Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Faint - but Our Post Offices Just Got Saved

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Faint - but Our Post Offices Just Got Saved

Article excerpt

Byline: ANDREW GILLIGAN

LAST week, in a stunning breach of convention, the British government did something right. Even more surprisingly, it did so after listening to the public and Parliament, rather than commercial lobbyists, officials and consultants.

And most unprecedented of all, at odds with its deepest traditions and beliefs, it changed its mind without being forced to.

I am, you'll guess, talking about the plan to take hundreds of millions of pounds of business away from post offices, killing a further 3,000 of them in the process. Until it was canned last week, it looked all set to join that litter of rotten and destructive policies, scattered across the land from Poll Tax Valley to 42-Day Hill, from Dome Boulevard to Privatisation Junction policies which almost everyone, even the people promoting them, knew would be disastrous but which under the prevailing rules of political machismo could not be abandoned until vast damage had been done.

I blame Margaret Thatcher, sort of.

She was believed to have established a template that unpopular was good, unpopular was strong. But she lasted so long only because she chose her fights with care. The public was actually quite keen on most of her supposedly suicidal crusades; she steered well clear of anything truly damaging, such as privatising the railways or messing with the Post Office. The poll tax was the fatal exception that proved this rule.

It was left to Thatcher's dimmer heirs, John Major and New Labour, to make an art form from dogmatic policymaking. But perhaps last week marked a turning point. Perhaps our masters have started to realise that "no compromise with the electorate" is not really a winner; and that changing your mind can be strong, not weak.

Loftier fellow-columnists call post offices "anachronisms" or "more loved than used"; but whenever I go into mine, there's a queue. …

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