Every synapse is screaming at me this morning that Simon Jenkins, a mind that normally delivers a succinct and cogent analysis with which I mostly agree, is wrong, horribly wrong, in his Guardian piece. It wasn't immediately apparent why, but here's a start.
The 'professions' used to be a fairly limited set of occupations that severely restricted entry and thereby enhanced income for their members. To preserve and sustain this arrangement, it was necessary for each individual member to share in a caucus of knowledge and to take personal liability in upholding professional standards; the professions were self-regulating and government largely left them alone. They were directly descended from the mediaeval guilds, institutions that competed with the power of the Church. The modern professions likewise were (I say were) institutions that competed with the successor to the Church, the State. Of course, in the twentieth century numerous occupational groups saw the advantages of becoming a 'profession' and there was a scramble to obtain Royal Charters from everyone from tyre-fitters to IT consultants.
At the same time, the State encroached on the preserve of the professions to regulate themselves; first by interfering in their rights to determine entry based on criteria designed to benefit the professional body and imposing instead a duty to determine entry based on criteria of equality of outcome defined by the State, and secondly by the introduction by the State of rules, regulations and codes of practice that superseded the internal caucus of knowledge. This was coupled with a change from the rights of professions to exercise disciplinary control over their peers to the State - through the civil courts - to do so, thereby cutting one of the major strengths of the system. The only profession that has so far maintained this ancient right is that of the barrister. In reaction, the professions eschewed individual and personal liability and either formed groups of LLPs or became employed by a private or public corporation that would instead be the prime object of legal action.
None of which has improved the service enjoyed by the 'laity' nor the cost of the service by one iota; it has been a record of sustained assault by the State against institutions that competed with the central State for authority. They have bureaucratised the professions. As the State, rather than the profession, now regulates competition, and therefore earnings, it is the State that the professions must now lobby for their gold. The 'professional associations' are no longer anything of the sort; they are now Trade Unions in all but name.
Jenkins scores some direct hits - Shaw's quote "all professions are conspiracies against the laity" can equally be rendered as "all professions are conspiracies against the State" - and "Generals, admirals and air vice-marshals – party to the biggest fraud on the taxpayer of modern times (the defence budget)" is a gem, but in attacking the BMA (a Trade Union), the Law Society (a Trade Union), the RCGP, RCP, RCS, RCA and the rest (all Trade Unions) he's actually attacking the travesties that the State has created.
Here's an example. Thirty years ago, a civil engineer took personal professional liability for his design. There was no government manual, no State code, no British Standard for a composite design (BSs in those days confined themselves to standards of constituent materials). Now a monkey with a mouse can do the job just by looking up the standard construction detail in the BS. And even if the monkey picks the wrong table, s/he is protected because they're a member of a Limited Liability Partnership, but as long as they stick to the standard detail in the BS and refrain from exercising any individual skill or judgement, they're safe. We've turned professionals into clerks.
Jenkins also quotes the Milly Dowler trial as good reason to abolish juries, forgetting the dictum that hard cases make bad law. The preservation of juries he ascribes to the intransigence of the embedded legal 'profession' rather than the preference of the British people to be tried by their peers rather than by the State for serious offences.
Why my synapses were snapping is that Jenkins sees all this as reason to strengthen the State through the power of the mandarins rather than sweep away the rubbish in a tsunami of re-empowerment. He's wrong, grievously wrong. And I'm very disappointed.