Managing to take the Great out of Britain

TO GO home from Broadcasting House, I pass the Middlesex Hospital, cross Tottenham Court Road, go past the Imagination building and turn left by the British Museum ... and this tells me more than I want to know about all the stuff I'd really rather not know about.

The BBC is in a terrible state. It's a form of professional suicide for me to say so. I'll probably stop being invited on to any of those radio programmes where they let you research a script, write it and deliver it on air for only slightly less in total than a plumber would charge to pop round and tell you he'd left his tools in the van. But it's true. It has fallen into the hands of "management" to the extent that, in a recent fatuous questionnaire circulated by the people who run the canteen, the only occupation box you could tick if you were actually involved in some way in making programmes was the one marked "Other ..."

The cult of management is profoundly mystifying. The discipline itself seems utterly fraudulent, based on illusion and incomprehension. The illusion is that the world can be made safe if you reduce everything to numbers. Incomprehension lies at the heart of the thing: if you don't understand, either intuitively or objectively, the culture or process which you are trying to "manage", then you try and remove the bits you can't grasp and replace them with bits you can. It's like watching an improperly trained surgeon trying to cure a patient by removing the liver, spleen, kidneys and lungs, and replacing them with boils and cysts - the things he does know about - from a gunny sack on the floor at his feet.

But they are everywhere, the managers. Outside the Middlesex Hospital a man in a fancy waistcoat was wobbling back and forth on a tall circus unicycle, clutching a giant cheque, while another man took pictures and three managerial sorts hovered in the background. The Middlesex used to be a dignified institution where you went to get better, or, in the case of my daughter, to be born, or, in the case of my Daddy, to learn how to be a doctor. Now it is primarily a vehicle for management. Now everything is a vehicle for management, unless it is also a vehicle for publicity; which is all very nice for the man on the unicycle, probably a decent chap and glad of the work, but not so good for the doctors, the nurses and the sick.

Management is about surface and the short term, which is why the Imagination building is so big and so glossy. They sell surface, there, including the biggest surface of all, Mandelson's Millennium Dome, a grotesque reeking midden of posturing and political contempt which we must all pray will also become Mandelson's charnel-house. The Great Exhibition of 1851 had a clear purpose: to display our astounding power to a world come to our doors to buy. The Festival of Britain, too, had a purpose: to celebrate the centenary of Prince Albert's vision, and to cheer up a nation exhausted by having masterminded one of the greatest and most improbable victories in the history of warfare.

But the Millennium Dome? It is nothing more than a trick cyclist on a unicycle, prolonged to its logical extreme. We have nothing to celebrate except Tony Blair's proleptic vapourings, and they can be dealt with in a little rhyme: Tony Blair/ Spouts Hot Air;/ Tony Blair/Doesn't Care. We can't even celebrate our national identity because we no longer have one, and those whose existence helped to provide us with one are dying like flies.

A few weeks ago, it was John Wells's turn. Wells was a huge influence on British political life; his spoof political spouses in Private Eye were more real than their real counterparts, so much so that Dennis Thatcher arguably turned into Wells's version of him, and his very existence served as a faux-naif reproach to Mrs Thatcher's political barbarism. Wells is dead now, and Larkin is dead, and Michael Tippet and Robert Morley, and each time one of them goes, it becomes harder to see what we are meant to be any more.

Even London itself is shedding its resonances one by one. The streets around the British Library, with their warren of antiquarian bookstores and slightly mousey bachelor chambers, have been doomed ever since the politicians showed what they thought of intellectuals by slinging the buggers out to the slag-haunted, smack-ridden grit and sleaze of King's Cross. Now the bookshops are starting to close, the rents will rise soon, and the nonsense will move in. There has until now been no trace of the Management Culture there, but it can't last. In will come the sans-serif typefaces, the business plans, the consultancies and gadget shops and tourist paraphernalia, and out will go ... what? Us? Is it us for whom New Britain has no room?

The novelist and biographer Peter Ackroyd wrote an article recently, explaining why he wouldn't be standing for Mayor. That the King of Surface, the Miraculous Self-Inventing Man, the Dome Made Flesh himself, Jeffrey Archer, should be so irredeemably held in thrall by such wild self-regard that he is himself standing for Mayor is an irony so intense that the only response is a sharp pull on the cocking-lever of a semi-automatic followed by a hail of bullets and public approbation. We do not need Archer to exactly the same degree that we do need Ackroyd, a man who has spent his artistic and professional life trying to recapture and anatomise the underlying myths of Englishness and of London itself, without which our identity cannot survive. We need his Hawksmoor, his Dickens, his Doctor Dee, his Dan Leno, his William Blake; we need them to come again and to walk the streets. They are our Wenceslas, our King Stephen.

Without them, what do we have? Archer. Mandelson. Management culture. Men on unicycles, and the glossy, patronising emptiness of the Millennium Dome. We should rise up now, drive Archer into the Thames, push over any unicyclists we see, reclaim the British Library, stuff the seats of the Royal Opera House with reeking proles in dirty singlets, and, every time we see a Manager, tweak his nose, twiddle his tie, and blow raspberries in his blank, uncomprehending face. Thrrrrrrrrrrp! Yarooo! Aux armes, citoyens!

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea