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The Blunders of Our Governments

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  502 ratings  ·  62 reviews
From the poll tax to ID cards, a groundbreaking look at three decades of outrageous political mishaps.

A lively and intrepid analysis of the mistakes made by both the Labour and Tory governments over the past three decades. Written by two of Britain's most distinguished political scientists, this is the must-read politics book of 2013
Hardcover, 488 pages
Published September 19th 2013 by Oneworld Publications
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Paul Bryant
Dec 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics

There were some Chinese tourists on the radio the other day, they’d come to London and they were expressing their surprise at what they saw – blue sky! They were fully expecting London to be wreathed in Dickensian fog. Yes, this antique image is still alive and well. But people, the London pea-souper was eradicated in 1956!! That was when parliament passed the Clean Air Act which created urban zones where only smokeless fuel could be burnt. This was a great success – many people were thus saved
...more
Geevee
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to be reminded of some of the government blunders from the last 40 years this is a good book for you.

The authors won't just remind you though they will provide measured and well researched insight into not only bills, initiatives and taxes that went bad but also offer views on patterns and behaviours of decision making (or not), and why the British government system makes howlers that not only cost taxpayers fortunes but in some case people's lives.

Flowing, well paced and informativ
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Paul
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, history
Blundering Around Whitehall

The Blunders our Governments make by the respected political professors and commentators Ivor Crewe and Anthony King is a non-partisan look at the mistakes that all governments make in the course of history. Sometimes in the face of fierce opposition they still make the mistakes most politicians like to quietly disown while the opposition party likes to remind them of.

It is not all bad as Crewe and King explain what they view as a Blunder and not all of them come from
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Jonny
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Of enduring relevance and accuracy.
James Elder
Interesting, but gossipy and somewhat shallow in its analysis.

The authors made some very odd determinations about what counts as a 'blunder' (incidentally I found the use of that word throughout immensely irritating) and what as successful policy.

Examples:

Barbara Castle's 'In Place of Strife' approach to industrial relations is termed a blunder. It was a failure certainly, but that was down to deep divides in the Labour Party not because the proposed approach was a blunder.

The 1980s sell-off of
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Neil Denham
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Super book, the first two parts in particular raised my knowledge of modern politics by about 500%. Written with wit and insight.
Mette
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A lot of these blunders demonstrate the pay off between simple and complex systems. One might be easy to administer, but open to fraud or ineffective in practice. In contrast, others were highly complex which can cause chaos, confusion and delays in practice.
The poll tax (PM not listening to advice)
One of the primary reasons for its failure was the speed that it went from PM buying the idea to it happening. Experts weren’t consulted and almost all key decisions were made in the run up to the Tor
...more
Martin Samuels
Nov 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in why governments so often make such a mess of things
This is an astonishing and shocking book. It is essential reading for any senior leader in the public service, whether politician or official, and would almost certainly be of value to leaders in other sectors too, as many of the causes of the blunders presented here are as prevalent beyond the walls of government.

Professors King and Crewe, both highly regarded and experienced academics formerly of the University of Essex, set out to understand and explain why governments so often get things so
...more
SP
Jul 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-non-fiction
The first half of the book provides very interesting details and stories about some of the biggest government blunders of the last ~50 years. It gets pretty gory in terms of the jaw dropping incompetence on display, but it makes a number of good points about the weaknesses of government and (in particular) ministers.

The second half of the book I found a bit laboured though - it felt like a bit of a lecture on points that I felt were already made in the first half. I was also disappointed that th
...more
Simon Preston
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
An erudite but readable compendium of government cock-ups. More importantly the authors move beyond excoriating hapless ministers and look at systemic failures and how they can be avoided. It's even-handed and looks at the efficacy of government policies rather than whether they're right or wrong from an ideological point of view. This makes it a thought provoking read with a great many constructive things to say.

If you're interested, the reasons why governments blunder (ie enact policies that f
...more
Daniel Carr
Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it
A clear and well-written account of major policy failures in Britain from the Thatcher government on. I suspect you could only find the content interesting if you worked in policy, as most of what you learn from this book is really only applicable if you are (or might one day be) a civil servant, political advisor, or MP.

The book is structured into four parts, with most of the substance of interest in the second (accounts of various blunders). The following parts, which attempt to dissect how t
...more
Omar
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book, it was clear and well sourced account of major blunders the UK government has made in the past 30 years. The first half which deals with each blunder in turn is equal parts hilarious and sad. You begin noticing the structural causes that are a recurring theme, the civil service also comes in for some deserved heat as well as bumbling ministers.

The one issue I have with this book is that it looks at the issues in a sort of fish bowl. How do other countries deal with similar
...more
J A
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first Part covers, in painful detail, many of the most egregious blunders of the last several governments in the UK. Crewe and King maintain the right mix of scorn and understanding throughout, and the examples are well contextualized (even for those, like myself, born before many of them occurred).

The second and third Parts, on the Human and Systematic causes of the blunders, are less successful. The structure of the book finds the authors churning over the same blunders as an example of ma
...more
Erin Britton
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
In The Blunders of our Governments Anthony King and Ivor Crewe trawl through the litany of woeful decisions and economic oddities that have been perpetrated by a succession of British Governments. Whether it be the mis-selling of pensions, the woeful NHS IT overhaul, the scrapping of ID cards or any of the other numerous examples cited, it seems that government incompetence knows no bounds. The Blunders of our Governments is as depressing as it is funny and is a real eye-opener to just how easil ...more
Roger Boyle
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mike Maidens lent me this.

