Friday 19 February 2021

Road maps, plans and targets


For anyone wanting to get from A to B, a roadmap is a useful thing to have. It tells you where to turn and will usually identify some of the milestones along the route. If you want to know what time you’ll get to B, knowing where the roadworks and obstacles are likely to be is also useful (although you can never anticipate where there might be an accident or an exceptional load leading to delays or diversions). Deciding what time you want to arrive and working back from there can also give you a target timetable, although it’s not necessarily going to be realistic. I’ve noted before that one guy with whom I used to work was always late for meetings, and told us once that it was impossible for him to arrive on time because he already had 9 points in his licence, and couldn’t therefore get from A to B in the time he’d allowed. He never really got to grips with the inherent flaw in his argument.

Both the Welsh and the UK governments are continually being pressed to provide a roadmap out of the lockdown. In itself, this is not an unreasonable request – identifying the stages and conditions which need to be met to progress. In reality, however, it often seems that what many of the anti-lockdown politicians (particularly on the Tory side) are really asking for is a series of targets, against which they can measure progress and which will give them a big stick with which to beat the governments for any failures. They have already decided that the lockdown is unnecessary, and really don’t care whether the necessary conditions have been met or not – they just want to re-open the economy and are demanding a tight and short timetable for doing so.

Unusually, Boris Johnson seems, at the moment, to be erring on the side of caution (in some respects at least), although I wonder how long it will last. His instinct is to take a more reckless approach, as he has done at all stages so far, and his desire to appease his own extremists – the very people who put him into power – is something he’s unlikely to be able to contain for long. Every date he’s come up with to date has proved to be both wrong and a hostage to fortune, and his claim that he wants any changes he makes to be ‘irreversible’ sounds more like painting himself into a corner, from which he will once again prevaricate rather than taking early action, than a realistic assessment of probability given the extent of the unknowns.

Mark Drakeford is being cautious about putting dates on anything. Whilst this will be frustrating for those anxious to re-open their businesses, such caution is eminently sensible. We don’t know whether, when, or where the next variant will arise, let alone whether a variant which can evade the effects of vaccination will appear; all we know is that the more the virus is allowed to spread, the greater the probability will be. For the anti-lockdown brigade, that really doesn’t matter. In fairness, it isn’t that none of them care, it’s more that most of them don’t understand and can’t be bothered to understand the impact of their proposals, and assume that it will, in any event, be other people affected. The response of the two main opposition parties is vastly different. The Tories, following the lead of their party’s lockdown sceptics are demanding dates, even if very rough ones, as a basis for planning; Plaid are demanding that it is the data rather than the dates which should drive any relaxation. The Welsh Tories have called things wrong at just about every stage of the pandemic, seemingly being more concerned about consistency with England than about controlling the pandemic. Hopefully, knowing that the other main opposition party is likely to be broadly supportive (even if critical of some details) will give Drakeford the confidence he needs to remain cautious in the face of shameless Tory attempts at populism. In current circulstances a road map is much more useful than an arbitrary target.


Gav said...

Why "road map" anyway? You don't get road maps for uncharted territory. It's just a lazy way of talking.

Spirit of BME said...

I think your blog is a very fair summing up of the total confusion out there, but there again this their first pandemic and a first Lockdown, which would be unthinkable just over a year ago.
Her Majesty Loyal Opposition is as much at sea as is HMG/s and I cannot help thinking that some 12 months down the line ,the position/s they have taken will either come back and bite them or hinder their ability to put HMG/s feet to the fire.