Friday, 6 November 2015

.. in my opinion

Is it time for us to put a brake on our politicians?

I only ask, not because of fundamental disagreement with this administration. Although that is there.

I ask because all too frequently there seems to be an unbridgeable gulf between science/ research and political decisions.

Let me shoot a couple out.

One very current one is the badger cull. There seems to be overwhelming research that this politically-driven cull is at best ineffective and more likely to be completely counter-productive. Infected badgers have been shown to move from culling areas into adjacent ones taking their diseases with them and spreading it to healthy populations. Wrong decision.

From another area of public policy comes the latest decision to test seven year olds. I cannot find any support within educational research literature to support this idea. Many children at this age are not ready for tests, testing will disrupt and skew the school curriculum. And on doing so will impoverish what children are offered and indeed lower standards. Wrong decision.

I won't go on, but the sense of exasperation expressed by professionals at both of these decisions is so strong it could be cut with a knife.

But, in a democracy, surely we elect our politicians to make decisions on our behalf? Of course we do, but there seems to be a recognition from politicians themselves that some decisions are better taken from their hands.

Gordon Brown was there at the beginning of the process by giving the Bank of England its independence. People say that this independence should go further but at least the population now know that our interest rates are no longer set by political whim.

The last government took inspiration from this decision by creating the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Once again, arguments go back and forth about the effectiveness and brief of the OBR. But most now agree that an objective voice in this area is a good one.

Within the political football that is our NHS, there is agreement that clinical decisions on the drugs used within the NHS should not be decided by politicians but are more-effectively taken by professionals - the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

And now for my passion - the environment. I consider that the time is right to create a body similar to those above for dealing with key issues around the environment where smoke and mirrors, NIMBYism, big money and political spin all combine to get in the way of effective policy.

the badger cull - a political or research-led decision?
Take the emotionally charged issues of fracking. There seems little chance of getting those passionately opposed to this new technology to find common ground with developing companies. What does the research tell us and shouldn't that hold sway above opinion, prejudice and profit?

Or GM. As above.

Or HS2.

Or climate change.

Or a new runway at Heathrow.

Or the desertification of our uplands.

Or the badger cull.

All in their own way absolutely vital to our nation - but when left to fallible politicians we are left with the knowledge that their own agendas, careers and competence combined with the power of vested interest will bear too heavily on eventual decisions.

I know that this information can be made available to ministers in briefings from their civil servants. But politicians can and do frequently ignore 'advice' no matter how balanced or cogent.

And this uneasy feeling about our politicians and their effectiveness is in part why we hear the cry 'they're all the same' and that people have turned off politics.

Politicians and democracy must remain central to our nations life. But let's find a way of letting the voice of respected and peer-reviewed research be heard. And in doing so wash clean this vital element of our nations' life.

The time of the Office for Environmental Responsibility has come.

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