What Makes an Old Curmudgeon like Me Happy? Watching Politicians' Gimmicky Happiness Surveys Backfire on Them!

Daily Mail (London), March 25, 2016 | Go to article overview

What Makes an Old Curmudgeon like Me Happy? Watching Politicians' Gimmicky Happiness Surveys Backfire on Them!


Byline: tom utley

CALL me an embittered old curmudgeon, but I spent a happy lunch hour yesterday, chuckling over a speech the Prime Minister made back in 2010 when he was new to the job and full of enthusiasm.

Even as he delivered it, I believed he was making a grave mistake which he would live to regret.

And when this week my forebodings were shown to be justified, I couldn't suppress a frisson of malicious pleasure.

After all, there's nothing that cheers up a chap quite so much as being proved right and that applies even when he's proved right in thinking that politicians who believe they have the power to make us happy almost always end up making us more miserable.

The speech that made me chuckle so unpleasantly was the one David Cameron delivered at the launch of his national wellbeing survey during his first year in office. This was at a time when the first, frail green shoots of recovery from the recession seemed to be withering and the economic outlook appeared bleak.

This survey, to be conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), was essentially a PR gimmick intended to take away the taste of bad economic news.

First floated by Mr Cameron when he was in Opposition, and waffling incomprehensibly about the Big Society (whatever happened to that?), the idea was to convince us that money and economic growth weren't everything.

Other things, such as family life, a sense of fulfilment, freedom from anxiety and a feeling of belonging to 'something bigger than ourselves' mattered more.

Compassion So from now on, said the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed new PM, the ONS wouldn't simply measure dry-as-dust material things, such as gross domestic product, unemployment, inflation, real disposable income and the crime rate.

Under his go-ahead, touchy-feely coalition government, it would also try to assess the immaterial and find out just how happy the people of Britain felt in their own skins.

'The point is that all of life can't be measured on a balance sheet,' he said, before going on to quote a 'fantastic speech' by Robert Kennedy.

In it, the assassinated U.S. President's brother had said: 'Measuring GDP does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.' Mr Cameron commented drily: 'I actually think that's a slight overstatement, but it was Kennedy style, beautifully put. Simple and profound words, but we haven't yet heeded them in our country.' Oh, how he must wish that he had never sought to put those words into practice, and had left the ONS instead to go on collecting its dry-as-dust figures on material matters. For the truth is that on most of those conventional, objective measures with the glaring exception of the national debt Mr Cameron is doing strikingly well.

According to yesterday's ONS survey, net national disposable income per head increased from PS22,463 in 2013 to PS22,786 in 2014, nearly PS1,000 up since Labour's last full year in office.

Crime is also down (or, rather, crime figures are down, not necessarily the same thing), with the Home Office estimating that between 2012 and 2015, the number of offences per 1,000 people dropped dramatically, from 82 to 57 per year.

There's good news on health, too, with a steady rise in the number of years people can expect to live before illness sets in. Between 2008 and 2011, healthy life expectancy for men went up from 62.5 years to 64.2, and for women from 64.2 to 66.1.

As for jobs, the Tories' record is little short of phenomenal, with the employment rate at its highest ever and the jobless claimant count down to its lowest since the Seventies. …

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