Which important issues are the political elites ignoring because all attention is on Brexit?

22 November

How much time have you got?! Recently at the University Of East Anglia we had a series of lectures organised by Charles Clarke, the former Labour Home Secretary, in which politicians were invited to come and talk on the subject of the “Too Difficult Box”, i.e. the policy issues that are massively importance to the state of the nation but typically are the ones that don’t get dealt with because they’re too difficult to solve technically or politically.

Even without Brexit a lot of big issues are always getting ignored. Amongst them are: funding of political parties and their reliance on corporate donors; the massive pensions crisis that is not likely to be resolved for many years and which could be an absolutely devastating problem in the future; dealing with climate change; a long term outlook for nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy; and so on… These are huge issues that politicians persistently only touch upon, if they even dare to do that, and then put to one side. The issues we are choosing to deal with will always dwarfed by the issues we fail to tackle, because they’re the ones that are the most difficult to resolve.

“The issues we choose to deal with will always dwarfed by the issues we fail to tackle. They’re the ones that are the most difficult to resolve.”

Take something like climate change. Most of the people living are unlikely to be adversely affected by it, but generations down the road could be devastated by it. But they don’t have a vote and they don’t pay taxes now, so politicians don’t really have a strong incentive to do anything serious about it. It’s hard politically and technically. It’s the same with funding political parties. Whatever you decide, people will hate you for it so there’s little political will to act and democracy suffers. The time-consuming focus on Brexit is making all this worse, but it’s only by a matter of degrees rather than changing the nature of the problem.

Politics is the art of the possible. The difficult will always struggle to get onto the political agenda. That is more true now than ever, because of the way media discussion drives politicians’ focus. They are dragged to each new crisis that emerges, be it cyber-terrorism, humanitarian disasters, Brexit or whatever, by the media, leaving less time to focus on the long term, the tricky but important issues. It’s part of the democratic process, but it also has a cost in terms of developing policies that are effective.

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