Some mild hand-wringing is going on over at LDV tonight over our poll ratings. One suggestion is that we’re emphasising the wrong policies.

The trouble is, it’s almost impossible to prove that a particular emphasis on a particular policy constitutes the entire problem – or that a particular emphasis on a particular policy constitutes an entire success. It’s an impressionistic and individualistic judgement.

For example, people (oh, you know, just people in general) claim that our 2005 platform of tuition fees and Iraq had a particular magic about it that we haven’t recaptured. But no single person has any real idea how success in 2005 really arose from those two foundations. The processes by which tuition fees+Iraq = electoral success is opaque to us. Post factum, we can come up with all sorts of justifications for why it worked. But no-one has ever proved to my satisfaction that the success of those two emphases was always inevitable. There was nothing exceptionally likely to result in success about it, and it’s possible, I think, to prove this as follows.

Our post factum justification for the success of the Iraq/tuition fees platform might run: “On one, we were proven right after a long-held principled stance on an issue that people could get properly angry about. On the other, we made it clear that we were onside with public opinion on a big issue, and they were both easy to explain.”

Let’s assign values to these. E signifies the quality of being easy to explain, Z signifies the quality of relating to a particular zeitgeist in evidence in press coverage (and is therefore largely outside our control), and X signifies that extra je ne sais quoi that captures people’s imagination. Given these values, opposition to the war in Iraq had an E and an X factor (the X in this case being the 2003 march, and the sense of being part of a grand sweep of history, and the fact that the Lib Dems were fairly suddenly and dramatically proved to have been right), and tuition fees had an E and a Z factor. Eventually, of course, Iraq acquired a Z factor as well, but the process by which that happened was not under our control. A fourth value, C, signifies coherence and consistency of abstract principle between policy emphases, something notably lacking from the Iraq/tuition fees platform.

A handful of our current policies would score as follows (an overall C rating being served up last):

1. The Green Tax Switch has both E and Z qualities. It’s easy to explain that income taxes will be lowered and this will be paid for by increases in pollution taxes (and if you can throw in the destruction of tax privileges currently enjoyed by richer taxpayers as well, so much the better). The environment is constantly and insistently zeitgeisty, and it will continue to flourish in times of recession as well (via its component themes of self-sufficiency and frugal living).

2. Locally elected health boards also have E and Z qualities. The powerlessness of the individual in the face of the monolithic NHS is a staple theme of every tabloid – a locally elected health board (and there, I explained it just by stating its name) ought to be flawlessly, instantly zeitgeisty. Not entirely clear to me why we can’t make the running on this one. I suppose you could argue that it has a sort of negative X-rating (if you will) that holds it back; it’s just never going to set anyone’s imagination on fire.

3. Civil liberties. Opposition to ID cards has E (nothing easier to explain) and X (“I don’t believe in that sort of thing”, individual-versus-state, 1984) qualities. But in spite of various gallant attempts on the part of the chatterati to push this concern on the nation, the sleepwalk largely continues, making civil liberties as a whole issue neither E, X or, especially, Z beyond certain cobwebby corners of the broadsheets.

4. The high-speed rail network has Z and X qualities. It’s zeitgeisty on two counts: environmentalism and the price of fuel. The X factor is pretty straightforward – it’s a big whizzy shiny thing you can publish an artist’s impression of. Instant win. It doesn’t have the E quality because of the funding mechanism. By way of demonstration, I don’t currently have time to go and look up the precise details of when we stick up VED and when we abolish it and what else we stick up instead. And offhand, I can’t remember. And if I can’t remember, we are in big trouble with the E quality on this one. This is important because a key negative policy position of ours – a consistent stance against airport expansion – needs its corresponding positive policy to have a good E factor.

5. The pupil premium has a strong E factor and possibly an X factor. The X arises from the fact that individuals will be putting it into practice, in contrast to their passive relationship with, say, restrictions on airport expansion. The problem here is that the Tories are about to capitalise on the X, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. This one doesn’t have a Z because the education narrative in the newspapers is currently about discipline, rather than the helplessness of the individual parent dealing with the education system (which was a much stronger theme a few years ago).

I’m sticking to five, but please do others in the comments. The overall C rating on these five examples is considerably higher than the 2005 platform in that every one of the five is linked to at least one other by a common theme. Two policies are linked by environmentalism (Green Tax Switch, high speed rail network), and no less than four by individual liberty and choice (Green Tax Switch, local health boards, civil liberties, pupil premium).

We could theorise that the ideal policy has E, X and Z qualities and is also C with other policies. No one of the policy platforms above fulfils this. Every possible policy emphasis we could make has its pros and cons. The one which, until recent events overtook us, had the potential to have all these qualities were those spending redirections and possible tax cuts.

