Saturday 1 October 2016

Policy Jam

You research and consult, you debate and you put to the vote your latest plan to meddle in the order of things and then, eventually, the creaking mechanisms of state grind along and half-way through your term in office the new policy comes into being. Most people have forgotten about it, those who voted for it have moved on to shinier, newer toys and those who are directly affected often don’t notice. A law you have never broken makes minor headlines as the first prosecution is brought. Your subsidy continues under another name. You take the number 12 bus to the health centre when you used to take the 105.

Humans adapt. That’s pretty much how we got this far. Put obstacles in our way and we’ll find a way over, under or around them. Curb our spending power by pricing or taxation and we’ll either alter our choices or avoid your grasping hands. We up sticks and move, we change careers, we form or end relationships and alliances; we change our own lives far more drastically than government ever does. Whatever state mechanisms are in place, humans will forever be divided into winners and losers – are you above or below that statistical line beloved of economists and social reformers? And do you care?

More particularly, are you really affected by policies abandoned long ago? And will any of the tinkering changes brought in by current government really change your lives for better or for worse? The right-hand side of political thought in the UK believes – when it remembers that it is the right-hand side - that people should have the freedom to make their own way, but there should be a safety net for when it goes badly wrong. Small state, lower tax, low national debt (if we ever manage to pay off what was inherited) and maximum autonomy within the law to do the best we can.

But the recent shenanigans of the Labour Party and some of their more hysterical flag-wavers shows just how far they have yet to evolve before they begin to trust the people they want to represent. In an article today in the Guardian Deborrah Orr still blames Thatcher. Oh, she makes some good points about Labour throwing out the baby with Tony Blair’s bath water, but still, at the heart of it is the belief that humans are helpless without the ever-present and disconcertingly visible hand of state to guide them.

Socialism sounds so good, doesn’t it? It sounds like we should all be happy and work together to make a wonderful world. But we’d all be dirt poor without capitalism, so we’re stuck in this cycle of boom and bust; and which party produces which effect is often a matter of faith. There’s a lag and there are also external influences, so a genius idea to redistribute wealth, or promote business, or improve education, or healthcare, transport, energy or other infrastructure gets lost along the way.

So yeah, okay Deborrah, it was Fatcha’s fault, if you like, if you must. But where does that get us? A lot of ex-Labour supporters, while never intending to vote for their hated enemy, are nevertheless singing from the Conservative hymnal. What has all this to do with the price of fish? It’s that same old thing, really; if you are waiting for the welfare bus to get you to your life destination you’ll have a long wait ahead of you. And when that bus is in the gridlocked traffic jam of policy inertia, you may as well get off and walk.

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