Job offers

We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street with the best officials, some as spads and perhaps some as officials.

Could be fun for some.

Not sure Cummings has got it entirely right though:

On the frequency and severity of interstate wars, 2019. ‘How can it be possible that the frequency and severity of interstate wars are so consistent with a stationary model, despite the enormous changes and obviously non-stationary dynamics in human population, in the number of recognized states, in commerce, communication, public health, and technology, and even in the modes of war itself? The fact that the absolute number and sizes of wars are plausibly stable in the face of these changes is a profound mystery for which we have no explanation.’ Does this claim stack up?

That’s not a mathematical question. The explanation coming from entirely outside the calculation.

The stationary part is human nature, the lust for power and the susceptibility of the population to demagoguery. All the other things are simply the changing background against which these universals play out.

48 thoughts on “Job offers”

  1. And the Graun is sufficiently pissed off that he isn’t advertising in their jobs column that they’ve written an article about it.

    I’m definitely warming to this guy.

  2. I saw Howard Marks give a talk. He said he’d submitted an application to HMG when they were looking to appoint a ‘Drugs Czar”. This was on the basis that they were looking for someone familiar with the issues and had experience of working within drugs enforcement (he’d worked while in prison).

    He said he got a letter back saying that in this instance HMG wouldn’t be taking his application further but it shouldn’t discourage him from applying for similar posts in the future.

  3. I’m not sure I buy his premise. There’s less war going on today than when I was a kid. I remember stuff in central America, the Falklands, Angola, Biafra, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia.

    Outside of the Middle East, what’s the biggest war going on right now?

  4. The problem that Cummings is going to find is that The Blob is much bigger than he is. You can hire a little team to do some cool, interesting stuff, but at some point they’re going to have to work with departments and infrastructure, and most of those people don’t give that much of a fuck. A few of them give literally zero fucks. And most of the ministers don’t care. They’d rather be photographed doing a speech about something than spending time on making sure that things operate well.

    Yeah, he and his team did a great job at Vote Leave, but that’s a small private organisation. You can move fast and break things in those places. You can’t change a fuse in the civil service without going through the right process.

  5. The problem that Cummings is going to find is that The Blob is much bigger than he is.

    I think his goal is to break the Blob into many little local-sized pieces, run by locals for locals.

  6. When I heard the news this morning the thought of a campaign of Timr Worstall for Number 10 did cross the mind.. Imagine if it led to a path of getting some ermine and how Spud would react to that…

  7. All this stuff about “Data science” and “science of prediction” is balls. If it wasn’t the people who could make and sell this would be the richest people in human history.

    The biggest issue is the lack of accountability in the Civil Service. Ministers are ‘responsible’ for everything. Guess how many civil servants were fired or resigned over this Honours List leak? Spread betting is between zero and zero. Senior civil servants are moved on every couple of years, so the people in charge of initiating and planning a policy aren’t responsible for actually delivering it.

  8. I wish Cummings well, but of course we’ve heard all this before. And the problem goes way beyond the entrenched interests of the senior civil service and the fact that ministers are routinely captured by their ‘servants’, even if only because they don’t want to annoy the help: there’s all the decades of legislation enabling massive government and disabling all else – the T&C Planning Act, the employment rights legislation, the HRA, the Equality Act, the Climate Change Act – basically all of the stuff by which successive governments have sought unconstitutionally to bind their successors.

    This will all have to go, but is that what he has in mind? I doubt it. Apart from anything else, it would make the last three years’ lawfare look like a minor skirmish.

  9. BiW,

    “I think his goal is to break the Blob into many little local-sized pieces, run by locals for locals.”

