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Friday, 21 January 2011

Political Vernacular 11 for 2011

Wordle of words from the Coalition Agreement (create your own wordles here)

Whereas last year we had Cleggmania, Bigotgate, Ginger Rodents and Toxic debts this year has started a little slower but with new words freshly briefed and older ones reemerging its time for a quick run down of whats what.
  1. Tory-led: Scrub coalition its a Tory led government. Ed Miliband thinks he's doing himself and the Liberal Democrats a favour by making sure that the world knows that the Tories have majority control and lead the coalition Government. Indeed Ed the maths don't lie, but come on even your EX-shadow councillor could have worked that one out without his abacus.
  2. TwoEds: The old adage that two heads are better than one might stand up, but with one Ed being a leader picked by the Unions and a second Ed who should really be his wife. Perhaps this is the Edception to the rule.
  3. Deficit Denier: This one is re-emerging and resurrecting itself like Peter Mandelson in his prime. With Balls at the helm one thinks this will be the strongest (if constantly repeated) weapon for the coalition Tory led Government.
  4. Nudge: See last weeks blog!
  5. Alarm Clock Britain: it's the new political label for hard-working ordinary people, the kind of people who find such labels patronising. NEXT
  6. Blank sheet of paper: Shrewd political document at the heart of Labours political reform drive and catalyst for change. Will be written on when Ed shifts over.
  7. Progressive: Many proclaim it, others claim others aren't it, neither of the blighters define it. An empty signifier if ever I heard one. Economically you can have a progressive tax e.g. Those on high incomes pay a higher percentage of their income than those on lower incomes, beyond that its non interpretable chaff!
  8. Dissent entrepreneur: Actually delivered in 2010 but deserves another outing blog from Left Foot Forward (here). Those who develop activism from within the movement.
  9. SpAD: Government is essentially SpAD heavy, they are the so called 'temporary civil servants'/Special Advisors. Being a SpAD can lead to great things just ask Shadow Chancellor Balls a former SpAD himself who 'apparently' used his own SpAD to brief against Alan Johnson (Not SpAD) to gain his new position. Ed Mil was also a former SpAD as was James Purnell. Even Sue Nye who was a BadSpAD when she stuck Gordon Brown (not SpAD, Had SpADs) with that bigoted woman is now Baroness Nye. However rumours that Mike Hancock had employed VladSpAD were greatly exaggerated. (ill stop there but I also had Cad, ipad and Riyadh).
  10. Misery Index: What with all the talk of happiness measurement I was most amused to see Guido Fawkes misery index. The perfect measure to what bites when things bite. Basically the maths goes ... Retail Prices Index + Unemployment rate + ( Public Sector Net Cash Requirement / GDP ) = Misery Index.
  11. Bankerbashing: Still being blamed for everything in some circles, however a line has to be drawn somewhere. They were a part of the reason for the economic crisis and they will be part of the solution. 
Any other words you think are chic, a la mode and hip for 2010, or alternatively have a go at defining progressive. Get commenting below, then at least I know your reading!

This weeks spotify track is Word Forward from the Foo Fighters.


Monday, 3 January 2011

The politics of nudging (our top five nudges)

For all my mealy mouthed moaning about the worst excesses of 'nanny state' command and control from the Brown government I am becoming more and more interested in nudging. I recently heard a short interview with Richard Thaler (Faculty page at University of Chicago) a co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (amazon link) which increased my interest further. I've not read it yet, but will shortly order my copy and will probably post a review of it when I am done.

Nudge theory (if we call it that) is drawn from behavioural economics, a furrow  more recently ploughed by Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point) and Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics). The discipline which combated the assumption that individuals will act rationally to price incentives to promote their self interest. Within a political context it is a mechanism which could be used as an alternative or supplementary way to nudge people toward jobs or particular health outcomes instead of using the more traditional levers of taxes or benefits. The government recently unveiled a 'nudge unit' with an annual budget of around £500,000 per annum. Whether it is something novel or whether it is a rehash of something else one thing is for sure that 'nudging' is on the political spectrum and agenda in 2011.

The whole idea of cattle herding in any kind of authoritarian manner evokes thoughts of a hardened Orwellian conception of the big brother state, but from most of the contemporary examples Ive heard it cant be so bad can it?

Here's my top five contemporary nudges to help avail that Big Brother scaremongering!

  1. White Lines: (thanks to Francis Maude via Guardian CiF). In 1921 in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands following a spate of road accidents rather than banning cars or adding barriers some smart nudger decided to paint a white line down the middle of the road to nudge people away from accidents (full link).
  2. Opt Out Pensions: By making company pension schemes opt out rather than opt in take up can be boosted without making anything compulsory. The responsibility is on the individual to opt out if they so wish.
  3. The Amsterdam Airport Urinal: This seems the copy book example in the press. Concerned by spillages at the foot of urinals at Schipol airport in Amsterdam a nudger decided that by etching an image of a black house fly onto the bowl of the airport urinal (just to the left of the drain) they could reduce spillage. And they did by 80%!
  4. Calorie Posting: The labelling and listing by companies such as Starbucks and McDonalds of the calorie levels in their products had improved take up of healthier options particularly on products for children.
  5. Musical Stairs: To stop people using the escalators and improve their health how about nudging them towards the stairs by making them more fun. Example from Sweden (see video below)

Maybe due to past readings of Foucault, Orwell and Pierson and explorations of path dependency have done this but the logic's of 'Choice Architecture' both frighten and excite me in equal measure. Fantastic paper (free download here).

A significant nod and hat tip to the Nudge blog (read more here)

This weeks spotify link is unsurprisingly that infamous Python sketch, well 'a nudge is as good as a wink to a blind bat'.

The Politunnel in 2011

Well its a new year, the coalition hasn't collapsed and Liberal Democrats are still uncomfortable if still predominantly hopeful about the prospects for the coalition. The Telegraph took one ministerial scalp but missed another. The blog reached high numbers of hits with a humorous piece on name calling and the posts dried up as work took its toll on free time. This year the blog will endeavour to produce more fruits, which are riper and more juicy if perhaps a little smaller in size.

Hopes for 2011
  • Ed Miliband finally gets to grips with the fact he is Labour party leader and decides what he wants to do about it. That blank piece of paper needs some writing on it asap. Nice Guardian CiF piece from Douglas Alexander here.
  • The coalition remains unfrightened by U-Turns, in 2010 some policy has been hastily unveiled without pre-legislative scrutiny, schools sports the best example.
  • Cameron continues to defy his back bench no-hopers.
  • Clegg remembers that he has backbenchers.
  • Caroline Lucas to stop being solely a green 'media voice' and uses time in parliament to leave a 'green' legacy on British Politics.
  • The Politunnel gets more guest bloggers from different political hues (get in touch here).
Sad news reaches me that Rachel Smith (@rachelolgeirsso) a twitter friend has lost her battle with Leukaemia. Through reading her posts and our sporadic twitter exchanges I learnt that she was a brave, kind and wonderful person. My thoughts go out to her family at this time.
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