03 December 2006

Never mind the outcome, feel the sanctimony

An article in the UK Sunday Telegraph says that Chancellor Gordon Brown ‘has been launching transport reviews at the rate of nearly one a year since 1998’. According to the same article, in 2000 Brown proposed scrapping older lorries with a £100 million investment fund. ‘Asked about this recently, ministers said they did not fund any such schemes.’ In 2003, Mr Brown claimed that everyone on Jobseekers' Allowance would be assessed with a mandatory skills test. But ‘Ministers recently told the House: "There are no mandatory skills courses linked to Jobseeker's Allowance".’

This sort of thing is typical. Image is more important than reality; and who’s going to keep the politicians honest? Between policymaking and policy delivery there are manifold labyrinthine paths, obscured by the fog of committees, agencies, and the glossy outpourings of PR professionals. The goal is not to deliver outcomes, but to remain in power, and for that, in the ADD era, grandiose but vapid promises suffice. Unveil new well-intentioned initiatives, and you will look good on the tv news. And under the current regime there’s no need to bother about outcomes. All the good news can be ascribed to your policies; all the bad news to the confounding effects of unexpected events or the long-term fallout from the previous ruling party’s activities.

This randomized or – frankly – deceptive approach is just not good enough. It never was, but given the challenges face as a planet and a species, it could bring us to extinction. Kyoto, for instance, is typical: high-sounding principles; top-level agreements; elegant trading mechanisms…and the outcome? A possible negligible reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Pitiful: the triumph of process over substance.

Policy and political careers should be subordinated to outcomes. Real, meaningful goals should be made explicit, then targeted. People should be rewarded for how efficiently they achieve societal goals. We can no longer afford the smoke and mirrors of the current political process. It’s not a matter of who gets elected any more: it’s a matter of survival.

No comments: