Why the coalition won’t tear itself apart over evidence based policy

It continues. It intensifies! This time its interdepartmental rather than stroppy bloggers attacking IDS. The Foreign Office is getting stuck into Theresa May (alternative). There is a view within the Home Office that there is electoral gold in them thar hills of health tourism and immigrants squeezing local services, but they’re having difficulty turning up any evidence to support their policy. As one government official put it…

..Ms May is frustrated that the evidence she has received “doesn’t fit the Home Office view”, adding: “Theresa wants to go big on impact of immigration on local services and health tourism and the reality is there is very little evidence to demonstrate this. There is a political view from May’s people, but this report has to be evidence-based.”

The evidence she has received doesn’t fit the Home Office view. What a wonderful vignette of official thinking. Anyway, this is all around a report being prepared by the Home Office for the FCO on the negative impact of free movement in European on the UK. Problem is they can’t really find any…

Health tourism is really very small. Figures like from 2% to 0.06% of the NHS budget are bandied about, the official views of the right and left. The first figure is so ludicrous I remain a little convinced that much of the right is engaged in an elaborate performance piece and they’re on the verge of yelling “The Aristocrats!” The other figure might be a bit on the small side but it corresponds to 40,000 people or so, which is at least the right ballpark.

Anyway, the battles between different government departments are fun to watch. Hopefully the FCO will win in this one and the Home Office will have to tone down its rhetoric and adopt slightly less disastrous policies. Luckily we’re at the point where the coalition’s deficit fighting zeal might help poor people.

We’re well below the optimum level of immigration for debt reduction. This is the officialish position as set out by the Office of Budget Responsibility. More immigrants means more workers means more taxpayers means a bigger denominator on the debt to GDP ratio. There’s also the clusterfuck around preventing foreign students studying in the UK as discussed by Paul Sager (Yes! Really!) here. If the FCO can help wear down May’s position then both of these policies could be reversed in the name of fiscal rectitude.

I’m not arguing that there is any coherent pro-evidence based policy putsch in action, just that evidence based policy is a tool of actually existing politics not a new approach to politics.