If you like watching and having opinions about Government in the UK, this is jolly good. If not, you'd find it tiresome and overlong. The authors are unpartisan in displaying a series of huge avoidable cockups, and then go on the analyse how and why they occurred. Having lived through some of these nightmares I found it entertaining and thoroughly depressing. There is no serious prospect of this stopping, & the UK seems particularly prone to this sort of thing.

A few of
...more
Ophelia
Feb 05, 2020 rated it liked it
This is thoroughly well-researched and detailed, providing an interesting insight into some of the major blunders of government in modern British history. Whilst it is certainly comprehensive, it did drag a bit towards the end. Part 1 explores a variety of blunders (a chapter for each) while part 2 designates a chapter to each reason for which blunders occur. However, usually the point around the reason is made relatively quickly and there isn't a need to refer back so often and so in depth to e ...more
Andrew Galley
Bit of a dry read for the most part but not so dry that I thought it was a textbook.

This isn't a full review but I wanted to implore anyone who is considering this book, regardless whether they read the whole thing, to read the chapter about accountability. In our current political discourse this is one of the best chapters and summaries I have read in a long time.
Richard Gillin
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scarily accurate portrayal of how even the best-intentioned projects can go wrong and bring misery. A cautionary tale for anyone looking to criticise governments of whichever political hue - disagreement over doctrine (it’s bad because it’s too Tory/socialist/whatever...) often shouts loudest and masks failure to plan...
Kieran
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read this, I'm very glad the UK government isn't about to embark on some massively complex project, for which it is completely unprepared, and could do serious harm to the country if mishandled.

Oh.
Jack
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matt Finucane
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gets a bit dreary towards the end but well worth a read if you're interested in government (as opposed to politics).
Chris
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bit of a slog to get through as the bureaucratic problems emerging from policy implementation is objectively boring, but very important stuff and stunningly well researched.
Callum Soukup-Croy
I'd been looking forward to reading this book for a long time what with having an interest in politics, history and economics and I can't feel anything other than disappointed. This is definitely a book of two halves and the first half is actually quite good. King and Crewe retell, in just the right amount of detail, some of the biggest (and best?) government blunders of the last 30 years. No topic is dwelled on for too long and the pace of the book is fast enough to keep you engaged but slow en ...more
Andrew Fish
Dec 13, 2014 rated it liked it
To err is human, but to really screw up you need government.

Once, the theory goes, British Government was almost a brand name, a mark of quality and level-headedness. They considered policy carefully, enacted it efficiently and made the world a better place. In recent decades, however, it's all begun to unravel and governments of all stripes are now more blunder-prone than ever before.

It's an interesting theory, of course, but not, I suspect, particularly accurate. Lord North's loss of America o
...more
Geraldine
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, politics
Inevitably, this book will have more appeal to someone involved in Public Administration than the general reader, perhaps even the Politics geek.

As an auditor in Central Government for the best part of 25 years this book highlights the importance of an audit regime without ever quite saying that- although it frequently acknowledges NAO reports as prime source material.

As I read through the chapters, I repeatedly asked - what could Internal Audit have done? The NAO has the luxury of being able to
...more
Wilte
Dec 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Very thorough (too much so at some points, and sometimes repetitive) book that describes various cases where the British Government has blundered in the past 30 years. In part III and IV, the authors describe and analyse common themes. Very good to look back and see which mistakes are made over and over again. Mistakes because of human psychology (part III) or the UK system (part IV).


In their Epilogue, King and Crewe write (p.399): "The fault lies not in particular parties or individuals but in
...more
Akin
Interesting, albeit revelatory mainly in terms of the scope of government blunders - Metronet, ID cards, Gordon Brown's tax credit fiasco, Black Wednesday, the Poll Tax - than the actual existence of these blunders. That said, it isn't that most of these issues were underreported, but rather that they were cast largely as political struggles rather than incompetence writ (very) large.

I suspect that the authors' refusal to take partisan sides concerning some of these issues might irritate some r
...more
Mark
Jul 30, 2015 rated it liked it
I came to this book with high expectations, it being described as required reading by some of our course leaders. It has glowing reviews on the front and back covers from most of the major newspapers and has been lauded by plenty of political pundits.

But the examples of policy blunders that it provides will be familiar to anyone who hasn't lived in a hole for the past twenty years (poll tax, tax credits, the PFI for the London Underground, the Millenium Dome celebrations...) and the recommendati
...more
Benjamin Richards
Sep 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Don't get me wrong, I have a vested interest in the subject matter but this is one of the driest books I've ever had the grim pleasure of wading through. I have read the Illyad and the Odyssey, I've read Henry David Thoreau, I have read some tough books and this is right up there with the toughest.

Another reviewer complained about the proclivity of the word 'blunder' in the book, to be fair, the authors do use it a LOT, but only in the introduction and yet, to a distraction.

The book itself sheds
...more
Gavin
Feb 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Insofar as anything is uncontroversial in politics – the most mired of intellectual backwaters – this sticks to uncontroversial blunders. So we only get the internally incoherent or screwy policies like Suez; poll tax; ERM Black Wednesday. (The book’s larger point is that there are more and more of these to come, because of the shape of Westminster’s gears.)

They've a compressed, formal style – hiding their anger. So ministerial ignorance and snobbishness gets called "cultural disconnect".

First
...more
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Anthony King was a Millennium Professor of British Government at the University of Essex. He broadcasted frequently on politics and elections for the BBC and wrote on the same subjects for the Financial Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Observer.

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