Policy & Practice

Policy & Practice

The word policy was never mentioned in my education. Bearing in mind the excessive sums of money that my father had to pay for me, that was a disgrace. I don’t remember even beginning to understand the concept of policy until I was in my 20s when I had to sort it out. My first employer’s policy was to use standard, accepted market research techniques to solve a small but important media buying problem. My practice was to solve this problem as quickly and cheaply as possible. Practice won. In my 50s, a big company effectively put itself out of business because it tried to solve little practical problems without having a policy to guide it.

The world is in a somewhat similar position today, except that the ‘little practical problems’ are big issues – climate catastrophes, wars, social divides, tactical nuclear weapons, pandemics, extra-terrestrial travel and immortality. We are trying to cope with them individually and we are not succeeding. That is because they are in competition with each other for urgency, for funds and for a common outcome. We need a Policy for dealing with them all. Instead, politicians are offering us rival solutions for each of them, and then asking us to vote for “the package” once every few years – or not at all. Our reliance on polls to determine how good we think these individual ideas are is misleading because the election vote is about the overall policy we are being offered, not a reaction to a change in the date you can have your next Covid jab.

A World Policy to deal with the world’s problems is a pipe dream. Leaders’ rivalries, citizens’ fears, famine, energy shortages, personal avariciousness and the concept that we must all be ‘better’ than the next person have created an unsustainable society whose problems look increasingly as though they will only be sorted by nuclear war and mass murder. For the want of educating people about better ways to cooperate to everyone’s advantage this is absurd. So let’s start with the best way to improve a citizen’s participation in his or her own governance.

The reason for a government in the first place is because we cannot all know and understand the issues that face the changing management job of running a country. So we appoint members of parliament, people we respect for their ability to master difficult problems, to make those day-to-day decisions on our behalf. We cannot hope they will decide everything only for our personal benefit. We make up one item in society. They represent many. Our interests are short term; theirs should be longer-term, visionary and sustaining.

In a democracy they ask us, every few years, to vote for them to express our approval – or otherwise – of their overall policies for handling the country. If we live in an autocracy we don’t get offered that opportunity in the same way, so a change of government may involve revolution. But government change there is likely to be, sooner or later. We are mortal beings living a limited lifespan of learning. Our understanding and knowledge grow and decline. Our needs and expectations never cease to develop. Today’s solution may be tomorrow’s mistake.

The way our elections are organised provides a stage for the politicians every few years. Inevitably the timing of elections coincides – or might be designed to coincide – with events that favour one party or another. Makes sense to hold them when the voters are happy about some local issue. To make the chance of an unfairly favourable or unfavourable issue clouding the vote perhaps we could have the election spread out. The ‘life ‘ of a Member of Parliament could remain five years, or however long its present term is, but the constituencies could vote at different times of the year. In a country with, say, 50 constituencies there would be one constituency voting roughly every fifth week. In a country of 500 constituencies there would be two constituencies voting every week.

The advantage of such a plan is that the good times and the bad times for any party will even out and voting will be more a judgement on the overall management of the country. The disadvantage will be that there won’t be such a razz-mataz election, views will remain calmer and decisions about any party’s performance will be more balanced.

Of course it would also make the party polls redundant.

That might be quite a good thing, too?

Good morning
John Bittleston

Please feel free to write to me at mentors@terrificmentors.com with your ideas about whether this would work. Your opinions are the most valuable in any such discussion.

10 October 2022