Friday, 13 March 2009


UPATE: Just found the Ambrose Bierce piece I was thinking of when I wrote this:

THE Warden of a Penitentiary was one day putting locks on the doors of all the cells when a mechanic said to him:
"Those locks can all be opened from the inside - you are very imprudent."
The Warden did not look up from his work, but said:
"If that is called imprudence, I wonder what would be called a thoughtful provision against the vicissitudes of fortune."

The Conservatives (I learn via Mr E) are proposing to make goverment spending more transparent: specifically, voters will be able to access itemised accounts of all government spending over some limit - let's say £50,000. As Steve Richards suggests, and Mr Eugenides proves, Labour are opposed to this, ostensibly on matters of cost, but (no fools us) clearly because it would be a pain in their arse.

So far, so party-political. Demanding greater governmental transparency is an easy Opposition win; heel-dragging is a predictable governmental response. And in some ways, fair enough. No praise will ever come to the government for, say, £51,250 well spent on a worthwhile and vital project; conversely, Ministers will rapidly tire of being forced in "hard-hitting" interviews to justify the latest "outrageous" expenditure on diversity training/health and safety/butterfly migration research or whatever other headline fodder doubtless lurks in the accounts. "Gotcha'd" live, they won't be able to respond on the spot; when they come back a day later to show that understanding the lifespan of lepidoptera actually helps farmers fight pests more cheaply (let's say), no-one will care. So from an already harassed government's point of view, signing up to this proposal is the equivalent of a weedy cowpoke handing the salloon bully two loaded six-shooters and asking for dancing lessons.

But what's weird about this is that no-one seems to be thinking very far ahead. It is common political wisdom that in 15 months time, Labour will be in carefree opposition and the Conservatives will be fitting new carpets in the corridors of power. If they were thinking ahead, Labour would be only too delighted to help the Conservatives fit themselves up. Similarly, the Conservatives presumably don't actually want to spend their time in government answering idiotic accusations of waste, but this is what they're setting themselves up for.

There are various explanations for this:
a) both parties are acting out of pure principle
b) both parties are playing a very long game, and expect Labour to be in government more often than not over, say, the next 30 years.
c) both parties actually expect Labour to win the next election
d) both parties are in full grip of the availability heuristic, and letting themselves be far more influenced by where they are now than by where they expect to be in the future.

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