Friday, 5 October 2012

Nude Labour and The Hung Parliament

Hung Parliament
Three Labour Party conferences after the sun set on New Labour, and it must be obvious to everyone that the party's eon in power gave it no insight at all into what might fix the root causes of this country's economic and social problems. So I must henceforth refer to the latest evolution as "Nude Labour".

Not that I'm any great fan of the other parties. As I said in May 2010, a hung Parliament means we have MPs where we want them: "They are not in control. They have little alternative but to listen and respond to our issues bottom-up."

I said "little alternative" because they are very persistent in manufacturing policies designed merely to get themselves elected rather than to actually solve the country's problems. This manufacturing process seems to consist of endless polls amongst 'swinging' voters (the confused but willing) and 'deserters' from the last election, littered with leading questions designed to persuade the victims that the party has the answer to problems created to fit pet policies. At the same time the 'party leadership' must battle the zealots and extremists to avoid appearing like complete lunatics to the rest of us. Oh, and of course they must find ways to disagree with everything the other parties say. And blame other politicians for every error, to encourage the myth that politicians make a difference. 

The recent West Coast railway fiasco is a case in point. The opposition politicians seem obsessed with blaming other politicians, rather than focusing on the deep problems in the way government departments have handled such bidding processes for many years. For instance, Daniel Kahneman refers to a "Planning Fallacy" in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He points to a 2005 study of worldwide rail projects between 1969 and 1998, in which it was found that 90% over-estimated passenger numbers by an average of 106%, and costs overran by an average of 45%, regardless of the publicity associated with each debacle. Gee, I wonder if it's possible that government tendering processes somehow reward bidders who over-estimate utility, and under-estimate cost?

It would be glorifying political parties to say they are themselves a root cause of problems in the UK. As I said in the context of the Red Book, their internal activities are more or less irrelevant to how any problems actually get solved by the more pragmatic amongst us. Witness the Labour Left's dogmatic approach to the reform of the NHS or social housing. And Ed Ball's astonishing rabbit-out-of-a-hat idea to blow the revenue from a 4G licence licence auction on affordable homes merely served to distract conference delegates from Labour's terrible record on actually building them. For the rest of us, his proposed magic trick eerily echoed Gordon Brown's ultimate destruction of the enormous 3G windfall. Hey, let's never forget that Balls was an economic adviser to Brown and staunch ally to the bitter end, and Ed Milliband was Brown's special advisor from 1997 to 2002. None of those people must ever be allowed anywhere  near the nation's coffers ever again.

Alas, not content with showering us with raw waste from two political non-events so far, we must now endure big media's coverage of the Conservative Party's attempt to thrill the faithful with its own recipe for clinging to power. A poor lens through which to view the world, but good fodder for the writers of vitriol. 

Meanwhile, it's down to each of us to find real solutions to the root causes of real problems, charting a pragmatic path through the party-political dogma-doo-doo.

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