When the prime minister taunted Ed Miliband at PMQs about when he would start doing his job, an awkward question was whispered across Westminster. What exactly does the prime minister do?Despite being amused by the accusation, Cameron's indolence doesn't bother me. It's his politics that I worry about. This week's column took the opposite tack:
Governments are like sharks. They need to keep moving or they die. For many decades governments have formed a consensus view that strenuous activity, and the appearance of strenuous activity, is the best way to show that you are working hard governing the country. The civil service must balance the farcical tension between real work and the appearance of work.This sounds familiar. One of my complaints about some managers in the various places that I have worked in the past is not that they were lazy, it is that they worked phenomenally hard - doing the wrong thing. I suppose it's one way they can justify their escalating salaries; ferocious activity when we all wish that they hadn't bothered.
The best managers let you get on with what you have to do and intervene or offer support when something goes wrong or when you need it. The worst constantly re-organise, invent new systems or keep adding extra bureaucratic tasks that continuously pile up, making your job more arduous than it ever should be. And when we have governments vigorously doing the wrong thing in the shortest possible time, without space for reflection, simply to prove that they are active, we get the worst of all worlds.
I once worked with someone whose pet saying was that if you want something done well you need to ask a lazy person. He reckoned they will always find the quickest and easiest route so that their leisure isn't interrupted for too long. Workaholics create useless toil, for themselves as well as others. It is pathological behaviour, though in our macho managerial world it is seen as virtuous. I could go on, but now I fancy a little nap.