Tag Archives: democracy

Can you claim to be on the right side of history?

On several major issues, we all need to decide where we stand. We can obfuscate and waffle and use distractions and other tricks to avoid discussing them and perhaps having an argument, or losing friends if we make our position clear, but your conscience knows what you think, and whether you do anything about it or try to hide.

I’ve lost a lot of social media followers and quite a few former friends by repeatedly laying out my own opinions on controversial issues such as climate change, trans rights v women’s rights, antisemitism, capitalism v socialism, freedom of speech and what I often call the new dark age. I don’t have any grandchildren yet but hope one day I will, and if any of them ask me what I thought and said and did when big decisions were being made around now, I will either be proudly able to say I was on the right side of history, or – and we all must accept this is always a possibility – that I got it wrong, that I believed and said and did the wrong things.

We all live in different information environments. We have different friends, different educations, different personalities, and consume different media. Some of it is not our fault, some of it is results of personal choices. You can’t excuse yourself for not being aware of something if you choose to only ever read media that ignores that issue or always puts heavy spin on it. That’s your free choice (though it is certainly getting harder to find media without bias).

Elections are a time where such personal choices come to the fore.  Us Brits have to vote this week, my yank followers are deep in the very long run up to theirs. In both cases, the decisions are more about big moral issues and will have deeper consequences than most previous elections. Our choice counts, not just for this election, but for our future consciences, for the notional personal account we could give our descendants in the world we have helped architect (or opposed).

It’s not for me to tell you how to vote – it’s your decision and your conscience you’ll have to live with years down the line. My blogs and tweets lay out my own positions on the important issues frequently and my regular readers will know them. But this is my blog, so I’m happy to lay them out briefly again. Maybe it will help think more about your own positions.

Antisemitism: I don’t know if I know any Jews (I don’t know anyone who has told me they are), but I do know that antisemitism is wrong. The Holocaust was only possible because many people stood by and let it. I will not be one of them now. If anyone votes for an antisemitic party, they are complicit in antisemitism. If Jews feel they have to leave the UK because an antisemitic party gains power, that will be shameful for the UK, and anyone who helps them gain power should feel deeply ashamed. It has become very clear that Labour is currently an antisemitic party. I have voted for them several times before, but I will certainly never vote for them again while they are antisemitic.

Capitalism v socialism: Capitalism works. Socialism doesn’t. A socialist government would make it much more difficult for people to lead comfortable lives, including the poorest in our society, and would leave massive debts crippling our children and grandchildren. I don’t want that on my conscience.

Climate change: we have seen some warming in the last few decades. Some of that is likely caused by nature – mainly ocean and solar cycles, but some of it, an unknown amount, is probably caused by humans. CO2 emissions of course but also deforestation, pollution, industry, farming, and all of our personal lifestyle choices. I believe we should not be complacent about any of these, and should work towards a cleaner environment and better stewardship, including developing better forms of clean energy. However, although I want a cleaner world with better environmental stewardship, I most certainly do not agree we are in a ‘climate emergency’, that we are all doomed if we don’t dramatically change our way of life immediately. I believe much of the information we are presented with has been distorted and exaggerated, that the climate models predict too high levels for future warming, and that deeply reduces solar activity likely to last until around 2050 will provide a cooling effect that at least offsets warming, and perhaps even results in net cooling. Consequently, nature has effectively give us a few decades to carry on developing solar and fusion energy technology, that we can invest gradually as free markets incentivise development and reduce the costs, and that we do not need to spend massively right now, because the problem will essentially go away. By 2050, CO2 output will be a lot less than today, the real warming we see by then will be much smaller than is often predicted in the media and there is therefore no real reason to jeopardise our economies by massively overspending on CO2 reduction while the associated costs and lifestyle impacts are so high. Massively spending on scales wanted by XR, the Green party etc, would cause huge harm to our kids’ futures with no significant benefit. If we want to spend huge sums of money, we have a duty to aim for the biggest benefit and there are plenty of real problems such as poverty and disease that could use those funds better. Waste trillions on pointless virtue signalling, or make the world a better place? I know where I stand. None of my local candidates come out well here.

