Wednesday 22 May 2013

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

The great con trick pulled by experts the world over is to make their expertise appear beyond the wit of mortal man. Thus shamans the world over claim a direct connection with a world inaccessible to the herd, religious leaders proclaim themselves the keepers and protectors of the sacred word and alternative healers publish mumbo-jumbo masquerading as science and let the placebo effect do the rest.

All it takes is to fool enough of the people enough of the time and your place in history, society or the head of the paying-in queue at the bank is assured. The first objection you have to overcome is your own; there is none so zealous as the flag bearer for the cause and once you've brainwashed yourself the rest is relatively easy. Of course, KNOWINGLY misleading people is called fraud, but once you've convinced yourself of your mission it is simply called delusion. Fraud is a crime, but delusion is legal.

Luckily, in the real world our wackier delusions are often brought down to earth by a heavy dose of common sense. If I tried to borrow money from a bank for a business idea I hadn’t properly analysed I’d get short shrift. If I tried to convince listeners that I’d received the word of god at three o’clock on a Saturday morning following a night of excess I’d rightly be met with scepticism. And if I concocted a miracle cure in my shed and tried to flog it in recycled jam jars at the car boot sale I somehow doubt I’d be retiring any time soon.

But package any of those ideas up in the right way and you have the latest stock market darling, a whole new faith and GlaxoSmithKline. Research (by experts) shows that if you say it often enough, commission studies to arrive at a pre-ordained conclusion and get the price right, people will buy any old shit. Which brings us to politics.

Politics has nothing whatsoever to do with producing useful outcomes for ordinary people. It isn’t about the best way to run the country and it certainly has nothing to do with whatever the electorate says it wants. The alchemy of snakes like Mandelson is to gently tell you that what you believe isn’t the right thing to believe and that he’ll be gentle with you as he makes you nicer. The prestidigitation of a Cameron is to talk tough medicine for all, while privately bending over for big business and special friends.

No wonder people are disengaged with politics. If you buy a can of fly spray that doesn't kill flies you get your money back. If you buy a vacuum cleaner that sucks – or doesn't  as it were – you exchange it for another one. And if you order a blue car you don’t expect to get a red one delivered. Yet in politics, if it doesn't work or it’s feeble or you don’t get what you voted for, the Sale of Goods Act just doesn't apply.

Here in real life if you don’t like cheese you don’t buy cheese, if you can’t afford to heat your house you don’t pay to heat your neighbour’s house and you don’t continue to pay for membership of a club you never go to, that your dad signed you up for forty years ago. It’s that simple, yet the power of the political shaman lies in making it complicated.

Here’s a classic example. Everybody is banging on about tax. The tax code in the UK is so complicated nobody – literally NOBODY – can fully understand or explain it. So, the common sense answer is to simplify it. Do the sums, work out how much we need to collect, decide who is going to pay how much of it and there you go, done. In a household we call it a budget. The politicians’ response? Make it more complicated still… Oh and bung some more Europe into the package.

Walking - as designed by politicians

The reason people are drawn to Nigel Farage is because he doesn't seem to offer false hopes and he doesn’t appear to offer all the answers. Whether the reality ever lives up to the hope is up to the future to reveal but maybe political naivety is exactly what we need right now. He doesn’t play the political game because unlike the others maybe he’s seen through the smoke and mirrors and realised something many of us suspect. We’re told there are no easy answers? Of course there are! Politics – it’s only hard because they make it hard. 

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