    I am not reading anything in his writing that suggests that. What I get from Cummings is that he sees the answers as being in academic science graduates rather than academic humanities graduates. He refers to people like Bret Victor who is doing some cute stuff with Dynamic Land at Berkeley, and how you must watch it, but no-one out there in the world of Getting Code Shipped has adopted Dynamic Land, and if we don’t think it’s a useful tool, it isn’t a useful tool. He thinks Bayesian networks and other AI are the answer, and this is useful technology, but it isn’t the core problem with government. The core problem is incentives. You’ve got 600-odd clowns running the show, few of which have any idea about running anything at scale, who are more interested in speeches about diversity than whether the email is up. And have zero interest in reforming how public servants are hired, fired and incentivised.

    The real answer to most of government is privatising the fuck out of it. Take everything you can from the state and leave the stuff that has to be done by the state. The wankers in the military will still spend pointless billions on tech like the F-35 and shitty rifles that jam. And I’m not sure there’s a solution to that. Government around the world, under all sorts of administrations seems to be generally shit. I’ve yet to see any administration anywhere, at any time, that works well.

  10. Well, the previous entries in his blog might be worth reading, as it pretty much describes where he’s coming from. Although it’s distressingly close to hard work at times.

    At this point though, he seems to have bitten down hard on some magic bullets, what with the whole ML thing and the rest of it, going for the big hit.

  11. Bloke in North Dorset

    Andrew C,

    Howard Marks had no chance. As Rod Liddle points out, those jobs are created to keep a certain class of people (Oxford arts graduates mostly) employed and they all appoint each other.

  12. I read an article in this morning’s Tel. Back when the English Department of Health bought HIV-contaminated blood products from the US it had ignored an offer from Scotland to provide all of England’s needs. So who gets charged and jailed? If the answer is “nobody” then the Cummings reforms will fail.

    Here’s the Grauniad version of the story.
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/03/refusing-scottish-help-a-grave-error-in-blood-scandal-letter-says

  13. I agree with BoM4 here.

    Simple example: Cummings states that he wants to dual carriageway the A1 north of Newcastle in record time. What’s currently blocking that? Great Crested Newts on the route? They’re protected under EU law, the bulk of which we’re copying-and-pasting into UK law. Then there are the public consultations. Minimum of 16 weeks of consultation; followed by months taken to read and digest the responses. For example the most recent consultation on the proposed Oxford to Cambridge railway received 3,500 responses, many of which are multi-page essays.

    In short, if Cummings wants to effect change, he needs to tear up huge amounts of existing law. But the costs are concentrated, while the benefits are diffuse. The few losers will shout loudly, while the many winners have no voice.

  14. Re “The Blob is much bigger than he is”

    The unions will also be throwing a spanner in the works:

    “Mark Serwotka, the head of the civil service union PCS, has already vowed to resist plans for a major overhaul of Whitehall. Comments by Dominic Cummings that imply he wants to hire and fire at will reveal an anti-trade union mentality and will be strenuously resisted by PCS

    Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA which represents senior civil servants, has also warned that the PM’s allies are exhibiting a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the modern civil service”

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7846317/Boris-Johnsons-aide-Dominic-Cummings-posts-bizarre-job-advert.html

  15. “That’s not a mathematical question. ”

    i thought it was more of an actuarial question that relates to spending oodles on military. If there is something that can be done to reduce the incidence then you can save oodles on military. Some claim spending more reduces the incidence, and therefore worth it. I’m sure that claim is at the heart of every project the military bring to the desk of a minister or a prime minister. So yeah debunking it, or qualifying it would be useful pre-cheque signing exercise, but more than that,, should be built into the planning assumptions.
    On the other hand he may be thinking that we need to plan for the Germano-Franco relationship going tits up (again).

  16. The wankers in the military will still spend pointless billions on tech like the F-35 and shitty rifles that jam.

    The “rifle plastic useless”, after decades and B-effing-AE buying and then selling H&K, doesn’t jam nearly as much as it used to, is considerably less plastic, and is almost useful. And I don’t get to play with the latest version yet, either.

  17. The stationary part is human nature, the lust for power and the susceptibility of the population to demagoguery.

    I reckon Cormac McCarthy had the best and most sparsely poetical explanation of war.

    It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.

