Incompetence Breeds Malevolence

There’s a good article over at Conservative Home about the Home Office catastrophe involving the descendants of the Empire Windrush. The thing that always enrages me about governments is they are doubly shit at performing vital state functions: murdering scumbags go free and innocent people get banged up; police harass citizens over trivial matters while serious crime remains a problem; jihadists are let into the country to carry out terrorist attacks but Canadian right-wing journalists are turned back at the airport and banned for life.

I  may have said this before, but the reason nobody minds draconian laws and policing in Singapore is because it works: the city is clean, safe, and orderly. What Britain (and a lot of other places) has managed is to have all the drawbacks of an overbearing state but none of the advantages. What appalls people so much about the latest case of people who’ve lived peacefully in the UK for decades being deported is not simply the injustice, which is bad enough. It’s that at the same time we cannot deport lunatic hate preachers from the Middle East with a hook in place of a right hand because it’s against their human rights. Oh, and we need to pay for his four wives and eighteen children, too. I exaggerate, but not by much. If the state is not going to do any good, they at least ought not to do harm.

This is the basis of the Conservative Home article which tries to find out whether the Home Office is actively malevolent or simply incompetent. Their conclusion:

The reality, sad to say, is that the output of the Home Office appears to be a disastrous mixture of both of these problems. A system that combines deliberate obstructiveness, apparently in a last-ditch attempt to massage numbers down by placing illegitimate barriers in the way of legitimate residents, with a blundering inability to administer its own systems and rules reasonable or efficiently, is the worst of both worlds.

The author describes his own experience in dealing with the Home Office on immigration matters (emphasis mine):

Was this incompetence? Undoubtedly; the Home Office’s officials should know its own laws and policies, and it should be able to securely hold basic data. I was dealing at times with supposed professionals who expressed fundamental misunderstandings of even basic aspects of UK immigration policy.

Was it deliberate obstruction? Again, yes; it would be easy and straightforward to cross-check the state’s own data on its own residents at the outset of such cases, but instead the system involves forcing applicants to jump through a lengthy series of hoops in order to extract from the state then resubmit to it the exact same information that it already holds. That is a choice.

This is depressingly similar to my own experience of dealing with a French prefecture.

As I get older and become increasingly exposed to the workings of government, commerce, and industry I find myself continually surprised by the levels of blithering incompetence I encounter. Although there are certainly some vindictive people out there, I generally find it is incompetence which induces the malevolence. This is what I wrote about here:

In my wanderings through the land I hear a lot of complaints about somebody’s unreasonable behaviour, normally from a person at their work. It can take the form of angry outbursts, inconsistency, micromanagement, pettiness and a host of others, but the complaints are always the same: why the hell is this person behaving like this? It’s making my life a misery!

Why indeed? I decided to start asking some questions each time I heard this, and most of the time the person in question was in a job they were wholly unsuited for. Their knowledge, experience, or – more often – their character, personality, and temperament was completely inadequate for the position they were in. That’s not to say they were stupid or useless, simply that they were in the wrong job.

I suspect a cursory run through the Home Office would reveal the vast majority of its staff, through experience, competence, or personality, are simply in the wrong job and hopelessly unable to execute their duties to a professional standard. Nothing can demonstrate this better than looking at who is in charge of it now, and who has been in charge in the recent past.

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20 thoughts on “Incompetence Breeds Malevolence

  1. This has been covered by Public Choice theory, hasn’t it? These people have long forgotten that they are there to provide a service & consider the service exists to provide them with employment & power.

  2. A system that (…) massage(s) numbers down

    Such as only quoting NET immigration figures. “Net” immigration into the Uk is “only” 250,000 but …

    If one million British people emigrate from the UK because they are fed up of being a minority in their cities, and one million and one third world people immigrate, then the NET immigration is only one per year so where is your problem? Carry on like that and soon you will have a geographical region that is named Britain but is to all intents and purposes, no longer Britain. It is a matter of time only, not an uncertainty.

    Import Africans at that rate and you will end up with Africa, Import Pakistanis and you will end up with Pakistan (see London, Leicester, Bradford, Birmingham, most of the towns in West Yorkshire, etc. etc.).

