Government as glorified semaphore team? No thanks

I’ve decided which political cliché I most hate. It’s “it would send a strong signal…” along with its sibling “it would send the wrong signal” and its cousin “it would send the wrong message”.

Government is not just about money and regulation decisions; inspiring, questioning, warning and all manner of rhetoric have their role.

But don’t call for money or regulations just to signal something.

If the substance is right, justify the money or regulations on those grounds. And if you only want to send a signal, don’t summon up the law makers or accountants – summon up a good speech writer. If only sending signals is your thing, go learn semaphore:

Semaphore signals. Image courtesy of Canadian Department of National Defence

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Mark’s proposition is probably worth modifying in this sense.

    It is sometimes worth “sending signals” to the financial markets – provided that the signals are later backed with actions. The rate at which this government is borrowing money is lower now than it was a year ago under Labour – so the government has taken income out of the pockets of bankers and can already chalk up these savings. It is at least possible that some of this reduction is due to the signals the government has been sending. Of course this will be a very short term gain if it is not later backed up by the action the government has to take through the comprehensive spending review.

    However I guess that the point Mark was trying to make refers to things like “The government should not allow the medical use of cannabis” because that would send the wrong message and of course ideas like we should decide to spend billions now on providing another nuclear missile system that can hide in the bottom of the ocean otherwise Al Qaeda will get the wrong impression that we are serious about our defence.

  • … I have thought about this one a bit more.

    I think that one of the four big mistakes of the last Liberal government was that it did not signal its intentions clearly enough. It should have clearly sent a signal to the german government that if it invaded Belgium or France then this would trigger an all-out war in which the British Empire would side with Belgium/France.

    There is a role for signalling in government.

  • Didn’t you like my comment Mr Pack?

    Why was it deleted?

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