Friday, June 27, 2008

Politicians and e-learning

All of this fuss over political donations and MP expenses. A few years ago I was asked by the Labour Party to make a short e-learning programme on the new rules for donations. This we did. We never got paid and it turned out to be a veiled excuse to get a cash donation, which I refused to do.

Question Night
‘Question Night’ our e-learning programme, was a cracker. Loosely based on ‘Question Time’, we had a panel of politicians, an expert and a journalist, who answered questions from the audience. You were clapped, ignored or jeered by the audience, depending on your answers. It was beautifully produced but, sadly, never used. If it had been rolled out we may have avoided many of the excesses we’ve see over the last few years. Politicians, it turns out, are always carping on about skills and training, but refuse to accept the idea that they also need to learn.

Politicians and e-learning
So, it was heartening to hear that Brown’s bedside text this week is Leadbetter’s Me-Think, a book on user-generated content. He’s an internet freak, loves email and shoots them off to Junior Ministers at all hours. He was also the man who gave us UFI, an organisation I’m proud to support, and one of only two public e-learning bodies to have actually delivered anything of worth (the other is the OU).

Tony Blair is an altogether different creature. I once asked him whether he thought e-learning had a major role to play in education and training. Typically, he answered with an anecdote, “I visited an education centre last week,” he replied, “and completed an IT assessment test. I looked at the guy next to me and congratulated him, as he had a much better score than me. ‘That must make you feel quite good’, I said. ‘Not really’, he said, ‘You’re the Prime Minister and I’m one of the long-term unemployed!’

I’ve met lots of politicians over the years and most were sultry creatures, simply doing the rounds. I thought I’d show Robin Cook some medical e-learning, as I knew his wife was a GP in Scotland (I grew up in his constituency). He scowled throughout the demonstration, said nothing, and off he went with his grumpy entourage. Two days later, the news broke that he was leaving his GP wife for a younger woman –OOOPS!

Heseltine, was an open and witty guy, genuinely interested in the web. When I recommended that he get a hold of the Michael Heseltine web address, he quipped, ‘You know, I think I’ll need it!’ This was just before he resigned from his cabinet post.

Aitken was just a crook, Galloway a charming chancer, but one who really did understand the importance of the internet and television, as opposed to newspapers (a medium he despises), Margaret Beckett was sour-faced and shadowed by her husband who stood behind her in an old anorak and took copious notes.

Michael Gove is, without doubt, the one I dislike the most. I had a spat with him last year, when, during one of his rants about declining standards, he claimed that, “School pupils need to know the relationship between, the planets orbiting the sun in the solar system, and electrons orbiting the nucleus in an atom’. My request was that he find a better example of useful knowledge, “As the quantum positions of electrons around a nucleus have absolutely nothing to do with the gravity controlled orbits of planets in our solar system”. He glared at me, and simply answered another imaginary question.

My favourite politician was the best Prime Minister we never had – John Smith. He was smart, friendly and polite. I got to chat to him, on TV, two days before a general election. How very different the UK would have been if he had lived to fulfill his promise.

Politicians and e-learning now
Most politicians are cosseted from technology by layers of civil servants, advisors and lackeys. It’s all face-to-face posing. Their clumsy attempts to appear homely on YouTube are laughable. There’s absolutely nothing honest or spontaneous about any of this – it’s all polished, over-produced, central office nonsense. They really don’t get it.

What’s much more interesting are the YouTube speeches and assorted videos made about politicians, posted by ordinary people and the political blogs. Blogs, especially have breathed life back into politics, apart from those over-moderated marketing blogs by BBC journalists, another mob who really don’t get it.

Similarly, the higher echelons of Government civil servants are full of ageing Boomers who really don’t understand, or even like, the internet. The policy makers are, unfortunately, on the wrong side of the new Digital Divide (see previous post).


Anonymous said...

You are right about John Smith.

Harold Jarche said...

Have to agree with your final comments. As I quipped on Twitter the other day, "thinking that all baby boomers in management positions should retire now so we can get on with the next century".

and I'm a Boomer!

Rob said...

Really interesting. You confirm most of my gut reactions about these particular politicians - and I couldn't agree more about John Smith - what a loss.

Anonymous said...


You seem to have met a lot of politicians just before their demise... You didn't meet Wendy Alexander last week, did you?

Shame your trick didn't work with Tony.

Not all civil servants "don't get it" - but those that do are not helped by their internal systems: the Scottish Government blocks every social networking, blog and video site. This includes videos posted by the Scottish Government - so civil servants have to go home to watch videos of ministers making speeches.

Donald Clark said...

Funny you should mention Wendy. When I was a CEO she almost became a non-exec. Seemed smart, and sent me a rather interesting book on economics - but I'm a bit suspicious of dynasties in politics - one Alexander may be enough!

Another I forgot to mention was Peter Mandelson. He is very imoressive in meetings, but ultimately a weasel.

Chris Smith, was so in love with his mates at the BBC, that it actually preveted him from thinking straight (sic) on the issue. He was absolutely hopeless.

My all time favourite 'famous person who I abhor' is the queen. I attended a lunch with her 'high-and-mightyness. She never smiled once, didn't speak and was a all-round grump. It was in the dining room of the Brighton Royal Pavilion and I amused myself by pointing out that the painting behind her head was thought to be a portrait of one of George IVs mistresses. At that point the rest of the table also refused to speak to me.

You are, of course, right about the 'systems'. But systems are there to be shaped by those who use them. Other civil servants are playing the Boomer game here. These systems are easy to police through policies. If politicians want to use this techology they can't deny their own people access.

Donald Clark said...


"all baby boomers in management positions should retire now so we can get on with the next century"

What a beautifully crafted sentence. Priceless! I'll be using that one.

Anonymous said...

So, I was not off mark when I noticed the anger. If I tell you why I started surfing you will be surprised. Initially I was apprehensive hearing all the stories about strange people prowling the net. There was a motivation though to figure out what my husband found so addictive that he would spend d wee hours on the net. Guess, I kinda figured out. About the solar system and the structure of atoms,strangely, the comment took me back in time. As a kid I used to think how similar the solar system and an atom were.Often I would wonder about Universe as Carl Sagan was and still is my hero. And thinking this make a theory that we lived in some vast matter and that our solar system was just an atom of that mass. I just came across this and the beauty of the words of Dr. Sagan took my breath away. Your post underlines this very thing in a very subtle way. It all fickle ans transitional.Politicians, Queens or bureaucrats. Just the essence of a kind soul remains and the good deeds. I still think there is no digital divide. It's all individual choice. A nice post. Regards


Richard Edwards said...

Politicians efforts would be laughable if the problem was not so serious. IT entry to universities is declining, as with science in general. This is a critical area that no developed economy can fall behind in. What do we get? Eye catching candy-floss from politicians and nothing to deal with the real problem. Depressing.

Exhibit A for the Crown: