The quality of governance

My computer dictionary describes governance as ‘the action or manner of governing’. Fair enough but I was hoping for something more descriptive. My Google search brought up two websites with more muscular definitions. Interestingly, both are Australian websites which perhaps says something about how governance is regarded, or perhaps not widely considered, in the UK.

“Governance encompasses the system by which an organisation is controlled and operates, and the mechanisms by which it, and its people, are held to account. Ethics, risk management, compliance and administration are all elements of governance.” This definition is from the Government Institute website

The second quote is from Governance Today

“Governance can be defined as: “The system by which entities are directed and controlled.  It is concerned with structure and processes for decision making, accountability, control and behaviour at the top of an entity. Governance influences how an organisation’s objectives are set and achieved, how risk is monitored and addressed and how performance is optimised”.  Governance is a system and process, not a single activity and therefore successful implementation of a good governance strategy requires a systematic approach that incorporates strategic planning, risk management and performance management.  Like culture, it is a core component of the unique characteristics of a successful organisation.”

So good governance is not just about structures and organisation, administration and decision making but is also about ethics, behaviour, compliance and culture. It is not about birthday cakes, good governance is about trust in our government and whether it will do the best for us all. Bear that in mind when reading about the findings of the Sue Gray report.

The report findings start with this paragraph.

The report can be downloaded here.

Media reaction was swift and in many cases brutal.

So having read the report, underlined the horiffic bits and gasped loudly or felt physically sick at what went on in the heart of UK government, do we believe there was a belief in the rule of law, a semblance of good governance, or appropriate ethics, behaviour, compliance or culture in Number 10 Downing Street, and did Boris Johnson show the qualities of a leader, the qualities expected of a UK Prime Minister?

Remember, according to Johnson’s numerous assurances in the House of Commons and elsewhere over the last six months and more, there were no parties. All regulations had been followed. He told MPs he definitely hadn’t attended any parties during periods in which there had been precautionary measures in place. Rishi Sunak did the same. Now we know better. Now we know the boozy details of what actuallky took place.

Leadership is defined as: ‘the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to influence and guide followers or other members of an organization. Leadership involves making sound — and sometimes difficult — decisions, creating and articulating a clear vision, establishing achievable goals and providing followers with the knowledge and tools necessary to achieve those goals.’

Does Boris Johnson have the leadership qualities necessary in a prime minister, necessary in the leader of a 21st century government? Is he a leader concerned with good governance including a concern for ethics, behaviour, compliance and culture?

Two screenshots from today’s FT daily email suggests he doesn’t.

Johnson has been accused of many faults – of dishonesty, incompetence, arrogance, blustering and bumbling and never answering questions, of being a liar, a narcissist, a sociopath, a law-breaker, a wife cheat, a dissembler, someone willing to throw others to the wolves to save his own skin and retain his grasp on power. He is also said to be charming, one of the reasons people vote for him.

Downing Street is a large complex and Johnson indicates he didn’t know about all the parties, he was unaware of what was going on despite the noise both inside and in the garden, and the drunken karaoke singing.

Yet, no matter the size of the Downing Street complex, it’s hard to equate that stance with that of a good leader. A good leader, one on top of his/her game should have been aware of what was happening on his patch. He has plenty of staff and SPADs to keep him informed. Indeed Johnson himself attended many of the gatherings so was aware gatherings were taking place. He didn’t call a halt to them, but appeared to encourage them, calling in and taking a drink, dramatically making a few toasts and a speech or two. Did no one remind him, if he even should have needed reminding, that such gatherings, even if considered work events, were contrary to the rules his government had just passed, and were surely also contrary to the Civil Service code of conduct? Drinking in the oiffice is in most companies a sackable offence.

Did Johnson never question the appropriateness of senior staff at the heart of government getting sloshed to the point of being sick and picking fights whilst in their workplace where highly important decisions, such as the EU/UK trade agreement, were being worked on? Did he have no security concerns? Whilst some had a few drinks and went back to work, others after one such gathering were unable to make it home so spent the night on the office floor. The answer, according to Ben Kentish of LBC, appears to be no, Johnson believes such conduct is not only acceptable but even to be welcomed, praised.

“Some work did take place in the Press Office and No 10 whilst this event [on Friday 18th December 2020] was underway, in relation to the ongoing negotiations on a trade deal ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU scheduled for 31 December 2020; and on the emergence of the Delta variant of Covid19, raising issues of what Covid restrictions would be necessary over the Christmas period with announcements being made the next day.”

Sue Gray report, page 31
Rory Stewart is a former Conservative MP.

The Sue Gray report, though written in unsensational language, is damning on the lack of compliance with the rules in Number 10, and on its boozy culture and Wine Time Fridays for which a special wine fridge was purchased to keep the Prosecco cool. Lack of leadership is mentioned in her conclusions.

According to Twitter, Chris Bryant MP, chairman of the Commons Standards Committee, told Boris Johnson that: “Downing Street under him has been a cesspit, full of arrogant, entitled narcissists”.

Then there’s the investigation. Questions have been raised as to why most Fixed Penalty Notices were levied on junior staff, albeit they seem to have been the minimum and much less than those imposed on many members of the public. Rumour is that senior staff got lawyered up, were advised not to respond to questionnaires, to keep schtum, whilst junior staff filled in and returned the Met questionnaires as requested. This doesn’t give the impression of a leader, of a person concenened with all his staff, with good governance including a concern for ethics, behaviour, compliance and culture.

We are told the Prime Minister saw attending leaving dos as an essential part of his leadership duties, to say thanks and goodbye to valued colleagues who had worked in Number 10. He sticks to this story and believes he was entitled to do this whilst others had zoom leaving events, and hundreds of thousands of other people were denied the chance to say their goodbyes to valued partners and parents because they were forced to abide by the rules Johnson’s government had put in place. It was, according to Johnson, absolutely right to say farewell to Number 10 staff in person, but not for a partner of decades long standing or families to say farewell to their dying relatives in person. Johnson is quoted by Sky News as saying: “some people will think it was wrong even to do that but I respectfully disagree.”

It’s hard to believe this is a leader who takes the feelings and concerns of others into account and it’s understandable that many are aghast at this attitude and refuse to move on as requested by Johnson and his cohorts.

In its leadership and governance the UK is being badly let down.

Johnson said he accepted full responsibility for Partygate, then, as usual, went on to lay the blame on others. It will take more than a few moments of false humility, of faux regret, of reassurances of change to steer the badly adrift SS United Kingdom into calmer, better charted, less rock-strewn waters. There have to be serious doubts that this will happen under Boris Johnson’s leadership or governance.

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