E – it ought to be easy to explain that, given a total spend of £600bn of which £82bn is spent on education and £110bn on the health service, it should be possible to find a 3% redirection of current spending without affecting frontline services. It also ought to be easy to explain that this is what we exist to do as an opposition party. That £600bn represents Labour’s choices. It ought to be obvious and instinctive that we would not make – should not make – all the same choices.  That our Communications and Press teams so signally failed to explain this is deeply troubling. It also ought to be easy to explain that offering a tax cut is a spending choice and does not exist in opposition to other spending choices, but alongside them as an option. But here I can hardly park the blame on Press and Comms – the history of Tory slash-and-burn cuts in which reduction of expenditure went far beyond considered choice is too recent to be overcome as a narrative.

X – spending cuts are the one thing no-one except us has been talking about. The Tories are afraid to do it because of their own past associations, and it’s not in Labour’s nature to do it. The X attaches itself to spending cuts because of the sheer novelty value of the idea that the government’s spending money is actually our money. An entire generation, schooled under the mumsyness of NuLabour, has forgotten this.

Z – the Z factor just wasn’t there before the financial crisis properly imploded. It will now, in time, arise as the government is forced to consider recession spending cuts. I’m pessimistic about our chances of capitalising. A high-minded argument that we would make spending cuts on principle whereas the government is  only doing it out of necessity would go nowhere. A spending redirection in favour of a tax cut is riskier still. At the moment, Keynsian economics show no sign of being particularly zeitgeisty, among our own members or elsewhere.

C – spending redirections to our policy priorities are obviously consistent with those priorities. A spending redirection towards a tax cut would be consistent with the notion of individual choice and liberty. But would C come at the expense of Z (see above)?

So our current policy package scores generally equally to the 2005 platform when policy positions are considered individually, and it scores more highly on the overall C rating. Overall, there was nothing uniquely appealing about the 2005 platform – its components had the same mixture of pros and cons as our current policy base, and its clinching success took place largely at the whim of the press. It’s that Z factor. We can’t control the Z, although we can foreground policies that score on it – yet we did and do this constantly with the Green Tax Switch, and to little avail. A determined media can always emphasise the cons and an insufficiently determined Communications Team or Press Team can always fail to emphasise the pros.

I would have thought our increasing C quality would be a factor in our favour, potentially a replacement for the fickle Z, but so far that seems not to be the case. I imagine it’s a background belief on my part that our C factor will eventually shine through that prompts my continued interest in the tax cuts platform – under my ratings system they have the potential to be the lynchpin on which everything else hangs.

In which, once again, I gingerly poke the cotton bud of my latest amateur intellectual fad into the squidgey ear wax of politics, though at least this time the subject material, a psychological profiling system for use by campaigners, is designed with political use partly in mind.

I was originally planning to make the Terribly Boring series into a weekly stand-off between some aspect of the current British political scene and a whole rainbow of other fields of my specialist knowledge. Sadly, owing to the somewhat esoteric nature of these, I’m probably sticking to psychological profiling as my foil, since there is only a certain amount of mileage you can get out of a discussion of liberal politics in the light of middle Anglo-Saxon burial practices.

Anyway, since no-one seems to be blogging much today, I thought I’d make it a great big long hephalump of a post. Just for you. Don’t go and buy the Saturday Guardian – you know it only makes you cross. Read this instead.

The system

Chris Rose’s fascinating Campaign Strategy site (“modest ideas for anyone trying to save the world”) features as its central tenet the Values Mapping system, a tool which claims to be a means of understanding what values motivate the behaviour and direct the opinions of groups of voters (and non-voters). Everything below, whether quoted or used, appears in either this guide to using the Values Mapping system, or this 2005 survey paper. The following sketch appears in the latter:

Over the course of the last 32 years a series of psychological studies of the UK population have been used to track the values, beliefs and motivations of generations of people in Britain. Currently this survey uses a set of more than 1,000 questions, put to over 5,600 people… All three political parties have used it in some form.

All these sorts of tools seem to recognise four basic types from which all the other variations are derived, don’t they? Myers-Briggs has Artisans, Idealists, Rationals and Guardians. Medieval medicine recognised Phlegmatic, Choleric, Melancholic and Sanguine types. The Zodiac divides into earth, air, fire and water signs. The political compass is a two-by-two matrix in which the four quarters basically represent four types. It’s as if our whole mode of thought, however sophisticated, is still at some level based on the fact that the easiest way to count is on the fingers of one hand.

Well, this system departs from that a little by recognising three basic types. There are the settlers, currently comprising 20% of the population, prospectors (40%) and pioneers (also 40%). Each of these three types are themselves divided into four (aha!) grades, but the critical thing about these grades is that they are not so much different “types” as stages of progress, through life and/or thought. The lowest grade in each of the three categories focusses on the most basic needs appropriate to that category, the next grade up has had those basic needs satisfied and now seeks something else, and so on.

