Friday, 7 July 2017

Govian medicine

Typically excellent article by Ed Conway in today's Times. Though my opinion on what is excellent economic analysis probably doesn't count for much.

He makes another plea for creative, radical thinking from government in order to exploit the opportunities of Brexit and to solve Britain's productivity puzzle.

The depressing subtext throughout is that our political class is not equal to those challenges. It's likely we'll only find a way to unlock economic opportunities if we first find politicians who are imaginative and open-minded enough to spot and pursue those opportunities when they arise.

Why are such politicians so hard to find? I suspect one answer lies in the execrable Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Increasingly, political thinking is done by advisors who understand everything about policy, but little about politics and people – frontline politicians are then mere delivery mechanisms for getting wonk-derived policy out to voters.

The problem with this lack of joined-up thinking was demonstrated by the social care debacle. The policy was devised without enough input and oversight from elected politicians whose job it is to understand what voters want and what solutions they might accept. When voters rejected it, May was left holding the baby. There was little she could do to credibly defend or adapt the duff policy, because she'd never really owned it in the first place – there's not much the postman can do when Amazon pick the wrong book from the warehouse shelf, other than throw up his hands. And there wouldn't be much he could do about it even if he were compelled to try. Unfortunately, elected officials can't throw up their hands and renounce responsibility – responsibility is their job. May couldn't pass the buck, but neither could she manage the situation effectively because it wasn't fully one of her own making. So she took the only remaining option, which was to squirm.

It's surely time to move away from this rigid division of labour between thinkers producing policy content on the one hand and elected politicians acting as quasi-deliverymen on the other. The creative thinking behind policy needs a greater input from the elected ministers who will deliver it and (in an ideal world, perhaps) who have a greater understanding of the people who hold politicians to account and who are affected by their decisions.

That means more politicians like Michael Gove, Frank Field, Oliver Letwin. Even if people don't like Gove, or his politics, we are not going to make the most of opportunities, and improve public life more widely, without politicians like him. Gove and his ilk may be unpopular, but maybe people need to get over themselves – this is a question of necessity. To coin a phrase, there is no alternative.

If the rise of Momentum, and the particular chap they support, continues, then the need for thoughtful politicians –who can decide policy as a matter of issues and principle, instead of mere partisanship – will be all the greater. 

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