“Policy-based evidence-making”! – article for Western Morning News

Posted on: 31st May 2013

So, “will the Coalition Government survive?” The short answer is “Yes”.

I know that answer won’t on it’s own halt the inevitability of millions more column inches of speculation in our respected newspapers nor thousands of hours of broadcast combing through every nuance, inflection and syllable looking for tell-tale signs that the two parties are seeking an amicable (or probably otherwise) early divorce.

I’m not a betting man, but I’ll wager that the Coalition Government will hang together ’til 2015; unless of course “the swivel-eyed loons” (as they describe them) take over the Tory Party. Admittedly it’ll be a rocky road in the final months but, although they are natural mortal enemies, the two Parties of Coalition realise they will do themselves more damage by reverting to ‘yah-boo’ politics than they will by demonstrating the political maturity of seeking to govern in the national interest by seeking common cause.

However, there are two conditions which I would add if Government Ministers want to make the remaining months less uncomfortable for themselves.

The first is to get over the mistaken notion that Governing is a perpetual virility contest, especially in a Coalition Government. I consistently warned from the start that Ministers cannot come out of a “lock-down” in a Quad or Cabinet and expect the House of Commons to act like docile lobby fodder on every occasion.

I know I’ve got myself into all sorts of trouble with my own Party’s top brass for my regular rebellions, but I think they’re now beginning to wake up to better understand how to “do” Coalition Government. It’s relatively easy. You get on and deliver those things on which the two Parties agree; seek compromise where they don’t; and where they fail to achieve a compromise you don’t stitch it up behind closed doors and expect your MPs to swallow the unpalatable. No, you take the issue to Parliament and resolve the matter there.

This would strengthen Parliament, give the country more say and influence in policy making; and be good for a healthy democracy.

However this is bad news for those who believe that back room deals and the dark arts of the Party Whips should shape our Country is tantamount to ‘strong Government’ (the kind of ‘strong Government that brought us the Poll Tax and which took us to war in Iraq!)

The second is to go back to genuine “evidence-based policy-making”. Something which Ministers claim to do but rarely achieve.

In fact we’ve seen a lot of the opposite. Civil servants call it “policy-based evidence-making”. It happens most of the time as far as I can see. It means “coming up with a case to justify what the Minister wants”.

So Ministers want to blame nurses for poor care outcomes on Hospital wards to deflect attention from themselves? But, inconveniently, Nurses provide evidence of dangerously inadequate registered nurse staffing levels. So Ministers ignore or deny such evidence and instead snatch at initiatives; like making all trainee nurses do up to a year working as a care assistant before they fully qualify to practice. Civil servants are sent off to find evidence to justify this nonsense.

Then they want to tick the macho box by saying that they’ll kill badgers to control the appalling problem of rising bovine TB levels in our herds; when the balance of scientific evidence says that such a policy risks making the situation worse. Before that policy starts to unravel I’m trying to work with scientists to find a more workable solution.

Indeed, the very justification for the policy of extreme austerity has recently been shown to be based on inaccurate statistical analysis, but we hope that the economy won’t have to suffer much longer before the Government concedes; and invests in house building and the construction industries to find a route away from triple dip recession.

Then there’s the scapegoating of that conveniently inarticulate group, the so called ‘shirkers’, who can be told that they can manage on less than poverty incomes, when most benefits are paid to working families and pensioners. So while millionaire pensioners continue to receive winter fuel allowance, free prescriptions, TV licences and a free bus pass they don’t need, the poorest are threatened with eviction from their homes if they have one box room too many in their often less than desirable Council House.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot that’s going right. Raising the income tax threshold to take the poorest out of tax, increasing the basic state pension by a decent annual amount for the first time in thirty years and much more. But the Government should go back to gathering the evidence before creating policy, not the other way around, if they want to avoid an even more rocky road ahead.


Andrew George MP


31st May 2013