A Nice Reminder of All the Times Politicians Just Completely Ignored the Experts This Year
Because why bother listening to people who are professionally more knowledgeable than you?
(Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)
"People in this country have had enough of experts," Michael Gove told Sky News in June while he was busy peddling the ugly orgy of misinformation that informed the EU referendum. The comment came after he was quizzed on whether he could name any economic authorities backing the move to sever our relationship with the EU.
Was he right? Have experts become impotent when it comes to shaping public policy? Sure, their findings will be used by politicians if they fit in with their specific agendas, but have they essentially just become PR puppets? Are the opinions of our MPs ever swayed by the experts?
Let's have a look to see if the opinions of experts were factored into any of the big decision-making in 2016.
WHAT WAS IT? Britain leaving the EU.
WHAT DID THE EXPERTS SAY? Categorically do not leave. Three independent, leading economic institutions issued a stark warning that Britain "would be financially worse off outside the EU than in". They said that wages, employment rates and prices of goods were likely to be negatively affected.
WHAT DID POLITICIANS DO? The Leave side adopted a firm policy of fully ignoring all facts presented by experts. Instead, they relied on what can only be described as a stream of blatant lies and a barrage of tactical misinformation.
WHAT HAPPENED: So, yeah, the experts were bang on the money. We voted to leave the EU and now we're dealing with the chaotic aftermath of our economic suicide. It's like breaking up with someone then immediately realising that they were interesting and funny and great at allowing you free movement across borders. You miss them already, but it's too late – they've moved on. Then your country falls apart.
We have surrendered our role as a dominant economic power in Europe, the value of sterling plunged to a 31-year low against the dollar in October, and countless opportunities for young people to work abroad have been compromised. Scientists, looking at the prospect of losing £1 billion a year in research funding, are waiting to hear their fate. The consequences of leaving the single market are now sinking in: the results of a survey released earlier this month found that half of US businesses with a base in Britain were considering dealing directly with the EU.
But none of that matters, because we "took our country back", remember?
WHAT WAS IT? Our ongoing housing crisis.
WHAT DID THE EXPERTS SAY? Research is more than a bit damning; we have seen a devastating dip in the level of home ownership, 1.2 million people are on waiting lists for homes and public concern around housing is at a 40-year high. Our supermarkets still throw away tons of food each day, while government reports show we have 3.9 million people living in "persistent poverty".
WHAT DID POLITICIANS DO? Continuing to overlook facts, Conservatives slashed the funding for housing and homeless hostels while concentrating on a move towards criminalising the homeless.
WHAT HAPPENED? More than 200,000 homes in England have been left unoccupied for over six months, while the number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010.
WHAT WAS IT? "Legal highs".
WHAT DID THE EXPERTS SAY? The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs repeatedly advised the government that a blanket ban could outlaw substances that don't need to be outlawed, result in young people being disproportionately punished and could even be unenforceable and therefore pretty futile. Professor David Nutt, a leading drugs researcher, said the only effect of the policy would be "to increase drug deaths".
WHAT DID POLITICIANS DO? The government doesn't have the greatest record when it comes to listening to drug experts. So it came as no surprise when the Tories once again decided they knew best, and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 came into effect in May.
WHAT HAPPENED? Synthetic cannabinoid (Spice) addiction is sweeping across our homeless communities and prison populations at an alarming rate. A significant increase in its use has been observed in central London, too, officials warned months after the ban. Violence associated with the drug's supply – which the Bill handed to criminals instead of licensed and monitored shops – and a surge in psychotic medical emergencies relating to it paints a worrying picture of support services simply unable to cope.
WHAT WAS IT? The "Snooper's Charter".
WHAT DID THE EXPERTS SAY? Human rights organisation Liberty challenged the proposed legislation in the Court of Justice of the European Union. It was described by Bella Sankey, the group's policy director, as "the most intrusive system of any democracy in human history". Journalists and lawyers appealed to MPs, arguing that it could result in the death of investigative journalism; they claimed whistle-blowers would be prevented from coming forward with public interest stories.
WHAT DID POLITICIANS DO? Flatly dismissed the concerns before rushing through the Investigatory Powers Bill under the cover of the Brexit media shitstorm – many Brits still don't know what's coming.
WHAT HAPPENED? We are now on the cusp of totalitarian mass surveillance; we've consented to a police state sold under the guise of counter-terrorism progression. The bill is expected to come into force at the end of this year, at which point authorities have the right to "indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor" anyone's internet history and phone records.
WHAT WAS IT? Fracking.
WHAT DID THE EXPERTS SAY? We've fucked the planet up with our fossil fuels; figures show that 97 percent of climate scientists agree with this. The Committee on Climate Change say that fracking "on a significant scale is not compatible with UK climate targets" unless a number of conditions were met.
WHAT DID POLITICIANS DO? The government was accused of ignoring its own experts when overruling a local council who had refused a fracking site in Lancashire.
WHAT HAPPENED? The government ratified the Paris climate agreement despite their experts warning that their plans for fracking in its current state could compromise it. Even worse, the man who signed it, Boris Johnston, has dabbled in a bit of climate change scepticism in the past.
It's been a treacherous year in British politics. The Brexit campaign will go down as one of history's most hideously misleading political dupes, our (already floundering) economy is as wrecked as a Monday morning Berghain casualty and we are now an even more deeply divided nation, led by someone the public didn't vote for.
So what does that tell us? That maybe, in 2017, politicians should start actually listening to the people whose job it is to know more than them. Because we all know what happens when they don't.