A few weeks ago, one official confided an extraordinary story to me. Four years ago, ministers decided that Britain's South Atlantic island possession of St Helena needed to have an airport. If planes could land on the tiny island, more than 1,200 miles from the nearest continent, its economic and demographic decline could perhaps be turned around. Plans began to be made. The airport was scheduled to open in 2010.
Earlier this year, the Foreign Office finally asked the Department for International Development to sign off on the airport. The file went up to the secretary of state, Douglas Alexander. But instead of giving the go-ahead himself, Alexander was required to pass the decision up to Downing Street. Brown insisted on reading all the papers in the St Helena file and afterwards asked personally to see all the tender documents, in case they did not give value for money. I am told the papers remain in Downing Street and that no final decision has yet been taken.
It would be hard to find a better example of a decision that a prime minister in times of trouble should not waste his time on and one that should be delegated to ministers. What would Napoleon have said? But the St Helena episode has become a Whitehall byword for a lethal combination of micromanagement and indecision.
If ever anything summed up the hopelessness of Brown's style of government, this does. And the thing is, he will never change. His government is being paralysed by Brown's insistence that the whole shabang has to be run from Number 10. Perhaps if he trusted his Ministers a little, they might - from time to time - rise to the occasion. Sadly, we are unlikely to find out.
Hattip James Forsyth.