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What is a “Willetts”?

When you spend as much time reading think-tank proposals as some libertarians do, there is a danger of losing all sense of proportion. For instance, there is a proposal to “reform” the state pension system, because it is due to become bankrupt in the next twenty years. Unfortunately, it may cost more to implement the changes (and bankrupt the system anyway). There is the call for “social justice”, using the term in exactly the opposite way that it is understood to mean, in the hope of confusing your opponents into voting for you. Instead, they call you a liar and your normally loyal supporters stay at home. Then there is railway privatisation. Instead of allowing train operators to own the track themselves, we end up with the shambles of “National Rail” (and no doubt more subsidies wasted in the long run).

I have been looking for a term to describe such cunningly silly policy-making. So here goes:

Willetts, n. [pron. whil-itz] A policy proposal that is exactly twice as complicated as the problem that it is designed to solve.

David Willetts is by no means the only culprit, and his policy proposals are not always wrong, but with a nickname like “Two Brains”, you’re asking for trouble.

7 comments to What is a “Willetts”?

  • ernest young

    Wasn’t it a man of the same surname who ‘invented’ Daylight Saving Time?

    Was he a relative?

  • Monty

    Can anyone explain to me why we have a pension crisis?

    Surely a demographic shift means far more than an overload of pensioners?

    1. Sharp reduction in child benefit payments

    2. Sharp reduction in requirements for funding for Education.

    3. Reductions in costs for pre-natal and ante-natal care.

    4. ASBO’s?

  • Robert Alderson


    Pensioners carry greater voting weight than children (or their parents.)

    For the full life cycle of somebody living in the British welfare state there has always typically been lets say 18 years of financial dependence at the beginning of life. It used to be that there would be 5-10 years of dependence again at the end of life, now there is probably more like 10-15 years of dependence.

    That being said, you are quite right that there should be reductions in state spending on children as the population ages.

  • Brock

    Willetts is a perfectly cromulent word.

  • Julian Taylor

    An interesting new view of Willetts. As I recall ‘doing a Willetts’ was reserved for those ministers of previously sound character who lie to the Commons’ Standards and Privileges Committee in order to protect another somewhat less than scrupulous member of the same party.

    This is what Willetts did in 1996 when he ‘slightly digressed from the complete truth’ and misled the SPC over the Neil Hamilton and Al Fayed ‘brown envelopes’ affair.

  • 1. Sharp reduction in child benefit payments

    Nope. Just as many kids as before, if not more. More pensioners comes from more people living longer, not fewer kids.

    2. Sharp reduction in requirements for funding for Education.

    Au contraire. Not only do you have as many or more kids to educate, you have higher costs per kid due to the state education lobby.

    3. Reductions in costs for pre-natal and ante-natal care.

    Nope. Still lots of kids being born, and the costs of care continue to go up across the population as more treatments come online, more very sick kids are saved for ongoing care, and the market for medical care becomes more dysfunctional.

    4. ASBO’s?


  • HJHJ

    There is already a perfectly good name for ridiculously overcomplicated policymaking that achieves nothing whilst increasing bureaucracy adn stuffing the economy.

    It’s called a “Brown”.