The Hidden Costs of our democracy

Editor’s Blog Posted 20/05/14
June 2014 - Editor's column

It has always seemed odd to me that engineers have as yet been unable to create a road surfacing material that can resist the average UK winter and stand up to an HGV or two.

After all, we can build skyscrapers that sway gently in the wind, bridges that carry thousands of cars and lorries safely over vast expanses of water and even a twin-bore tunnel under the Channel.

But of course, we can - or we could - build better roads. There is no engineering reason why our roads crumble to dust every January and February, wrecking suspension systems and posing a risk to life and limb for those of us who occasionally take to two wheels.

The reason this happens is purely financial. No politician, elected to a local council for five years at most, wants to be responsible for hiking the spending on roads to the level at which we could trust them not to feature more holes than Swiss cheese the following spring.

So the politicians patch the road surface, with one eye on the voters, while the rest of us keep at least one eye on avoiding the potholes.

It’s the same short-term mentality that is worrying the CBI. In this month’s edition, director-general John Cridland calls on politicians of all hues not to let policitcs get in the way of the UK’s economic upturn.

He is worried, understandably, that the confrontational nature of our political system, added to the need to persuade voters that whatever the other party suggests is automatically the worst idea ever, will upset the recovery.

Business needs stability, investors need to be confident in the future economic landscape and politicians need to look beyond votes to what is best for the country in the longer term, regardless of who came up with the policy.

After five years of economic struggle, the country is starting to feel confident about the future. Employment figures highlighted this month are the best since records began. It would be a shame if political squabbling were allowed to threaten that.

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