Imparting The Spin
As so much has been said about government departments putting their own slants on various matters, it was decided recently that the public should be offered a way of evaluating objectively what is said by politicians. How could this be done? In view of the prevailing high level of mistrust, a feeling emerged that a universally respected observer should be engaged. Perhaps nobody fills that role to perfection, but few would argue against the appointment of Sir Bertram Utterside, sometimes described as Britain’s Logician Laureate. The renowned nit-picker was given the job and his recommendation is given below:
I regret to say that my work on other and more substantial matters was interrupted by the request to deal with this commonplace one. However, I have given it the thought it deserves. There is no point in my going on at length, as the solution is obvious. We are dealing here with the question of political leaders purveying their ideas. Well, they have their axes to grind, but how are we to interpret what we hear?
It is clear that politicians are a necessary evil. An advanced society should not need them, as its members would be aware of their rights and responsibilities. For the time being, our country, like all others, needs people to look after the shop while most citizens go about their business.
We must think of the offices of prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary and home secretary as the most influential ones, exercising control over lesser lights. Defence, education and health are bottomless pits, into which the whole national budget could be thrown, perhaps without significant improvement to the results produced. Clearly, they must be restrained by more senior departments.
At the highest levels, let us take the job of home secretary. The incumbent is on a hiding to nothing, being no more able to pander to the ‘string ‘em up’ lobby than to the high-minded liberal one. Such sympathy as I have with our leaders goes in no small part to the holder of this office.
With regard to the position of foreign secretary, it has been said that diplomats are people sent abroad to lie for their countries. If this is so, the head of foreign affairs must function as the chief dissimulator. Small wonder that the person concerned often seems to act like a cat on hot bricks, executing a delicate tap-dance around the truth.
The chancellor of the exchequer always has much to answer for. Whoever is in that position often recycles figures in ways that can be made to demonstrate almost anything, for example that we somehow manage to remain a global titan, active everywhere abroad while simultaneously achieving great improvements in our own public services. All this without any increase in taxes as a proportion of our gross domestic product. Some trick!
I will not dwell on the duties of the prime minister, who has to pull everything together and speak about whatever is topical. This is an onerous position, demanding that the holder has a view on each one of a vast range of subjects. And no allowance is made by the public for lack of awareness of anything on the PM’s part. The masses do not permit ignorance in those they believe should be omniscient.
What we need is a department charged with the duty of assessing the pronouncements emanating from other offices of state, in much the same way as I once suggested that auditors should be rated by an independent agency. My proposal is that we set up a Ministry of Credibility, the remit of its chief being to rank other ministers as to the soundness of their statements. The scale would be on the star basis, ranging from five for top performers to one for the duffers. Obviously this new body would be detached from political parties, not changing with their fluctuating fortunes. The credibility minister would have the job for a long period and would need to have unimpeachable credentials with regard to impartiality. It is not for me to suggest who might best fill the role for the first time.
Though the new ministry might well have the information it needed to bestow its ratings on those actually in office at any given time, the awarding of stars would be on a retrospective basis. The idea here is to encourage ministers to be as candid as possible while in parliament. They would then be sure of recognition of their good work, after the event, for example when they treat us to their memoirs – price £16.99 in hardback. A former holder of high office receiving a five-star accolade would be sure of peddling a large number of copies, while a one-star performer could hardly expect anything but a resounding failure.
To anyone who feels that I have been a little harsh on politicians, let me say I am profoundly glad that we have people willing to enter parliament. Some of them get saddled with tasks that most of us wouldn’t take on. Who would like to weigh the merits of, say, selling a vast quantity of arms to a dodgy foreign country against not doing so, the second option putting thousands of people here out of work? And what about the financial mess we are all in? The politicos may have allowed that to happen but they didn’t cause it, and it is small wonder that they have trouble dealing with it. The only people who might know how to get us out of this pickle are the money-jugglers who got us into it, and even if they do know, they won’t tell us, will they? I have no more to say on this subject.
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