And there is also potential progression between the three categories:

The model tells decision makers that people begin life as Settlers. Some satisfy the Settler needs and become Prospectors. Then some can satisfy those needs and become Pioneers. Very few people in any culture have satisfied the Pioneer needs, so remain Pioneers.

For example, the lowest grade of the Settler seeks food, air, water, security and the comfort of a social group, and in that sense we are all born as first-grade settlers. How fast and how far we then progress from settler to prospector and from prospector to pioneer (or whether we do) depends on a whole host of factors, chiefly nature, nurture and economic opportunity. The full paper is here so I won’t quote it all, but in essence, the motivational triggers for the three groups are identified as follows:

Settlers – dominant needs are basic physiological needs, safety and belonging

One of the principal Settler characteristics is the need to protect and hold onto what you’ve got. This begins with protecting the self. After all, it’s a hard world out there and you can’t afford to show any vulnerability. It’s also something of a wicked world out there. There are plenty of others who will gladly take what you got away from you, if they get chance. So worry about crime is never very far from the surface.

The idea of standing up for what you believe shows a clear sense that things are either right or wrong, with not much space in between. It’s apparent that there are rules that should be respected and obeyed, or the transgressor should expect just retribution. The Settler view of what is right and acceptable could almost be used as a definition of “traditional values”.

Prospectors – dominant needs are esteem from others and self-esteem

There is a clear optimism about life. The world is seen as a big opportunity. Certainly there are risks, but that’s half the fun. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” might be a suitable motto for the Prospector. Corresponding to this, there is something of a sense of “easy come, easy go”.

The art of the Prospector is to be “savvy” – to be aware of what is going on around and to take advantage of the opportunities when they arise… Occasionally, this might mean “flexing” or “adapting” the rules, but that is all part of the game.

At the heart of Prospector life is the need to make their success visible… Among the most important activities of Prospector life is earning and spending money. To some extent, the Prospector is a slave to consumerism and fashion. Money, of itself, is not a serious matter but its acquisition and disposal is.

Pioneers – dominant needs are aesthetic and cognitive self-actualisation

This is a view of life that steps outside the optimism-pessimism dimension and into something else that is quite difficult to pin down. It predicates some purpose to life – probably some purpose beyond the continuing existence of a “selfish gene”.

The art of the Pioneer is to admit ignorance and to use that ignorance to attract knowledge – just as a vacuum sucks in air. One might be forgiven for thinking that the Pioneer must have a brain the size of a planet to hold all that knowledge. In fact, one of the Pioneer’s earliest learnings is usually that knowledge generally leads to better questions rather than better answers. The Pioneer brain is a question generator as opposed to an answer store.

How the dynamic between the three works

…the [Pioneers] are the innovators of society: they start new behaviours, embrace change, try out new things, set up organisations, start initiatives. If these look like they might succeed, they are taken up by the Prospectors… However while the behaviours are the same, the motivations are different. For example Pioneers may be doing something new because of ethical reasons or because it’s simply fun to play with. Prospectors will be doing it because it brings esteem from others or confirms self-esteem: it may be cool, fashionable or clever for example. In brand development terms the Prospectors are the ‘early adopters’ following the Pioneer innovators… Once the other two groups have adopted a behaviour, the [Settlers] may follow suit but not before. The behaviour is then ‘normal’ (ie ‘everyone does it’, in so far as it is going to be adopted).

Applying the system

Psycho-analysing the Tories

Stay with me. It’s not as icky as you might think.

Settlers are driven by the need for security and tradition. Their basic motivator is to keep things the same. Sound like any political party you know? Even more interesting:

Over recent decades, the number of Settlers in the population has progressively diminished, with major implications for how society functions.

Which offers a lens through which to view the Tories’ current identity crisis. Their natural base is shrinking. And for an even closer guide, look at the detailed descriptions of the lowest and highest stages of settlers:

Roots: This is the base of all Values Modes – everything else is a progression from this state. Fundamentally, for them the world is threatening and they must be strong to survive in the face of the odds. Survival is the mark of success. Life is hard but they feel they are extremely self-sufficient – they have to “look after number 1”. There is strength in their steadfastness, but there is also isolation from others. They have low empathetic skills, as they spend much of their time attempting to control the world around them, even controlling their own desires. They are not self-reflective. Rationality is their main weapon of control.

Certainty first: In many ways the best adjusted of the Settler group. They know they want to trust the “old ways”. They very consciously use their experience to adjust to changes in the world, which they really want to “just slow down”, not necessarily reject. The past is more real to them than the future. They believe they are normal. They want answers not more questions. They are more “rational” than “emotional”. They take roles, not personas – i.e. everyone has a part to play and it a duty to perform, not an option. They are attracted to strong, simple explanations of their reality e.g. ideologies and slogans – and tend to think in the same way. They believe that life can be much simpler than it is at the moment.

