The politics of vow-hail-vow:

It leaves us with a mess, but sees them through

For weeks now, George Osborne’s brain, along with seven of his best truth-benders, have been hard at work trying to think of a new name for Plan B. The fruits of their labours can be seen in the Daily Telegraph this morning: it is Plan A+++.

Entirely free of irony, the Torygraph reports that the New Plan ‘will stick to the Government’s original commitment of putting debt levels back on a sustainable path, but also focus on growth measures.’ So while I think we can all see the plus-plus-plus points of this New Mark II Plan, I am moved to ask why the Mark vehicle I was launched without wheels.

This sort of bollocks started off by being funny about ten years ago, then became irritating, and now leaves me with uneasy feelings of fear and pity. But I’ve decided after some consideration that there is now a universal dialectic to Western government, and I call it vow-hail-vow.

The Government concerned vows to do the impossible during an election. At the first sign of any data anywhere suggesting it might not be a complete disaster, the new policy is hailed. Then, when it goes tits up, the men at the top vow to see it through.

Seeing it through is a sort of Churchillian version of sticking doggedly to a direction that clearly isn’t working. When told that Greeks are having to get up before they go to sleep in order to have nothing to do earlier and then take a 90% pay cut thanks to austerity, Angela Merkel says they must show some character and see it through. Indeed, she vows that she will ensure they see it through: she is forced to vow, because earlier she hailed the policy.

It’s all quite simple when you get down to it. As Muammar Gadaffi began to wobble and then topple, David Cameron decided the time was ripe to vow that Britain would support the rebels. When the rebels won (having shot Gadaffi and then dragged him through the streets) the Prime Minister hailed it as another victory for The Arab Spring. Now that those left out have killed the American ambassador, William Hague is vowing that justice will be done.

When Tessa Jowell vowed to end Britain’s drinking problem by making it easier to get pissed, one monthly report followed in short order showing that there had been no increase in pub-related violence. The lack of violence was caused by every drunk in Britain being horizontal, but Tessa took the opportunity to hail her policy. As A&E admissions doubled and the number of pubs closed by the police rose by 30%, Ms Jowell vowed to wait and see. Very New Labour, vowing to wait and see: it was the follow-on from John Major’s ‘in due course’, but with less of a time limit.

Boris Johnson knows a scam when he sees one, and has been quick to use this approach in much of what he does…or rather, claims, as the two are often distant relatives. His grand London bicycles scheme vowed to cut car and tube traffic, and the minute more than two bikes had been pedalled from one staging point to another, BoJo hailed the initiative as a resounding success. Within months of that, Mayor Johnson was vowing to export and expand the scheme, even though by this time cracks were beginning to appear.

The cracks are still there. As – despite the shoal of spitting curses I got from bike users the last time The Slog posted about this – are the facts. In January of this year, a leaked Transport for London report declared that ‘the novelty has worn off’ and that satisfaction levels with the mayor’s bike hire scheme were lower than those for any other transport mode.

It later emerged that many docking stations spend eight hours a day with no bikes in them. Then in July, there were calls for Barclays to be replaced as the sponsor, following the discovery that most of Boris’s mates from Bob Diamond downwards had been swindling the nation for the last five years.

To date, I haven’t seen a single study showing any evidence at all that London has been unclogged, or Tube travel made more bearable. There is a simple mathematical reason for that: The bus network can carry 6.5 million people a day, the tube 4.5 million, but there are only a few thousand Boris-bikes. The last study I read condemned the scheme as ‘unreliable and nothing more than an amusing curiosity for tourists”.

So look out for it at a politician near you: vow, hail, vow. In particular, keep your eye on the new Health Secretary, for he is made for vow, hail, vow. As a methodology it is, after all, a punt using a stunt created by a *unt.