Meet the Cabinet Office Behavioural Insight team, otherwise known as the Nudge Unit:
We can all cite instances in which we know that we should act differently in our own self interest or in the wider interest, but for one reason or another do not. The traditional tools of Government have proven to be less successful in addressing these behavioural problems. We need to think about ways of supplementing the more traditional tools of government, with policy that helps to encourage behaviour change of this kind.
The Behavioural Insights Team has been established to do just that. Its aim is to help the UK Government develop and apply lessons from behavioural economics and behavioural science to public policy making. In short, it supports Government departments in designing policy that better reflects how people really behave, not how they are assumed to behave.
The nudge unit reports to Francis Maude as Cabinet Office Minister (you can read him justifying its work here). If we take ‘behavioural science’ seriously for a moment, we’re left with the question of whether actual panic was the objective here, rather than this being a standard political diversion trick that got out of hand. After all, if an outcome is predictable, it becomes reasonable to consider that it was intended, especially when performed by a confirmed nudger.
But now that I have heard the Conservatives’ private explanation, which is being handed down to constituency associations by MPs, I begin to feel angry.
The private message is as follows. “This is our Thatcher moment. In order to defeat the coming miners’ strike, she stockpiled coal. When the strike came, she weathered it, and the Labour Party, tarred by the strike, was humiliated. In order to defeat the coming fuel drivers’ strike, we want supplies of petrol stockpiled. Then, if the strike comes, we will weather it, and Labour, in hock to the Unite union, will be blamed.”