Now watch the Conservatives as they seesaw between Cameroonian (stage 4) and traditionalist (stage 1) attitudes in search of an ever smaller natural base. It is, of course, part of the conservative mindset that they are the only ones who really represent British people, something strongly echoed in type 4.

In the light of the settler preoccupation with crime and security, this passage is pleasingly ironic:

At the heart of Settler life is the concept of family. In most cases, this is the traditional family structure but this is not always so. Traditional roles are likely to apply. Where there is no family per se, the community, friends or the gang will serve just as well. The important thing is that there is some sort of mutually supportive and protective group to which the Settler belongs.

It occurs to me now with full force what I was groping towards in my anti-social behaviour post of the other day, that we literally understand nothing about gangs if we don’t treat them like they treat themselves – an underground society with its own rules and values. They see their own social set-up as a viable alternative to what Tories genuinely believe is a kind of universal norm. And however much a Tory may dislike it, gang values arise from exactly the same desire for belonging and security that also prompts a Tory’s “right-thinking” values (my values are better than yours! Because they are!)

Predicting the political future

So settlers are the group on the wane.

Prospectors, the acquisitive, status-driven, early adopter group were the fastest growing group of the last decades of the twentieth century and are now, at 40%, form the dominant paradigm:

This is the Group that is currently defining post industrial 21st Century Britain. They have been the fastest growing group over the last 25 years and have now become so pervasive that almost half the population holds this form of values system, or Motivational Group. This has fundamentally changed what it means to be British; with the desire to remain in the same class and hold onto traditions being replaced by a desire to improve and change the way things are done.

Thatcherism and natural prosperity combined to make them overtake Pioneers in 1992 and Settlers in 1995 as proportions of the population. Well, whaddya know. What sequence of events could this possibly have a bearing on?

NuLabour was, of course, the Prospectors writ large, and much of the history of political communication over the past decade could be pegged onto the following:

Prospectors are a key group not generally reached by NGO campaigns and public agency communications efforts. Attracting their support, whether overtly or indirectly, may well make a significant difference to a campaigns success but is essential if the purpose is population-wide behaviour change. Prospectors dislike being told they are doing anything wrong, fear social censure and controversy and are early adopters rather than innovators. There are ways to get them to act on social issues, for example ‘green’ subjects but they need simple choice do/don’t options which involve doing stuff better, getting ‘the right stuff’ or ‘the right’ experiences and being rewarded, not made to give something up.

So sudden and successful was NuLabour’s prospector dominance that the Tories have had to copy their mannerisms, priorities and even many of their policy foci to relocate themselves on the Values Map. David Cameron, of course, is a natural Prospector. “You can get it if you really want it” could have been a slogan written for this group.

In fact it probably was.

However, the interesting thing about Prospectors is that, with the collapse of NuLabour’s credibility over the last five years or so, they are horribly out of fashion on the leading edge of political commentary (as exemplified in political satire, for example) in a way that is probably unfair to them. It’s now acceptable for even Torily minded people to have a go at “big business”, consumerism, and what they perceive as improper acquisitiveness because it’s all so redolent of the hated Prospector mindset which is now failing as a mindset of government. Yes, the Tories might have set up the conditions for all this, but it probably isn’t really, as settlers, what they wanted.

But the political world follows societal opinion, not the other way round, and the central parties have not yet realised that people hate Prospectors. The Tories might have 40% of what vote there is, but the great failure of the Prospector mindset as a tool of political engagement is shown in the simple fact of the falling turnout. It has been falling alongside the decline of the dominance of the Settlers.

Either the major parties aren’t doing enough to engage the Prospectors or the latter are, at some fundamental level, unengageable. This would not actually surprise me. Because Prospectors are outwards-driven and motivated by esteem and personal success, they are unlikely to have time for political processes unless these aid that success. They will not be instinctively interested in ideas which promote the lot of humankind as a whole, like Pioneers are, nor do they feel vulnerable enough to engage with political processes in order to protect themselves, like Settlers do. This would explain, for example, why the BNP (settler-driven) vote is growing. The Prospectors are going to have to perceive that their own interests are actively threatened by this development before they re-engage in the political process to stop it.

Pioneers, meanwhile:

are society’s scouts, testing, innovating and questioning. They are attracted not so much to signs of success but what is ‘interesting’ including ‘issues’. Some of them are strongly ethical believing that to make the world a better place they must be better people. Others are more relaxed and holistic and some are into ‘doing their own thing’. They are most at ease with change and most global in outlook of all the groups.

This would appear to hit a number of common Lib Dem buzz topics: personal liberty, economic innovation, environmentalism, pro-Europeanism.

The Pioneer is the track-layer, laying out new possible routes through and across life. The Pioneer does not control the points and signals, so does not control the train but, in the longer term, where the Pioneer goes others tend to follow. In the organisation, the Pioneer’s constant questioning is one of the best preventatives for falling into the torpor of “the way things are done around here”.