  18. “Howard Marks had no chance. As Rod Liddle points out, those jobs are created to keep a certain class of people (Oxford arts graduates mostly) employed and they all appoint each other.”

    Guy I know who worked for the Probation service did a bit of research into his fellow probation officers about drugs. He gave them all a survey to fill in, which asked lots of questions about drugs. Not the text book stuff, the actual street stuff of how junkies behaved (my friend knew all this stuff having spent his 20s doing a fair bit himself). He then analysed the responses from all the nice middle class people who populated the civil service, and rapidly showed that the people tasked with dealing with and rehabilitating the drug addicts knew the square root of bugger all about how drug culture works. So how on earth were they going to have any rehabilitation impact on them when they might as well live on another planet? My friend presented this work to a conference of probation types, and was promptly told to never mention it again……….he left the Probation service soon after, totally disillusioned with it, and now works as a stone mason, where he adding to the wealth of society rather than reducing it…….

  19. In today’s Times:

    ‘One of Britain’s most notorious murderers was able to go on a killing spree because the Home Office kept secret that he had been locked up for trying to poison his family, papers released to The Times show.

    Graham Young began murdering workmates shortly after he was freed from Broadmoor maximum-security mental hospital. He had been sent there aged 14 for administering poison to his father, sister and a friend. His case inspired the cult film The Young Poisoner’s Handbook.

    His employers were never told that he was a poisoner so when colleagues began to suffer mysterious and painful deaths an undiscovered bug was blamed.

    The papers in Young’s case, marked “confidential” and dating from 1972, were kept hidden long after the 30-year rule meant that they should have been released.’

    I take it that the 30-year rule was ignored because the civil servant who should have been jailed was still alive.

    Carry on, Cummings.

  20. @Tim in the nicest possible way you probably fit in the misfit/diversity category.. you’ve got a skill for stripping back the noise and contradictions in peoples arguments. Even if you just went round repeating “Jobs are a cost not a benfit” it would probably improve much of government (assuming you were listened to occasionally)

  21. SE,

    The awkward little fact – and it’s an area I know personally so it bothers me – is that other than the first batch (rushed out from Enfield, made on worn-out machinery by workers already told they were being made redundant) the “rifle, plastic, useless” outperformed the alternatives.

    The reality was that when the L85A2 was put through a major competitive trial with several “alternatives of popular choice” (by rumour the Diemaco C7, the H&K G36 and the Steyr AUG figured), it proved both more reliable and more accurate than all of them: indeed one competitor, previously vaunted as “what we should have replaced the L85 with”, overheated to the point of parts melting during some of the trials.

    But this obviously couldn’t be true because “everyone knows” the L85 is rubbish and the trials must have been rigged. So, a Royal Marine officer (crunchy history, M&AW cadre during the Falklands War) took a batch of L85A2s and of “another rifle” to Oman as a reaction to accusations of unfair treatment of the competition, and claims of unreliability in Afghanistan. They took some A1 rifles as a control group. They picked a very dusty and dirty range, didn’t prepare it other than to plough it up and then fly helicopters over it to make it even dustier and dirtier, and fired lots and lots of rounds using the same “battlefield mission” (a standardised 150 rounds in 8 minutes 40 seconds). They provide the summary numbers afterwards to the readers of the report (Operation NERINE).

    Result? A2 does extremely well, and the “other rifle” does badly. Really badly. Hardly completed a BFM. L85A2 demonstrates 87.5% reliability (meaning, only one in eight battlefield missions weren’t completed due to stoppages) ; control group, 17% (only one in six BFMs didn’t suffer significant failures to fire that meant the mission couldn’t be completed)

    Overall the -A2s fired 24,750 rounds fired for only 51 stoppages – or about 485 rounds between stoppages. By comparison, when the US was testing their M4 carbine in dusty conditions, it was averaging just 68 rounds between stoppages.

