The arrogance of power

Catching up with a week of feeds after a hectic few days, my eye was caught by John Naughton’s post in Memex 1.1 Inside the bunker, linking to the FT’s piece about life in Number 10 (and perfectly juxtaposed with Naughton’s subsequent post, Hitler: the remix. When will someone do the same for Gordon: I would, if I had the IT skill: the Lisbon Treaty, Henley, Wendy Alexander etc.).

Now, this morning, Willem Buiter’s post in his FT Maverecon blog, Manners matter – especially for powerful individuals and institutions. This is Buiter’s conclusion on the Treasury, so long the home and fiefdom of Gordon Brown,

Politicians and others in positions of power should be judged not only on the quality of the decisions they take and the choices they make, but also on the manners they display in their public and administrative roles.  The arrogance of power manifests itself in unnecessary brutality and cruelty – sometimes born of ignorance or indifference, sometimes deliberate – toward those whom it considers ‘disposable’.  As the most powerful government department, the Treasury displays contempt for and nastiness towards those whom it considers to be obstacles to the effective pursuit of its goals, more frequently and with greater intensity than other institutions.

Even when the goals of the Treasury are aligned with the public interest, there is no presumption that these ends will justify the means used to achieve them.  This is true even when these means are necessary; it is true a fortiori if the means are unnecessary ‘bad manners’ add-ons.

In practice, even the goals of the Treasury can be in conflict with the committed pursuit of the public interest.  They may represent no more than the opportunistic pursuit of party-political or other sectional interests.  To use gratuitous nastiness in the pursuit of the wrong objectives would be the nadir of public policy.  Regrettably we see this too often.

And two further questions?

First, what exactly did Peter Hain spend over a £100,000 on? Stamps? Helicopters? Lunches for friends? Brown envelopes? Hairdressing? Fake tan? The list is endless (and the truth likely to be just as bizarre). And secondly, if he has to go (and is there any alternative, although staying may give a new meaning to brazening it out), will Harriet Harman and Wendy Alexander be forced to follow suit? (Ben Brogan thought so early this afternoon; although his take on the story this evening was that “barring a bombshell, Mr Hain will carry on while the Parliamentary investigation runs its course. Mr Brown may then take the opportunity of his first reshuffle, after the May elections, to drop him from the Cabinet before the verdict comes in.” Read the whole post).