Quick wins but no long-term solutions: is the political system broken?

New westminster sunset image
By David Wood, Senior Policy Director, Policy Leadership at ICAS and Deputy Chair of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital

11 May 2017

As 8 June draws near, we should consider the need for better political accountability in relation to important long-term societal issues.

The majority of politicians strive to do good and make improvements for everyone, but the desire to be re-elected and the inevitable self-interest of holding on to their job, gets stronger as the next election approaches.

Reducing spend on infrastructure is an easy way for Governments to save money in times of austerity. The damaging effects only become evident in the longer term – generally beyond the time horizon of Governments. Numerous train crashes over the years have demonstrated, tragically, what happens when spending is cut.  

At the same time, changing demographics mean that more money is being needed for pensions, social care, and health, while, at least in the UK, there is a decreasing proportion of workers to pay for this.

Climate change, the need to decarbonise and the need to consider other greenhouse gases and pollutants is a serious long-term issue. The impact of not looking after our natural environment could be hugely significant for the human race.  

Despite their best efforts, Governments worldwide have not made great progress in achieving the extent of behavioural change and carbon reductions which we need to minimise the impact of global warming. The new US leadership is unlikely to help with this any time soon.  Again, the most serious impact will be felt long after these politicians have moved into their retirement homes.

Time for a long-term approach

There is a chronic need for a more stable and consistent environment to address longer-term issues, and for stronger leadership to achieve fundamental reform.  Critically, there needs to be greater accountability by politicians for their short-term impacts on key public infrastructure and in addressing longer-term problems.

Fundamental reform in public services is needed to drive innovation and efficiency, and help us meet current and future needs. More funding to achieve the reforms we need, maintain our key infrastructures and improve vital public services, is also needed.

It is time to start the debate on how we can achieve the longer-term objectives and the right outcomes for the society of the future, and whether we need to move to a higher-tax economy to fund the necessary changes.

The views expressed are David’s own.


  • Political landscape
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