"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Bang Goes My New Year Resolution

To be honest I wasn't on to a winner anyway; it was always going to be an aspiration rather than a commitment, a yearning for hope to win out over experience. Curbing my natural reaction to say 'Oh, do fuck off' to government policy announcements was never a realistic prospect.  It's become as natural as the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach or the fist in my chest whenever I read in a newspaper about the next initiative for moulding us into better citizens.

The government has published its first Mindspace discussion paper.  A great deal of public money is going to be thrown at local government agencies, charities, advertising campaigns and so on in an effort to 'nudge' us to change our evil ways.  Trial and error methods will be adopted with the aim of surreptiously nannying us to adopt healthier lifestyles.  Royal Windsor & Maidenhead has been chosen as the first of the four Big Society 'vanguard communities' and local officials will work with the Behavioural Insights Team, the Dept of Health, Dept of Work & Pensions and Communities & Local Government.
Here's a brief rundown of government thinking:
1. Smoking: drawing on commitment and incentive devices, we are launching a new smoking cessation trial with Boots.
2. Organ donation: we are introducing a trial of ‘prompted choice’ for organ donation, which we believe will significantly increase the number of donor registrations.
3. Teenage pregnancy: how teenagers who mentor toddlers are significantly less likely to become teen parents themselves.
4. Alcohol: Welsh universities will be trialling new methods to encourage students to drink less alcohol using social norm techniques.
5. Diet and weight: we will be establishing a partnership with LazyTown, the popular children’s TV show, which will encourage healthier behaviour in children.
6. Diabetes: new devices are helping children to manage their conditions in ways that are practical and fun.
7. Food hygiene: how the new National Food Hygiene Rating Scheme will empower people to make better choices when it comes to the hygiene standards of food.
8. Physical activity: numerous innovative schemes have been set up, including the ‘Step2Get’ initiative in London, which incentivises pupils to walk to school.
9. Social care: we have established a partnership to develop a reciprocal time credit scheme to help catalyse peer-to-peer provision of social care.

Applying behavioural insight to health (pdf, 1.5MB)

Some words and phrases that make me heave:  citizens; delivery partners;  empowerment;  Public Health Responsibility Deal; hyperbolic discounting; Lazy Town energy contract; sports candy; Nintendo DS; re-designing shopping trolleys; positive visual cues; piano stairs; 'Run Dem Crew Youngers' scheme; lamp posts & phone boxes; swipe cards ... ...

And here's a reminder of what the Mindspace acronym stands for:

Messenger: We are heavily influenced by who communicates information
Incentives: Our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses
Norms: We are strongly influenced by what others do
Defaults: We ‘go with the flow’ of pre-set options
Salience: Our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us
Priming: Our acts are often influenced by sub-conscious cues
Affect: Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions
Commitment: We seek to be consistent with our public promises, and reciprocate acts
Ego: We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves
Behavioural science in an easy format: a summary of the main influences described in the MINDSPACE report (Cabinet Office and Institute for Government, 2010)

This bloody government should let people live their own lives and get on with the business of re-building the infrastructure of the country and taking the regulatory burden off the shoulders of small businesses everywhere. Driving from North to South the other day - Muswell Hill to Kennington that is - I was struck by the dingy, sepia-tinted place London has become. Shops boarded up, peeling paintwork, dreary interiors, gloomy people, cavernous potholes in the roads that make driving feel more like riding a horse & cart over cobblestones. Street signage - no left turn, no right turn, no u-turn, no parking, no waiting, no cars. It isn't the business of government if I want to smoke a cigarette, drink a glass of wine and eat a box of chocolates so they can get out of my face and leave me alone. They can stick their behavioural science and economics: I'm saying 'No' and if this carries on for much longer I'll be saying No in much stronger terms. And, while they're doing what I tell them, they can get our troops out of Afghanistan as well. If my country was in the midst of a civil war I'd return to fight, not cower in a foreign land far away. Mini-rant over. Happy New Year everybody.

PS I meant to include this somewhere but forgot.  It's the government's eagerly anticipated Green Paper on 'Giving'.  Other organisations have also been asked to contribute ideas .  "The Giving Green Paper sets out the Government’s initial ideas for building a stronger culture of giving time and money to start a national debate on our society’s attitude to giving..."  They like their acronyms, this one is 'Gives':
Great opportunities: we need more exciting, enticing, flexible, and convenient opportunities for giving that go with the grain of people’s lives.
Information: we need better information so that people can easily find opportunities to give that are right for them.
Visibility: we need giving to be more visible – the more people see that their peers are giving, and how much they give, the more likely they are to give or give more themselves.
Exchange and reciprocity: we can encourage people to give in new ways by making the benefits of giving more tangible and immediate – giving is not a one-way street but a mutually rewarding experience.
Support: we need to support communities, charities, and social enterprises to scale up good projects and take on new responsibilities; and to inspire and encourage businesses to be ambitious in their support for the Big Society.


  1. Sadly the welfare state and the NHS lulls "government" into believing that this nannying is to save money and therefore enrich our nation's wealth. of course this is as stupid as everything politicians do.

  2. I too have developed an incredible level of ignorance over the whole of 2010 which I will further hone during 2011.
    The words 'NO' and 'Do Fuck Off' will feature strongly in my daily stroll through life in '21st century third world Britain'.

  3. GV, good work - sod the New Year's resolutions. Hat tip coming your way

  4. I've had this Brokeback Coalition right up to here, GV, it's time we were all out on the streets - just to make sure they understand what "fuck off" actually means!

  5. The missing words were 'stakeholder' and 'added value' and I claim my prize.

    Nothing's changed, has it GV.

    Big Society = Common Purpose.


  6. GV that organ donation stuff always gives me the creeps. Since they cannot keep hygeine up to par who is behind the push for not just organ donation but the whole, pun intended, blood giving scam.

    Since we've been lied to 100% on everything I can only imagine the international drug and organ running Mafia are waiting to peddle our bits. Any country that cannot grit its raods or get midwifery sorted should stop kidding on it is a 22nd century paradise with transparent organ matching to those wiht most need.

    Not Mafia fronted zillionaires with shot livers through hedenous lifestyles or inbred mutants that keep all the lucre in the family by marrying their sisters!!!

    Just as the Irish found to their cost that even though there was wheat in the fields they starved, UKplc is going to find that even though there are hospitals here it is not us that will be getting treated in these places that we went into so much debt through PPP and PFI to finance.

    BTW happy New Year GV.

    2011 is going to be a classic. Make sure you leave a written record somewhere buried in a lead lined casket for archeologists to find in 2000 years. The official historians are going to tell us we live in a land of milk and honey whilst we watch the burning wreckage of what used to be our country all around us.

  7. I haven't had a cigarette all day today and it feels pretty good. I didn't make any New Years resolutions, but since I'm off to a good start with the not smoking maybe that can be it.

  8. All good points (though I think 'William' was being sarcastic - is that you WG, you misanthrope?)

    I despise Bob Crowe but I'm watching what he does and if push comes to shove I might join the protesting lefties. The Unions are the only organised faction - others are too fragmented and isolated protests are ineffective & ridiculed. Yes, it's going to be an interesting year.


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