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Monday, 17 May 2010

Is there any way back for Professionalism?

One of the underlying ideological battles of the last half-century, along with central v. local and State v. community, is the conflict between managerialism and professionalism. Professionals have lost many of their responsibilities not only because the State seeks entry to regulate every aspect of society, but because politicians and governments of whatever hue are inherently short-termist.

One of the key privileges of the old professionals was the right to regulate themselves; their right to do so was often confirmed not only by Royal charter but by statute. As a result, they were often exempt from the application of other statutes. Physicians and surgeons, barristers and solicitors, clergymen and officers of the armed services all enjoyed such privileged autonomy. In return they provided public guarantees; high standards of professional conduct, a warranty as to competence and skill and a code of behaviour founded in a framework of ethics. All this was anathema to a socialist State the believed that it, and not some Royal College or Inn of Court, should decide who became a doctor or a barrister.

Professionals and their bodies are also by nature small-c conservative. They don't change quickly. This is at odds with politicians focused on short-term aims who want results within a Parliamentary term. It's one thing accepting in principal that 5% of barristers should be black women and quite another that 5% should be black women within two years. And so the State has eroded the power of the professional bodies to the extent that they are now little more than ceremonial, given a minor role to play by government so long as they remain utterly compliant.

And who are the winners from all this? Not the public, that's for sure. The quality standard of doctors and lawyers has plummeted, the clergy are a joke and the service arm to have most enthusiastically embraced the takeover, the Navy, has become greatly operationally weakened.

No, the real winner is the central State, having neutered centres around which alternative ideologies may grow, having disempowered the formerly powerful and having won control of essential social and national resources. Managerialism has triumphed over professionalism, and with that triumph has fallen the place of ethical standards at the heart of public life, and any difference in degree in the extent to which we expect competence in a doctor more than in a tyre-fitter.

The fate of the professions may also make infinitely more difficult Cameron's localist agenda. Communities need leadership and authority figures; destroy the integrity and status of doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergymen and ex-officers and often you destroy the grain of grit around which the pearl forms. Few community leaders are car salesmen or estate agents.


Anonymous said...

In the 1990s we had Centres of Excellence.
In the 2000s we had Centres of Diversity.

Chuckles said...

Ah yes, A framework of ethics. Remember them? Your word was your bond, a handshake was enough, and acting duplicitously was unthinkable. Manners and all that.
This the ruling class think a quaint affectation. I think it a mainstay of society.

Unfortunately together with the evil eye of the politicos, the accountants were also keen to use credentialism together with managerialism to reduce the cost of all those engineers and suchlike professionals to their businesses. Bottom line you know.

Spotty oik with a piece of paper with 'studies' or 'sciences' in the description field is much cheaper than the institute fellow.
Wouldn't you say? Hard to tell the difference really. It records and plays back. Looks just like the real thing. YMMV.

Demetrius said...

The trouble is that entryism and infiltration of one sort or another has destroyed the old professionalism. The GMC is a case in point, it has been bought.