Trans rights v women’s rights: I support trans rights to a point, but we are quickly passing that point, and now eroding women’s rights. Women have had to fight long and hard to get where they are today. In my view, women being forced to accept former men competing with them in sports (or indeed in any field where biological men have an advantage) is unfair to biological women. Having to share changing rooms and lavatories with people who still have male genitalia is unfair to biological women. Deliberate conflation of sex and gender as a means to influencing debate or regulation is wrong. Encouraging young children to change gender and schools preventing parents from even knowing is going too far. Given the potential life consequences, great care should be exercised before gender change is considered and it seems that care is not always present. Making it illegal to discuss these issues is certainly going too far. If someone feels they are in the wrong body and wants hormone treatment or surgery, or if they want to cross-dress or call themselves by a different gender, I don’t object at all, and I’d even defend their right to do so, provided that doing so doesn’t undermine someone else’s rights. Women are a vulnerable group because of physical and historic disadvantages compared to men, and in conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, I think women’s rights should take priority. Good luck with finding a party that agrees.

Freedom of speech and the new dark age: I believe people should be able to say what they want and others should be able to challenge them. I believe in a few sensible restrictions – e.g shouting “FIRE” in a crowded cinema, or deliberate incitement to violence. I disagree with the concepts of hate speech and hate crime, invariably used to close down debate that is essential for a free and cohesive society. Making the law into a tool to restrict freedom of speech (and thought) has already resulted in harm, and has created a large and rapidly growing class of ‘truths’ that everyone must give lip service to even if they believe them to be wrong. They must also lie and state that they believe them if challenged or face punishment, by the law or social media mob. This is simply anti-knowledge. It inhibits genuine progress and the development of genuine knowledge and it therefore inhibits quality of life. Even naming such anti-knowledge is punishable, and it has already caused a high degree of self-censorship in journalism and blogging, so you must use your own judgement on what it includes. My censored thoughts on the new dark age are here: https://timeguide.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/the-new-dark-age.pdf. Again, most parties seem very happy to take us further into the dark age.

I could have picked many other policies and issues. Every reader has their own priorities. These are just some in my mind today.

I don’t think any of the parties come out well today. For many people, spoiling their vote is a valid alternative that officially says they’re not prepared to support any of those on offer on the ballot paper. Others will vote for who they see as the lesser of evils. Others will happily support a candidate and turn a blind eye to their associated moral issues.

Your conscience, your choice, your future memory of where you stood. Choose well.


4 options for a more representative democracy

The UK election has dominated my recent posts, sorry to the rest of you. We have a new problem, well new for the UK, which is that we’ve gone from a 2 party system to having numerous significant parties. The number of seats each will get in parliament will bear little correlation to the proportion of the national vote they win. That’s because some parties are thinly spread across the whole country so will get very few seats indeed, whereas others are heavily concentrated in particular areas, so will get far more than their fair share. With each seat decided by whichever gets the largest vote in that area, it’s obvious why having widespread support is a disadvantage compared to representing purely local interests.

Option 1: block voting

I recently suggested a block vote mechanism to fix it:


to save you reading it, it allows continuation of the existing system, with greatly unrepresentative number of MPs, but then adjusts the weighting of the vote of each according to their party’s proportion of the national vote. So if a party gets 1% of the seats but won 15% of the vote, each of those MP’s votes would be worth 15 times as much as the vote of a party that received a fair number. If the party gets 5% of the seats with 1% of the vote, each of their’s would be scaled down to 0.2 x normal.

Option 2: split house

In a country with 650 seats, that is far more than is needed to provide both local representation and national. Suppose 250 seats were allocated to larger local constituencies, leaving 400 to be filled according to party support. 250 is easily enough to make sure that local issues can be raised. On the other hand, most people have no idea who their local MP is and don’t care anyway (I have never felt any need or desire to contact my local MP). All most people care about is which party is in control. This split system would fill 250 seats in the normal way and the voting mechanism would be unaffected. That would over-represent some parties and under-represent others. The 400 seats left would be divided up between all the parties to make the total proportions correct. Each party would simply fill their extra seats with the candidates they want. I think that balance would solve the problem nicely while retaining the advantage of the current system.

A variant of this would be to have two separate houses, one to debate regional issues and one for national. A dual vote would allow someone to pick a local candidate to represent their local area and a second vote for a party to represent them on national issues.

Option 3: various PR systems

There are hundreds of proportional representation systems and they all have particular merits and weaknesses. I don’t need to write on these since they are well covered elsewhere and I don’t favor any of the conventional solutions. The best that can be said for PR is that it isn’t quite as bad as the status quo.

Option 4: Administrative and Values houses

Pretty much everyone wants a health service that works, good defence, good infrastructure, sensible business regulation, clean water supply, healthy environment and so on. People disagree profoundly on many other issues, such as how much to spend and how to spend it in areas such as welfare, pensions, even education. So why not have 2 sets of MPs, one selected for competence in particular administrative areas and the other chosen to represent people’s value differences? I often feel that an MP from a party whose values I don’t support does a better job in a specific role than an alternative from the party I voted for.

