3 Emergent strategy: how does the
Government define the UK's national interests?|
26. It is assumed that the process of emergent
strategy should set out how strategic aims are based upon an understanding
of the national interest. We have reported our concern that this
does not seem to happen in practice: we argued that the Coalition
Agreement, in which the Government says it has set out the overall
strategy for the Government could not be "a statement
of Britain's enduring national strategic interests: nor could
be expected to be such".
We therefore welcome the Cabinet Office's clarification in written
evidence for this inquiry of how the Coalition Agreement sets
out the Government's strategy:
The basis of the Coalition that was formed after
the last general election was a shared assessment by the two parties
forming the Government on where the national interest lay, particularly
on the urgent need to form a strong, stable Government able to
tackle the country's fiscal and economic challenges. The
Programme for Government that resulted from the Coalition formation
discussions therefore represents the Government's strategic assessment
of the actions needed to secure the UK's national interest and
our strategy for doing so.
27. The Government stated that this national
interest would be promoted by the advancement of six strategic
a) a free and democratic society, properly protected
from its enemies;
b) a strong, sustainable and growing economy;
c) a healthy, active, secure, socially cohesive,
socially mobile, socially responsible and well educated population;
d) a fair deal for those who are poor or vulnerable;
e) a vibrant culture; and
f) a beautiful and sustainable built and natural
28. David Steven argued that the Government needed
to go to the next level down from these strategic aims to consider
the specific risks to prosperity and security that the UK faces.
Professor Kay agreed, stating that while the Government was right
to set out such high level aims, "it is only useful to start
from there" if you consider, as Mr Steven suggested, how
these goals will be achieved and the risks which threaten the
achievement of these goals.
29. The Cabinet Office argued that the existence
of support for these aims across the UK political spectrum meant
that they would be "likely to remain our national ambitions
over a long period of time to come".
We put it to the Minister that the aims to which there was common
assent might be seen as bland and anodyne. The Minister disagreed,
emphasising his belief that this cross-party support did not indicate
that six strategic aims were just universal 'values', but instead
was "a very lucky feature about Britain" and "a
great thing about our democracy that broadly we agree about what
we are trying to achieve". 
30. Instead, the Minister believed that the differences
between the political parties came when deciding which policies
to implement to achieve these aims. The establishment of the strategic
aims then become useful, he told us, "because if you do not
know what your aims are, you certainly could not have a coherent
set of policies coherently for achieving them".
Indeed, the Minister stressed that there was a relationship between
aim and policy, as
no setting of an aim determines how you will achieve
it, but the setting of an aim does preclude doing some things
that would not achieve that aim, and opens up the field to prioritise
those things that will achieve that aim.
six aims outlined by the Government in the Coalition Agreement
may be well-meaning but are too meaningless to serve any useful
purpose, because they provide no indication of what policies the
Government might pursue as a consequence. They do not define how
UK national character, assets, capabilities, interests and values
are distinctive in any way whatsoever, or define the particular
risks and challenges we face. Nor do they define what sort of
country we aspire to be beyond the most general terms. To support
National Strategy, strategic aims should be defined which identify
and reinforce national identity and national capability, which
includes the identities and capabilities of the UK's component
parts, and give a clear indication of the overall direction of
32. In evidence, it became clear that the Government's
six chosen strategic aims had not previously been published. Indeed,
as the Minister made clear, they had been prepared solely for
the purpose of providing evidence to our inquiry.
While it is gratifying that PASC's inquiry has flushed out the
lack of consideration that has been given to the public expression
of the Government's strategic aims, this is a matter to which
we urge the Government to give more consideration.
33. It is not advisable for a government have
more than around six strategic aims. The more strategic aims which
are adopted, the less strategic they will tend to be. It is not
necessary to mention things which may be very important (such
as anti-terrorist policy, or the control of inflation) because
they are either an obvious consequence of your strategic aims
or self-evidently obvious so they are unlikely to be at all contested.
The criteria for selecting strategic aims should be not just that
they identify high level outcomes, and that they are of overriding
strategic importance, but that they provide an indication of the
kind of objectives which policy must seek to achieve.
34. We do not advocate any particular
strategic aims but we do invite the Government to consider how
to express its strategic aims in terms which provide an indication
of the objectives which policies must achieve. The Government's
inability to express coherent and relevant strategic aims is one
of the factors leading to mistakes which are becoming evident
in such areas as the Strategic Defence and Security Review (carrier
policy), airport policy, energy (electricity generation, nuclear
new-build programme and renewables) and climate change, and child
poverty targets (which may not be achieved), welfare spending
and economic policy (lower economic growth than forecast). This
factor also militates against clear thinking about presentation,
which was evident in the aftermath of the Budget and in response
to the possibility of industrial action by tanker drivers.
