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Bicycle shed syndrome

Posted by Richard Thursday, August 19, 2004

Cyril Northcote Parkinson is best known for his eponymous Parkinson’s Law – work expands to fill the time allocated to it – but one of his lesser-known but equally perspicacious contributions was the definition of what has become known as "bicycle shed syndrome".

Parkinson describes the scenario of a planning committee in some tiny rural district council which has on its agenda two items for approval: a bicycle shed and a nuclear power station.

Predictably – knowledgeable as they are in the design and construction of bicycle sheds – the councillors spend four hours discussing down to the tiniest detail the shed. Only then, just as the meeting is about to break up, does the clerk remind them of the other item, and they pass the nuclear power station “on the nod”, without discussion.

As we all know, Parkinson’s Law is alive and kicking – but so is his lesser-known bicycle shed syndrome. For living proof one only has to look at today’s newspapers, which have devoted acres of space, with full, technicolour photographs, to the MoD’s unveiling of "a new range of rations to feed the frontline soldier of the 21st Century". What is particularly noteworthy in this respect is The Telegraph’s headline: "Why curry and rice is Britain’s new weapon on the battlefield".

Er… actually, Britain's "new weapon on the battlefield" for the 21st Century is FRES, about which this Blog has been voluble – see this and this.

But has there been any coverage of it in the mainstream press (apart from in Booker’s column)? No. The fact that it constitutes a long-term, £50 billion investment, and could be one of the most disastrous moves ever made by a defence secretary, has completely passed the media by.

No wonder the politicians get away with so much, when we have such a supine, trivial press. Oh for some grown-up reporting.