I am out of ideas for further significant options, but there must be many other workable possibilities that would give us a better system than what we have now. UK democracy is broken, but not beyond repair and we really ought to fix it before serious trouble results from poor maintenance.

Better representational democracy

We’re on the run-up to a general election in the UK. In theory, one person gets one vote, all votes are equal and every person gets equal representation in parliament. In practice it is far from that. Parties win seats in proportions very different from their proportion of the votes. Some parties get ten times more seats per vote than others, and that is far from fair and distorts the democratic working of parliament. The situation is made even worse by the particulars of UK party politics in this next election, where there seems unlikely to be a clear winner and we will probably need to have coalition government. The representational distortion that already exists is amplified even further when a party gets far more seats than it justifies and thereby has far greater power in negotiating a place in coalition.

For decades, the UK electoral system worked fine for the two party system – Labour and Conservative (broadly equivalent to Democrat and Republican in the USA). Labour wins more seats per vote than the Conservatives because of the geographic distribution of their voter base, but the difference has been tolerable. The UK’s third party, the Liberal Democrats, generally won only a few seats even when they won a significant share of the vote, because they were thinly spread across the country, so achieved a local majority in very few places. Conservatives generally had a majority in most southern seats and labour had a majority in most northern seats.

Now we have a very different mixture. Scotland has the SNP, we have the Greens, UKIP, the Libdems, Conservatives and Labour. A geographic party like the SNP will always win far more seats per vote because instead of being spread across the whole country, they are concentrated in a smaller region where they count for a higher average proportion and therefore win more local majorities. By contrast Libdems have their voters spread thinly across the whole country with a few pockets of strong support, and UKIP and the Greens are also pretty uniformly dispersed so reaching a majority anywhere is very difficult. Very few seats are won by parties that don’t have 30% or more of the national vote. For the three bottom parties, that results in gross under-representation in parliament. A party could win 20% of the votes and still get no seats. Or they could have only 2% of the vote but win 10% of the seats if the voters are concentrated in one region.

A Channel 4 blog provides a good analysis of the problem that discusses distortion effects of turnout, constituency size and vote distribution which saves me having to repeat it all:


Looking to the future, I believe an old remedy would help a lot in leveling the playing field:

Firstly, if a party wins more than a certain percentage of votes, say 1%, they should be allocated at least one seat, if necessary a seat without constituency. Secondly, once a party has one or more seats, those seats can have their parliamentary votes scaled according to the number of votes their party has won. The block voting idea has been used by trades unions for decades, it isn’t new. I find it astonishing that it hasn’t already been implemented

So a party with 5 seats that won 15% of the vote would get the same say on a decision as one with 50 seats that also won 15% of the vote, even though they have far fewer seats. In each case, the 15% who voted for them would see the correct representation in decision-making. Parties such as the Greens, Libdems and UKIP would have a say in Parliament representative of their level of support in the electorate. The larger parties Labour and Conservatives would have far less say, but one that is representative of their support. The SNP would have to live with only having as much power as the voter numbers they represent, a fraction of what they will likely achieve under this broken present system.

That would be fair. MPs would still be able to talk, make arguments, win influence and take places on committees. We would still have plenty of diversity to ensure a wide enough range of opinions are aired when debating. But when a decision is made, every voter in the country gets equal representation, and that is how democracy is supposed to be.

Further refinements might let voters split their vote between parties, but let’s concentrate on making the playing field at least a bit level first.

Future democracy: sensible proportional representation

With the current state of UK politics, I believe this is an idea whose time has come.

The UK government comprises members who won the most votes in their constituency. It is a simple system, but it favors parties whose votes are concentrated in certain regions. Parties whose support is spread evenly rarely reach a majority anywhere so they get very few seats even if they have a large voter share. Those with low support usually don’t get any seats at all, but if their support is mostly from a single area, they can win a seat. Whatever the merits of such a system, and there are some, it certainly isn’t ‘fair’ in terms of equal representation. With some constituencies bigger than others, some voters get far better representation of their views than others.

