05 January 2009

You've Never Had It So Good?

Politicians would have us believe that they are doing us a favour by giving us more choices in life. How often have we heard them banging on about choice and how much we want it? Obviously, it is not something they genuinely believe or political parties would be noticeably different from each other. As it is, they all tend to be 'middle-of-the-road' because they think it will appeal to more of the electorate. New Labour gets accused of being right wing, the Conservatives of emulating New labour, and the Liberal Democrats of not being a viable option. As a result, they all appeal equally to all of us ... so we stay at home on polling day. If they really think we want choice, why don't they give us some real alternatives at the ballot box?

I take exception with the very idea that what we want is ever more choice, at least in the measure that we encounter it every day of our lives. Take a trivial example. I am a bit of a chocolaholic and, sometimes, I just have to leave my desk, go along to the local purveyor and buy chocolate. When I get to the shop, I find myself confronted with a huge rack of chocolate confectionery that stretches from one extreme of my peripheral vision to the other. What shall I have? A Mars Bar? No. How about a Lion Bar? Hmm. No. A Wispa, then? No, very tasty but the air-to-chocolate ratio makes it an uneconomical purchase. How about pure, unadulterated chocolate? A better idea but which kind? Dairy Milk? Galaxy? Yorkie? I usually resort to a Kit Kat, a particular favourite of mine, as it is for many Britons, but leave the shop dissatisfied with my choice; not because it was a bad selection but because it closed out the potential pleasure of all the other delights.

Here's another example. You fancy going out for dinner. Which restaurant shall you go to: English or French or Chinese or Indian or Italian or Japanese or Thai? When you get there, what do you want for a starter: deep-fried Brie or garlic mushrooms or prawn cocktail or tandoori kebab? Main course: steak or chicken or lamb or scampi or fish or tofu or nut cutlet? How would you like your steak: blue or rare or medium or well done? Do you want baked or boiled potato, or chips? How about accompaniments: seasonal vegetables or stir-fried or salad? Wine...? You might think pudding is easier to select until they bring the menu back. Do you want Death by Chocolate or Mississippi Mud Pie or Banoffi Pie or ice cream? Is that with or without cream? At the end of your meal, you can have tea or coffee; that's Darjeeling, English breakfast, Earl Grey or Japanese Green Tea, or cappucino, latte, espresso, or special (with a choice of six spirits). Where will it all end? How would you like to pay...?

I have been in restaurants where there are something like 36 main courses to choose from. This does not amount to choice, it amounts to indecision. It really does not help that you can have absolutely anything you want, especially when you don't know exactly what you want.

Choice is not a bad thing in itself. I would hate to live in a country where we all had to wear blue boiler suits, although my Beloved would say that it would solve the problem of my total lack of dress-sense at a stroke. It's a good thing that there are options that suit our differing personalities, that allow us expression or even to hide in a sea of grey, if that's what we want. The point is that choice is not the only thing in life, not even the most important thing, and choice is much easier and more satisfying when the options are fewer.

To get back on the political track, we don't want bus deregulation and more choice of service providers, we want reliable public transport. We don't want 40 different train fares between Leeds and Wolverhampton, we want clean trains that run on time and leave us with enough money in our pockets to be able to eat. We don't want more power companies to get confused and ripped off by, we want dependable public services. We don't want 57 varieties: we want baked beans!

So, you grey, middle-of-the-road politicians, stop trying to give us more choice; give us more quality instead. Concentrate on what matters instead of trying to impress us with your constant pandering to what you think we want. If you really want to know what we really, really want, why don't you ask us?

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