In the Grummidge West office of my political hero, J Alfred Prufrock MP, are a series of computer programmes, each one more elaborate and expensive than the last. All of them are named after figures from the Arthurian legends – BEAUMAINS, EXCALIBUR, GUINEVERE, MORDRED, etc. None of them work. And all of them were purchased at the insistence of CCHQ.
They whirr, stutter, malfunction, chew up canvass cards, lose invaluable information in the wastelands of cyberspace, spontaneously shut down – and explode, endangering the heath and safety of Prufrock's employees (Mrs Prufrock) and occasionally blowing the roof off the consituency office. There is a lot of desperate shouting down the phone from the CCHQ helpline along the general lines of "Put EXCALIBUR into GUINEVERE" and "Plug MORDRED into BEAUMAINS", and so on.
There is obviously no resemblance whatsoever between this cautionary tale and the real-life Merlin computer system. None the less, the Express has quoted party activists as describing it as "rubbish", "absolutely bloody useless" and "totally hopeless", Harry Phibbs referred recently to its problems on this site, and the Times (£) has described its failures during the Eastleigh by-election. The company which owns the system is allegedly bust, and CCHQ is having to patch up its problems in-house.
It may seem like small beer to write about a computer system in the aftermath of four other pieces about Cabinet organisation, marriage tax policy, the Whips' Office and utility rip-offs, but canvassing is ineffective if there are no proper canvass cards (for example). Grant Shapps is well-aware of the problem, but David Cameron should also be taking an interest.