Performance based regulatory systems are all the rage. That’s when regulatory action is taken based on the measurement of a key indicator or a series of indicators. Sounds like a good idea. It is for the most part. Set a target of reducing or eliminating something that is damaging or undesirable and track progress towards achieving that goal.

Wouldn’t it have been to the benefit of all if a performance-based approach had been applied in the 1989 Water Act which privatised water in England and Wales? A great deal of sewage flooding into rivers could have been avoided. 

However, it wouldn’t have helped to have nothing more than a simple “good” or “bad” indicator. In a performance-based system there’s a need for reasonably accurate measurement and graduated bans of performance achieved. The measurements taken need to be done in a timely manner too. Publishing measures that are a year or more out-of-date isn’t a good way of confidently plotting a way forward to hit a goal.

Listening to the News about Ofsted’s grading scheme, I can’t help but think that having a four-category grid is wholly inadequate for their purpose. Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. The Education inspection framework (EIF)[1] in England is primitive in this respect. Shoe-horning every school in England into Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate is brutal.

What’s the betting that at any one day many of the schools graded Outstanding are not, and many of the schools graded Inadequate are not either. The problem with these indicators is the crudity of the labels. We’ve all seen huge banners erected outside schools if there’s favourable news to communicate. What passers-by and parents see is the headline and not the reality of the performance of a particular school.

The sub-division of the lowest category into schools with serious weaknesses and in need of significant improvement doesn’t help much. Negative words get merged into a negative judgement.

Experience with risk management is that categorisation schemes face challenges when performance sits on the borderline between categories. That’s one reason why anything less than five categories is not often used.

The aim of a performance based regulatory systems is to improve performance. If the tools used become those that blame and shame, then that system is not working. Nothing, I’m saying here isn’t already written-up in the annals of quality management. People have been wrestling over different methods for 60 years, at least.

The current Ofsted’s grading scheme is poor and unimaginative.



So, why might artificial intelligence (AI) be so dangerous in a free society?

Democracy depends upon information being available to voters. Ideally, this would be legal, decent, and honest information. All too often the letter of the law may be followed whilst shaping a message to maximise its appeal to potential supporters. Is it honest to leave out chunks of embarrassing information for the one nugget that makes a politician look good? We make our own judgement on that one. We make a judgement assuming that outright lying is a rare case.

During key elections news can travel fast and seemingly small events can be telescoped into major debacles. I’m reminded of the remark made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown[1] when he thought the media’s microphones were dead. In 2010, when an aide asked: What did she say? Gordon Brown was candid in his reply. It’s an occasion when the honest thoughts of a PM on the campaign trail popped into the public domain and livened up that election coverage considerably.

What’s concerning about AI[2] is that, in the hands of a “bad actor,” such events could be faked[3] extremely convincingly. Since the fast pace of election campaigning leaves never enough time for in-depth technical investigations there’s a chance that fake events can sway people before they are uncovered. The time between occurrence and discovery need only be a few days. Deep fakes are moving from amateur student pranks to the tools of propagandists.

Misinformation happens now, you might say. Well, yes it does, and we do need people to fact-check claims and counter claims on a regular basis. However, we still depend on simple techniques, like a reporter or member of the public asking a question. It’s rather a basic in format.

This leaves the door open for AI to be used to produce compelling fakes. Sometimes, all it needs is to inject or eliminate one word from a recording or live event. The accuracy and speed of complex algorithms to provide seamless continuity is new. It can be said that we are a cynical lot. For all the protest of fakery that a politician may make after an exposure there will be a plenty of people who will not accept any subsequent debunking.

My example is but a simple one. There’s a whole plethora of possibilities when convincing fake pictures, audio and videos are only a couple of keyboard stokes away.

Regulatory intervention by lawmakers may not be easy but it does need some attention. In terms of printed media, that is election leaflets there are strict rules. Same with party political broadcasts.

Being realistic about the risks posed by technology is not to shut it down altogether. No, let’s accept that it will become part of our lives. At the same time, using that technology for corrupt purposes obviously needs to be stamped on. Regulatory intervention is a useful way of addressing heightened risks. Some of our 19th century assumptions about democracy need a shake-up. 





Brexit “outrage” as The Express newspaper put it. Headlines like this are signs of shear desperation. It seems every time something goes wrong, which it regularly does, the call comes out from Brexit supporters – it must be Remainers or the House of Commons or Lords or civil servants or large corporations or lefty liberals thwarting the great Brexit plan. Noting, of course, that there never was a plan in the first place.

