What's the Point in an Expert Panel?
In this time of public finance cutbacks can I suggest a means of saving a lot of money and wasted time and effort? Ditch all the expert panels and commissions that the government has been establishing... funding for various periods of time and then dismissing their findings when they don't think they will be able to sell them to the wider public... Rule No. 1 of being an expert on a government appointed panel... When they want your opinion they will give it to you.
Recently we've had the sacking of the government drugs adviser, the deliciously named Professor Nutt, for daring to suggest that government drugs policy was politically based rather than based on any evidence of the medical or social dangers of cannabis or ecstasy, and the subsequent resignation of some of his colleagues... And before that we had the public binning of recommendations from what was said to be the most comprehensive review of primary education in England and Wales for 40 years, which suggested that starting kids into formal learning at age 4-5 has no educational benefit. I suspect that these 2 examples, however, are merely the tip of a very large iceberg. But there is no point in appointing these panels if you aren't going to pay attention to what they have to say...
Why is this happening?
Are there wider agendas on the education question regarding getting mothers out to work earlier to swell the workforce and reduce the burden on the welfare state? Then why can't they be honest about that?
On the drugs question is it simply an issue of them going for the lager-drinking Sun vote rather than cannabis smoking Guardian hippies?
Are they trying to show themselves to be champions of the ordinary person and "common sense" in the face of these ivory tower intellectuals who don't have to live in the "real world"?
Is this all just a function of New Labour spin over substance and will the Tories with Blairite-retread Cameron be any better?
But then why should we be critical of the Westminister crowd, when we have reports on education, community relations and dealing with the past which have been parked in a dark alley at the back of Stormont for political reasons (which all largely come down to the Unionists hating the Republicans and vice versa).
I've got opinions on all of the above subjects although I am an expert on none of them, and while I don't believe that you should always go with the expert opinion on any one subject, because of the wider consequences or context, you should at least offer a rationale as to why you have just poured thousands (if not millions) of taxpayers hard earned cash down the drain. Professor Nutt was undoubtedly politically naive in his public comments. His government paymasters don't appreciate being rubbished by their underlings in the full glare of the media. But if there is a compelling social case for rejecting expert opinion then the public should be told why.
But if the reason for rejecting such opinion is simply a matter of it being hard to sell to the wider population, well that is what being a leader is all about... Not simply finding the front of a baying crowd and getting yourself into the front row, whatever way it's heading...