My suggestion is very simple. Firstly, each MP in parliament should have the value of their vote on each issue scaled to the national proportion of people who voted for that party. Secondly, so that all significant parties are represented, each party with more than 1% of the national vote should get at least one MP, even if none achieved a majority anywhere. So to take real examples, if the Green Party gets 2% of votes, but only one seat out of 600, then their MP should be given 12 votes. If the Labour Party, with 30%, gets 45% of the seats, then each of their MPs should only get two thirds of a vote each. If Conservative win 35% of the seats with 35% of the vote, they would get one vote each. That way, there would still be a good mix of MPs and each would still represent a constituency, but every voter would have equal representation, very unlike the current system. Minority parties would benefit greatly, and the big parties would have to suffer only getting the power they actually represent.

With such a system, it ought also to be possible to divide your vote, giving some of it to one party and some to another. That would immediately remove the problem where if the left or right vote is divided, that the MP the fewest people support can win the seat. They would still win that seat, but the voting power would still go to all the parties according to their actual support.

Naturally, some people would like this system and others would hate it. It is quite normal to want to keep an unfair advantage and upsetting when it is removed. But it is surely time to make democracy so that every voter has an equal say in the running of the country.

Machiavelli and the coming Great Western War

In the 16th century, Machiavelli set in motion the Great Civil War that will start in Europe and spread to the USA and will happen towards the end of this century.

The problem behind it is increasingly skilled manipulation of the sequential processes of presentation, perception, interpretation, deduction and consequent behaviour. Machiavelli is often cited for his great skill in manipulating people via these processes. Centuries on, this manifests in modern society most conspicuously in the twin fields of marketing and politics. Sadly, both have forgotten their proper places.

Professional politics has been replacing vocational service for some time already, and this trend still has far to run. Politicians are less interested in genuinely serving society than furthering their own interests and maximising and holding on to power, often regardless of cost to the electorate. They treat the electorate not as a customer but as a resource to be exploited.

Marketing as a capitalist tool harnesses the most powerful tools available from psychological science and technological capability. It has migrated steadily from the useful purpose of making society aware of new things they may want towards the far less benign manipulation of the customer in favour of those products. Marketing no longer contributes to society, it now treats customers as prey and siphons off valuable resources to maintain itself. It has become a vampire.

Separately, these are already problems, but they are no longer separate. As politics has developed in the last couple of decades, the convergence of marketing and politics has matured a great deal. We call it spin and spin has become far more important than what could be considered in everyday thinking as truth. Un-spun delivery of important information to the electorate so that they can make free and informed decisions has become a rarity.

As we are becoming all too familiar, modern politicians have become highly adept at avoiding answering questions, deflecting them, answering different questions than they are asked, disguising and burying real information that they can’t avoid revealing under heaps of irrelevance and behind thick walls of weasel words. We expect now that they are will only be reasonably open and  honest with us when they are revealing good news and even then they will try to exaggerate their own part in it.

This is a dangerous trend that may eventually lead to civil war. In the everyday world, two reasonable people with different value sets can learn to live alongside peacefully. They will usually broadly agree on the raw facts in front of them. They will interpret them slightly differently, i.e. extract different meanings from those facts because they have learned to look at things differently. Due to their internal thinking processes and prejudices they will draw significantly different conclusions from those interpretations and will initiate very different behaviours as a result. In the political/marketing world we are experiencing now, the differences at each of these stages are subject to some deliberate amplification as well as some that emerges non-deliberately from complex interactions within the socio-economic-techno environment. Because of this combined amplification of otherwise minor differences, the gulf between people on the left and right of the political spectrum has been increasing for decades and will likely continue to increase for several more. It may become less and less easy for them to agree to live peacefully side by side and accept their differences. They may increasingly see each other as enemies rather than neighbours. So today, we witness clash of ideology in the Middle East, in a few decades, it will be our turn.

Reinforcement of attitudes is already being caused by technology that shows us what we are already prone to search for. People who read right wing media have right wing attitudes reinforced and affirmed. Those who read left wing media have left wing attitudes reinforced and affirmed. Neither side is routinely exposed to opposing ideology except filtered through their own media which has an interest in reinforcing their attitudes and demonising the other. They see all of the negatives and few of the positives of the other’s point of view.

Although there will remain a centre ground where differences between people are small, amplification of small differences and subsequent reinforcement means that many will be drawn to the extremes and have their positions there entrenched. With many people on either side, with a strongly opposing set of interests, and competition over resources, ideology and control, eventually conflict may result. I believe this may well be the source of a widespread civil war starting in Europe and spreading to the USA, that will take place in the second half of this century. After a long and bitter conflict, the Great Western War, I believe dual democracy will result throughout the West, where two self-governing communities peacefully share the same countries, with some shared and negotiated systems, services and infrastructure and some that are restricted to each community. People will decide which community to belong to, pay taxes and receive benefits accordingly, and have different sets of rules governing their behaviors. Migrating between the communities will be possible, but will incur large costs. We may see a large-state left with lots of services and welfare, and lots of rules, but high taxes to pay for it, and a small state right with increased personal freedom and lower taxes, but less generous welfare and services.