“Take Back Control” has become the hollowest political slogan in British history. Rather than dimming the light of fervent Brexit advocates these repeated setbacks just pump them up. This kind of thinking is both sad and dangerous. It has a deep flavour of paranoia.

This month, shocks from the Conservative Party’s council election meltdown are another trigger for the political right to agitate. Shouting: bring back Boris Johnson is unsurprising. The dreamy magical thinking is that because he delivered a big parliamentary majority in 2019, somehow, he, and he alone, can do the same in 2024. Other conservatives are positioning themselves for the next run at being Prime Minister.

I’m not one to totally dismiss the Johnson proposition. Naturally, it would be calamitous and beyond reason but that has not been an impenetrable barrier since 2016. Brexit, as a happening, delights in causing chaos. There’re political thinkers who invite chaos and disruption to free potentially creative energies. They’re not a bit concerned about the impact of that approach on the average person.

Brexit continues to hobble aviation in UK. A large percentage of the people who worked in UK aviation, before the COVID pandemic, were EU nationals. A lot have gone. Now, it’s often the case that when EU nationals apply for jobs in the UK, the aviation industry must turn them down[1].

The legislative proposal to remove retained EU laws has created yet more uncertainty for UK’s aviation sector. The threat remains regardless that it may be in the process of being watered down. Debates in the House of Lords focused on democratic scrutiny of the process where significant changes are planned[2]. Ministers continue to wish to use arbitrary powers to make changes. There’s ambition in the policies advanced while, at the same time, there’s a wish to look all ways at once.

For a lot of aviation topics, the UK has stated it will continue to use European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules and guidance. Although, this is eminently sensible in an international setting it does suggest that Brexit benefits, if they exist at all, have been greatly overstated.

Given the tabloid media jitters seen in recent headlines, it’s perfectly clear that Brexit is a million miles from being “done”. A bad idea remains a bad idea, however it’s dressed up.

Expect turbulence right up to the next General Election. Change is not assured. People will have to campaign hard to make it happen. In comment on the change of the crown, “The country is in a waiting room” said historian Simon Schama.

[1] One major airline – We have had to turn down a huge number [8,000] of EU nationals because of Brexit. Another has blamed the British government’s post-Brexit immigration constraints on the labour market for fuelling staff shortages.



There’s nothing wrong with making an argument for deregulation. What’s absurd is to make that argument as an unchallengeable dogma. It’s the irrationality of saying that deregulation is good, and regulation is bad, de-facto. This kind of unintelligent nonsense does permeate a particular type of right-wing political thinking. It pops it’s head up in a lot of Brexiters utterances. For advocates of Brexit their great goal is to throw away rules and lower standards. Mostly, this is for financial gain.

Let’s take some simple examples. The reasons for rules and regulations can often be found in recent history. Hazards are recognised and action is taken.

There’s still lead paint to be found in many older houses. There was a time when such paint was used on children’s toys. Toy safety has been a confusing area of law, and there have been several sets of regulations since the 1960. From our current perspective this past laxness seems insane, but such lead paint mixtures were commonplace. In fact, all sorts of toxic chemicals have been used in widely used paints.

I remember working in one factory building where a survey was done of the surrounding grounds. Outside certain windows there were small fluorescent flags placed at in the grass verges. They marked places where minor amounts of radiation had been detected. This came from discarded paint brushes and tins that had accumulated in the war years. At that time radioactive luminescent paint was used to paint aircraft instrument dials.

Any arguments for the deregulation of toxic chemicals in commonly used paints should be one that is quashed instantly. However, some deregulation fanatics are only to happy to endorse a loosening of the rules that protect the public from toxic chemicals.

One result of the loosening of public protection is often to put greater profits in the hands of unscrupulous industrialist. Across the globe there are numerous cases studies of this sad folly. Newspapers and political parties that push the line that rules, regulations and regulators, by their very nature are crushing our freedoms are as bad as those unscrupulous industrialists.

Yes, there’s a case to be made for pushing back over-regulation. There’s risks we are prepared to take where the risks are low, and the benefits are large. This is a matter for intelligent debate and not throwing around mindless slogans. We should not be cowed by loud voices from small corners of society intent on tearing down decades of learning and sound practical laws. I could come up with an encyclopaedic list of examples. Opponents rarely, if ever want to address a particular case since it’s much easier for them to thunder off sweeping assertions. Beware these siren voices.

NOTE: The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011 implemented the requirements of Directive 2009/48/EC, whose purpose is to ensure a high level of toy safety.

