Clowns to the Left of me, jokers to the Right

Craig Berry

Image © The Prime Minister's Office

In 2010 David Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to measuring levels of happiness. There’s more to life than money, he argued. Accordingly, the Office for National Statistics included four questions on ‘subjective well-being’ in the Annual Population survey for the first time in April 2011.

This is the sound of the Conservative Party moving away, albeit very tentatively, from neoliberalism. The economic downturn has not altered but reinforced Cameron’s point of view on this. His support for measuring happiness, alongside GDP, derives instead from his profound commitment to conservative ideology.

As New Labour’s ‘accommodation’ to neoliberalism and the Thatcher legacy became stronger rather than weaker – contrary to early promises – Cameron carved a space for himself in promoting traditional English values in contrast to Labour’s fanatical modernisation.

It would be easy, and not unjustifiable, for the left to be cynical about what the government is doing. But the left’s bêtes noires of recent decades, the neoliberals, are also cynical, and in some cases incensed – see for example Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod’s research for the free market think-tank Institute of Economic Affairs. And take another look at the speech on happiness Cameron gave in November 2010. He contrasts the pursuit of happiness in public policy with three shining examples of a neoliberal agenda in action: immigration, cheap booze, and consumerism.

This does not mean there is not a major flaw in the government’s thinking. In terms of measuring social progress, the effectiveness of happiness measures are undermined by the fact that, as Johns and Ormerod point out, people always say seven. The ONS asked people ‘how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?’, ‘to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?’, and ‘how happy did you feel yesterday?’; across all three questions, three-quarters of people said seven out of ten. (When the question was posed in more negative terms, that is ‘how anxious did you feel yesterday?’, the vast majority said three out of ten.)

Read more of this post


The issues that shall really determine Scottish independence

Scott Hill

Image © Saul Gordillo

So, we now know the all-important question: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country? Yesterday, the Scottish government published its consultation paper[1] on an independence referendum to be staged in the autumn of 2014. Within the document, which outlined a path similar to what many would have predicted, it was stated that 16 and 17 year-olds should gain the right to vote, those voting should be residents of Scotland and, crucially, the possibility of a multi-option ballot was left open, meaning that Scots may get the opportunity to vote for full-fiscal autonomy; an option they seem to prefer[2].

Whilst the document remained largely controversy-free, a few troubling queries could be forthcoming. It seems odd that the majority of sportsmen representing Scotland in rugby and football, for example, will not be permitted to vote on the future of their country. However, this is an awkward issue for which there appears to be no easy way round. Either way, somebody out there with a strong affiliation for Scotland shall miss out on the vote. Perhaps by making eligible all those who can prove that they were born in Scotland would be the best solution. Others will point to the fact, in relation to 16 and 17 year-olds voting, that individuals not permitted by law to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or puff on a cigarette have no plausible right to vote. I, however, am quite relaxed about the proposition put forward by the SNP. Read more of this post