We already see some of this friction emerging today. Demonisation of the opposing ideology is far greater than it was 20 years ago. It is becoming tribalism built large. Each political party uses the best marketing know-how in their spin machines, making sure their supporters see the right facts, are taught to perceive them in the right way, interpret their causation in the right way, do the analysis on the remedial possibilities in the right way and therefore choose and back the right policies. Each side can’t understand how the other side can possibly end up with their viewpoints or policies, except by labelling them as demons.

How often have you heard terms like ‘the nasty party’? How often do the right portray the left as spendthrift incompetents who want someone else to pay for their lack of responsibility, while the left portrays the right as greedy, selfish judgmental people who want to exploit the poor rather then help them. I read left and right papers every day and I’d say I see those attitudes presented as indisputable fact pretty much every day. We see the arguments in welfare, education, health care, support for overseas military intervention, even environmental care. When we can only have one government in power, we ensure that half the population always feels angry.

We see frequent demonstration and even riots as the left moans about spending cuts while right wing groups moan about immigration. We see fierce arguments regularly on every area of policy – privacy erosion, crime control, renewable energy subsidies, public transport provision, health care. There often seems little room for compromise, it is one getting their way and the other suffering. It seems inevitable that if the polarisation continues to increase along current lines, that we will see each side want to go their own way. The left will want the state to remain in control and grow in power, the right will demand a degree of independence and to be rid of a community that expects them to pay for everything but appears wasteful. With a single flavoured government in each country, civil war would erupt and spread as each country realises it has the same problems and the same potential solution. Just like the American Civil War, it will be fiercely fought, and it will eventually come to an end. But with two irreconcilable policies it wont end with a structure as we have now. Democracy in it current form, where each part of the community seems only to want to further its own interests at the expense of the other, will have failed. The left and the right will have to settle with going their own way, with their own resources financing their own spending. Those who want to pay high taxes but receive high welfare and a guaranteed high service provision by the state will be able to choose it. Those who prefer a small state that interferes little with their lives, to keep their earnings and finance their own services will be able to choose that. The two communities will have their own governments, their own presidents of prime ministers, or any future governing structure they choose. Some things have to be done geographically, such as defence, roads and policing. Governments covering the same areas will simply have to negotiate until they agree on the provision levels. Above that they could add whatever they want from their own resources.

In future blogs, I will write about some of the forces of amplification that I referred to. These ultimately are the engine that drives the system towards ultimate conflict, and need to be examined. But for now, it is sufficient to raise the issue.


Electronic Democracy design should not be left to corporates

The Speaker of the House of Commons is reported as wanting the web giants to plan a digital revolution of the UK electoral system – er, that we can vote electronically. The Daily Mail says  it is the brainchild of the Speaker. No it isn’t, don’t be silly. Electronic voting has been around yonks, it is far from being a new idea. Only in the House of Commons could this sort of idea be new to anyone. Three of us in BT won a prize in 1993 for talking about the impacts on democracy of electronic voting and use of the web and so on. So the Speaker is only 20 years behind the times, and MPs and Ministers have been told to do something along these lines numerous times since by many people.

But this blog isn’t about how our MPS are ludicrously badly educated about the basic platforms of modern existence. It isn’t even about the huge errors they make every day. The gigabytes of storage WordPress very nicely lets me have access to still isn’t enough to document all the stupidity in parliament.

It’s about how big companies with a terrible track record of abusing their positions or with any sign of intent on world domination should never be allowed anywhere near its design or implementation. I don’t need to mention any names, but I will exclude Twitter from criticism, they’re still young and not very naughty yet.

Actually, that’s all I need to say. I suspect every reader of my blog understands that statement extremely well with no further clarification required except any MPs who might have stumbled across it. It should be as blindingly obvious as not letting Dracula run a blood bank or Goldman Sachs run a privatisation.

Why won’t our leaders pick the best future?

Like most democracies, we elect leaders every several years on the basis of an overall package of promises, which are too often later forgotten or given lip service.

