Over Christmas the UK has had some severe storms which, as is usual, have caused some damage to buildings and infrastructure. Sometimes it is fairly trivial; my water supply was off for six hours. Sometimes it is more serious; power outages for several days, etc. Indeed, a few unfortunate people were killed.
But this is normal. It is Winter, the UK gets inclement weather and it rains or snows. Power lines topple in wind, underground systems fail when water gets into them, people die. This has always been true and always will be.
What puzzles, and infuriates, me is the desire to make political capital out of it. This year the Left are incensed that the (Tory) Energy Minister went riding on Boxing Day instead of “doing something” to help those without power. What could he have done that would have been of use? All companies that provide utility services have contingency plans to recall staff from holidays to work and plans to deal with emergencies. It takes time to get staff and plant on site, time to dig holes and erect new pylons or repair pipes, etc. All a Minister could do is make phone calls to the people in charge and interrupt their work thus causing more delays. He or she would be as much use as a chocolate teapot.
“Something must be done” is nothing more than gesture politics. It has become the norm in British political life and encourages politicians to meddle to the detriment of whatever they are meddling with. We see this in every area from education to the economy, from health to energy. Social media such as Twitter exacerbate gesture politics with the cries of faux outrage.
It is time to accept politicians can’t do anything other than decide policy and let professional people implement those policies while reconciling ourselves to the fact that in the real world all systems will fail. Not through malice but because both hard and soft components in systems will fail. The solution is not to have knee-jerk reactions and gesture politics. The solution is to use soft systems thinking to design political and infrastructure systems that incorporate the real world and deal with it.
Let’s stop parachuting the Prime Minister or some other Minister into a media circus the next time Grannie is cold.