Winds of Change

At the start of a new Carolean Era. Wow, I’ve been wanting to say that for some time. Yes, it’s a new era in this country. In Britain, we mark the passing of history by reference to the monarch of the time. Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian, Elizabethan and so on, it’s a tag to place a period in history. They are often associated with national accomplishments, culture and styles that were fashionable.

It’s a blustery wet day in London and King Charles III is being crowned sovereign. Apparently, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II had to contend with wet weather too. At the age of 73, King Charles became the oldest person to accede to the British throne. I’d say in 2023, we can no longer say that 73 is old. There are numerous Heads of State across the globe who can top that easily.

We don’t do this designation act with politicians, but we do use a shorthand for their time in power with a reference to their approach to the job or an iconic slogan or two. Thatcherism, Blairism, the white heat of technology or you have never had it so good, or things can only get better.

What’s great about the beginning of the Carolean Era is the signals of political change. Hopefully we will no longer need to hold our head in our hands in astonishment at the utter folly enacted by our elected representatives. Well, maybe less so as we run up to a General Election.

This week’s local elections in England are an awakening. Voters have decided – enough is enough. There are a more than a thousand less Conservative Party councillors in the country. This is democracy at work. I’ll quote Dick Nolan, who wrote in The San Francisco Examiner in 1966: “Politicians are like diapers. They should both be changed regularly and for the same reason.”

The Conservative Party has performed so badly over the last decade they deserve to be put out of power for the next decade. Now, extrapolating from this week’s political earthquake to the result of the next General Election is a doggy business. That said, the trend seems set and the expectation is that a political change is inevitable.

Although, I feel secure in saying this there’s always at least one catalyst that can upset this prediction dramatically. For this I’ll go back to Mrs Thatcher. What would the politics of Britain look like if the Falklands War of 1982 had not occurred? This short international conflict transformed the climate of the day and, no doubt the Prime Minister. However, people might think of the successes and failures of that time the result was the strengthening of her premiership.

Local elections recent held the Conservative Party to account in one way. The bigger story will be written over the next 18 months or so. Mayism was chaotic. Borisism was a total disaster. Trussism was insane. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s time in office maybe as that of John Major. The boy with his finger in the dam awaiting a flood of change. Let’s see what the country looks like after a weekend of pomp but also of reflection.


Oh dear. What do they say: the road to hell as being paved with good intentions. Maybe that’s a bit extreme. It’s not necessarily “hell” that I’m talking about here but something that does the opposite of what’s intended. I can image the planning meeting where someone pipes up – I’ve got an idea.

Swearing allegiance to the King[1] might sit well in a Hollywood movie of knights in armour and English castles standing proud against the green, green countryside. In the 21st century it sounds quaint and patronising to say the least. Strange vestiges of the historic riddle of our constitution.

The public is being asked to swear allegiance at the King’s coronation. These words are proposed: “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law…….

Now, I know that Members of Parliament (MPs) must swear a similar allegiance before taking their seat in Parliament. MPs cannot take their seat, speak in debates, vote, or receive a salary until taking an oath or affirmation[2]. For them it’s more about being elected lawmakers than allegiance to a single person. It would make much more sense if they swore an oath to the British Constitution but there lies the problem.

Such quintessentially British activities hark back to a day when everyone knew the rules of cricket, knew their place and, as John Major once put it in his failed Back to Basics[3] campaign, old values. In 1953, the time of the last crowning, Britain was a deferential society, now it’s not.

The question is – should a “modern” constitutional monarchy be asking for allegiance in this public way whilst knowing that most the population will ignore the whole exercise? Not only that but a considerable number of people will think the exercise utterly ridiculous.

There’s not so many large counties in the world where subjects are asked to swear an oath to an unelected head of state and his dysfunctional family. That’s a family that has filled the media with unhappy stories for years. It gets stranger and stranger depending on how you look at it.

It’s not what you might call democracy or meritocracy in the normal sense, it’s more of a ritual of imperial legacy. In this green and pleasant land some people think this is a fantastic advertisement for our great nation across the world. I disagree.

British Citizens have a proud allegiance to their country, but this is to one man and his whole family. Now, that is peculiar. It’s feudal. Sadly, to point out the obvious just gets branded as anti-monarchist.





It’s a difficult time to be a British republican. A couple of reactions to mention of an alternative to having a monarchy is – don’t be a spoil sport or the alternative would be worse.

The national celebrations coming up are not the problem in my mind. Nothing at all wrong with having a big nationwide event in May. Especially given the grim time the hospitality industry has just been through and the natural inclination to celebrate springtime.

