"Big changes as if under anaesthetic"

The British have a habit of going into their big changes as if under anaesthetic.

—Lord Richard Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary

When making this quote, which I discovered whilst reading Peter Hennessey’s latest brilliant offering, The Secret State, Lord Wilson had in mind two major policy decisions of the last 40 years: Britain’s accession to the European Community in 1973 and devolution plus human rights legislation in the 1990s.

To this, I think we can potentially add a third “big change under anaesthetic” if the British public votes for a change in the voting system to the Alternative Vote.

This post isn’t the place to discuss the merits or otherwise of AV. But it is the place to register the fact that there hasn’t been very much debate at all about the referendum, and that we’re a matter of weeks away from a vote that would have a considerable effect in the short, medium and long terms on the conduct and effects of politics in this oldest of parliamentary democracies.

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