All this is very redolent for me of the insistence from both the old Left and the old Right that the Lib Dems are “in the middle” and that this must innately be a bad thing. It’s an extremely one-dimensional view of political thought, difficult to know how to refute if only because like Marvin the Paranoid Android, it amazes me how anyone lives with an intellectual world that small – two axes and nothing else. Which brings us to:

Of course, [all this] can also sound a bit pompous or touchy-feely, but that is not likely to trouble the Pioneer too much.


Pioneers as a proportion of the population underwent a period of rapid growth in the 1960s and 1970s (again, coinciding with a notably characteristic period of socio-political thought, like the growth of Prospectors in the 1980s and 1990s) and have stayed stable ever since, being overtaken by the Prospectors in the early 1990s. But all is not lost, because:

This is a Motivational Group that has grown slowly and steadily over the last 30 years. It has been their influence that has influenced the Prospectors to look to the future to satisfy their esteem driven needs, instead of trying to emulate the Settlers and fit into the establishment. This Group will continue to grow over the next 40 years as more and more people satisfy their Prospector needs. This will throw an altogether different spin onto the dynamics of change in Britain over the coming decades.

It is, of course, too elegant to be true that there is a straight correlation between Pioneers and the Liberal Democrats. We’ve already seen how the modern Tory party straddles both Settlers and the dominant Prospector group, and Labour’s correlation with the Prospector group is far from clear (such being, perhaps, Labour’s problem). There are a good few Settlers in the Lib Dems that I’m aware of, and every party must contain a large  number of Prospectors. It’s not so much a question of straight delineation as of the dominant paradigm. And the core philosophy of liberalism seems to chime with the Pioneer with the paradigm very strongly – “a fair, free and open society… in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

It is also unpleasingly hierarchical and dogmatic to suggest that any one political party, as represented by the Pioneers, is the logical apogee of political thought. This is partly because otherwise there would be no intelligent Tories and Labourites, and partly because any political party will be forced by circumstance to deviate from its pure aim. But I do think (obviously) that the pure aims of liberalism are the most superior and sophisticated a political process can have in its sights, once the basic needs for security and prosperity have been satisfied, and the 12-step progression model would bear this out.

The trend in population proportions would augur a steady rise in party success over the next thirty years, and might represent the core of what Nick Clegg means when he says he thinks Britons are becoming steadily “more liberal”.

Under the least sexy blog title I hope ever to write comes part (b) in number II of the now alarmingly fractal Terribly Boring series…

Nearly everyone I know who has a manager thinks they do a crap job, and nearly everyone I know who is a manager hates doing it and thinks they’re crap at it. These people, obviously, are often one and the same. Anecdotally, that’s not a very encouraging sign, is it?

Management theory, however, is a boom industry in education and in publishing. On the one hand you have the Oxford Saïd Business School MBA, the programme for which reads like some moderately hardcore economics and technical finance has been wodged togther with a soupcon of sociology and international development. Comparatively little that is obviously balls. Well done. On the other hand, you have Who Moved My Cheese While I Was Busy Screwing Over Absolutely Every Consumer in the World and Still Getting a Knighthood in One Minute For Dummies. Or whaddever. Descending down the categories tree on Amazon like Dante into hell, I find that the Books > Business, Finance and Law > Management path yields at the time of writing 152,497 results. And that’s just on UK Amazon.

Anyone who has ever worked in publishing will know what all those bright covers and offbeat, colloquial titles signify; this is competitive stuff, and not only that, it is a branch of writing whose basis is persuasion. These people are basically writing diet books for corporations – their way is the “one that really works”. There must be dry, academic tomes on management theory in there somewhere, and they may well be more analytical and less evangelical, but they buy into the same core belief: that individual managers can make measurable differences to corporations.

New Labour managerialism was going to change the world, and specifically the public services, permanently and for the better (if what follows is rather simplistic, it’s because I’ve cribbed it from the Search Inside bits of Chris Dillow’s book because it’s just too cold to go to the library). Better line management structures, whizzy McKinsey-esque strategic change, a wholesale importation of targets, mission statements, visions and all the other paraphernalia of the business guru’s art were going to turn around the culture of public services and transform them into self-sustaining market-engines of perfection. It was going to be the first implementation at state level of the thinking underlying the squillions of books, papers, conferences and motivational events: that you can use the same set of principles and tools to manage anything, and you can teach anyone to use these tools, and by using them arrive at a perfect solution which has a built-in capacity to keep re-generating managerial perfection.

In other words, managerialism as a philosophy is top-down, teleological, utopian and bizarrely, twistedly, egalitarian. Sound like any political party you know? Hm! Oh look, a one-size-fits-all solution that can be potentially implemented by every manager and every organisation in the same way and give rise to a universally ideal system based on centrally dictated guidelines, tenets and directives. No wonder New Labour bought wholesale into managerialism.

