The dawn of a New Year is a looking forward to what is to come and for reflection, a time for taking stock.
There are two things we know will happen during 2014:
First, a relentless, inexorable, incessant and, I hope, respectful stream of ‘content’ will mark the centenary of the First World War. For me, with luck, this will include the development of film script I have written with WW1 themes – but Harvey Weinstein hasn’t called me yet and we are running out of time.
And we know that, with every day that passes, the nearer we are to the next General Election in May 2015. And the more our politicians will be looking to score points against each other.
We know this because it has started already.
No sooner had the New Year dawned than David Cameron appeared on TV: ‘PM kicks off new year with pledge to increase state pension‘.
Then George Osborne announced a £25bn reduction in welfare benefits.
Nick Clegg marked out his own ground: ‘Tories making a ‘monumental mistake’.
Ed Miliband accused Cameron of ‘prioritising the privileged few’.
Please don’t for a moment think that any of these announcements are for the greater good. It is too late for that. With the General Election in mind, our political leaders will spend 2014 dreaming up what they call ‘policies’ but are really just the terms on which they and their advisors think are most likely to win the most seats. The greater good will be the least of their concerns.
As it is New Year, let’s step back and take a wider view on these stakes in the ground and slinging of mud.
How will they affect the bigger picture?
Will the world be a better place?
Whose lives will be improved?
Will they make us happier?
Of course not.
In October 2011, in a post called ‘Catch-22 of a rotten political system’, I said this:
‘I am interested in the increasing divergence of our society – and, in a world where there is more connectivity than ever before, why there is such a disconnect between the real world and the Westminster Village’. It now emerges, by his Newsnight rant, that Russell Brand reads my posts. Dear Russell, he’s such a flatterer.
In that post, I argued the case for more innovation in finding solutions to the needs of society in the 21st century. Now, at the beginning of 2014, I am afraid the situation has become worse.
However idealistic their political motivations at the time, when David Cameron left Oxford University in 1988, Nick Clegg left Cambridge in 1989, Ed Miliband left Oxford in 1992 and George Osborne left Oxford, also in 1992, their commitment was to gain and retain power for the political parties to whom they had pledge their allegiance for life.
Thus, by 2015, their job is to win more seats for their parties. If they don’t, they will be sacked. So, now the opening salvoes have been fired, it is legitimate to ask if any of them have done anything to change the world or improve our lives.
Have they shown themselves to be creatures of vision, game-changers, prophets?
Have they found fresh, innovative solutions to our problems?
Not really have they?
Let’s look at this from a different angle:
In 2012, Unilever spent $8.3bn and Proctor & Gamble (P&G) $9.3bn on advertising.
In the same period, the UK Government were proud to reduce their marketing budget to £285m.
How is it legitimate for me connect these two seemingly disparate numbers? One is dollars, the other pounds; one is global, the other UK; one is commerce, the other government.
Well, let me tell you, despite the famous mantra of Lord Lever that ‘half my advertising spend is a waste but I don’t know which half’, these global marketing companies know exactly what they are spending their money on and why they are doing it.
With very few exceptions, all consumer marketing companies use specialist advertising and marketing agencies to better understand their customers, develop new products, grow their businesses and find more innovative, more creative ways to achieve their commercial goals.
While most of their advertising funds is spent on the media channels selected to transmit their messages, not one dollar of it would be deployed by Unilever and P&G without two vitally important factors: research and creativity.
How is it that government falls short of these crucial professional disciplines?
Why do politicians dream up new policies by the seat of their pants?
And what have I done to stir things up a bit?
The thinking behind this blog is that the business world behaves more professionally, more intelligently, more creatively and, yes, with more human understanding than our political masters.
It is a lonely road, this blogging business, researching what I can online and with no one to help define and refine any creative ideas I may have. But, through these posts, I have tried to challenge the status quo and apply creative thinking to the issues at hand.
You can skip these if you like, but here are some of the thoughts I have put forward:
1. Royal Mail
In two posts, one dated November 2009 titled ‘The Post Office – a parcels not a letters business’ and the other June 2010 titled ‘The Post Office – a storage and a delivery business’, I argued that local post offices could act as hubs for online purchasing, especially in rural areas.
Imagine, this Christmas, how mortifying it was to see Amazon ‘click and collect’ lockers in my local supermarket. Several Post Offices in outlying communities need never have closed at all.
In two posts, one dated June 2011 titled ‘NHS: a sick future’ and the other February 2012 titled ‘How the banks can save the NHS’, I argued that, if government (i.e. you and me) can own 30% of the Royal Bank of Scotland, why can’t we take minority stakes in health service providers?
In a post dated December 2011 titled ‘A creative insight into the banking crisis’, I argued that City bankers should not be allowed to trade sums of money greater than they have in the bank. No one else in society can do this. Why should they?
In September 2012, in a post titled ‘Housing: how zero vat on the building trade would stimulate the economy’, I argued that zero rate VAT on the building trade would ‘kick-start the economy, generate thousand of jobs and clean up the black economy’.
In February 2013, in a post titled ‘Education: every child has a talent at something’, I proposed the restructuring of the department of Health to include a Minister for Art in Schools, a Minister for Sport in Schools and a Minister of Schools in the Community. How is it that Britain still has the best schools in the world (if you can afford to pay) and some of the worst (if you can’t)?
6. National Debt
In March 2013, in a post titled ‘National Debt: who do we owe?’, I suggested the government might do what anyone else would do if our debts reached a level which was not repayable. We would negotiate with our creditors to reduce the debt to more manageable levels. As of this month, an IMF paper has warned of a mass write-off (the first since the 1930s).
7. Household Energy
In October 2013, in a post titled ‘Household Energy: what gas and electricity companies must learn from the oil companies’, I argued that household energy should be as easy, and transparent, to buy as petrol for your car – and as easy to switch suppliers as driving to the petrol station up the road.
Please do not think that I am highlighting these posts in order to crow or boast. They are no more than the musings of a lonely guy on a lonely road.
All I am saying is that, since the last General Election in 2010, there could have been more innovation and more creativity applied to the needs of society today.
And now it is too late.
It seems we live in a world where the people who sell us toothpaste and washing powder know more about the way we behave than the people who have the power to change the world.
Pity, isn’t it?