I can easily understand leaders mostly doing what they want, and only doing enough of what we want to get elected. What I don’t understand is why they seem to make so many choices that are bad for everyone, and why we can’t find leaders who would make better ones. It seems as though the choice of leaders we currently have is among awful, terrible, and really bad. It isn’t obvious with 63 million people why we can’t find better leaders, but then again, the USA doesn’t do much better with over 300 million.

Governments are not short of advice. They have access to huge quantities of data and research, and ready access to many supposedly smart people and consultants. They even have their own futurology departments, so they really should have a reasonable idea of what is coming down the road. So why is that with all the possible futures to pick from, they so often pick the worst? I am UK-based so will use UK examples, but I feel confident that most readers will find equivalent examples in their own country, especially in the USA and down under, where many of you are.

Starting off with a few recent errors (please forgive me if I stray into the occasional rant):

Road deaths in the UK are the lowest in the world, while our health service has one of the worst records in a developed nation. Some estimates put the numbers of deaths caused by poor NHS hygiene, negligence and errors at over 50,000 a year, compared to 1800 deaths on the roads. So you might have expected that a government wanting to save lots of lives would focus on fixing the NHS rather than the roads. Furthermore, only 10% of deaths on the roads are caused in significant part by excessive speed, so the most that can be expected to be saved by reducing the rural speed limits to 40mph is a couple of hundred. Compared to the inconvenience caused and cost to the economy, the savings of lives for both time and money spent would be far higher by addressing NHS problems.

There are lots of environmental policy examples.

Our UK governments of late have fallen fully for the anthropogenic global warming doom-mongering, and as if that isn’t bad enough, they have then gone for the worst possible ways of fixing it, assuming it were a problem in the first place. By concentrating solely on CO2 emissions, and then choosing solutions that provide the most expensive, least environmentally friendly, and least effective ways of reducing them, they have managed to delay CO2 emission reductions while costing taxpayers and bill-payers a fortune during the worst recession since the 1930s, and causing many manufacturers to leave the UK just as we need to get expansion of the manufacturing sector. Related policy decisions such as introducing carbon trading have already increased crime and caused environmental and social devastation in many countries. Predictable, but not taken into account by government.

By contrast, while the UK and the EU as a whole have chosen to use carbon credits and hold back shale gas development, and thereby perversely incentivised the resurgence of dirty coal, kept and even reinforced the problems of high gas prices, hostile suppliers, poor energy security and disadvantaged industry, the USA avoided such errors of commitment, encouraged shale gas, and has seen its carbon emissions fall enormously by adopting shale gas while seeing economic boom (apart from California which has copied the EU’s error). It is now likely that the EU will burn US coal.

Even the alternative energy policy is wrong. If we do want to use alternative energy, it make sense to get as much as possible for the money. By insisting that we have to rush, we are paying top prices and huge subsidies, transferring money from the poor to the rich. With any sign of global warming on hold now for 15 years or more, there was clearly no big rush, the government sponsored climate models got their predictions spectacularly wrong time and again because of the perverse way that government pays for its research. In the real world, we have plenty of time to wait for prices to fall, at which point we would know the science behind climate much better, having filtered out the worst of the nonsense, and could plan our actions with fewer disastrous unexpected side effects, and when we do invest we would get far more bang per buck. So if  there was a Nobel prize equivalent for stupidity, this and the last government would be joint winners. Other polices connected to the environment seem almost as dumb.

Fisheries policy over the last decade has forced fishermen to throw a lot of their catch back into the sea, dead, apparently to preserve fish stocks. Dead fish don’t breed well, and their bodies have instead created great unbalance in the ecosystem. The number of lobsters has rocketed, the number of sea-birds too, and also seals. The demand of the increased seal population for fish has rocketed by 100,000 tons per year, and they and the extra sea birds and lobsters will still want to eat once the dumping policy is terminated.  This isn’t a case of hindsight, it should have been obvious to all concerned that this would happen. It was entirely predictable.

Also obvious to anyone with any common sense, and without any need for hindsight, you shouldn’t build homes on flood plains, they might flood. However, two successive governments have allowed builders to put many new homes on flood plains. Now, government response to the inevitable flooding is simply to force more sensible buyers (who choose not to live on flood plains) to share the cost of flood insurance for them. You couldn’t make it up!

At a time when disposal of plastics is a problem, and landfill sites are filling up fast,  government regulations prohibit waste plastic bales from being used to prevent coastal erosion. Instead, concrete blocks must be used, which also adds hugely to CO2 emissions.