But at the heart of New Labour’s faith, and indeed in the credibility of the topic as a whole, there are two misfires. One is that their evident belief in certain brilliant individuals, and also in swoop-down strategic consultancy, to improve things, is demonstrably at odds with the universal nature of the one-management-style-fits-all principle. How can you have a universal system which gives supposedly everyone the same capacities, and also appoint gurus, czars, superheads and, if all else fails, call in McKinsey?* If A Few Good Men really can change the world, what’s the point of targets, mission statements and all the other self-sustaining fripperies?

And the faith is misplaced anyway. As Rob Knight suggests on his other oft-neglected blog, it is impossibly difficult to assess what impact individuals are actually having on an organism so complex, multi-layered and supra-human as an organisation. Human behaviour is so complex, and organisational behaviour (which is an entirely separate thing) is so complex that the science has yet to be invented that will effectively assess them in relation to each other. If you ask me (which you did by clicking in) management theory and practice as it is currently understood will bear the same relation to that science, when it emerges, as alchemy does to chemical engineering.

The other misfire is that the debunking of the old “progress towards utopia” chestnut really ought to have filtered down into even the field of business studies by now. It hasn’t because management theory is a proto-science in flux, uncertainly staggered between psychology and economics, and is it exceptionally vulnerable to quackery around the fringes. Never mind – ha! – that it hasn’t worked in the political sphere. The idea that it might work was intellectually bankrupt from the off. If it really were possible to construct a management system that, er, delivered sustainable improvement across the piste (nyaaaargh, it’s got me, it’s got me!), then why would governments departments and public services need to keep on doing it? Managerialism ought to be a concept that makes itself obsolete by creating a structure pervious to change, and that is manifestly not happening in politics any more than in Real Life. A system based on evangelism, individualism and persuasion and with an avowedly teleological approach, it has the same scope for understanding its own limitations as a goldfish.**

PS: In pottering around the internet in what laughably passes, these days, for research in the People’s Republic, I came across the Saïd Business School’s shiny new blog, born a few days before Christmas. A lot of what is there at the moment is your typical student bloggery (the post currently at the top of the page opens with the word “Whoa”) but there is a sub-blog promisingly titled “Research” that doesn’t yet have any posts, probably because all the would-be posters are agonising about how best to tilt their writing so that their fellow students don’t get bored and yet snidey observers like me can’t drive a sarcastic wedge into the first sentence. But it’s early days. If I were to suggest an opening post subject for some brave soul, it would be Convince the People’s Republic of Mortimer that the study and implementation of management theory is not a complete and utter self-important waste of time and space and also fundamentally at odds with the total debunking of the obsolete concept of teleological progress. Feel free to work that down a little.

And I have precisely these misgivings about Nick Clegg’s appointment of Chris Bones. 

** Apparently their short-term memory lasts about three months, not, as some commentators unfairly suggest, seven minutes. Goldfish, that is. Not managers.

Being the second instalment of Terribly Boring, an occasional series for hungover weekends, in which I consider two utterly disparate ideas side-by-side for no discernible reason.

This became so long and had so few jokes that I eventually had to split it down into two – in my defence, I will add that after reading it you can cross John Gray’s Heresies off your Oh god, when am I going to get around to reading that? list. Just to keep you primed with excitement I’ll reveal the counterpoint – just what does she intend to consider alongside the doctrine of progress, eh? – at the end. I bet you can scarcely wait.

Progress – is it real or are we just speeding?

Some years after the rest of the intellectual world, I recently got around to reading John Gray’s Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions. Before I outline his anti-progress argument, I will get some whining out of the way. Gray has cruel things to say throughout about liberal values and the people who espouse them. Now, this would probably be bothersome if it wasn’t quite clear that he is using “liberal values” as shorthand for, amongst other things, intrusive statism and aggressive western hegemonising. In other words, he is taking uncritically the definition of liberal values as espoused by a Blair or a Bush (and not a few self-styled “leftish liberals” among the left activist base). And he is to some extent quite legitimate to do so, because liberal values are what these people are claiming to be the justification for their actions. Gray isn’t in the business of realigning liberalism correctly with its actual meaning, that’s our job, so with that observation in place I’ll stop kicking him for it.

His progress argument, as nearly as I can remember it (the book has gone back to the library along with the one pound sodding forty fine)  is divided into three parts. First, he argues that technological progress, conceived as a sort of panacea which will lead us into an age of plenty in which no-one will starve and medicine will be available to all, is a delusion. The twentieth century has been a history of the misuse of technology for political ends – why should we imagine that future developments will meet with any better political response? The crux of this rather depressing point reveals, to me, Gray’s own Thatcherite past: human beings are fundamentally and immutably bad, and will continue to be bad no matter what wonders proceed from their brains. Everything human beings create is tainted by its origins.

