Dodging Difficult Decisions

Imagine yourself house-hunting, or just cast your mind back. You’ve worked hard all week, have your normal chores to carry out, but have managed to free up a few hours of your precious weekend. You window-shop, review sheets of details and finally book a time to see some properties. You spend Sunday thinking about them, agonising over your budget, and on Monday take the plunge. Sorry, says the estate agent, the vendor has decided to take that one of the market. Or maybe they’re not so decisive. You arrange a mortgage, pay for surveys, and only then are you given the bad news: sorry, no deal.

This is the awful situation prospective purchasers will once more be in as a result of the abolition of (Home Information Packs) HIPs, by the incoming LibDem Con government. And on the radio at lunchtime I heard a smarmy voice – it seemed to be a politician, but logic tells me it must have been an estate agent or other housing market parasite – justifying the decision as removing an obstacle to homeowners “testing the market”. Look, you twat, Tesco doesn’t let you get to the checkout before saying, sorry, we’ve decided not to sell those today, we might get a better price tomorrow.

I recollect painfully my first attempt to buy property, jointly. If I recollect correctly, we had 5 surveys done and were gazumped in most cases, never buying at that time, in the end. It cost us a fortune in time and effort, yet the (non-)sellers never spent a penny.

The last Government weighed up all the pros and cons and realised that it was fair for sellers to bear the cost of collating information about their properties, in part to show they are entering into discussions in good faith. This involved taking on a number of interest groups.

What have the LibDem Cons done? Yes, without thinking about it, they’ve abolished HIPs, making redundant overnight 3,000 people who had been trained to carry them out.

True, energy certificates have been retained, but you can still market your property without one. What’s the point of them, then, if they’re not available until people have decided which house they want?

So, the first way to dodge difficult decisions is to do the easy thing without any serious thought.

As I reflected on this I realised that the LibDem Con government is set on writing the book on dodging difficult decisions. There are other instances of “doing the easy thing without any serious thought”.

The third runway at Heathrow? Cancelled. Additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted? Refused. Um, shouldn’t we look into it a bit? I mean, no-one wants to concrete over villages, but the previous lot looked into this and reached a different conclusion.

Or take ID cards. Abolished. Now, correct me if I’m being a bit thick here, but isn’t the government also planning to clamp down on immigration? Wouldn’t it be useful for foreign nationals to have id cards? In fact, I thought they already had, so perhaps we can’t actually believe that id cards have really been abolished.

Because when we look more closely at the coalition’s statement of their programme for government (pdf), we say that they also employ other strategies for dodging difficult decisions.

Their second strategy is pretend to take difficult decisions but don’t actually do so.

Remember those Regional Development Agencies that received so much flak during the campaign? This is what the LibDem Cons say:

“We will support the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships – joint local authority-business bodies brought forward by local authorities themselves to promote local economic development – to replace Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). These may take the form of the existing RDAs in areas where they are popular.”

Unsurprisingly, the LibDem Cons are not very clear, but I think we can be fairly sure that we’re not going to be able to tell the new pigs from the old pigs. George Orwell would be proud.

What about other quangos? Read on:

“We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.”

In other words: “We said during the campaign that we don’t need it, so we’re going to abolish it and reinvent it. Britain needs a new kind of government!”

Maybe we need a new word, for abolishing something, and simultaneously retaining it. It would save a lot of effort if Cleggeron simply stood up and said: “We’re going to abolain the RDAs and the Infrastructure Planning Commission”. Ra ra ra!

It goes on. School league tables? They’re being abolained as well!:

“We will reform league tables so that schools are able to focus on, and demonstrate, the progress of children of all abilities.”

And on. Remember the hated SATs?

“We will keep external assessment, but will review how Key Stage 2 tests operate in future.”

Which brings us onto another coping strategy for political parties that don’t know what they stand for in, especially those in coalition with those who stand for something different, though they’re not quite sure what. Announce a review! There are 27, according to the Guardian.

Then, if you can’t really think of anything, you can simply repeat existing government policy:

“We will apply transitional controls as a matter of course in the future for all new EU Member States.”

“We will seek to attract more top science and maths graduates to be teachers.”

You can go even further and state policies that are in fact the normal business of government. Here’s my favourite:

“We will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance, including detailed development of Liberal Democrat proposals.”

Or you can make meaningless statements:

“We will take a range of measures to encourage charitable giving and philanthropy.”

And if you’re in a real mess, you can engage in complete obfuscation. This is my favourite passage, on the rather important topic of taxation:

“We will increase the personal allowance for income tax to help lower and middle income earners. We will announce in the first Budget a substantial increase in the personal allowance from April 2011, with the benefits focused on those with lower and middle incomes. This will be funded with the money that would have been used to pay for the increase in employee National Insurance thresholds proposed by the Conservative Party, as well as revenues from increases in Capital Gains Tax rates for non-business assets as described below. The increase in employer National Insurance thresholds proposed by the Conservatives will go ahead in order to stop the planned jobs tax.” [my emphasis]

That’s right. They’re going to fund a tax cut with money they aren’t spending. “Mummy, can I have that toy?”; “Sorry, darling, we don’t have any money.”; “Can I have some sweets, then?”; “No!”; “Whaaaah! But we’ve saved money by not buying that toy!”.

The most worrying thing about the LibDem Con “programme for governance” is that there are an awful lot of giveaways: an increase in the personal allowance for income tax, reductions in corporation tax, freezing council tax and so on, and very little in the way of clawbacks.

Either there’s something they’re not telling else, or this government’s going to be a dog’s breakfast.