This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
I've spent a good deal of time studying the social and economic history of 20th century Britain and particularly since the Second World War and I have to conclude that our political leaders and governments have been consistently intellectually third rate. Perhaps in politics it is inevitably so and that intellectual rigour is unable to survive in such an environment. In consequence wrong decisions are made, constructive paths not taken and wisdom sacrificed for expediency.
I came to the realisation that British politicians were poor decision-makers at a very early age, when I was still at junior school. I was interested in aircraft when I was a child in the 1960s, and read quite a few books by the popular aviation writer of the time, John W R Taylor (not to be confused with Uri Geller fan Professor John Taylor mentioned recently in another thread). In the foreword to Taylor's books in the 1960s, he used to rail against something called the "1957 Defence White Paper", written by Duncan Sandys (son-in-law of Winston Churchill), and in particular a bizarre assumption made in the paper that the idea of manned aircraft would be on the way out in the 1960s, which led to the cancellation of a lot of aircraft projects. So I picked up through JWR Taylor an early impression that British politicians were not very good at making decisions in any sort of area involving technology, and I have seen nothing to counter that impression in my lifetime since.
For people not familiar with the 1957 Defence White Paper, this Wikipedia link gives an idea of its contents:
In 2009 another British politician forecast that manned military aircraft were on the way out, but this time round came up with a far more credible date for the forecast, given as being from about the 2040s, noted in this Register article:
The British aircraft industry came up with an interesting solution to the problem of politicians having a tendency to cancel their projects. I think nearly every British military jet and airliner project embarked on since about 1970 has been an international collaborative project, which presumably makes it much more difficult for UK politicians to cancel because of the diplomatic repercussions. The inspiration for this idea was probably the Anglo-French supersonic airliner project, Concorde, which UK politicians frequently talked about cancelling from the mid-1960s onwards, but they didn't seem to be able to implement the cancellation due to French opposition.
Other than improving the quality of people that go into British politics (which is the usual suggestion for improving the decision-making), I think improving the quality of the advisers might help, and might be easier to implement. I would imagine that Sandys got the idea that manned aircraft would be replaced by missiles in the 1960s from some unrealistic adviser rather than coming up with the idea himself. There is a tendency in the UK to assume that anybody who is seen as a 'good communicator' and is assertive must know what they're talking about. Maybe they should only accept advice from people who have a track record that shows a modicum of forecasting skill. I remember back in the mid-1990s being a bit shocked when John Major's government handed out a CBE to environmentalist Tom Burke for his advice to the government. A few years later the Blair government handed out a CBE to Jonathan Porritt for his advice. If you're taking advice from berks like Burke and Porritt then you're going to end up making some Sandys-like decisions.
In my previous post I raised the issue of when you see an incoherent UK government policy, is it the politicians or is it their advisers who came up with this nonsense?
In the case of UK energy policy, the former chief scientific adviser to DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change), Professor David MacKay, provided some interesting insights into who is responsible for the mess in a final interview about a week before he died (at the age of 48) from stomach cancer. It looks like he was trying to make sure he didn't get the blame for the policy.
MacKay wrote a book called "Sustainability - without the hot air", available as a free download, which was discussed in this forum back in 2008 and 2009. The book was an interesting attempt to apply much needed numeracy to the subject of reducing CO2 emissions and led to MacKay being appointed as chief scientific adviser to DECC, a post he occupied for five years, and he also appears to have got a knighthood out of the advisory role.
But it turns out MacKay didn't personally think much of the low carbon energy policy that has been pursued either. He regarded the idea of renewable energy being able to supply most of the country's needs as being an "appalling delusion", and actually preferred nuclear power and CCS (carbon capture and storage).
MacKay also revealed that UK civil servants advised against subsidising solar panels, so the use of solar power in UK energy policy can be attributed to politicians and lobby groups.
Well the DECC/Ed Miliband Energy and Climate policy was formulated by a green lobbyist called Briony Worthington (BA Eng Lit) was it not?
Bryony Worthington was the architect of the UK's 2008 Climate Change Act (CCA). We had an incoherent energy policy in the UK a few years before the CCA came into being, and we might still have an incoherent energy policy even if the CCA didn't exist.
If you wanted a starting date for the incoherent energy policy, the Blair government's 2003 Energy White Paper would be an important event. JEB highlights the 2003 Energy White Paper on the index page of the Numberwatch website and provides a link to download it. It might be argued that the incoherence started well before 2003 - in 1996 the Major government decided to stop building any further nuclear power plants, the main proven method of substantially reducing CO2 emissions, and effectively killed off the indigeneous UK nuclear power station building industry.
The 2003 Energy White Paper was, as I remember it, devised by a civil service 'think tank' called the PIU (Performance and Innovation Unit). The PIU were also rumoured to be behind the idea of there being a policy to deliberately encourage mass-immigration into the UK to try to make the UK more cosmopolitan and multi-cultural.
What the Climate Change Act does it that it extends the prospect of there being an incoherent energy policy well into the middle of the 21st Century. The main reason the Green lobby wanted a CCA to be introduced was to make it more difficult for a future less Green-leaning UK Government (or Prime Minister if the governing party changes its party leader) to abandon or start playing down the level of Greenery. With the CCA, the Green lobby can threaten to carry out a legal challenge if they think the Government is not doing enough on climate change, unless of course a future Government repeals the Act.
I managed to find the news story from 2009 which mentions the role played by the Performance and Innovation Unit in there being a secretive Blair government policy to encourage much higher levels of immigration into the UK.
"The huge increases in migrants over the last decade were partly due to a politically motivated attempt by ministers to radically change the country and "rub the Right's nose in diversity", according to Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett."
Mandleson admitted as much in a DT article (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/10055613/Labour-sent-out-search-parties-for-immigrants-Lord-Mandelson-admits.html May 2013)
".....his party got “the numbers wrong”."
There was a BBC Radio 4 program which covered the question of numbers. They (those advisers adn even the civil service) apparently made an "estimate" but didn't have anything solid upon which to make a reliable prediction.
They gave a maximum and minimum value to Labour who chose to use the lower value as the reported expectation but in the end the report was proven hopelessly wrong and had under-estimated the numbers by a very significant factor.
Of course, as the article then says (referring to Labour leader):
"But the party leader stopped short of admitting that immigration was too high. "
What I think they were really looking for were a new source of Labour voters.
Of course, immigration and the dilution of national identity is a key objective of the EU also and one suspects similar disregard of indigenous populations in the EU but also, a large enough influx of "citizens" likely to support the EU as being "better" than they were used to is probably why they have sought to admit as much of the old East block as possible and Turkey of course.