Translated, this means the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Having, in the preceding post, quoted Enoch Powell I feel it pertinent to do so again with particular reference to the National Census, surveys in general and the matter of political contol. Digressing, as is my wont, I have always considered Enoch Powell as probably the best Prime Minister our country never had – which is odd considering that a February 1969 Gallup poll showed Powell the ‘most admired person’ in British public opinion and a Daily Express poll in 1972 showed Powell being the most popular politician in the country. Although he did stand for leadership of the Conservative Party in 1965, coming a distant third to Edward Heath, it is my opinion that his failure to achieve the ‘top job’ was due to the fact that the ‘political establishment’ felt Powell was ‘too clever by half’. He tended, again a personal opinion, to appear very ‘intense’ in his beliefs to the point he seemed a tad ‘dry’; yet the man could be extremely humorous if the occasion so warranted. As examples I give two speeches; the first, venue unknown, given on 17th February 1968 at Bowness, Windemere; and the second, again venue unknown, on 19th April at Wolverhampton.
“The Ministry of Labour has a Manpower Research Unit. Put like that, the thing sounds harmless, sensible, even meritorious. What, one might ask, is wrong with research into manpower? Very proper, surely, very necessary. According to the official account, the Unit was ‘set up to study future manpower requirements and the future distribution of manpower between industries’. Already one begins to feel a certain unease. On what assumptions are the ‘future requirements of manpower’ to be based? What is to be done if there turns out to be too much or too little on the assumptions made about a future year? Moreover, how can one know the future distribution of manpower between industries, when new developments and unforeseen demands are coming into existence all the time? Or is it intended to fit future developments and demands to the distribution of manpower forecast by the Ministry of Labour? Some of these questions may be answered if we look at how the Research Unit goes about its work; for it has just decided to survey, for the purpose of future manpower planning, the whole of the hotel and catering industry, and I happen to have come into possession of a copy of one of the questionnaires which it is proposed to use.
The object of the questionnaire, stated at the outset, is, I should mention, ‘to compare the numbers employed in the various occupations in 1967/68 with a realistic estimate of the numbers likely to be required in 1972/73’. I turn at once to question No. 13, which starts with the words ‘Do any of your staff …?’ and lists 42 occupations or activities. I will not trouble you with all 42, but here is a selection: ‘Prepare powdered soups? Prepare tinned vegetables? Prepare frozen or dehydrated vegetables? Fillet fish?’ Here I should perhaps notice that there is also a separate question lower down: ‘Do any of your staff fillet Dover sole in front of customer?’ However, I continue: ‘Prepare basic stocks? Make Bechamel? Prepare mayonnaise? Prepare Sole Bonne Femme? Prepare Pommes Anna? Eye potatoes by hand? Put tablecloths on tables? Make puff pastry? Prepare dishes with the lamp?’ I must skip the rest, but cannot miss a final gem of civil servantese: ‘Engage in control to eliminate dishonesty?’
Personally, I like the one about the Bechamel sauce the best. There seem to be two possibilities. One is that a coefficient exists known to the Ministry of Labour, which enables one to deduce the manpower required in 1973 to make all kinds of sauces, once one has the key figure, which is the Bechamel manpower in 1968. Alternatively it may be that in the brave new world of 1973 the only sauce we shall be allowed is Bechamel sauce, which, though nice, will become monotonous.
However, I move on to the heavier parts of the questionnaire. After having ‘indicated the present duties of occupational groups employed in his hotel’, such as ‘doorman’, ‘baggage porter’ and ‘pageboy’, the examinee finds himself asked if he is ‘likely to introduce by 1973’ convection ovens, micro-wave ovens, dishwashers, pan-handlers and what are called ‘portion-controlled foods’, and ‘prefillings’. This little exercise in clairvoyance is intended to limber him up and get his prophetic powers working properly for the climax which comes, I feel, at question No. 29: ‘Do you expect your future low season (February 1973) employment figures to bear the same relationship to the high season (August 1972) figures as February 1968 did to August 1967?’ The question continues ‘If the answer is yes’ – actually they have made a mistake here, they mean no – ‘please indicate the occupations likely to be affected and the direction of the change.’
I want you to try to imagine the number of people engaged in this hair-raising piece of paperwork alone: the graduate staff at the Ministry devising these ludicrous questions, the junior staff typing, duplicating and posting them, then the staff co-ordinating the replies, sending reminders, making visits to clarify some point of doubt about the Bechamel or the filleted Dover sole, and finally putting it all through computers, on the good old principle ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Then I want you to realize that this, though the first excursion of the Manpower Research Unit into a service industry, has been going on in a whole range of industries already and will spread to others in due course; how can one forecast future manpower requirements without covering all the employments? Each is being or will be bombarded with silly questions, to which only silly answers can be given.
I want you further to bear in mind that the Manpower Research Unit of the Ministry of Labour is itself only a tiny, obscure corner, in the great planning, enquiring, researching, questionnaire-pushing activities which are going on from one end of the government machine to the other. You must multiply the activities of the Manpower Research Unit very many fold to get any idea of the total quantity of futile effort being expended by public servants. But that is only half the picture.
You also have to remember all the labour and effort by management and their staffs which is being devoted to coping with this sort of nonsense, instead of doing their proper work. You might suppose that industrialists would long ere now have risen in their wrath and told the Ministry where to put its questionnaires. No doubt individually they would like to do so; but nowadays they are nearly all in one or more of their appropriate trade associations, whose alleged function is to look after their interests; and the bureaucracy of the trade associations, loyally co-operating and interacting with the bureaucracy of the state, will have committed them to fill up the forms before they know anything about it.
