All Change?

'Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.' – Richard Hooker.

Recently I noticed that two professors of Government, who, like Bobbies in Brixton, go in pairs for safety, had attacked the upper civil service for its conservatism (with a very small 'c') and hostility to change. Not only didn't the mandarins like what Margaret Thatcher was trying to do; they were even sceptical of the possibility of change as such. Which, our professors felt, was quite deplorable and showed that they should be sent on long courses in business management in country house hotels.

Now I would be the last man to come between our administrators and their iron rations of computers and caviare. But it is the professors who are wrong and the civil servants who are right. Governmental reform is difficult and messy. And that is not only the counsel of worldly wisdom; it is also the lesson of almost all historical experience.

Professors of Government are usually historians too, albeit closet ones. The trouble is that they are historians of only the last hundred years or so. And in that period governmental change has been relatively painless because government has been continually expanding. Any fool can set up a new organisation and many have. The difficulty comes when you try to change an existing organisation within a constant or even contracting budget.

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