Jimbo Wales 'to advise Whitehall on transparency'
Foxes to advise on henhouse security
In what may prove to be a political gift to Labour, Wikipedia's spiritual leader Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales has been hired to advise Whitehall on openness and transparency.
Rohan Silva, the No 10 advisor whose brainchild is rebranding the leisure startups of Shoreditch as "TechCity", announced the news at the SXSW conference and festival in Austin, Texas. The Telegraph notes that it's an unpaid post.
The choice may strike some as a curious one. Governments regularly appoint business celebrities to lead "reviews" - whose conclusions that can then be ignored - as publicity stunts. But typically the retained shleb has some expertise in the field. Appointing Wales, however, is rather like putting foxes in charge of hen security.
Wikipedia notoriously allows participants to hide behind a pseudonym, and conceal their real-life identity - with utterly predictable consequences. In one delicious example we highlighted here, Wikipedia's own system for flagging up "conflicts of interest" was led by someone with a quite amazing conflict of interest of their own - as a student of Guru Maharaj Ji, the founder of the Divine Light Mission and a self-styled "Lord of the Universe", whose organisation is widely recognised as a cult or former cult.
On a more mundane level hundreds of curious administrative decisions receive far less attention.
Wales cares little; but then, as he bluntly points out, "we aren't democratic".
The appointment of the Wales follows a pattern. Public sector "futurist" Ben Hammersley was appointed "No 10's Ambassador to TechCity" and is cashing in by giving walking tours around the nontrepreneurs' premises.
What appears to be happening is that advisors are ensuring the bureaucracy is as ideologically motivated as they are. It is hard to imagine Hammersley walking into No 10 and announcing, "I'm sorry, Rohan, but these Shoreditch startups really are a joke. They don't do anything interesting or useful, and they will never make any money. We should pull the plug right away."
It's equally hard to envisage Wales turning to the politicians, who have a real job tackling their own ideologically-motivated and unaccountable bureaucrats, and showing them how to clean up the house. He has, in effect, presided over the world's least accountable distributed bureaucracy. ®
Loss of SOH?
Perhaps Jimbo is only doing it for the publicity or is blissfully unaware of the wisdom of Sir Arnold in 'Yes Minister' ('Open Government') -
"My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government.
If you have something you don't want people to see the traditional approach has been to try and hide it. Conceal it behind a sign that says "Nothing to see here", or disguise it as something else.
Alternatively, you can conceal something by making it invisible. When something's invisible you can't see it - you see right through it. It's TRANSPARENT.
So it's not a huge jump to go from using a disguise or concealment to prevent people from seeing what you're up to, to stopping them from seeing it by making it transparent and therefore invisible to view - or scrutiny. Should we therefore be worried that the real motivation behind a government "transparency" initiative is not to reveal to the general public how government works - but to stop us from seeing those workings by making them invisible, yet still present?
The man who for years would not confirm his own birthdate for his Wikipedia bio? That Jimbo? You must be joking!