Hutton and faith in authority

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

I’ve just had a conversation with my colleague Chris Pearse about the Hutton report. (Just published, Lord Hutton’s report into a scandal surrounding a government weapons expert Dr David Kelly, his leaking of information/opinion, the BBC’s reporting thereof, Kelly’s suicide)

Hutton has, in essence, cleared Tony Blair and his team of wrongdoing, and pointed the blame at the BBC. The government claims vindication; its former spin doctor savages the BBC. Some agree that the Beeb has been wicked; and others say the whole thing is a whitewash.

Whatever you may think of the content of the report, it’s already very apparent that its publication has not closed the book on the affair. What interests me is that people are surprised and upset that it hasn’t. I am no fan of our legal system and it comes as no surprise to me that a lawyer produces findings that cause a storm of protest. In fact, why do we create the expectation that any one person has the wisdom to deliver a defining view of complex evidence, as if somehow it’s not actually for all us to make our own mind up… as if we could all agree if only someone really clever could deliver us an absolute, unifying truth?

It seems to me that the inquiry itself was quite helpful, bringing into the public domain a whole mass of information about the normally opaque dealings of big organisations. That part I give Hutton some credit for. But do we really need him to interpret the evidence for us; and if he chooses to do so, wouldn’t it be better if he – and we – acknowledged that this is, of course, just his opinion. Of course Blair and his cohorts are now blustering about Hutton’s eminence, but they would say that wouldn’t they? Perhaps we’re now learning a lesson about the foolishness of believing in totally impartial justice from judges that the US learnt in its last presidential election.

Clearly, the UK is still in transition from the time of deference and trusting authority to the more exciting if challenging world of networks and conversations. Some regard this with dread and concern, I mostly celebrate it.

And I wonder how often organisations waste time waiting for “definitive reports” from expert consultants, in the false faith that someone else will solve the problem… instead of engaging in the far more interesting challenge of moving together with goodwill through the uncertainties of tribulations of our daily lives?

I also note the energy wasted in the adversarial bluster where people try to make others good or bad, instead of attending to the richer, less sharply defined truth… or indeed to the more interesting question of – where do we go from here? That is where the British legal and political systems, with their emphasis on an adversarial model and a celebration of “forensic” approaches to living systems, fail us quite badly.

The BBC, Tony Blair, the David Kelly’s family… they all have the same task today as they did yesterday… how do we move on from here productively? Was it really worth waiting for Lord Hutton’s personal judgement before doing so? I think not.

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