Actually, to call this an argument against progress per se is slightly misleading. It’s specifically an argument against that teleological concept of progress that will one day lead us to Utopia (and Gray draws the comparison between this fervent belief in technology and the old, displaced belief in religion and in heart-and-head political ideals like Marxism – all supposedly leading to one form or another of heaven). On the specific point about teleology I’m entirely with Gray, by instinct and by training. It’s impossible to study history for any length of time (in both senses) and not know that teleology is rubbish. But he doesn’t put enough emphasis for me, and nor would he, on how technological progress nonetheless makes things better. I mean, penicillin and all that? Freely available to everyone in the UK (not, of course, in the US)?

This cavil aside, the idea that technological progress is not the supra-human light that will lead us permanently out of all-too-human political darkness is something that makes an instinctive sense to me, even if I do not quite share Gray’s somewhat one-dimensional view of human nature. People often glibly talk about how history proves that human beings have always essentially been the same and I can’t understand why, I really can’t. Yes, if you only study the post-1800 period, it probably does prove just that. But if you immerse yourself in twelfth-century France, or in Mayan culture, or in Classical Greece even for five minutes, the shape of the minds, mores and priorities you detect around you are so eye-poppingly different that you’re never quite the same again when you come out.

The other two parts of Gray’s anti-progress thesis are even more clearly rooted in historiography. Secondly, in discussing Iraq and US hegemony, he clarifies that the new “democratic values” wars of the 1990s and 2000s are still, nonetheless, basically the same land-and-resource wars that have always been fought, dressed up in a hearts and minds language that will appeal to what he thinks of as “liberal values”. Thirdly, and in the most scattered section that ranges over a number of topics, he essentially argues for what you might call the swings and roundabouts theory of history contra the forward march of those “liberal values” – thus, the re-emergence of the Far Right in Europe is actually evidence that, for all our leaders would like to have us think otherwise, we are not steadily proceeding into more liberal times.

These two points in particular could have come straight out of Herbert Butterfield’s Whig Interpretation of History , published in 1973 and probably the single most influential historiographical work of the twentieth century. Mind you, that famously slim volume, as far as I recall, has few actual examples or illustrations in it (admittedly it is some time since I read it). It’s one of those crystalline pieces of thinking that is so abstract and self-contained that there is no need for the author to have any truck with actual sordid reality. Accordingly, with your critical faculties and normal standards of evidence flapping in the wind, you read it and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is right. About everything. The main thrust of his argument matches Gray’s; the onward progress of history is an illusion. Most historians, by their nature tending to be liberal, Protestant, progressive people, write selectively to emphasise the progress of western history towards an enlightened ideal that fits rather happily with their own concerns. There is a:

tendency of many historians to write on the side of Protestants and Whigs, to praise revolutions provided they have been successful, to emphasize certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present. 

So much for poor old progress. None of these are terribly lovely things to read for a liberal, small-l or big, because the inescapable implication is that, just as Marxism didn’t work, statism didn’t work and paternalism didn’t work, liberalism won’t work either. Or at least, not forever. It’s undoubtedly what we currently need but that is a different thing, a matter of balancing and rebalancing society.

Saying this feels a little heretical on day when the Cleggster has been delivering this corker, so I should qualify it to reassure you that, as far as you and I (and, to his chagrin, John Gray) are concerned, it really doesn’t matter that liberalism is not the perfect answer. It doesn’t have to be. It just has to be the best answer. Neither you nor I will live forever, so for current purposes we can put the fact that liberalism is not perfect for all times and all seasons at the back of the same drawer where we keep all our awkward questions, unfinished business, opportunities lost, the knowledge of our own mortality and that of our loved ones, and our Weightwatchers points card.

Join us again tomorrow or, depending on whether we can sneak past the library counter to the computers without paying out another fine, later today, for the next thrilling instalment of Terribly Boring in which the whole progress business is unloaded like a ton of bricks all over that famous Twenty-First Century Panacea: Managerialism.

Welcome to the first in my new Terribly Boring series, an extended tour of the pointless back alleys of the brain in which I expound two entirely separate thought systems, collide them forcibly and sweepingly with one another and see what happens. None of this, you understand, is to any real purpose beyond keeping me off the streets, but I venture to hope that it may occasionally induce exasperation, pity or puzzlement in you, the reader . . .

This week, Jungian psychological type-casting and democratic theory. You’re all quite grown-up enough to Wiki for yourselves, but here are the points which are relevant here:


Our particular form of democracy is founded on the principle that representatives can and will act in the best interests of the people, using powers that go beyond the literal proxy sense of representative. Whether this always necessarily means according to the people’s actual wishes on any one subject is a moot point. The consensus, given that our representatives are in place for a long cycle of time, is that actual wishes are not always taken into account. Actual participatory democracy by the people in governance and formulation of policy is very limited, and is becoming more so under the current government.

