The adult world is such a disappointment

I’m a great admirer of the British political campaign group Led by Donkeys. For a start, they use wit very effectively to expose the hypocrisy of the current British government.  That must be a good thing. Second, they have the best name of any campaign group ever.  It comes from the expression Lions led by donkeys – describing the belief that British soldiers in the First world war (the heroic lions) were sent to their deaths in the thousands by Generals (the donkeys) who were incompetent and indifferent to the slaughter that resulted from their decision.  The analogy with our current political leaders seems excellent.  I have never had such a strong sense that the people in power in Britain are disconnected to and uninterested in ordinary people.

When I was at University, there were a number of notorious drinking and dining societies, largely populated by the privileged few.  Prominent among them was the Bullingdon Club, whose members would famously go out for an evening to the best restaurants in Oxford, get riotously drunk and trash the place, leaving a large pile of cash to pay for the damage.  Depending on how you feel about these things, it’s good harmless fun or the unacceptable face of the class system – or even something in between.  One thing really never occurred to me – that, thirty years later these would be the people running the country. 

Perhaps Lions led by jackasses would be more apt.

But it’s not just the government that has disappointed me.  The sentiment expressed in Led by Donkeys could describe a great deal of my experience of growing up.

When I was growing up, I learned in school how institutions worked, how economics worked and broadly how society was organized.  It was presented as a world that was ordered, sensible.  It was run by competent and knowledgeable people who were trained and experienced and who had the greater good foremost among their goals.  They learned from experience and things improved over time, as our knowledge and understanding progressed.

Then I went to University, travelled a bit, had a career and so on.  The world I experienced was very little like this.  Some of it was a bit like I had imagined – there were clever people in high positions in big businesses.  I had always imagined you had to be smart and also at least reasonably well intentioned to succeed.  But an alarming number of the businesses I worked with were led by charlatans and bullshitters.  And they seemed no less successful than the good guys.  Maybe I was impossibly naive to imagine any different.

I worked in Government for a time and was staggered at what a dirty, backstabbing business it was.  I’m sure people go into politics with good intentions, but what I saw was just cynical and grasping.  We talked a good game about ‘evidence-based government’, but this was the opposite of what actually happened.  It would more accurately be described as getting-back-into-power-at-any-cost-and-shafting-the-other-bugger-based-government.

How else could we have had something as patently wrong as Brexit?

So, over the years, my faith in the people influencing our lives diminished.

And this week it reached a new low. Or should that be a new high?

This is the crowning glory of stupidity in high places.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is a former client of mine.  We worked together on renewable energy policy when it was called the DTI (Department for Trade and Industry).  It was a sensible, grown-up thing.  There were adults who worked there. They wore suits and everything.

At least I thought they were adults.

BEIS has recently announced its plan to bring back the use of imperial measurements. For those of you who live in the post 1980s world, I should explain, that means pounds and ounces, stones etc.

I checked. Nope, it’s not April 1st.

Business Minister, Paul Scully said “While we think of fruit and veg by the pound, the legacy of EU rules means we legally have to sell them by the kilo”.  “Our consultation today will help shops to serve customers in the way their customers want.”

I’d love to know who these customers are. To have been taught about pounds and ounces in school, you’d certainly need to be over the UK state retirement age.

During the 2019 election campaign Boris Johnson (ex-Bullingdon Club) pledged to bring back imperial units, claiming this was restoring an “ancient liberty”

I am still awaiting the imminent announcements on reinstating longbow practise on the village greens of England and removing votes for women and those who do not own property.

Back on Planet Earth, Tory peer and boss of supermarket chain Asda, Lord Rose, talking to Times Radio, said “returning to imperial weights and measures was “complete and utter nonsense”. “I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life. I mean we have got serious problems in the world and we’re saying ‘let’s go backwards'”. “Does anybody in the country under the age of 40 even know how many ounces there are in a pound?”

I do think he’s being unreasonably generous.

Lions led by twats?

“Don’t let it be him”


Haven’t had a rant about evil British politicians for ages, but today I’m annoyed.

A while ago Russell Brandt (of all people) sprang into the headlines for urging people not to vote.  He was an unlikely political champion but this was rather the point – people were increasingly disillusioned with the political elite after generations of scandals, excess, self-interest and general cynicism.

I found the whole thing depressing.  I have always voted (even though it was usually futile).  I wanted politics to matter to people.  I even did a degree in Politics.  Brandt’s call to no arms seemed, along with the popularity of UKIP and BREXIT, to represent the widespread rejection of the very people who should be making things better, but who are commonly seen to be making things worse.  While they line their own pockets.

Could it get any worse?  Sadly yes.  When I worked in the energy business, it rapidly became apparent that public policy simply wasn’t addressing any of the issues of the day. Two huge issues faced the energy policymakers over the last twenty years.  How to replace the energy generation which is due for decommissioning and how to shift from coal-dominated power generation to a more sustainable mix.  Neither was addressed, even though everyone in the industry knew the issues.  In the meantime the political rhetoric (remember “the greenest government ever”?) simply misled us.

Now I work in healthcare and tragically the same seems to be true.  The pronouncements of policy makers (“economies from efficiency savings”? What again?) bear no relation to what we hear from the professionals in the NHS.  There’s either a kind of mass denial going on or a deep dishonesty.  And as for the posturing around the Junior Doctors’ dispute, I’m afraid truth was the first casualty.

The issue du jour, as I write, is the Panama papers.  The wealthy are avoiding tax by hiding their assets in tax havens – didn’t we already know this?  In the wake of Starbucksgate and Amazongate and (insert your own tax-avoiding multinational-gate here…) the UK Government promised to lead the charge against tax havens.  Now it seems they had their own trust funds in Panama all along.  Dust off that old photo of the Bullingdon Club, with Cameron, Osborne and Boris looking like posh twats.

Sadly, in those policy areas I know a bit about – and some I don’t – I see those charged with making it work simply ignoring the issues and fighting their own turf battles.  Should I assume that the same is true in every other policy area?

The only thing more depressing than the sheer hypocrisy of this is the fact that we’re only learning about it because of the PR tactics of their political opponents in the BREXIT campaign.

It made me think of the advertising campaign for the Camelot lottery.  We see common hate figures like Katy Bigot-whatsername and Laurence Llewelin-Flounce-a-lot and we’re urged to play the lottery – so they won’t win.  “Don’t let it be him”.  Weird but memorable.

I want someone to do some proper politics, please don’t let it be Brandt.

But, much as I want to dismiss Russell Brandt and the others who are asking us to reject our political leaders, tragically they do have a point.  This is how Jeremy Corbyn won the support of millions of disillusioned voters who want Labour to be the answer.


I wish. But sadly I don’t think it’s likely to be him, either.