The Peter Principle

A note for Matthew Parris:

At the highest levels of our City and business world, it is not uncommon for chief executives to be appointed then dropped within a matter of months. The same goes for sport, as Steve McClaren can testify. Leadership is all about chemistry, and sometimes the chemistry just doesn\’t work. “It didn\’t gel,” can be an honest explanation beyond which it may be pointless to go.

Why should politics be different? After a dreadful week, following a dreadful month, crowning a disappointing season, Britain should be mulling over a very simple possibility: that the Prime Minister isn\’t up to the job. In the cliché of management consultancy, Gordon Brown is finding his new post more challenging than had been expected, and it may soon be time to draw a line, let him go, and move on.

There\’s a name for this. Called The Peter Principle, after Laurence J Peters who first enunciated it. Formally, it runs like this:

Everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence.

Nothing surprising about it, nothing odd about it. People are promoted up hierarchies because they do a good job at a lower level. But doing a good job at a lower level is no assurance that the higher level tasks will also be well undertaken. And you only find out about a person\’s level of incompetence, about their inability to undertake the higher level tasks, when they have been promoted above their level of competence.

Of course, I insist that every politician is above their level of competence: what they attempt to do in micro-managing us all is not actually achievable by any group of human beings, but that\’s another matter.

But within Parris\’ argument, is Brown above his Peter Point?

8 comments on “The Peter Principle

  1. Some of the blame for GB’s current streak of disasters may be laid at the feet of TB who failed to recognise and correct the strategic expenditure mistakes of GB when he was Chancellor (starving unfavoured Departments like Defence and DEFRA whilst stuffing Health’n’Schools) as well as gifting GB ongoing policy hospital passes like Iraq. So having produced two failed PM’s in succession, the Labour party has proved the Peter Principle and should be demoted to the Lib Dem grade (along with the Tories).

  2. “Everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence.”

    No effing shit, we’ve just had a complete and utter tosser by the name of James Bidgood elected as our MP for Dawson in Queensland. The bloke was absolutely useless as a pony-tailed local Councillor and yet the local electorate (in their proud lack Aussie of wisdom) have voted the bastard into parliament. As Homer Simpson observed: “when will people realise that democracy doesn’t work?”

  3. Why pick on Gordon Brown? It didn’t take the Chinese long to rumble Tony Blair during his recent visit there:

    “Meanwhile, Mr Blair has received a mixed response this week in China, where he has been employed in speaking engagements.

    “Local media have raised questions about the cost of his speeches and their value for money.

    “The Guangzhou Daily News claimed one speech, in Dongguan City, near Hong Kong, cost 237,000 – worth 156,000 to Mr Blair after tax – and described the visit as ‘money-raking’.

    “The China Youth Daily said: ‘To be honest, Mr Blair’s speech sounds so familiar. It’s just like the report of any Chinese county level official and contains no novelty. If the local political and business circles paid such a high price for a speech they could have made themselves, was it worth it?'”
    http://www.topix.net/content/pa/2007/11/blair-converting-to-catholicism

  4. This whole theory is wrong.

    He was incompetent when he was working out how to spend his pocket money and needed to be subsidised by others.

    He was merely shielded by Blair being such a big target nobody really paid attention to him and he was pulled along in Blairs wake.

    Now he has no shield it only took 10minutes to work out he is totally useless.

  5. Of course, Tony Blair’s outstanding personal achievement between the 1997 and 2005 elections was to lose 4 millions votes and half the membership of the Labour Party.

  6. IMO it’s too soon to say whether the Goblin King is beyond his competence as PM. However, be that as it may, it was clear to many years ago that Blair was way out of his depth – those smart dudes in China who went to hear his speeches were quicker to catch on. Obviously, he forgot to mention: “You can’t stop modernisation,” which would have surely convinced them just how profoundly wise he is.

    Getting Britain engaged in the Iraq war showed how slow Blair is on the uptake and it was widely reported in 2003 that it came as a surprise to him when the Treasury – note that, the Treasury – decided that Britain wasn’t going to join the Eurozone.

    Blair was among those ministers in the government who really believed that it would be calamitous for Britain if we didn’t adopt the Euro – which only goes to show how many of them didn’t understand the issues of European monetary union. The mess that the NHS is in and the billions of taxpayers’ money wasted on futile education projects are down to Blair’s failing leadership.

  7. The thing I find interesting about this theory is that it suggests there’s a good chance that the guy at the top of any given organisation might well actually be competent, since even if he is, there’s no higher level position for him to get promoted to and be incompetent at.

    Tim adds: That is indeed one of the corrolaries, that all useful work is done by people whop have not yet reached their level of incompetence. And indeed some organisations are led by those who haven’t reached it yet. I recommend the book actually (find it at most second hand paperback places for 50 pence or so).Called “The Peter Principle” and very funny.

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