Simon Carr: Sir Humphrey is alive and well and talking in riddles in the House

Sketch: This thing Mr Letwin calls transparency is what we know as "speaking clearly". It's not his first talent

Share
Related Topics

"And I commend the statement to the House," Oliver Letwin said. "What statement?" we asked ourselves. "What had he said? And why did he keep saying: "We are a government, not a magazine"?

The Labour-leaning Speaker accused him of having been a philosophy tutor – a pointed intervention, as Letwin's statement was beyond common understanding. Listening to him reminded us why the Tories didn't win a majority. Remember what they sprung on us on 6 May? The big idea was big citizens in the Big Society – but no one could understand how, what or when. Now have a combined power and horizon shift replacing targets with a transparent monthly milestones framework to avoid micromangement by micro-men. And you know why? Yes, because the Coalition is "a government not a magazine".

That was the only soundbite of the day; the only concise, concrete, factual remark that had obvious meaning. Oliver would shudder at the vulgarity of a soundbite. But it has its advantages over his blethering, election-losing wiffle-waffle.

Edward Leigh said the "Sir Humphrey language disguised the need for change" that would only happen when "schools, for instance, had the right to hire, fire and admit pupils". Letwin remained in the intellectual uplands, saying that radical structural change will disperse power from the centre to parents, patients and citizens. They will do this by publishing information (yes, mashable data!) and by requiring departments to publish their performance against monthly milestones.

I think it means: departments will be required to publish reasons why they are failing to do what they said they were going to do. Well, good luck with that.

When Oliver looks in his mirror, he sees the biggest obstacle to the plan's success. To make these political projects work, they need to be comprehensible to large numbers of people – and to be brutally enforceable.

This thing he calls transparency is what we know as "speaking clearly". It's not his first talent.

What happens, he was asked, if departments fail to meet a monthly milestone? He said: "Some things we said we'd do but haven't done because we were doing something else would be done differently."

When pressed, he was more specific. Delinquent departments would find themselves faced with a series of "inconveniences" and a "meeting with the Prime Minister". In the past decade it would have been the Editor – but Oliver isn't on a magazine. If he were, he'd be subbed out of existence.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: Things have moved on – at least when I met bin Laden, I didn’t fear for my life

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment