Skip to content
Join us

Arlen Pettitt asks what’s the right way to do policy?


Column from yesterday’s Journal.

Our politics is all about a nostalgia for a past which - if you looked at the facts of it - didn’t actually exist.

That can be frustrating if you, like me, find yourself living relentlessly in the real world.

But I can hardly blame the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition for my lack of imagination, so in the interests of fairness I’m going to force myself to be wistful.

Imagine, for a moment, a past where politicians were real politicians, full of statecraft and conviction. Maybe they have names like Stanley, Winston, Clement or Margaret. The men have moustaches. The women wear pearls. Everyone is smoking and drinking constantly.

It’s a time of bold, decisive policies based on evidence gathered by diligent civil servants. Everything is well-reasoned and designed with the best outcomes in mind. There are no unintended consequences, no immediate U-turns when a policy is exposed to air, and no ministers using their departments to further their own careers.

A simpler time. Or it would be if it wasn’t also a complete fantasy of a non-existent past.

It’s reassuring to imagine there was such a time, and to therefore imagine it could be again – it's certainly preferable to policy by soundbite or newspaper column.

Even if the fantasy isn’t real, we should be aspiring to something better, at least in how policy is made.

Boris Johnson used his column in the Telegraph to pledge tax breaks for businesses supporting staff suffering from mental ill health. The tax incentive was the policy, but there was no detail on why it was the right approach, what specifically you’d have to do to qualify for it, or how additional support would be funded.

It also pre-empted a Government consultation, launched the same day and reporting in October, on reducing ill health-related job loss, asking businesses how early action and support could keep those with long term health conditions in work.

Perhaps I’m being a stickler for process, but surely the right order of things is to start with a base of evidence, gather views and then come up with rational policy proposals?

Arlen Pettitt , knowledge development manager

North East England Chamber of Commerce