    Of course, the “other rifle” couldn’t be revealed to be an AR15-type weapon on issue in certain parts of the Army, because that would break commercial confidentiality. But it’s interesting that it was so thoroughly outperformed by both the L85A2, and the L85A1 control weapons: when ATDN talked to some of the original hot/dry trials team from the 1980s, they said “that’s what we found, but no-one listened to us”.

    Why does this bother me? It’s a version of the Gell-Mann Theory. “Everybody knows” that the L85 was rubbish and the M16 was better, even though thorough trials and twenty years of actually using it says otherwise. Are we at risk of some bright spark taking the bold step of fighting the Blob and replacing the “unreliable” L85A3 with M4s because “everyone knows” that’s the best thing to do?

  22. I thought the injunction to all soldiers everywhere since the beginning of time was to remember that “your rifle was made by the lowest bidder” …

  23. I suspect it won’t be too long before Cummings is advised to take the time necessary to focus on his health issues.

  24. “Howard Marks had no chance. As Rod Liddle points out, those jobs are created to keep a certain class of people (Oxford arts graduates mostly) employed and they all appoint each other.”

    Of course, Howard Marks was an Oxford science graduate!

  25. Interesting what Cummings does not want — he does not want anyone who has actually accomplished anything in the real world.

    He wants the privileged offspring who were given the resources to get into one of the “great” universities, i.e unless you went to Cambridge (ok, maybe Oxford if we are short of candidates), don’t waste my time.

    Cummings has been very lucky. Labour chose Corbyn as its leader; Labour therefore lost lots of votes; the First-Past-The-Post system gave the (now Left-Wing) Tories a big majority with only 44% of the vote — and now Cummings thinks he did it and he is special.

    While the UK’s Civil Service is grossly incompetent, let’s hope they retain enough influence to keep Cummings’ team of adolescents away from any control over the lives of UK citizens.

  26. Currently writing my application for the project manager roles he wrote about- have lots of experience in public and private sector which should help. Not sure I’m one in 10,000 that he mentions, but we’ll see.

    I’m not weird, which may count against me.

  27. Mr Longmuir, another reason to doubt this initiative: there’s plenty of experience of people – usually high-profile industrialists – with real world experience, being drafted into government to ‘cut red tape’, or whatever. Lord Young. Lord Browne. Sir Sugar. Just off the top of my head.

    In each case, it’s a failure. It starts with the magnate being flattered he can achieve anything, and the government of the day proclaiming how cutting-edge it is, and it ends with the magnate giving evidence before some select committee of inadequates who couldn’t run the bar in a brothel founded for drunks.

    Thus, whilst I agree that our public life needs far more people who have achieved in real life (and who have failed, let us not forget their case-hardening), I do not agree that their absence is the problem. The problem is far, far, far more structural than that.

  28. BTW – this won’t just be spads and no.10 unit.. it could be ministers too via HofL.

    Don’t know when Dominick was speaking but there’s a moment in this clip where he says “that (appointment of ministers to hofL) will be on my to do list if i ever successfully get control of no.10” …. followed by a laugh, so not in the last 9 months then.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xuRISz0a_M

  29. Bloke in North Dorset

    HB,

    Good clip. He’s already done it with Morgan and Goldsmith.

    I like the idea of a smaller Cabinet and strengthening Select Committees.

  30. BiND – prima facie i don’t like non hofc ministers, not unless HofL becomes representative/or elected. We may have underperforming government in Dominic’s eyes but we’ve had parliamentary government continuously for a rather long time and big changes make me nervous. look at the unintended consequences of the parliament act.

  31. I think there’s little harm in using untrammelled minds to explore what *might* be possible.

    However, there’s little evidence that I’ve seen which indicates that ‘data mining’ or ‘ML’ have the ability to dig useful strategies out of anything. Cambridge Analytica is an example of folk who climed they could do just that; but they only claimed it in sales pitches. They never demonstrated it.

    Governing is hard. It gets easier when you have less to do, so indeed privatising chunks is a good start; as long as those taking over the goodies are NOT large organisations. You really want a bunch of individual competing agents.

