Rosie Birchall: Politicians no longer think big


Recently the Government proposed an increase in the national speed limit to 80mph. Hardly headline news. Yet it was one of the biggest policy announcements of the week, and widely discussed in the media.

Repeatedly, today's politicians are failing to provide us with big ideas. Instead they are settling for piecemeal policies which grab headlines but do little to address key issues.

They highlight problems on a grand scale, living as we are in a "broken society" during the "worst economic crisis for a generation". But when it comes to solutions, Cameron mumbles about optimism while delivering drop-in-the-ocean small business loans, and making it possible for us to arrive at our destinations slightly faster.

Politicians no longer think big. What we value and how we structure our lives are not up for discussion. Concepts such as democracy and capitalism; cornerstones of our society, are uncontested words.

Take Cameron's Big Society. Scratch the surface and the notion seems to be nothing more than a place where people are kind to one another. There is no deeper thinking about big concepts such as community and how to we relate to those around us.

Or take so-called "happiness lessons". Again, Cameron does not lay out any foundation, assuming that what constitutes happiness is obvious and need not be discussed.

Even in the media, these concepts are rarely discussed. Those that do talk about them are often seen as radicals. For example, few journalists use the word "capitalism", either positively or negatively, despite the fact that the system profoundly shapes our everyday lives.

It is taken as given that the bankers are greedy. In fact, this is assumed to be understandable behaviour, although we should try to regulate it. No politician has discussed why these members of the community, who were educated at taxpayers' expense and use state services, allowed their work to have such a negative impact on society. The morality and culture of the bankers, and how it came about, is a concept that is never discussed. Yet this culture is a key reason for the banking crisis, and could be key to future regulation.

The narrowing of politics in Britain, which ignores these concepts, stifles debate and prevents the underlying causes of problems being tackled. Rather than discussing the speed limit, politicians should work at answering the big problems they phrase so eloquently, with equally big solutions.