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Beyond anger

‘Modernizing’ the Royal Mail

Smirking plutogroupie “Lord” Mandelson is “beyond anger” at the resistance to the scheme to “modernize” the Royal Mail. Presumably the place beyond anger in Mandelson’s noggin is not a delightful little limpid pond of Zen acceptance but a maelstrom of incomprehending rage at the refusal of the little people to suck up their punishment at his whim.

The Royal Mail “modernization” process of which the “Labour” Party approves is cloaked in all manner of tasty jargon, the duty of explaining which to the public has fallen to the London Review of Books, where postman Roy Mayall has explained the postal meanings of deregulation, downstream access, and the collapsing of frames.

One of the reasons why it is so necessary to “modernize” the Royal Mail, according to its chief executive Adam Crozier, is because “the business is now handling 10% fewer letters and packets than a year ago”. Where does that figure of a 10% reduction in volume come from? Mayall explains:

Mail is delivered to the offices in grey boxes. These are a standard size, big enough to carry a few hundred letters. […] [W]ithin the last year Royal Mail has arbitrarily, and without consultation, reduced the estimate for the number of letters in each box. It was 208: now they say it is 150. […] Doubting the accuracy of these numbers, the union ordered a random manual count to be undertaken […] On average, those boxes which the Royal Mail claims contain only 150 letters, actually carry 267 items of mail. This, then, explains how the Royal Mail can say that the figures are down, although every postman knows that volume is up. The figures are down all right, but only because they have been manipulated.

Hardly a matter of Unspeak, then, so much as of simple Uncount. In the right context, it seems, outright lies about numbers can be just as effective as rhetorical masks.

What does the place beyond anger in your head look like, readers?

  1. 1  roger migently  October 20, 2009, 7:28 am 

    May I be the first to state the obvious (in the interests of getting it out of the way early)?

    Mandelson has clearly gone postal.

  2. 2  Cian O'Connor  October 20, 2009, 8:55 am 

    Yeah I’ve always thought that they were lying about postal volumes, as at its core is the argument that we’re sending email rather than letters. Ignoring cards (not replaced by email) and postcards (ditto) I”d be surprised if 20 years ago people were receiving more than a letter a week. Whereas junk mail (or “recycle mail” as my wife calls it) and “corporate communications” just keep increasing, while there is a greatly increased market for parcel delivery.

    ‘Modernization’ – now there’s an interesting word…

  3. 3  Katherine Farmar  October 20, 2009, 2:55 pm 

    Surely those figures were not manipulated so much as fabricated? Unless there’s some basis for the estimate of 150 that we haven’t been told, it looks a lot like the Royal Mail plucked a figure out of thin air.

  4. 4  John Fallhammer  October 21, 2009, 2:41 am 

    Many many years ago, I worked for them in admin. The working hours figures were considered to be pretty dubious, but the letters traffic figures were quite trustworthy (the machines that do the postmarks are quite good at counting). Junk mail volumes were vague, but the management knew the overall volumes pretty accurately.

    Breaking the volumes down between the delivery offices is perhaps a bit more of an art (and Mayall doesn’t actually say the management are basing their claims on the grey boxes), but to suddenly fiddle with the unit of measurement like this would need a very good reason indeed. If the totals from the grey box estimates were getting out of whack with the totals from main office sorting, it should have been clear for a long time.

    As for “beyond anger”, that would be how I feel about the Labour Party. I can report that it is a dry, bitter landscape with occasional pools of black humour.

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