As I write this, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne are giving a press conference talking about how they are supporting the creation of new infrastructure to boost the British economy. It may represent an epiphany on their part.
Until now, the government has tried to make it sound like it is delivering a coherent infrastructure plan by giving existing schemes the appearance of novelty (see my blog here for example). The announcement issued today, however, admits what in the past they have not admitted: that a lot of their strategy seems to consist in repackaging and talking about existing infrastructure projects.
Put simply: Cameron and Osborne have come out as being in love with hot air.
A few minutes ago according to Andrew Sparrow’s blog, the Prime Minister said that the government had published an infrastructure plan. No, it hasn’t; it’s published a list of projects, and the more the government talks about projects that are moving forward, the more it underlines how its gameplan revolves substantially around publishing lists.
For example, instead of telling us how the government is propelling forward the identification of new areas for investment or designing and using mechanisms for private investment, instead today we got a completely heterogeneous list of projects that are being started or completed this year. The policy is the message. Never mind the strategy, look, there’s a crane, how exciting! The crane would be there even if we hadn’t issued the press release, but never mind that now. Alistair Campbell would be proud.
Under this government, infrastructure projects of every conceivable kind, from Virgin Media investing in fibre optic cable to rebuilding a motorway junction, have been bunged into a spreadsheet grandly called an “infrastructure investment pipeline”. There is no coherence, no rhyme, no Cameron and Osborne’s new infrastructure clother and no leadership to this, there is only a mass of words and figures to give the appearance of activity. Most of the investment cost (as noted in today’s announcement) is to be met by the private sector, with no government involvement and no guarantee from government that it could happen (as not noted in today’s announcement).
This line from the press release says it all:
“The Prime Minister and the Chancellor will visit a transport infrastructure project today (22 April 2014) to see how the government is helping hardworking people and backing businesses with investment in better infrastructure.”
Never mind what project or why; it’s called infrastructure so it must be good. Infrastructure infrastructure infrastructure. That’s three times as good. Happy now?