Changing topic, to remuneration policies for senior civil servants, BBC celebs and doctors, these too seem to be illustrations of lack of foresight (as well as lack of application of sensible market principles, by which the rate offered should be tailored until there is only a modest number of applicants – many public sector jobs get thousands, a clear indication that they overpay).

When Labour sent morons to the negotiations with doctors, the doctors emerged with far greater pay for less work, and bonuses for many things they had previously done as part of their normal jobs. Not surprisingly, many of the wealthier doctors chose to work fewer hours and enjoy life, instead of working extra hours for a little more, achieving the opposite of what was intended. A bit like the England football team. Pay peanuts and get monkeys for sure, but pay too well, you get people more eager on spending than training or working.

Other top-level pay is too high mainly because it is simply unnecessary. The argument is always that you need to pay more to get the best staff, but in fact, each advertised post almost always only sees tiny differences in quality among the candidates, and any of those who didn’t get the job would probably gladly take it the minute it is vacated and do just as well. If each level of promotion only offers a few percent more than the level below, it will still be filled just as well. This is the everyday sort of foresight that most people just call common sense, but which seems nevertheless seems to escape policy makers.

Paying top pay when it isn’t needed is stupid and reckless with other people’s money. The argument that you have to compete always ends in a price war where no-one gains any long-term advantage, so extra is spent by all for no gain. As for BBC celebs, I just don’t see a problem if someone trained up as a star by the BBC wanders off to another channel, or indeed if you have to push a different button to watch a football game. The same viewers watch those channels too, and can still see them if they wish. There will be no shortage of volunteers to be made into new stars, and football associations will still have to sell the rights to broadcast their games at whatever price they can still get. And anyway, the mandate for the BBC is to produce good programmes, not to compete. Forcing prices up by competing unnecessarily is stupidity. Again, a failure of everyday foresight common sense.

Banking is a rich seam in which to find government incompetence of course. I don’t think I really want to go there, we all know the issues and are sick of reading more each day. Ditto the Euro.

The Olympics foresight is actually rather amusing, not only the estimates of costs that followed the usual error factor of 2 or 3 in any government cost estimate, but especially security, looking at it from safe outside London anyway. Giving the main security contract to G4S with their history has got to be award-winning idiocy with predictable, even inevitable result. Surely we all expected that not to work? You didn’t need much futures expertise to know G4S would screw it up. The rest of the incompetence is just day-to-day stupidity though rather than foresight failure, so I’ll ignore that.

Thanks to poor foresight, the recent 9Bn investment in rail will mostly be wasted on the wrong technology, as I just blogged for Business Weekly – I won’t repeat it here:


Immigration policy over a few governments seems also to have lacked foresight. Surely, they should have understood a big difference in importing people from Middle Eastern (and some African) countries where terrorism has been a huge problem for decades, and where the people seem to hate us, compared to other countries. We have now imported large numbers of people into the UK that are intent on bringing us harm.

The arguments over national debt and austerity measures and even cuts in the army are party political, and although I do think foresight is lacking here across the spectrum, it is too mixed up with value sets to cleanly separate, so I’ll leave it for now.

I think I have listed enough examples where governments of all flavours have made decisions that show an alarming lack of foresight, or at least of taking any notice of it. There is no need for yet more examples. The important question remains. When it is obvious that there is a choice between two or more possible futures, and the differences in outcomes are entirely predictable, why should governments pick the one that looks worst? (Let’s ignore any potential bribery and corruption and lobbying and feathering of nests. Those are just too hard to prove in any particular case).

In some cases, notably Labour’s immigration policy, it is aimed at securing a direct political advantage, by tilting the playing field in their favour. There is a safety net assumption that the consequences will largely appear in another term, hopefully when the opposition is in power.

Another contributor is short-term marketability. In each of these cases, even though the government may know the policy will not be a good long-term idea, there is an obvious way in which the policy can be spun to the public for short-term political gain. Doing something easy and conspicuous about a small number of road deaths nicely deflects attention away from the far great numbers in the NHS, which are harder to deal with, and the negatives can easily be concealed behind emotionalism. Much of the Conservative’s green policy also falls into this category, holding back positive things like shale gas and pushing negative ones like wind farms even when the evidence is stacked heavily against them, because they perceive that voters want them to be green and those are perceived to be the green badges of honour at the time.

In areas like fishery policy, again, the need to be seen to be ‘doing something’ far outweighs the advantages of taking time to do the right thing, so legislation is reactive and badly thought out. There is always a long list of short-term things that fall into this category and so government rushes through lots of bad things rather than a few good things or indeed even tidying up the mess from the last batch of bad ones.