    With some sort of regulatory framework. It’s a common plaint that homes for the aged are not only run for profit, but that costs are saved at the expense of the ‘inmates’ health and well-being. Probably some sort of regulation on what percentage of things of a given class you can own and run might do it… (but all regualtion is fraught..)

  32. @BoM4

    There are many wars going on, but many not reported by MSM due to Bias by Omission

    If it’s not got a UK/USA vs the down-trodden angle* they ignore as no drum to beat. Furthermore, I think they’ve realised we don’t care if furins are killing each other

    * see today’s OTT coverage of Iran today – two baddies killed by Trump

    US drone strike kills top Iranian general

  33. On Dominic Cummings, this piece raised my opinion of Cumberbatch – still don’t like the uterer as a person
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/12/benedict-cumberbatch-on-playing-my-husband-dominic-cummings/

    @The Mole

    +1

    When I heard the news this morning the thought was tell Dom to hire everyone on this blog

    @The Mole January 3, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    +10

    @Rob +1

    @Gavin

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even C4 News reported Cummings wanted the bright under-privileged who never went to Uni to get in touch

  34. @dearieme January 3, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    Going by figurers in article, the HIV infected haemophiliacs in England and Wales was, per capita, ~x2 number in Scotland. Without knowing number of haemophiliacs in England & Wales and Scotland, we don’t know if % was higher.

    imo small numbers not worth worrying about, also given Scots hate* of English & Thatcher, I’d say DHSS Scotland were the block

    * the hate came as a big shock when moved to Scot from NI in 1978

    @Jim January 3, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    +1 Backs up my experience of “justice” workers (like the two murdered recently): bleeding compassionate hearts full of Uni gobbledegook, not a clue about reality

    @Jason Lynch

    +10

    We had a Swiss soldier friend (biker) on secondment to a local barracks in late 90s, he was in awe of the L85 & it’s tele sight

    imo a lot of the anti-L85 is a p1ss take fable based on it being too small when it replaced the SLR (aka “that gun”), round and round the fable goes and now taken as fact

  35. Pcar: “Even C4 News reported Cummings wanted the bright under-privileged who never went to Uni to get in touch …” — maybe because they are going to need someone to make the coffee while the big guys are doing the thinking?

    Look at what Cummings wrote with his own fair hands:

    … “You must have exceptional academic qualifications from one of the world’s best universities …”
    … “We are looking to hire some recent graduates in economics. You should a) have an outstanding record at a great university …”

    For sure, Cummings is not going to say — graduates from U. Salford with icky Northern working class accents can save themselves some time by not applying — but that is what many graduates from Salford are going to read between the lines.

    The concept of Cummings as Boris’s Cardinal Richelieu, or even as his Rasputin, is not going to age very well. Just my worthless guess!

  36. I think Trump has a good idea in moving agencies out of the Washington DC area. The caterwauling that this has entailed is instructive. This reduces the echo chamber effect of the government employees and contractors always being with other government employees and contractors instead of citizens with private sector jobs. Moving to other cities across the US makes the government workers have to really deal with their true clients rather than others in the bubble. Washington DC needs to go back to being a small Southern town as it was before WWII.

  37. Gavin Longmuir said:
    “Look at what Cummings wrote with his own fair hands:
    … You must have exceptional academic qualifications from one of the world’s best universities
    For sure, Cummings is not going to say — graduates from U. Salford with icky Northern working class accents can save themselves some time by not applying — but that is what many graduates from Salford are going to read between the lines.”

    Yawn.

    He’s recruiting in 8 categories – wants the mathematicians and the economists (the two you quote) and the researchers to have excellent university qualifications. The other 5 categories, not – very definitely not in some cases. Anyone capable of writing an application is capable of reading & understanding that.

    Now you must have read it too, to pick out those details to make your snide comments, and must have seen that they were specifics for only a minority of the positions he’s talking about. But you still selectively quoted to make your snide comment. That looks deliberately mendacious, and stupid enough to think that we wouldn’t notice.