Sadly, I have to say that the British republican movement, such as it is, is throwing away the opportunity to pose the questions on the good and bad of having a prominent monarchy in a modern country. “Not My King” is a ridiculous campaign slogan[1]. I believe we’d be better off as a republic but that belief lives with the pragmatic acceptance that there will be a King and he will be the Head of State. Pretending that is not so doesn’t help win the case for change.

Generally, I think there’s an ambivalence[2] about the whole subject amongst the British public. That is however much the BBC talks-up the whole coronation. Nobody much is complaining about having an extra Bank Holiday. Nevertheless, a widely held view is that Charles III will be on probation as a King. If the British monarchy continues to be embroiled in controversy and exist primarily as source of a tabloid headlines, then it will continue to decline as a symbol of the national and last no longer than a decade. The feeling that a monarchy interested in survival should have skipped a generation is a strong one. Their past survival has been mostly because of relative modernisation and not wallowing in ancient rituals.

According to polls, public support for the monarchy is age dependent. This maybe because of the claimed propensity for people to become more conservative, with a small “c”, with age. On the other hand, this is a new age. We have never had the global information revolution that is shaking the foundations of society in the way it is now.

I’m a supporter of British republicanism because we are citizens and not subjects. Although, I do recognise that the different status of people can be of dreadful intricacy given our history.

In Britain, some aspects of our unwritten constitution are “too easy” to change because of a passive Head of State. Conversely, some aspects of our unwritten constitution are “too hard” to change because of being constrained by custom, tradition, and the power of veto by those with inherited influence.

Ironically, post-Brexit, British republicanism is more allied to maintaining sovereignty than our crumbling[3] existing system of governance. That is as much about the sovereignty of the individual citizen as it is of our society or the State. Republicanism has always been about liberty. A few passages from Tom Paine (1737–1809) are enough evidence in that respect.

Good luck to His Majesty King Charles III. He’ll need it.

POST: Not me or, no relation in so far as I know: John Vincent (historian) is a British historian and professor emeritus of modern history at the University of Bristol. He is known for his works on political history, especially the 19th and 20th centuries, and for his controversial views on democracy and monarchy.



[3] The last six years have illustrated the weakness of the current settlement.  

Head in Sand

Well, it’s happened. A debate. Are we any wiser? Well, not much. So many good points are raised but so many good points are dismissed by current Government Ministers. So deep are they in a mess of their own making.

On Monday, 24 April at 16:30, a UK Parliamentary debate[1] took place on the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU). This was consideration of e-petition[2] 628-226 relating to the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU. On the day of this debate this petition had attracted over 178 000 signatures. Petition debates are “general” debates which allow UK Members of Parliament (MPs) from all political parties to discuss important issues raised by the public.

The petition reasons that the benefits that were promised, if the UK exited the EU have not been delivered. Not at all. Although this fact might be self-evident it never-the-less warranted a timely debate. Public support for Brexit is falling as every day that goes by.

The petitioners called upon the UK Government to hold a public inquiry to assess the impact that Brexit has had on this country and its people. Given that other less impactful events have been subject to a public inquiry it seems only right that Brexit be investigated.

The call for an independent public inquiry, free from ideology and the opinions of vested interests is only fair, right, and proper in an accountable democratic 21st Century country. Transparency is a mark of good governance.

Today’s, Brexit is damaging the UK’s economy, opportunities for young people and rights of individuals. It’s well past the time that the people of the UK were told the full story. There needs to be a way out of this mess.

In the debate the point was made that the two biggest Westminster political parties continue to be committed to Brexit despite the harm that it’s doing to the UK. A long list of disbenefits were rattled off as speakers paced through the evidence. A long list that is growing.

The Government’s current approach is to ask UK Parliamentarians to stop talking about Brexit. It’s the ultimate ostrich with its head in the sand[3]. Brexit is a gigantic strategic mistake. Unfortunately, there remains a significant number of English politicians so entrenched in the mythology of Brexit that change is slow in coming. The public are way ahead of the politicians.

Stereotyping people as being in one camp or another, with the aim of continuing to divide the public is the unscrupulous tool of those people without a rational or coherent argument to make. It’s clear, progress will not be made until Ministers recognise that Brexit was a mistake. We may have to wait until after the next UK General Election before a real change is possible. Let’s hope that day comes soon.