This short-termism is really no different from private sector abuse where top management run a company for short-term profit at the expense of long-term well-being to maximise their own remuneration. Although there are ways of ensuring the bonuses are linked to longer term results, and this is starting to happen, it isn’t as easy to force politicians to take responsibility for the longer term consequences of their actions. Indeed, they rarely have to. Any government coming in can blame things on the last one for a year or so, but after that, they get the blame and any attempt to blame it thereafter is counter-productive. So at worst, governments are protected from the long-term harm done by their policies and yet reap the short-term gains. It reminds me of the banks.

So, when we look at the availability of foresight and assume a modicum of common sense, we are left with the unavoidable deduction that short-termism is a much more powerful force than foresight. Our leaders know what is best, but choose to do something else because they are rewarded for doing so. It is as simple as that. If we want to fix that, we need to change the ways in which we implement democracy. Don’t hold your breath.

The future of the UK monarchy

It would have been poor taste to write this last month, but we’re back to normal now. I am often asked about the future of the monarchy, and it is a valid topic for futurists I guess. I’ll write what I think ought to happen, and then what I think will happen.

I am not a royal basher. I am one of millions of people who respect the Queen and hope she lives a long life, but who nevertheless think the monarchy should go to the grave with her. I think it simply belongs in history. I recognise that many people like it and want it to continue, and I have no wish to offend them, I just don’t agree and would prefer it to end.  It generates media and tourism revenue for sure, but that isn’t sufficient justification for its continuation, and doesn’t make up for the downsides. I can’t think of any other.

The full range of arguments for abolition and for a proper democracy don’t need repeated here, you’ll have heard most. Here is the one I prefer:

Kings and queens in our history books, mythology, even fairy stories, existed in times when you had to win battles and capture a throne, and even if you inherited it, you still had to win more to hold on to it. To do so you must solicit the support of many powerful people in battle, and unless you also win their loyalty, you’ll need far more – a volunteer is worth ten pressed men. So in a way, it was a raw and brutal sort of democracy. Either you won and kept people’s support or you couldn’t be king. It wasn’t just handed to you on a plate, nor something to lay back and relax luxuriantly in. But the last generations of course have been simple inheritance of titles, and without the hard work to win loyalty, the monarchy has lost its true authority. The royals now live in expensive style at the expense of everyone else, but haven’t earned it and give far too little back. It is meaningless. Without won loyalty, monarchy is no better than a dictatorship, and with the ability to dictate stripped away as in the UK monarchy, it has no real meaning at all. It has become an empty symbol of times gone by, the fairy story bits without any substance, empty celebrity. Time for it to go.

The rest of the aristocratic titles should go with it of course, and that would work well with the coming reform the House of Lords. We should cut our shackles and start afresh. The associated wealth needs addressed too. Anything belonging to the crown  – the lands and properties, jewels, the gifts received by virtue of the position (and we could debate the full extent of what should be included in that and what rightfully belongs to individual royals) should be turned to other state uses, or put in museums.The redundant royals should receive pay-offs or pensions according to their prior positions.

What of the landed wealth, once given for favours and loyalty by past kings and queens, that has been passed down these generations, such as the country estates?  An extremist might want to confiscate anything that could be traced back to the crown. I think that is too harsh and unnecessary. A more humane approach could be simply to start treating all inherited wealth the same, to abolish the trusts used by the wealthy to hide stuff from taxation, get rid of any special exceptions for farms and so on. If everyone is treated the same, inheritance can only pass down a generation or two before it is absorbed back into society. Families that pass wealth on and manage it well enough to maintain its value even after such taxation would have earned it.

If we did this, the monarchy would have a dignified end. The Queen did an excellent job and it would end on a high note. If it is allowed to continue, it will be a relic that will become increasingly unwelcome.

So much for my own views. What is likely? Well, it has some momentum, and there is insufficient demand for an early dispatch, so it will probably cling on for a good while after the next coronation, maybe a decade (a honeymoon period plus a few years), two at the most. I can’t give a date for that because I don’t know when the Queen will die. But the reign of either Charles or William (I think Charles will be crowned if he survives the Queen and will be as bad as many of us expect, and if he abdicates quickly, it will still be too late) will quickly erode the support for it, not necessarily on their own, but with the help of the full suite of royal hangers-on. People will lose patience with the associated expense and embarrassment. With a minority of support, it will be abolished and given a dignified burial. As for the rest of my wish list above, that depends very much on who is in power at the time, but I suspect it will go more or less along the lines above.