    What the TRUE rate of third world immigration is (legal and illegal), we have no idea. The Home Office is particularly keen on not giving accurate statistics and will only quote net legal immigration, not the illegal and semi legal immigration.

    As for the Windrush immigrants, hard cases make for bad law. If they have been here for 50 years or so, then why have they not done as I did and spent considerable cash and effort on gaining permanent residency and citizenship of the country they immigrated into? Surely if they were as committed to the UK as they claim, then why didn’t they do so? Answer there came, none …

  3. Re the last paragraph:

    The Civil Service has acpolicybof moving people around supposedly to gain experience and prepare them for higher office. As an example the the first project leader on the Mobile Infrastucture Project I consulted on has just been working on reform of CS pensions, she then moved to DoT managing one of the Cross Link contracts

    She was replaced by someone who had been working on fisheries policy at DEFRA and then went on to BBC policy team or something similar.

    Whilst I understand the policy all this happened in 18 months.

  4. BiND
    Sadly not just the civil service. Same policy for supposed high fliers and graduate intake at work. Whilst many are competent, they move on so quickly they invariably leave their mistakes behind for others to clean up. And they like to make an impact, so they come up with all sorts of improvements – the same improvement that was tried 3 years ago and didn’t work then. But they won’t listen cos they’re clever and fast track and know Everything. And if you point this out you’re accused of being afraid of change.

  5. @BiND & Jimmers
    Rather proves the point I made in my comment. What you’re talking about is purposed to provide a career structure for bureaucrats. It has nothing to do with bureaucrats providing a service to the public it serves. It doesn’t result in expertise in a particular service provision rather than provide expertise in being a bureaucrat.
    The probable solution is to dismantle the entire Civil Service structure. Make each entity a separate organisation. Pay the price of having a lot of duplication of roles.

  6. I would say political malevolence comes into it. There’s no way any politician, on being told that policy X, which he or she wants enforced, is going to cause this sort of problem to people who not only came here legally, but have lived here for decades would say ‘F*ck it enforce it anyway’. They’d sort it out, somehow.

    So while the new immigration rules that TM and or others have been pushing may have caused this problem, you can bet your bottom dollar that the civil servants in charge realised the issue pretty sharpish, but decided to screw those Windrush people over to make a political point, and didn’t inform the politicians at the top. Any politician hearing ‘Windrush immigrants being deported’ would have sh*t themselves, its political dynamite.

  7. @bloke in Devon

    Ah, DEFRA, formerly MAFF.

    I once shagged someone’s wife in the staff shower room in the MAFF Pimlico HQ.

    Sorry, what were we talking about?

  8. The Civil Service has acpolicybof moving people around supposedly to gain experience and prepare them for higher office.

    Yes, as others have said, this is normal for any large organisation. See this post and the comments underneath.

    What you’re talking about is purposed to provide a career structure for bureaucrats. It has nothing to do with bureaucrats providing a service to the public it serves. It doesn’t result in expertise in a particular service provision rather than provide expertise in being a bureaucrat.

    Exactly. The purpose of these organisations is to provide careers for certain classes of people, any service which happens to get provided along the way is a happy coincidence.

  9. I would say political malevolence comes into it.

    For sure. But I think callous indifference plays a greater role. That said, all these factors overlap, it’s hard to find one without the others.

  10. The problem *always* comes down to a divergence of desired personal outcomes vs desired organisational outcomes.

    When the two are aligned, great things happen. When the two diverge, you get Enron, the invasion of Iraq, Australia’s NBN, etc.

    Google Kerr’s “On the folly of rewarding A while expecting B”. It explains much of what annoys us about modern life.

  11. Remember Sir Humphrey’s dictum “When under pressure, threaten to close a children’s hospital.”

    If we’re being sold a sob story about deportees, the intention is to discredit the whole concept of deportation.

  12. The Peter Principle explains a lot too.

    A friend of mine works for the civil service (communities and local gov IIRC), a lot of the shuffling around is due to incompetents who can’t be fired.

  13. The press is going gangbusters on this. But out of 85,000 Caribbean immigrants it’s found half a dozen who have been mildly or seriously inconvenienced, mostly through their own negligence.

