Trouble at the top with Blair's IT fear

They can't send emails and they think browsing is for goats. Is this the IT leadership we deserve from the top?
Written by Leader , Contributor
Rare flashes of frankness have distinguished the Government's troubled relationship with IT this week. Spinmeister-deluxe Alastair Campbell demonstrated the Blackberry Crumble by accidentally sending a sweary email disparaging journalists to one of the BBC's more prickly news programmes. Then, Tony Blair admitted to technophobia and a complete lack of practical knowledge about the Government's own online initiatives. He had, he explained, a lot on his plate.

There are many responses to this. One is to be amused, even charmed, by the sight of powerful men rendered bashful by technology a teenager would regard as beneath contempt. One is to cower in fear under the desk: Blair is in charge of one of the most advanced economies in the world. If he hasn't realised that IT is all about having a lot on your plate, what does he think it's there for?

Both Campbell and Blair felt comfortable at poking fun at themselves in public because they know it doesn't matter -- often the case when politicians tell the truth. For anyone outside the industry, IT is a bit like sewerage: expensive, necessary, mysterious and mildly risible. There is no shame, only demotic chumminess, in being a bit of a duffer about it all.

And that's the way they like it. For if we're all united in cosy bafflement, we can let the boffins get on with it. Don't worry. There's no danger of a suspicious, alert populace raising awkward questions about what exactly is going on with software patents, or wondering why the ID card proposal -- which will create the biggest government database ever on our personal lives -- has to be rushed through Parliament with the absolute minimum of scrutiny. As for the long tradition of inept IT within government – well, it's always the way, isn't it?

So it goes, with one bunch of highly paid consultants after another carefully explaining to our befuddled masters why the last bunch of highly paid consultants got it wrong. That someone at Cabinet level should have the sort of expertise expected of even a mid-ranking CIO is as unthinkable an idea as an innumerate Chancellor. No wonder this country's role in IT is as a satrap of American corporate will.

There is one saving grace. At least we'll be spared Tony's Executive Blog.

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