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"starting a debate", stopping moves of the Overton window

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Jul. 19th, 2009 | 09:07 pm

You're not trying to start a debate, or "get people thinking". You're trying to move what counts as politically acceptable discourse so that your sponsors can bring in related legislation. Moving the Overton window.

For instance, this piece of thinktank cockery:
Patients should be charged £20 to see a GP in a bid to limit demands placed on the health service, a centre-right think-tank says.

The Social Market Foundation said forcing people to pay a fee for an appointment could help the NHS cope in the tight financial times ahead...

...Report author David Furness said: "It would get people thinking twice about whether the visit was essential.

"If we don't introduce rationing like this, there will be rationing by stealth through waiting lists, crumbling hospitals and poor quality services."
Obviously these are not the only two alternatives, and what's more, this would be as unacceptable a solution as just privatising the whole fucking lot. And it's not going to be seriously proposed by a party either, because it's so extreme and goes against the whole principle of "free at the point of delivery".

What it's there for is to move the window of acceptable policy. "The technique relies on people promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous "outer fringe" ideas. That makes those old fringe ideas look less extreme, and thereby acceptable. The idea is that priming the public with fringe ideas intended to be and remain unacceptable, will make the real target ideas seem more acceptable by comparison." We're getting an awful lot of this stuff at the moment.

I'm not entirely sure what the best response is, but I suppose:

(a) utterly reject the proposal;
(b) do not argue against the proposal beyond that which is necessary to utterly reject it, which is usually quite a small degree anyway, because lengthy debate serves the purpose of the proposal being made in the first place. The more serious exposure it gets, the more it moves the window. Just ridicule it;
(c) counter-attack and propose the complete opposite. Not only are ideas of charging for NHS treatment ridiculous, we should be actively removing the private influence in this country's healthcare as this is what is leading us into problems in the first place - and banking bailouts which might cripple the country's medical system in the future should be rejected too.


I took a look at the board members of the Social Market Foundation, who produced this report, and I wish I could say I was surprised that they're not just a bunch of Tories - thought they mostly are - but range across all parties, Vince Cable, Trevor Phillips, Stephen Twigg. I'm not surprised though, in the slightest.

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Comments {1}

Overton window

from: anonymous
date: Jul. 20th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)

The Overton Window technique is one that has been used by countries (including Israel) in negotations with other countries - ask for something exceedingly outrageous, settle for something outrageous and the other side will think that you have compromised.

I dare say that Roman generals did this too as did Neanderthals chasing other Neanderthal's mates - quite likely amoeba do it.

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