Evidence-based politics

Nick Clegg is a politician here in the YUK. Recently, at his party conference in Scotland, he announced the introduction of a charge on plastic carrier bags in England. (He couldn’t make such an announcement for Scotland or Wales because his writ doesn’t run in these places and because, in making his announcement, he was playing catch-up with the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Government.)

In the course of explaining his plan he referred to the fact that a plastic carrier bag took a thousand years to degrade. So we might have two reactions to this. Firstly, 1,000 is a suspiciously round number and secondly, how he could he possibly know this? After all, plastic bags have  centuries to go before they have been with us for 1,000 years.

This second point occurred to the makers of a radio programme called More or Less (BBC Radio 4) so they contacted the relevant department and requested the source of the figure. The department obliged and referred them to a research paper which the programme-makers duly obtained. Two facts about this paper: 1) it did not deal with plastic carrier bags and 2) the figure of 1,000 years was not in it.

So, much as we might welcome his initiative on environmental grounds, we can safely say that Nicholas is not an evidence-based politician.


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