The La-La Land of Election Promises – and why no-one talks about implementation

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On the radio on Saturday UK Cabinet Minister Michael Gove was asked about his party’s promise to plant 50000 trees. The interviewer points out that his government had failed to deliver on similar promises made in both 2015 and 2017. So why should we believe you this time? Answer: it will be so much easier once we leave the EU.


Yesterday Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced a bold programme to nationalise BT Openreach and deliver full fibre broadband nationwide in eight years.


The assumption behind the nationalisation is that the market has failed and once the company is state owned the objectives will more effectively achieved.


According to The Guardian (How Feasible is Labours Free Broadband Plan…?) Australia has tried to do this and it has been branded one of the biggest infrastructure failures in its history. Apparently ‘Australia’s National Broadband Network is years late, massively over budget and offering speeds and technology a fraction of the original intention’.


Now maybe Labour has studied the Australian experience and knows how it will do things differently. Maybe Michael Gove has learned from the Conservative government’s failure to deliver the tree planting it promised in two successive elections.


If so, why don’t they talk about the perils of implementation? And why don’t their interviewers hold their feet to the fire?


An election campaign which consists of an auction of cash promises is childish in its naivety.


The same unsubstantiated auction of promises is devaluing the vital debate about the health service. This week the National Health Service published alarming statistics about lengthening waiting times for operations, and growing risks of death through low response times in Accident and Emergency.


What too few politicians or commentators have mentioned in their contribution is this simple reality. Of course, more investment and revenue are needed for the NHS. Yet the largest factor holding back the effective use of our resources is the failure of successive governments to fund and effectively design   social care.


Labour tells us that ‘Since the Royal Commission chaired by Sir Stewart Sutherland in 1999 there have been 12 White Papers, Green Papers and other consultations about social care in England, but very little progress.’.


So, credit to Labour for proposing to set up a National Care Service. But sadly, their policy paper is still in La-La land when it comes to how care will be organised. There is simply the usual ‘blind faith’ statement that the shift to private sector provision has failed, and needs to be replaced by a shift back to a social car system operated largely by local authority employees.


Disappointingly Labour’s paper tells us nothing about how will this be organised and why the models used by local authorities will be better.  In her article in the Financial Times (A consensus on care for the elderly is finally emerging) Camilla Cavendish draws attention to Buurtzog, a third sector approach to providing care that is a proven winner, saving the Dutch taxpayer billions of euros while also making care more person-centred. Any party wanting to improve the quality and cost effectiveness of care should be able to demonstrate awareness of what best practice looks like.


I would like to ask that every aspiring politician or interviewer of politician s be made to read ‘The Blunders of Our Governments’ by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe.


This superb book published in 2013 offers a catalogue of examples. In each case governments set out with high ambitions to invest, reform, change things for the better. In each case the problem was not with the ‘what’ or the ‘how much’. It was with the practicality and the organisation. A good place for Labour to start might be the billions wasted on a failed and centralised NHS IT system under a previous Labour government.


Finally, I would modestly ask them to read chapter 7 of Entrusted- the new book I have written with Ong Boon Hwee of Singapore.


In this we describe how, in one area – of policy towards wealth creation – different governments have avoided blunders and laid the foundations for successful implementation.


Please can we move the debate from: ‘We are going to outspend you’ to: ‘We have studied the practicalities and can show they we will give the taxpayer better value for money because we have thought about how best to organise things’.