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Can a magic sprinkling of Web 2.0 buzzwords revive the fortunes of a deeply unpopular government?

That's what the Cabinet Office hopes with the appointment of a civil service post with the title of "Director of Digital Engagement". The lucky bureaucrat will play the part of cybernetic overlord - "to embed digital engagement in the day to day working of Government". However, he/she won't have executive powers over existing departments.

And this Director of Twittering won't come cheap. The remuneration is in the range of £80,000 to £160,000pa. That's even more than the Prime Ministerial allowance of £130,959.

(The PM takes home almost £200,000 once his Members salary is included, but the high end figure is more than the second highest paid ministers - the Chief Whip, Cabinet Minister and Lord Chancellor - get before allowances.)

The job description has one very predictable requirement, and one oddity. Here's the predictable part: it'll be jobs for the boys:

"The successful candidate will have a CV that creates instant credibility and confidence with Ministers, senior officials and digital communicators in Whitehall," applicants are told. Translated from NuLabspeak, "instant credibility and confidence" means "we know you, and we know you won't rock the boat".

But the oddity is this. The Twittercrat will be required to:

  • Introduce new techniques and software for digital engagement, such as ‘jams’ into Government

Er, such as... what? After asking around Shoreditch, this morning, I'm none the wiser. "Jams" doesn't even seem to be in the Web 2.0 lexicon. But Kick In The Jams, it is, though.

Without vision or ideas, the modern politician has little left to do other than look for technocratic solutions, and tinker around with the machinery. A fiddle with a Wiki here, and a tweak of a Twitter feed there - and Government will look fresh, responsive and democratic again.

That job falls to Cabinet Office minister Tom 'ROFFLE' Watson, whose mission statement is sketched out here. All that, you already know.

But there's a paradox at the heart of this approach which won't be resolved by technocratic solutions. It looks something like this.

Under the mountain of Web 2.0 nonsense, there's actually a grain of truth. People can organise the business of governing themselves without needing intervention or even blessing from above. So when the ruling technocrats ask the following question...

Approved answers only, please

...you can be sure the answer "Less Twittering" will not be permitted. Nor will the answer "Less Government".

So long as "behaviour change" is deeply embedded in policy making - with constant pestering based on health, environmental and lifestyle scare - it'll take more than a bit of New Media to turn things around.

This is something the next government (and with Labour running at a 25-year-low in the polls, it's sure to be the Conservatives) will find easier to resolve than the current administration, whose legacy was a massive expansion of state power, and a jobsworth bureaucracy (and media spend) to match.

So expecting NuLab wonks to dismantle the bureucracy is like inviting four Daleks to form a Barbershop Quartet. They can't really do the harmonies. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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