8 Aug 2021

Back in 2014 I delivered a presentation on “Turning a good idea into an investment”. Among the precious jewels of advice was this observation. 

Milestones should be plausible and realistic. We should feel that a start-up company knows what it hopes to do next week, next month, next quarter. If someone tries to interest me in a business that has invented a device that makes perfect poached eggs, I don’t want to be shown a graph of estimated global egg consumption up till 2020. I want to be shown a poached egg.

I hardly need to point out that today’s politicians love to announce targets that are a long way into the future. 


The Covid-19 pandemic has given us the rare sight of politicians made to take short-term decisions with quick measurable consequences. It has been their ultimate discomfort zone. It has not been pretty to watch but it has been instructive. 

Responsibility has been outsourced with urgency – decision-making has effectively been devolved to rolling committees of the unelected who might or might not have the necessary scientific qualifications. 

More surprising to me has been that the terror has spread to opposition parties whose positions have been as difficult to nail down as a smack of jellyfish at high tide.

Perhaps it is not surprising, though it is certainly not admirable, that the leaders of nations prefer to bask in the warm waters of the infinity pool.


If future targets were awarded Oscars, the winner of best picture would be that one about the global temperature in 2100. Essentially it seeks to restrict the temperature rise between two dates; the first being when no one alive today had been born and the second where all today’s decision makers will be dead. It is a fine example of something that is beyond accountability due to lack of proper data. 

I doubt if one person in fifty realises that the self-congratulatory COP 2016 Paris meeting was promising something to be realised 84 years into the future. 

Given that there is little sign that China and India (for example) are taking any notice of those pledges, other than to enjoy the spectacle of righteous first world countries reversing the progress of the twentieth century, nations like Britain, sadly, feel obliged to go it alone.


The UK is banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. That of course will be a decision for whoever is in government then. The virtue-signallers in charge today will almost certainly be gone. In that sense, the pledge is at best useless; at worst it will distort and delay the investment decisions of car manufacturers. 

Grandiose pledges such as these are everywhere though it is noticeable that in the USA they are more calculated. President Biden has urged US automakers to raise the share of electric vehicles sold to 50%, also by 2030. Hey, if it happens, it happens. 

UK local politics is also awash with futuristic promises. Everything that Lewisham Council (where I live) commits to doing in a meaningful timeframe is in the form of consultation and reports. 


Here is the council’s waste management plan entitled “Setting ambitious targets and collecting data”:-

  • Municipal waste (household and business) recycling target of 50% by 2025 and 65% by 2030
  • 50% reduction in food waste and associated packaging waste/person by 2030 
  • Zero biodegradable or recyclable waste to landfill by 2026 
  • Construction and demolition – 95% reuse/ recycling/recovery by 2030 
  • Excavation – 95% beneficial use by 2030
  • 100% of the borough’s municipal waste should be managed within London by 2026 
  • Fuel-free waste service vehicles by 2030 and zero

You can see that there are no measurable targets before 2025. Failure is therefore impossible before then (the next local elections are in 2022). As with a bad start-up, the absence of short-term targets abolishes scrutiny and accountability. 


This all matters because, while no investor would be attracted by the bad start-up practices of our leaders, in the so-called real world (the one where you never find politicians) we need private investment for our economy and by implication our lives to move forward. Given everything you hear about the UK’s power generation strategy, where would you invest in order to fulfil our future rising electricity needs? 

If you have an answer to that you are either a person of great flair or a singularly ill-informed one. But remember that after you have been induced to throw billions at biofuels, nuclear, wind, solar, tide or the world’s largest collection of hamster wheels, the person who assured you that your solution was just the ticket will not be the one who decides that it is suddenly unwanted. 

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