Smoke and mirrors politics makes fools of us all

By Catherine Ross

What would you do if you were in the government? If you had the country at your finger tips and it was up to you to make the changes? Most people, I think, would pick one or two things that they think need changing and then make sure they do them really well.

This government, however, likes to tinker. Fiddling about around the edges of big policy issues instead of concentrating its increasingly limited resources on a selection of well researched, carefully consulted on and effectively implemented policies that will – rightly or wrongly – make a significant difference.

This government is using these tweaks and populist nonsense to deflect attention from the failings of their knee-jerk, smaller government policies; top down reorganisation of the NHS (despite promises not to), complete overhaul of the national curriculum (despite the push for academies and free schools, which are exempt), abandonment of the promise to be the “greenest government ever” and slashing benefits and the legal aid budget.

Government agencies have been scrapped and recreated with slightly different names. Logos for individual departments have been binned in favour of new, more government-y replacements.

Numerous policies, from the “pasty tax” to the English Baccalaureate have been proposed before quietly disappearing off the policy agenda.

The announcement that really brought it all home to me was the health tourist nonsense last week. While the NHS is suffering from a real terms fall in funding, waiting lists are increasing, health policy is in disarray and the entire system is bursting at the seams, the Government wants to “crack down” on people who don’t live in the UK and take advantage of our free healthcare.

Reports had the total amount spent by the NHS treating these people at around £30million – a tiny fraction of the total NHS budget – but didn’t break down that figure to factor out those from countries within the EU, with whom we have a reciprocal healthcare agreement – we get free healthcare when we travel in the EU and other EU citizens enjoy the same here.

It’s a smoke and mirrors kind of policy, the aim of which is distraction from more serious issues. It plays into the hands of the vocal right-wing. The headlines write themselves.

Similarly, the government has spent an extraordinary amount of time, money and effort in its bid to deport Abu Qatada and is now trying to use this individual case to question our agreement with the international charter on human rights.

Worryingly, this scattergun approach to policy is proving to be fairly effective. By highlighting non-issues that will elicit an emotional response in voters, the government successfully draws attention away from the fact that they have very little positive to say.

In addition, it gives the opposition no chance to form any kind of considered response before the media has lost interest in the issue of the day and moved on to the next issue. Instead, it leaves time only for knee jerk reactions, based on emotional response rather than consideration and debate.

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