In a restaurant last night somebody pointed out Biddy Baxter, former doyenne of Blue Peter. Earlier in the day the historian Peter Hennessy had been presumably making mischief when he said on Start The Week that he believed that many of New Labour's failings could be traced back to Blue Peter. "It produced a political generation who believed they could collect the bottle tops, do AIDS next week and then solve world poverty. It was absolutely toe curling."
Certainly we have a political class who believe that once you do something that thing is done. Some of the things they do have that bright-eyed "new beginning" feeling of a Blue Peter campaign. The difference is that while all Blue Peter is trying to do is build an orphanage, they're trying to bring about changes in behaviour. Initiatives are announced, budgets assigned, progress reported and then there's a long silence. Only when the people who began the initiative have moved on does somebody emerge to admit that while they took all the action they intended to take it hasn't quite produced the results they intended. There was an item saying just that yesterday about government's campaign on childhood obesity. Seems you can't make people act in their own interests if they don't want to.
It's only when a campaign has hit the wall that people are prepared to concede that expectations might have been unrealistic. In recent years questioning the steady extension of university education has been like arguing for a better deal for witches in Salem. Now that the big story is 69 people chasing every graduate job Martin Birchall of graduate recruitment firm High Fliers is on the radio pointing out that nobody asked industry whether they needed this number of graduates. Seems obvious now, doesn't it?
Of course I don't blame the politicians. They're only trying to do what they think will play with us and we're addicted to good feelings particularly when they can be achieved without any apparent sacrifice on our part. Would we like to solve world hunger? Yes! Would we like to get those people across the road to behave better? Of course we would. Do we want all our children to go to university? You bet we do. Have we thought about the consequences of some of this? Not a lot.