on grounds of cost, functionality security, or just basic objections on privacy grounds. As usual it was a case of 'nanny knows best' and everyone else should put up, shut up, or face being sent to bed with no supper.

The one concession the nation's supernanny did make was that after a load of fatuous spiel that was clearly meant to mislead the house and the county into believing that patient data will be secure, she admitted,
"Clearly, it would be misleading of me to offer the House an absolute, cast-iron guarantee that there will never be leaks of information"
House of Commons Hansard
Debates 6 June 2007, Col 279

Indeed it would. It would also be putting her money, or rather her career, where her mouth is. She was hardly likely to do that considering the likelihood that she probably knows that the first breaches of the supposedly watertight security of the system will hit the front pages in the not too distant future. In fact they already have during the various pilots; while I'm sure those particular holes have been filled in there will doubtless be many others. NuLab means often having to say you're sorry, but not really meaning and never learning from it. Taking the honourable course is an option only to be considered after repeat offences and once every other course of action has been considered.

It wasn't great commons fare. A lot of the Conservative and Lib Dem attacks were based on the real world experience of the members making them, be it of medicine, IT or business procurement issues in general, who concentrated on detailed technical assaults on the project. It went over her head. Flint of course is a typical NuLab minister who has fuck all real world experience outside the world of the vindictive NuLab brand of politics. According to her own web site,
"Caroline is a former local government officer and prior to becoming an MP, Caroline was the senior researcher and political officer for the GMB union, and is a GMB member."

Hmm a past as a political officer for an improving but sometimes still backward looking union, and a local government officer which is usually a euphemism for an embarrassing politically correct non-job like being a Five-a-Day Coordinator that they dare not expand on, fearing ridicule. Perhaps it's her extracurricular activities that give her insights into multibillion pound systems:
"Hon President, Denaby United Football Club;
Tap dancing with the Division Belles, a troupe of Labour women MPs"

Wow, if I had £20 billion, she sounds like just the sort of person I'd want to look after it.

It's not to say direct prior experience of the subject matter in your brief is a prerequisite for ministerial office, but does come to explain why so many from the NuLab team perform so badly at the dispatch box and have to resort to sneering bluster. Only doing a tap routine during her entire speech could have brought any credit to it.

The NHS to be at the leading edge
With such limited personal experience of real life and preprepared only with a few empty statistics, she was forced into the usual litany of vacuous assertions un-reinforced by the data her department had failed to gather, assaults on previous governments' track record of failure to deliver computer systems successfully and snide comments about those raising concerns about the system.

She was hopelessly out of her depth despite the confident tone and competent way her weak defence was offered. Faced with opponents who clearly knew much more about the subject matter than she did for all the preparation that would have been done for her she comprehensively failed to land a single blow. A brief respite in the face of the technical onslaught came when the cavalry arrived in the form of some amiable buffoon of a fellow NuLab member, it may have been Kevin Barron I think, who apologised to the chair for his lateness. Conveniently enough his tardiness was due to him going to see one of these newfangled computer things in action at a local hospital and very clever it was too apparently, though it did strike me that from the way he spoke he might have been taken in by a rolling PowerPoint slide show by the devious vendor.

She did briefly rally when she was able to comment on the success of the one part of the NHS IT strategy that did appear to be delivering results. It was short lived, coming to a shuddering halt when she extended the usual accusations of scaremongering to suggest that in fact the real problem wasn't so much the many real flaws that almost everyone on the IT grapevine know to exist in the system and the governments whole approach to it, but that the Conservatives were telling everyone about them.

This last tactic in particular, as well as the mysteriously missing performance data was very reminiscent of the recent debate on Home Information Packs (HIPs), that to say the opposition time debate when the government strenuously denied there was the slightest problem in implementing the scheme, rather than the ministerial statement a week later when the eerie Ruth Kelly announced that, erm, yes there were a lot of problems (none of which were, of course, any fault of the government department implementing them).

In fact there seems to be a pretty consistent NuLab approach to weathering the blamestorming sessions on their many failures. To be honest, most of the tactics consist of using time dishonoured lines used by ministers of all political colours down the years. NuLab though has stretched the envelope in terms of how and when they are employed, which combined with the regulation sneering, supercilious tone produces a distinctly disagreeable effect.

They also have innovated in the field of ducking responsibility. The approach of extending the principle of ‘scaremongering' to actually blaming the opposition's highlighting of failures for the failures themselves is especially offensive as it goes to the heart of the oppositions legitimate role. The inability of governmental departments to provide potentially incriminating data, only for it to surface very shortly afterwards when the same information can be massaged to shift blame elsewhere can only speak to an increasing politicisation of civil service functions which is equally unacceptable.

I've got one more comment on the whole thing that deserves a separate posting as it links in to a separate story but, after that, I'm going to lay off Flint. Why should she get any more flack than any of the other useless monkeys who have climbed to the top of the NuLab tree. She might be nothing else, but unlike some of her colleagues she is a pretty face.

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