If you’re a politician and you don’t target outcomes, anything goes. If you’re not in the government you can attack the government for spending too much on this, or not enough on that. If you are in the government you can blame all the bad news on what the opposition did when it was in power. Relationships between cause and effect are nebulous and accountability can always be fudged. So it’s all a lot of fun for politicians: all they really need a research team who can mine data and bring up a few favourable soundbites: there’s no shortage of data. And if you’ve done so badly that even that is unconvincing, well you can always attack the personal history of your opponent. So Gordon Brown, UK Chancellor (Minister of Finance) yesterday was reduced to pointing out that the chief defect of his new Tory opponent is that he was an Old Etonian.
Politicians should be allowed to have their fun, but not at the expense of the rest of us. We really need to get them to target explicit social and environmental outcomes. We need to join with them in articulating our goals and costing them.