The postal strike is a classic example of the demise of common sense.
I don’t agree with Lord Mandelson often, but it is hard to argue with his common sense view that striking is “suicide” for our postal workers.
Unless you are offering a genuinely unbeatable or totally exclusive product or service it must be madness to encourage your customers to sample an alternative. Who knows, they may well just prefer the taste, look, comfort, service or simply fancy the change.
As a handwritten letter sort of a bloke, email and its impersonal style has no appeal to me. But during the recent postal strikes friends who always sent handwritten correspondence to me scanned their letters and then emailed them, all leaving me wondering whether I did actually need a post person beating a track to my door in all weathers with the originals.
You might well feel the same as you turn the pages of the electronic Retail Week sent to subscribers to beat the strike. The Post Office, a business we taxpayers already own that is on the skids through unstoppable technological change, now finds its decline jet-propelled through an apparent failure to engage brain before going on strike and heading, lemming-like, to contraction and unemployment.
We are surrounded by multiple examples illustrating this dearth of common sense as rules and regulations are churned out and regimentally applied. As I was writing this piece Valerie, with whom I have worked for 32 years, rang to arrange a hospital appointment to be told, at 11.57: “You cannot make a booking until this afternoon. Would you like to hang on for three minutes or call back?”
Before we bust a gut with laughter at the box-ticking NHS, perhaps it’s worth considering the reams of negative publicity retailers attracted recently by over-enthusiastically applying the rules on alcohol purchasing by parents who happened to have their children with them while doing their weekly shop.
Whether it is the sale of booze or knives, our politicians seem to have a gift for introducing draconian legislation as a knee-jerk response to imagined problems, without ever considering the vital and inevitable law of unintended consequences.
Sir Terry Leahy pointed out last month that teachers were drowning in so much Government ‘help’ that they couldn’t actually get on with teaching, while we have all seen the media reports of dedicated teachers who have found their careers wrecked by being hauled before the courts for trying to enforce a bit of basic discipline.
No doubt it seemed a stroke of genius to invite Nick Griffin onto Question Time to expose the flaws and weaknesses of the BNP. But was it really common sense to devote the whole programme to beating him up, bearing in mind the traditional British sympathy for the underdog? That 22% of the population now say they might consider voting BNP suggests otherwise.
From the saga of MPs’ expenses to the return of bankers’ bonuses, the campaign to make Tony Blair president of Europe or the claim we all need to go vegetarian to save the planet, what seems to be in desperately short supply is the small voice of common sense. Could it be lost in the post?