  38. Bloke in Costa Rica

    If you’re so thick that the only place you could get into was Salford then yes, for god’s sake, stay away from anywhere you might plausibly have any effect on the real world.

  39. BTW and entirely off topic, when does the EU stop doling out thirty pieces of silver to our traitors? Is that one of the thing that happens at the end of the month?

  40. RichardT: “That looks deliberately mendacious, and stupid enough to think that we wouldn’t notice.”

    You are right, Richard. I am definitely stupid — clearly not the kind of superior person that the sainted Cummings wants in his inner circle. Dammit! I might even have a degree from Salford! But mendacious? That, sir, was uncalled for.

  41. RichardT wrote: Cummings wants “the researchers to have excellent university qualifications.”

    Since we are having this discussion, notice your own sleight of hand, Richard.

    The sainted Cummings asked for “exceptional academic qualifications from one of the world’s best universities”. You translated that into the much broader, less exclusive “excellent university qualifications” — thereby ignoring Cummings’ key restriction that it was not enough to have exceptional academic qualifications; those qualifications had to come from the right place, the “best” universities, which is very much a social restriction.

    If the sainted Cummings is your hero — fine! But at least recognize what he is actually asking for.

  42. Bloke in Tejas,

    “I think there’s little harm in using untrammelled minds to explore what *might* be possible.

    However, there’s little evidence that I’ve seen which indicates that ‘data mining’ or ‘ML’ have the ability to dig useful strategies out of anything. Cambridge Analytica is an example of folk who climed they could do just that; but they only claimed it in sales pitches. They never demonstrated it.”

    This is my “science grads vs arts grads” point. And I suspect that Cummings sees arts grads as a fucking waste of space when it comes to solving problems (fair point), but doesn’t understand that a lot of science grads are also a fucking waste of space when it comes to solving problems. I’ve worked with some highly qualified people in the field of software development that I’d rather not work with again, because they simply weren’t pragmatic.

    “Governing is hard. It gets easier when you have less to do, so indeed privatising chunks is a good start; as long as those taking over the goodies are NOT large organisations. You really want a bunch of individual competing agents.”

    I actually don’t think it’s that hard. We know from 100+ years of experimentation, of observing what works everywhere, that it’s things like shrinking government to its minimum, free markets and liberalism. And you deal with market failures by pushing power to the individuals. And typically you find that when people argue against that, they generally make the case FOR it (e.g. bank failures).

    But what really isn’t that hard, but governments certainly fail at is operational management. NHS staff have 15 different logins for the software they use. Kerberos has been around since Windows 2000. I was doing Websphere SSO work back in 2003 FFS. And they’re going to spend £40m on fixing it. FORTY MILLION QUID.

  43. @RichardT January 4, 2020 at 4:47 am

    +1 Thank you

    @GL

    Or “excellent university, qualifications” or “excellent, university qualifications”

    All open to interpretation; but probably means “No Gender, Media, Black, Diversity, Green….studies”

    BEng Hons from Loughborough welcome

    Richard Branson, John Caudwell, Charles Dunstone, Alan Sugar types welcome

    @BoM4

    +1 Pragmatism and Perspicacity are two essential attributes; and dare I say it: rule breaking

  44. I was doing Websphere SSO work back in 2003 FFS. And they’re going to spend £40m on fixing it. FORTY MILLION QUID.

    Me too. They claim to be bringing the NHS into the 2020s, when really it’s the 1990s.

    And the only way I could justify charging £40M, is if it had to be installed on each individual PC from floppy disk. Which, knowing the NHS, is probably just how they plan to do it.

  45. @Gavin Longmuir January 4, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    From Dom C’s “ad”

    …world’s best universities or have done something that demonstrates equivalent (or greater) talents and skills
    …We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels
    …We need to figure out how to use such people better without asking them to conform to the horrors of ‘Human Resources’ (which also obviously need a bonfire)

    Back in your box and nail lid shut

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