The Sketch: The expensive business of governing without a plan

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It was another day among the directors of Great Britain Plc. It seems that half of all prisoners lack the skills for 96 per cent of jobs. It seems that less than a third of prisoners have access to education in prison, and the minister responsible says that's more than they'd planned for (it's why they've abandoned the prisoner education target).

It seems that the personal records for prisoners, asylum-seekers and prospective immigrants are kept on pieces of paper. And lost.

It seems Her Majesty's Government can't pursue foreign students for debts owed if the students move without leaving a forwarding address.

It seems that the increased state pension (now £114 a week) means that the nation's old people are less likely to be in poverty than any other section of society.

It seems that only 30 per cent of women can claim the state pension.

It seems that the probation service is going to be privatised.

It seems that the immigration official who tried to extort sex from an applicant was himself an illegal immigrant.

It seems that the Government's new pension accord is only necessary because the Government has managed to destroy the best pension arrangements in Europe.

It seems that if you want to construct a case for the state's inability to provide goods and services you need only spend a morning in Parliament.

The state spends almost half the national income - and half of everything they touch falls apart. It's not that they're stupid, or incompetent. It's not that they're not up to it, individually.

The problem is they're a category mistake. They won a beauty contest, a popularity contest. Managing vast departments of state is entirely incidental to their fundamental talent. When they get into opposition they seem to recognise this by denouncing the Government for the very thing they were defending a moment ago. But, all too promptly, they start fantasising that they would do it better.

All this talk of modernising, and reforming and initiating with the private sector... they don't really have any idea about how it all works. They are politicians, and politicians don't have clear ideas about these systems Clarity is not what they do. That's why they keep saying, "Let me be absolutely clear." They can only be clear about one thing, their instinctual, fundamental purpose. Everything else is a mess.

A week ago, I rang up (and more than once) the press office at No 10 asking for any speech the Prime Minister might have given explaining the thinking behind his reform programme

They said they'd get back to me but they didn't. It seems there is no plan. There are initiatives. There are programmes.

There is flailing. There is the sluicing of hundreds of billions of pounds into the national sewers. But it does seem there is no plan. But you knew that already.