    Sure it’s gross incompetence, but it’s not a hill of beans I’d choose to die on.

  14. Inexplicable idiocy. Friends are applying for citizenship and you have to provide original documents. Two choices
    1 they could keep them forever and risk losing them (though when a lawyer rings up they run around until the docs are found)
    2 open the envelope, look at it, photocopy it, post it back

    Only a retard would choose 1.

    In my limited interaction with the civil service you meet a lifer who is usually technically my equal managed by a scummy slime ball who is clueless, aka the fasttrack. I am also more than happy to believe that juniors will hide things from ministers whom they wish to destroy, should be a sacking offense and is not.

  15. Phil B on April 21, 2018 at 9:25 am said:

    As for the Windrush immigrants, hard cases make for bad law. If they have been here for 50 years or so, then why have they not done as I did and spent considerable cash and effort on gaining permanent residency and citizenship of the country they immigrated into? Surely if they were as committed to the UK as they claim, then why didn’t they do so? Answer there came, none …

    +1

    Chap on C4 last night whining. Came to UK to join parents in 1966 iirc; went to Jamaica for first time with UK family members for his 50th Birthday.

    At airport check-in on return, showed his Jamaican passport. Denied boarding as no visa. Rest of them flew home and started campaigning.

    Took over two years for him to re-enter UK

    imho his own fault, if he loved Britain, why had he obtained a Jamaican rather than British passport?

  16. To second some others here, how on earth can you not a) seek permanent residency, and b) seek UK nationality? The UK is a massive soft touch for naturalisation, do your 6 years (iirc) and provided you speak English it’s pretty much a rubber-stamping exercise.

  17. Regarding Civil Servants and their constant rotation.

    I worked for the civil service when I first left the army and there was an apocryphal story that was told. Any project had three project managers assigned to it. When it went tits up then:

    The first manager would claim he started it correctly, handed over a well set up project for the implementation phase.

    The second would say that he had to rework the first project managers efforts due to change of legislation/priorities/insufficient or misallocated budget etc. etc and so forth. He then got it back on a level keel when:

    The third took over and as the project was royally screwed up before he got there, then there was little he could do to salvage it.

    Dilbert did a cartoon about Bungee Bosses way back in 1994:

    http://dilbert.com/strip/1994-09-07

    Modernised for the tube of you here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV7J1m5etbQ

    It’s a way of avoiding responsibility and dodging blame while exercising zero competence.

  18. @Pcar on April 21, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    why had he obtained a Jamaican rather than British passport?

    Because he was Jamaican, not British (though god knows, nowadays they hand British passports out like sweets at a kids party).

    I am British and became a New Zealand citizen. As a NZ citizen I have a reciprocal right to live and work in Australia, no questions asked as long as I wave a NZ passport at them on arrival. However, though I can work there and pay tax etc. I would not be entitled to vote, receive social security payments, government healthcare or a pension. because I AM NOT AN AUSTRALIAN CITIZEN.

    It causes a lot of resentment among Kiwis that have lived and worked in Australia for most of their working lives and have no pension etc. even though they have paid tax in that country and effectively are Australian.

    Compare and contrast that with the UK situation where the whole world and their grandparents are entitled to the full range of benefits and rights due to citizens without paying a penny into the system or making any effort to become a citizen immediately on setting foot in the country.

    The American colonies were lost due to “No taxation without representation”. How about “No representation without coughing up the tax” (and that goes for UK citizens who don’t pay tax either)?

  19. The incompetence issue is easy to explain.

    Politicians are not very bright. If they had any brains, then they would have real jobs and not be politicians. This means that when the Daily Mail tells them “something must be done” they cook up a badly written law, which probably in most cases does the same as a previous, better written one. They are therefore incapable of thinking through the consequences of their actions.

    Civil servants are not very bright. If they had any brains etc etc. This means that when they implement the badly written law, they do so in the simplest way possible to meet the targets the politicans have set them. In other words they go for the low-hanging fruit. Anyone who has dealt with HMRC, CPS or the Home Office will have experienced this phenomenon.

    I used to work in the MoD and was horrified by the collective dimness of both the military and civilians at the places I worked and so any cock-up that appears in the paper comes as no surprise anymore.

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