Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't - the myth of the political "U-turn"

So, with Twitter foaming at the mouth about the Leveson Inquiry, and its revelations about Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's involvement in News Corporation's takeover bid of BSkyB, I am once again dipping my toe into the turbulent weir of political blogging.  Albeit on a totally different subject...


The U-turn.  What is it?

I have long struggled with the concept of the U-turn (known, apparently, as the Flip-Flop, in America) in politics.  Describing sudden or drastic changes to policy, it is used almost exclusively as a term of derision, or accusation.  The idea supposedly being that one accuses a U-turning politician of not standing up for his convictions, and staying strong in the face of criticism.

Now, when a Government minister announces new policy details, he can expect criticism.  Criticism from the Opposition is almost guaranteed, and as such can largely be ignored, as it will often be Opposition politicians being contrary simply for the sake of it.  (These days, Opposition politicians seem to view their job as being to criticise the Government position on everything - even if that is exactly what their position would also be, if they were in office.  This, to my mind, is a sad state of affairs in itself, but is a topic for another post.)  It is criticism from independent and non-political sources, and from the public as a whole, on which I am going to focus here.

Let's look at the recent furore surrounding proposed reforms to the NHS (National Health Service).  The Coalition Government, and particularly Health Minister Andrew Lansley, has come in for a lot of criticism over these plans, with NHS workers, Trade Unions, and the general public campaigning and protesting over the issue.  Lansley has been urged to "Drop The Bill", and abandon the proposed reforms, by protestors at every stage of this legislation.

(Whether this criticism is deserved or not is another issue; this is not a post about the Health Bill - I am merely using it to illustrate my point - and I do not wish to debate the Bill itself here.)

So, what would happen if Lansley bowed to pressure, and did drop the Health Bill?  In all probability, he would be further pilloried for having done so - his detractors would sneer, and ridicule him for performing the infamous U-turn, and not sticking to his guns over the issue of the Health Bill.

So, Lansley cannot win.  Whether he pushes the Health Bill through or not, the public will hate him.  This is the problem I have with the concept of the U-turn.

I can quite understand that some people may not agree with certain Government policies, and that they may campaign to change these policies.  I do not understand why they would be such sore winners.  After all, if you have been urging a politician to change something, and then he does change it, surely you ought to be pleased?  You got exactly what you wanted - so why then lambaste him for doing what you asked?

By these standards, a U-turn is essentially a politician taking notice of public opinion, and acting on it.  Isn't that what politicians are meant to do?


Rest assured, as with all my forays into political blogging before, I will soon take fright and run for cover.  Normal service (advice on chopping carrots and eating sandwiches, and moaning about people on the telly) will resume shortly.  Thank you for your patience.

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