POST 1: UK Press reports on the debate MPs debate consequences of Brexit for first time | The Independent MPs debate Brexit impact ‘for the first time since leaving the EU’ | The National Brexit: MPs call for public inquiry into impact of leaving EU – BBC News

POST 2: Brexit is a drag on the UK Sunak Grins And Bears It As Boss Hits Out At Brexit’s ‘Drag On Growth’ | HuffPost UK Politics (



[3] It’s a myth ostriches bury their head in the sand. Though this isn’t true, Ostrich Syndrome is a popular belief. It’s avoidance coping that people use to manage uncomfortable feelings or rather, not deal with them.

Minister walks

In the news this week is a British politician who has served as Deputy Prime Minister in the UK, resigning because of a report into his conduct[1]. The Prime Minister (PM) has been accused of dither and delay in addressing the outcome of an investigation into bullying that has now been published.

Certain Government Ministers are entitled to be addressed as “Right Honourable” in the UK Parliament. What’s clear in this case is that the conduct described in the report is neither right nor honourable. The findings of the investigation report were set before the PM for his judgement[2]

A senior lawyer had been asked to investigate whether the Conservative politician Dominic Raab had bullied civil servants during his time as both Foreign Secretary from 2019 to 2021, and then Justice Secretary from 2021 to 2022.

Raab has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Esher and Walton in Surrey Country since 2010. He has been a prominent supporter of Britain’s exit from the European Union (Brexit) and known for his forthright style in asserting the virtues of that ill-planned project.

Unsurprisingly, his resignation has stirred up a host of conspiracy theories and finger pointing.

I’m left wondering what it would have been like to have been a civil servant working in the indescribably complicated environment where Brexit is treated as a religion. It must have been a high-pressure situation offering practical and pragmatic options to a Government Minister so wedded to one singular belief, especially under Boris Johnson’s failed premiership.

Bullying behaviour is a serious matter. Whereas some Press commentators are trying to blame the accusers who stepped forward, the evidence shows that it’s not the former Minister who is the victim here. I think it’s disingenuous to paint Dominic Raab as a victim.

Yet again the Conservative Party is in turmoil. It seems to be a perpetual state of play. When Government priorities should be focused on the cost-of-living crisis, instead they are engulfed on their own unending bad behaviour.



Policy & AI

Today, the UK Government published an approach to Artificial Intelligence (AI)[1]. It’s in the form of a white paper. That’s a policy document creäte by the Government that sets out their proposals for future legislation.

This is a big step. Artificial Intelligence (AI) attracts both optimism and pessimism. Utopia and dystopia. There are a lot more people who sit in these opposing camps as there are who sit in the middle. It’s big. Unlike any technology that has been introduce to the whole populous.

On Friday last, I caught the film iRobot (2004)[2] showing early evening on Film 4. It’s difficult to believe this science fiction is nearly 20-years old and the short story of Isaac Asimov’s, on which it’s based is from the 1950s. AI is a fertile space for the imagination to range over a vast space.

Fictional speculation about AI has veered towards the dystopian end of the scale. Although that’s not the whole story by far. One example of good AI is the sentient android in the Star Trek universe. The android “Data” based on the USS Enterprise, strives to help humanity and be more like us. His attempt to understand human emotions are often significant plot points. He’s a useful counterpoint to evil alien intelligent machines that predictably aim to destroy us all.

Where fiction helps is to give an airing to lots of potential scenarios for the future. That’s not trivial. Policy on this rapidly advancing subject should not be narrowly based or dogmatic.

Where there isn’t a great debate is the high-level objectives that society should endeavour to achieve. We want technology to do no harm. We want technology to be trustworthy. We want technology to be understandable.

Yet, we know from experience, that meeting these objectives is much harder than asserting them. Politicians love to assert. In the practical world, it’s public regulators who will have to wrestle with the ambitions of industry, unforeseen outcomes, and negative public reactions.

Using the words “world leading” successively is no substitute for resourcing regulators to beef-up their capabilities when faced with rapid change. Vague and superficial speeches are fine in context. Afterall, there’s a job to be done maintaining public confidence in this revolutionary technology.

What’s evident is that we should not delude ourselves. This technical transformation is unlike any we have so far encountered. It’s radical nature and speed mean that even when Government and industry work together they are still going to be behind the curve.

As a fictional speculation an intelligent android who serves as a senior officer aboard a star ship is old school. Now, I wonder what we would make of an intelligent android standing for election and becoming a Member of Parliament?

[1] The UK’s AI Regulation white paper will be published on Wednesday, 29 March 2023. Organisations and individuals involved in the AI sector will be encouraged to provide feedback on the white paper through a consultation which launches today and will run until Tuesday, 21 June 2023.