Our representative democracy is, peculiarly, fuelled by FPTP. The elected representative need only make a successful claim to articulate the thoughts and wishes of enough of their constituents, not necessarily a majority of them.

Carl Jung and his successors

Jung’s theory of psychology was based on typologies, that there were eight psychological “functions” split into four pairs. Every human being majors one way or t’other in each pair. Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers later carried the typology system to its logical conslusion, creating a psychological zodiac in which the entire population could be split into sixteen types by means of the four key pairs of variants.

Keirsey* then used this Myers Briggs Type Indicator as the basis for his theory of temperaments, and this is the system I am going to collide with democracy. It is an important concept in his system that human relationships will never be harmonious unless the essential differences in goals and outlook between these types is recognised (as far as possible) by all.

The four pairs of variants are:

Introverted or Extroverted – obvious

INtuitive or Sensory – are you more into ideas or things?

Thinking or Feeling – are you inclined to think rationally or emotionally?

Judgement or Perception – are you inclined to be structured and detail-focused or flexible and spontaneous?

There are plenty of variants of the test around – though many don’t carry the letter system as this is copyrighted. Here’s a good version from the Beeb. I generally come out as ENTP or INTP, because I am more extroverted than not, my world-view is conceptual (this is what the unlovely American “intuitive” means here) rather than based on, you know, stuff and things, I tend to base my decisions and reactions on thought rather than feeling, and I am more inclined to be flexible and disorganised, and tease out ever finer shades of meaning from a problem than I ever am to actually arrive at a conclusion or judgement, or just get my arse in gear generally. You can probably tell.

The collision 

We now exit the realm of the proveable and Wiki-able and enter MY HEAD.

The important bits, the operative bits, of a Kiersey typology are the two middle letters, and particularly that N or S. Whether you approach the world through abstract concepts or concrete things is absolutely fundamental. Now, an N-type person is not necessarily any more intelligent than an S-type person, we’re talking about different kinds of intelligence. But academia rewards the conceptual thinking of the N-type, and that is historically because all the people who set up and run educational systems, write IQ tests and so on, are themselves Ns. The capacity for abstract conceptual thought is what allowed humans to outstrip other mammals developmentally in the first place; it follows that an extra-refined capacity for conceptual thought within the human group allows those who possess it to design societal systems that advantage them over those who do not.

I’d be willing to bet (although totally unable to pay up), that you, dear reader, come out as N. Most of the blogosphere is by definition N, because you’re using a symbolic representational system composed of little wiggly black things on a screen, which is representative of the written alphabet, which itself is representative of all the various concepts in the world, physical and abstract, in order to define and advance your thought. Writing and reading are N activities.

I’d also bet, though less confidently, that you’re both I and T. The nature of the beast – communicating by computer - would suggest I. The nature of the subject broadly under discussion – polly-ticks – would suggest T, although there are a fair few sprinklings of you more passionate Fs out there as well.

On P and J, I don’t think there’s much of a bias, but I imagine that if you’re an elected representative or any other competent sort of person, you’ve come out as J. If you’re more of a rambling, dilettantish type whose train of thought can be derailed by. . . ooh look, a squirrel outside the window . . . sorry, where was I? Oh yes, if you’re like that then you’ve probably come out as P.

If you tot up the stats from my Keirsey book, which are based on everyone who has ever taken the test, you find that about 30% of everyone is an N, and 70% of everyone is an S. Ns are a sizeable minority. They are also a highly visible minority. We’ve already said that educational systems advantage Ns. Anything involving writing and conceptual comprehension advantages Ns. It follows that the – let us say – governing, managerial classes are almost entirely composed of Ns.

These Ns talk to each other, formulate law, have abstract discussion, are friends with each other, and have invented and perpetuate the concept of democracy. But since 70% of the people for whose benefit and in whose name all this is done are S-types, it’s a slightly pointless, though good-hearted, exercise. An N is never going to articulate or explain governance in a way that naturally makes sense to the S.

Put simply, representative democracy is psychologically impossible. What is possible, is genuine, grassroots democracy, such as is desired by the Liberal Democrat mindset (an N party if ever there was one) because that will enable concrete participation by the S. Proportional representation also allows the S type to come back into balance with the N, as FTPT biases in favour of the votes of your generally more politically involved Ns.

Thus it follows that the Liberal Democrat model of democracy is the only psychologically defensible option. However, we would do well to bear in mind that grassroots democracy will be an S democracy and, well, to us Ns it’s going to look pretty odd.

Join me again next time on Terribly Boring when I will be bringing Herbert Butterfield’s critique of the Whiggish interpretation of history to bear on modern business consultancy models. Guess who comes off better.

* The precise terms of the interaction between Kiersey and Jung’s theories are disputed. For the current whimsical purposes, this doesn’t matter.


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