A colleague of mine is having a frustrating time at the moment as she wrestles with the implementation a decision her Minister has recently, and very publicly, made. Such is the life of officials but it made me think about one of the fundamentals of working with government: Ministerial infallibility.
Ministerial infalliability requires that once Ministers have taken a decision, that decision must be (a) implemented (b) successful and (c) popular.
Anyone of these requirements can cause officials headaches. In my colleague's situation, the challenge is (a) and (b). Popular is why it was approved regardless of the fact that the original advice to the Minister recommended against it and it's an election year and Ministers need to open, announce, expand etc so mere logistical challenges must be overcome. As is often the case in this kind of situation, the difficult parts of the program have been shifted well past the election so that any problems do not wind up in the press on the eve of the poll.
In my experience, smart Ministers ask for advice and mostly take it. It's risky to make a decision that goes against the advice not least of all because it exposes the Minister to far greater criticism. Better to not ask for advice if you think you'll not like it - at least then you can then spin that officials never advised you...
Occassionally, officials mistakenly believe that there advice must be followed and that reluctant Ministers simply haven't understood well enough. That can be the case, however most of the politicans that I've worked for have pretty extensive networks and are much closer to the electorate than is recognised. Desk research and journal subscriptions can't provide the insight of endless bowling club BBQs, rotary meetings and the experience of sitting in at the local community law centre.
The progam in question will be successful, eventually - it's been rushed which is the problem and will not produce the desired impact in the time available. If there's a change in Minister, odds are that it'll be quietly cut after 6 months to be rebadged and relaunched as the new Minister's program. If the same Minister survives the election and Cabinet, officials will find a way to reframe the project just before it fails and, in doing so, remind the Minister of their original insight.
5 days ago