Public opinion in defining national
35. As part of this inquiry we have examined
opinion is reflected in the process of setting strategic aims.
We have considered at which level public opinion should influence
strategic thinking: first at the higher level of defining national
interests and then at the level of day-to-day policy making.
36. A number of our witnesses argued that there
was indeed an absence of public opinion at this higher level.
Andrew Griffiths, a business strategy manager, described the views
of the electorate as the "primary missing influence"
on UK strategic thinking.
The Chirton Group (a non political forum aimed at exploring the
challenges of strategy making) drew the attention to the recent
use of crowd-sourcing by the government of Iceland in developing
a new constitution.
37. Lord Burns, former Permanent Secretary at
the Treasury, said that he did not see why Government should be
different from the businesses that spend considerable time taking
the views of the public. He argued that:
If the Government are going to make choices between
different areas, they need to know something about the extent
to which the people of a country have greater happiness or unhappiness
with some aspects of the services that they receive than others.
38. We also heard of the importance of opening
up a lower level of strategic thinking: the influencing of policy
choices. On our visit to Canada we met with the Department of
Foreign Affairs and International Trade who told us it was important
to differentiate between the use of mass public opinion, in the
form of polling or focus groups to form policy, and bringing in
expert opinion to the policy formulation process. We were told
that broad but trusted groups of experts from outside the usual
departmental silos can be formed to provide valuable input into
the strategic direction of policy.
39. Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive, National Endowment
for Science, Technology and the Arts and former Director of the
Government's Strategy Unit said that governments all over the
world make the error of "believing they have a monopoly of
wisdom, and if only they could persuade the stupid public [then]
everything would be fine".
Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government shared
this view, telling us:
the politicians feel that they know all too well
what the public think, so they narrow the debate or seek to influence
the debate by having reviews that produce the results they want.
In his view, governments feared the implications
of utilising public opinion:
I think the real inhibition here is being afraid
of posing potentially what they regard as politically difficult
options. If you look particularly at, say, tax issues, there has
been a reluctance to have an open debate on strategic choices,
because of some of the implications for taxation.
40. The need to limit public involvement was
highlighted by Lord Carter, who stressed that "Governments
do have to lead sometimes" adding that "there is always
a balance in taking decisions that are sometimes difficult and
do not necessarily have the most popular support at that moment
but possibly in the longer term may be the right answers."
A further danger highlighted in a seminar with Whitehall strategists
is the possibility of public opinion reflecting two contradictory
opinions at the same time: such as calling for higher welfare
spending, while also seeking lower taxes.
41. Some of our witnesses argued that a focus
on public opinion, as part of the process of emergent strategy,
diminished the importance of political leadership. Strategy consultant
Simon Anholt told us that emergent strategy is "tantamount
to admitting the absence of leadership in the system".
42. The process of emergent
strategy demonstrates how public opinion, policies and strategic
aims can work together in a 'virtuous' or 'vicious circle'. This
is not to abdicate the role of leadership to public opinion, which
is what tends to occur without effective National Strategy. Indeed,
strong leadership is all the more vital to make rational choices
when reconciling public opinion and long-term goals.
43. The Minister told us that the Government's
strategic aims had been tested by public opinion in the 2010 general
two parties went into an election having chosen the
things that they would emphasise, and as the election produced
a certain set of results, I think one can fairly say that they
have been subject to a very considerablein fact, the toughestdemocratic
44. The challenge of National
Strategy is to ensure the public is involved in its involvement.
A general election provides voters with an opportunity to determine
who governs, and this can define the strategic direction of the
nation, but elections are only a small part of the conversation
on the fundamental questions which determine the future of the
country. Government, and Parliament as a whole, need a deeper
understanding both of how the public perceives our national interests
and of what sort of country the public aspires for the UK to be.
This must take place on a much longer and continuous timescale
than the once-every-five years allotted to a Parliamentary term.
45. We have commissioned opinion
polling which will help us to assess whether national aims are
aligned with long term public aspirations and its sense of national
identity. We will report on our findings later this year.
22 Public Administration Select Committee, Who does
UK National Strategy? Further Report with the Government's Response
to the Committee's First Report of Session 2010-12, Appendix
3, para 2, para 6 Back
Ev 72 Back
Q 172 [David Steven] Back
Q 172 [John Kay] Back
Ev 72 Back
Q 281 Back
Q 290 Back
Q 293 Back
Q 339 Back
Ev w26 [Note: references to 'Ev wXX' are references to written
evidence published in the volume of additional written evidence
published on the Committee's website.] Back
Ev w19 Back
Q 221 [Lord Burns] Back
Meetings with strategists in Ottawa, February 2012 Back
Q 16 Back
Q 119 [Peter Riddell] Back
Q 221 [Lord Carter] Back
Seminar with Whitehall strategists, February 2012 Back
Ev w63 Back
Q 286 Back