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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 14:56 GMT
Nick Robinson is your guide, philosopher and friend through the news. Here in Newslog, he keeps an ongoing record of what's happening. Add your comments too.

Friday 22 March

Exploiting the kids
posted by Nick | 1317 GMT | Add comment
I hesitate to intrude on a partisan debate which raises fierce passions but does Tony Blair really exploit his children for political reasons?

Iain Duncan Smith's anger about this is absolutely genuine and shared by many Conservatives who smell hypocrisy in a man who they believe wheels out his children at key moments and refers to his role as a father ad nauseam only to complain later of intrusions into their privacy.

But is it really sensible to suggest that the first occupant of Number Ten with a young family and a new baby could refuse ever to have their pictures taken?

If IDS makes it to the top is he saying that he'll never let his children appear in a photograph? Would you want him to? What galls many Conservatives is the staggeringly successful selling of Tony Blair "the regular guy and family man".

It left John Major looking like a character from a 1950s black and white film... William Hague more wedded to Hansard than Ffion... and it threatens IDS too. People do assess their leaders in part by the way they live their lives, like it or not. The fact that Tony Blair looked "normal" (to those who shared his view of normality, before you complain!) was a key part of New Labour's reassuring message.

Wasn't it also a key part of IDS's appeal when he stood against Michael Portillo and we were told that he knew how to change nappies and take kids on the school run (to coin a phrase that he was "a normal family man with children").

Surely the sight of a silent Ffion at William's side during the last election has taught the Tories that whatever they think, families who are never heard, let alone seen are not a recipe for political success. When does the legitimate presentation of who's the real you stop and exploitation start? What do you think?   More details


Thursday 21 March

The thrill of the hunt
posted by Nick | 1538 GMT | Add comment
It's said that people hate politics these days. Witness the extraordinary coded manoeuvres in the hunting debate and you can see why.

Ministers say they will spend six months negotiating over the questions of "utility and cruelty" - not quite the chat over a pint at the Dog and Duck.

What they mean though is:

  • finding a legally watertight definition of when foxes are pests that need to be controlled,
  • when hunting them is the only way to do it, and
  • if hunting can be proven to be crueller than shooting or trapping.

You may have your own opinion, but it's what stands up in court that matters in the end.   More details


Reboot mark two
posted by Nick | 1533 GMT | Add comment
Wow! I see from your responses that the private sector is just as bad as government at buying computer hardware. I suggest the difference is that they don't make overblown claims for them in public, or spend your money doing it.

Thanks for your comments.


User comments:

There are so many mistakes everywhere, because, as someone very smart said to me once, "There are an awful lot of very average people in this world". Add to that the fact that most of them are unable to acknowledge that truth or listen, and we have mistakes that no-one wants to own up to.
Simon D, UK

I blame cocked up computer projects on 'outsourcing'. Do it in house; you might actually get what you wanted.
Rhodri Evans, UK

The private sector has just as many problems in this area. All you need to do is look through the computing press and you'll see that, even in the Financial sector, projects have delays and cancellations. Unless there is a political angle, or the computer system does something funny (ie the Dear Mr Rich B*****d letter), you never hear about them.
C Ford, UK

I think that there is still a tendency among larger computer software companies to regard the public sector as a limitless source of funds - even though they should know better. There are many cock-ups in the private sector too. Among larger organizations, especially those that may not have undergone too much change (or too much!) these things frequently happen. But as a general rule, the private sector buyer is a hardened individual, well schooled in the tricks employed by software vendors. One suspects the public sector buyer has much to learn from them.
Alex Mills Sale, Cheshire

In the early 80s I went to presentation by the company advising the Inland Revenue about its COP (Computerisation of PAYE) project. (This WAS a success actually.) Bearing in mind that this was in the very very early days of PCs etc I asked the presenter if they had ever advised a client that it might be better not to computerise? (embarrassed red face) was the reply.
Chris Stern

I think you owe it to everyone to point out that the air traffic control centre is now up and running on schedule with no problems. The real problem is that it's only newsworthy when things don't perform as advertised. So the truth is that recovery & success have been achieved, but slanted news reporting only covers the early problems.
Tim Flannery, US

Having worked in IT for about ten private sector companies, I can tell you that in my experience they're pretty bad too. Everywhere I've worked I've found that my experience has been the same as that of my colleagues: we all find that the majority of projects we work on fail. You don't hear about it because either the companies in question are small (in which case they tend to fold) or they are large (in which case they have complex internal political systems whose players are experts at hiding this kind of thing).
Ian Griffiths, UK

I believe it all boils down to the quality of senior management. I have experienced both very well run and very badly run projects in the private sector and I'm sure you can guess which ones had the best managers. What I find most annoying is that failed managers continue to work in the industry. Who has ever heard of a bad manager admitting they are no good and choosing to change careers!
Steve Munn, UK


posted by Nick | 1019 GMT | Add comment
What do we know? Another government project has to be delayed thanks to a computer cock-up?

Add the Child Support Agency to the Passport fiasco, the mess over air traffic control, and the dozen lesser-known cases and you have a genuine scandal involving hundreds of millions of pounds wasted.

I was once involved in a film for Panorama about one failed computer project at Wessex Health Authority which eventually had to be entirely scrapped. The man who had been appointed to advise on what computer system to buy was - yes, you guessed it - an employee of a computer company.

Will government never learn?! Or perhaps the private sector makes as many cock-ups but we just never get to hear about them? Drop me a line if you know!


Wednesday 20 March

Who's he kidding?
posted by Nick | 1713 GMT | Add comment
The Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, has just told MPs in an emergency debate on Afghanistan that the only people talking about military action in Iraq are backbenchers and, more to the point, journalists.

Come of it Geoff! For weeks now, private briefings have been given to journalists, and articles placed in newspapers with a deliberate aim of turning up the heat on Saddam Hussein. It's true to say those articles have never mentioned military action and neither have most of the briefings. However ministers know exactly what context their briefings are playing in, and exactly how they will be interpreted.

So it's a bit rich of the defence secretary to blame everybody else for talking about taking on Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps having heated things up he now fancies cooling them down again. With the problems that military action would involve, you can see why.   More details


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