“The horror! The horror!” – Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

Their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could for the sake of what was to be got.

I read Heart of Darkness for the first time during the Christmas break. I was struck by such a sense of how current it seemed that, without wishing to appear ridiculous, I think it’s a very good allegory of the current government and their approach (captured by the quote above).

At the level of the individual, the following descriptions by Marlow, Conrad’s explorer making his way up the Congo River to find a key person in a British Company’s empire-based operations, of the role of administrators within that Company put me in mind of most Ministers:

This papier-mâché Mephistopheles[;] it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt, maybe.


‘The groans of this sick person’, he said, ‘distract my attention. And without that it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical error in this climate’.

It’s not a cheery note, but I found a lot in Heart of Darkness and modestly suggest you add it to any reading you list you might have. Incidentally, it also means I shall be watching Apocalypse Now again in the near future.


The impact of advocacy – call for evidence

In my new work role at the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi) (and on which more blogging goodness to come soon),  I’m getting right into it with a really interesting piece of work about advocacy and evidence of its impact.

We’re not looking directly at creating new evidence about advocacy: we’re looking to gather and review the evidence that’s already available about the impact of different types of advocacy for people who need support.

What we want to do is:

  • Help to understand the impact of advocacy, and the benefits of investing in it against a range of different factors and outcomes
  • Describe this in relation to different forms and types of advocacy to help inform decisions about what type of advocacy to invest in for which purpose
  • Focus on gathering evidence of economic and financial impact (if such evidence exists), in order to help inform investment decisions in the current financial context.

The purpose of the work is to present the evidence that exists about advocacy in a more comprehensive and robust way than currently exists. It will also help provide evidence for organisations who deliver advocacy services about their existing and potential impact.

Full details of the work we’re doing is available here: the impact of advocacy for people who need support. If you know of evidence that could be useful as part of this review, please do get in touch using the comments below or via Twitter – @rich_w

Man walks into a column, no.50: End

Judging myself with appropriate strictness against the criterion I established exactly a year ago, I have failed.

A quick glance at the big fat fifty embedded within the title of this post tells the whole tale: this man may’ve walked into a weekly column but, well before the end, this man fell short. Crumbs of comfort come from 50 being a much nicer, rounder number than 52, and… actually that’s it really. I hope I can count on your goodwill; it’s the season for it, after all.

In my ‘statement of intent post’ on the last day of 2010 I specified no end point for my column partly, I would imagine, because to do so would’ve been rather over-confident: my non-resolution felt intimidatingly large and foolhardy from the start and it took many weeks for it to feel anything close to achievable.

But with happy irony the relative success of my 2011 blogging (relative to the paltry showing of 2010, that is) has encouraged me to branch out from the feathery down lining the wing of ac’s Chief Blogger (and my dear friend) Rich Watts, and set up shop on my own, in a neighbouring borough of this great big webby world.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve realised it’s that I enjoy blogging best when ‘on my own turf’: when I’m writing about something for which I feel a genuine interest – in some cases even a passion – and have a little more knowledge than usual, bred from familiarity with the topic in question.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that this is, indeed, the end of my column (tee-hee), although I can’t promise I’ll keep away from this grand blog entirely.

How to mark the end? Anyone who works with me will tell you that I’m a Category Addict, so rather than offer my columnar highlights in an arbitrary fashion, I proudly present the five categories of things I’ve posted about in 2011. In no particular order, my posts have been:

  1. Political – both small and slightly bigger ‘p’ – covering library cuts, AV, Scottish independence, privatisation, the census, UK constitution and protest. The largest number of posts (14) are in this broad category, and a particular run of four – written in the summer months – are the ones of which I’m most proud, dealing respectively with: public attitudes towards teachers, independent school dominance of Oxbridge, the stupidity of denying the ideological dimension of policymaking and, um, what Spotify can teach us about public service reform.
  2. Self-ish or sociable – a similarly-sized chunk of posts (12) have been either ‘about the self’ (neuroplasticity, meditation etc.), ‘about the self in relation to others’ (from Facebook to charitable giving), or just downright self-centred, for example ‘covering’ the day I gave up daily diary-writing, my arrival at a position of liberal personal atheism, and momentous decision to use my personal iPhone as my work phone too. You heard it here first.
  3. Phoned-in – this category (of 6) divides into posts that were written on the road – figuratively phoned-in – from locales including Brussels, Nottinghamshire and Sydney (the last accounting for a valiant long-haul series of three) and one that was just shit; ‘phoned-in’ in the Late Period De Niro sense of the phrase.
  4. Presidential – I’m referring here to the subject matter, not the quality of the writing: nine posts, all but two in the autumn and winter months, looked at US political shenanigans, mostly with a view to the 2012 presidential election. This category contains the majority of the posts I’ve enjoyed writing the most, of which more below.
  5. Phoney – last and certainly least (how refreshing to write that for once) are posts that, with hindsight, belonged elsewhere. The best blogs have a coherence, but with these eight posts I risked turning arbitrary constant into a jumble sale: with book reviews (of Banville, Powell and Pamuk) and half-baked musicology.

I’ve learnt more than one thing, naturally. I’ve learnt that blogging is utterly self indulgent, both in the positive sense of being overwhelmingly for one’s beneficence and in the less positive sense of being for (almost) no-one else’s, such is the maelstrom of competition for the attention of the online citizen. I think bearing this in mind at all times helps to preserve a sense of modesty in an over-inflated world.

(As footnote: I came across an updating of Warhol’s ‘famous for fifteen minutes’ saying today, which I’m sure will be familiar to everyone but me, but I still thought worth quoting here for its aptness. David Weinberger popularised this version for the blogging generation: ‘everyone will be famous for fifteen people’. I hope I’m getting there, but wouldn’t count on it. Quality not quantity.)

So that’s it: another chapter closes. A happy new year to you, and I very much hope to see you on or around my new blog Wannabe Yank in 2012 or on Twitter @philblogs.

Go Ron!