And so the merry game goes on, of choking and drowning Britain in a mass of paper planning. One is hard put to it to know whether to laugh or cry. It is not accident; it is the automatic and inevitable result of a policy which supposes that it is the function of government to plan the size and distribution between industries of the labour force in 1973. All the myriad, diverse, unforeseeable activities of the whole economy have to be surveyed and predicted, until the simple act of putting a tablecloth on a table or making a portion of Bechamel sauce becomes a government statistic, and no one can move or act or breathe without the agency of government. It is lunacy, yes: but it is a lunacy towards which we are heading by general connivance and with the speed of an express train.”
“The mania of the questionnaire bids fair to be one of the curses of our age. The amount of time which people who have something better to do spend in completing perfectly futile forms and answering utterly fatuous questions would, if put to better use, represent a considerable addition to our national income.
There are signs of this mania spreading to the General Register Office, which conducts the national census. I don’t know whether any of you was fortunate enough to be selected as a recipient of a recent communication from the Registrar General, enclosing a questionnaire which I hold in my hand. If you were, and have not yet completed it, you will have received a further request, dated January this year, telling you that ‘the response has been excellent’, and that ‘most of the people approached have sent in their completed forms’. Assuming that this information makes you thoroughly ashamed of your failure so far to co-operate, you will I hope address yourself to filling in the questionnaire.
It starts off swimmingly: ‘Have you ever had an operation for gallstones?’ to which most people should have little difficulty in returning a straight affirmative or negative. Things soon began to thicken however. You have to write down ‘how many cups of tea, coffee and other hot beverages (cocoa, chocolate, ‘Ovaltine’ – is that advertising? – etc.) you consume before breakfast, at breakfast, morning break, midday meal, tea-time, evening meal, bedtime and other’. I like ‘other’: presumably that is for the people who brew up at two in the morning. But that’s just for a start. On the next page we get down to business. ‘How many teaspoons of sugar do you take’ in each beverage, and ‘are the spoons level or heaped?’ (One can’t be too careful what one does in a modern state!) Then comes a bit of personal history: ‘have you always taken the same amount of sugar in these beverages?’
We then turn to solids. On an ‘average day’ how many slices of bread do you eat? And don’t just imagine you can slap down any old figure. You have to pick your way through ‘average slice’, ‘extra thick’ and ‘extra thin’ cut off ‘large loaves’ and ‘small loaves’; so it’s lucky for you if you only eat ‘rolls’.
The candidate is now in a position to approach the more advanced part of the paper. For instance: ‘how many fizzy drinks, non-alcoholic’ by the glass do you drink per week, or, if you take sugar on your breakfast cereals, are the spoons you use tea spoons or dessert spoons and are the spoonfuls level or heaped? Don’t fill that in if you are like me, and prefer porridge; for there is a separate entry on its own for those who take porridge.
Now I am sure you will be glad to know that the cost of this lark is being met out of the research funds of Queen Elizabeth College, and that you have been participating in a diet and health survey for the benefit of Professor John Yudkin, of that College.
But you may not be so pleased if you get another form, dated March of this year, also from the census office, which asks (hold it!) for details of your earnings in the financial year April 1966–March 1967. All quite confidential, of course; guaranteed no leaks even to ‘other government departments’ (guess which!); and you really ought to feel flattered, because this is a survey for the Department of Education and Science ‘on the earnings of people with particular academic, professional, or vocational qualifications’. The questions include, for instance, whether one had ‘subsidized or free housing or car for own use provided by the employer’, and ‘what was the total net profit before tax but after deducting expenses, from self-employment in the financial year 1966/67’.
Now, I have it on the authority of the Registrar General that ‘surveys of this type are a relatively new development of our census work’. ‘Each one’, he says, ‘has so far been judged on its merits.’ This is just as well; for if these are a good example of the ‘merit’, then this promising new growth of volunteer bureaucracy had better be stamped on here and now. A glimpse of what will otherwise be in store for us is afforded by the complaisant self-satisfaction of the authors. ‘We feel’, says the Registrar General, ‘that to use the census as a sample frame for this kind of enquiry is a valuable development and a step forward in making the fullest use of the material we have. The approach to the public has to be made by us because we cannot give anyone outside the census organization a list of names and addresses.’
Sometimes it is a minor detail which casts a flood of light upon the malaise of a whole society. This incipient perversion of the census machinery derives from the very same general assumption which is pervading and strangling our life and our economy, namely, the conviction that the citizen is perfectly incapable of conducting his own affairs unless he is managed and controlled, planned and organized, with material distilled by experts from elaborate surveys which bureaucrats have conducted into his benighted behaviour. The National Economic Plan of the DEA – we are threatened with another, you know – and the Diet and Health Survey of the General Register Office, they are all branches, some tiny, some large, of this same pervasive, poisonous upas tree of contempt for the independence, dignity and competence of the individual.”
On a personal level I do so like the phrases;
“All the myriad, diverse, unforeseeable activities of the whole economy have to be surveyed and predicted, until the simple act of putting a tablecloth on a table or making a portion of Bechamel sauce becomes a government statistic, and no one can move or act or breathe without the agency of government.”
“….the very same general assumption which is pervading and strangling our life and our economy, namely, the conviction that the citizen is perfectly incapable of conducting his own affairs unless he is managed and controlled, planned and organized, with material distilled by experts from elaborate surveys which bureaucrats have conducted into his benighted behaviour.”
This man, besides being a brilliant politician, was also prophetic in his observations. Are we not today indeed managed and controlled, planned and organized, with material distilled by bureaucratic experts from quangos and advisory bodies who in turn are funded by the state?
As a final thought, were our present politicians of the stature, principles and knowledge of Enoch Powell it is highly unlikely I would be such an advocate for change to our present system of democracy. Just saying.