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28th February 2012

Agree with us at your peril

Comment & Debate Editor Ben Green explains why the term ‘U-turn’ needs to be banished forever.   It is virtually guaranteed that if you pick up any newspaper on any given day of the week, it will somewhere contain an article accusing local or national government of a ‘U-turn’. In the figurative sense it is […]

Comment & Debate Editor Ben Green explains why the term ‘U-turn’ needs to be banished forever.


It is virtually guaranteed that if you pick up any newspaper on any given day of the week, it will somewhere contain an article accusing local or national government of a ‘U-turn’. In the figurative sense it is used, a U-turn means a reversal of one’s position, invariably as a result of outside pressure; normally this means that a proposed policy is to be dropped, or a Bill amended or even stopped. Recent government ‘U-turns’ have been the ‘pause’ in the progress of the NHS Bill or the reversal of cuts to disability benefit, and only recently Manchester City Council’s decision to sink its proposed fines for people over-filling their wheelie bins was triumphantly announced as a ‘U-turn’. The common theme throughout these and other stories is the tone of admonishment always adopted by the press in its reporting. A ‘U-turn’ is categorically a bad thing, because the politicians involved have not stuck to their convictions, but instead caved like the slack-spined parasites they really are.

But just for a moment let’s consider what doing a ‘U-turn’ actually means. The government, or council, has come up with a policy which, for whatever reason, seems to them to be a good idea. In the Manchester case given above, one assumes that over-filled bins are difficult for bin men to collect, so the council has devised a plan to address the problem and bring in a bit of much-needed cash at the same time.

Whilst this seems very sensible to those designing the policy, local taxpayers did not see it the same way, so that when the policy was announced there came an entirely justified outpouring of public malcontent and the policy was dropped in the face of this outrage. So here is what’s actually happened: Manchester’s elected representatives have had an idea, which they proceed to implement. In doing so the public makes it known that they disagree and that in this instance their representatives have got it wrong; in response those representatives duly drop their plans. It is very difficult to see how that is anything but a laudable example of democracy at work.

In an ideal world our elected representatives would get it right every time. In an ideal world the only policies and laws government tried to implement at any level would be perfect in every way and perfectly suited to the needs and views of every demographic. Of course in reality this is simply not possible, there are always going to be people who disagree with a policy and in some cases there are always going to be policies which the majority disagree with. This is because politicians, think tanks, the civil service and everybody else involved in these things are, as much as we may like to pretend otherwise, human. The idea that if a policy proves wildly unpopular the government should stick two fingers up and go ahead with it is simply ludicrous, and besides leads to headlines regarding the party’s dereliction of democracy instead of a sneering article about a ‘U-turn’.

It is almost impossible to adequately spell out the mind-boggling lunacy that is on display when papers demand that something be done, or not done as the case may be, which is contrary to the current position and then lambasting the government when they do it. It is the same situation as if a lecturer were to set his class an essay, but after listening to their reasonable protestations that they already had a full workload, decided that they didn’t have to do the essay after all. Now depending on how conceited you are, the lecturer has either reversed his decision in consideration of the solid case put forward for doing so, which on balance is better than the case in favour, or he has done a ‘U-turn’.

As well as the blinding hypocrisy of the thing, there is a secondary problem. If the government are going to smeared whatever they do – as wishy-washy U-turners if they listen or iron-fisted autocrats if they don’t, it seems that there is very little reason not to just do what they wanted to do in the first place. If I were to spend half an hour after an argument insulting anybody who eventually realised I was right, nobody would bother to agree with me. Not only is this whole ‘U-turn’ business irrational and insulting, but it is actively harmful and must be stopped.

Disagree? Tweet us @mancuniondebate or email [email protected] 

Ben Green

Ben Green

Former Comment editor (2011-2012).

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