Edition number 53; dateline 1 June 2012
Buzzardgate: why a bird of prey is showing the way for government action on sport, leisure and culture
Of all the recent government U-turns the decision to reverse the declaration of war on the buzzard is perhaps the most dispiriting.
There have been plenty of other U-turns in recent weeks – at the time of going to press we have had policy reversals on the application of VAT to hot takeaway food (aka the Pasty Tax), VAT on static caravans, secret courts for cases involving the security services and limits on tax relief for philanthropic donations – and they have all received bigger headlines and more column inches than the buzzard story. However, none of them have quite demonstrated how government works as well as a decision – and its reversal – to destroy magnificent birds of prey as a sop to lobbyists working on behalf of the owners of vast country estates who claimed that these birds represented a threat to pheasant chicks and therefore, according to their reasoning, to their profits.
Having jumped when the commercial interests of the landed classes demanded it, the government was eventually – in fact rather embarrassingly quickly – forced to concede that their own documents confirmed that there is no data on how many pheasant chicks are taken by buzzards and therefore no grounds for the claims that the growth in the buzzard population had brought a significant decline in the pheasant population. The news of this particular U-turn came on the same day that Andy Coulson was arrested for perjury and so did not make the front page, or even the front few pages, of many papers.
On the subject of U-turns in government policy there is a marked difference of opinion. Some, usually government ministers, supportive backbenchers or special advisers, take the view that such amendments to proposed legislation demonstrate effective government at work, showing an administration willing to listen and learn in pursuit of the proper course of action. The opposing view is that such U-turns are the fruits of laziness and arrogance, the result of ill-conceived and hastily cobbled together policies affecting people who are perceived to be in no position to complain or who are unlikely to be the natural supporters of the government in question.
Buzzardgate (as no one has called it) seems to fit the latter understanding but it also serves to demonstrate just how easily and swiftly the government can act when it is minded so to do. While we all tacitly accept how complex and complicated the business of government is, nothing reminds us that the process of being in government is also about being in power than the swiftly implemented and swiftly reversed policy decision.
The report issued last month on a renewed emphasis on hand-washing in hospitals as part of the efforts to reverse the spread of infections such as C.diff and MCRS showed impressive results. It also served to emphasise the potential impact of simplicity and the efficacy of basic truths within government policy-making. There are, of course, plenty of other examples of simple, small and highly effective policy decisions that could be implemented quickly and for comparatively little cost, many of which are explored in this issue of The Leisure Review. For hand-washing read school swimming, with its attendant impact on drowning statistics, public safety and opportunities for involvement in so many water-related sports and activities. Or physical activity, a modest investment in which, both financially and in policy terms, could deliver hugely significant returns, all of which have already been explored, quantified and published by the government itself. Or the arts, a simple commitment to which could make a big impact on the building of communities, which is apparently still a focal point of government policy, and engaging individuals.
All these simple steps could be implemented simply, quickly and at modest cost by a government minded to look to the interests of ordinary people rather than the interests of owners of huge estates that make money out of killing things and call it sport.U-turn if you want to. I would.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial