The Null Device

General Wellbeing

In an attempt to shed the image of being "the Nasty Party", Britain's Tories have been bending over backwards to espouse un-Tory-like positions, without going so far as to make any concrete promises that might actually adversely affect profits. First they attempted to greenwash themselves with their "go green, vote blue" campaign, and had their charismatic new leader, David Cameron, very publically cycle to his office (with a staffer following discreetly in a car, carrying paperwork); and now, they're borrowing an idea from Bhutan (or at least borrowing its overall appearance) and promising to make national happiness a priority:
In the first of several speeches on families and community, Mr Cameron told a conference organised by Google: "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB - General Wellbeing.
"It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and above all the strength of our relationships. There is a deep satisfaction which comes from belonging to someone and to some place. There comes a point when you can't keep on choosing; you have to commit."
Mr Cameron's speech, seen as an attempt both to distance the party from its Thatcherite past and to underline its portrayal of the chancellor as obsessed with work and regulation, said Britain should "move beyond a belief in the Protestant work ethic alone". But he added that regulation could make business less competitive and that the key was to educate companies and encourage good practice.
Of course, promises are cheap, and policies are another thing. Whether, when push comes to shove, the Tories would translate all their happy talk of leisure and work-life balance into concrete policies that might adversely affect profits (such as, for example, ending Britain's opting out from the European working time directive, which would limit work week lengths, averaged over a period, to an indolently un-Anglo-Saxon 48 hours), or just borrow New Labour's trick of frantically spinning in one direction whilst legislating in the opposite, is another matter.

Meanwhile, the Graun's Nick Pearce argues that focussing on happiness is inherently right-wing and regressive:

Happiness also has little to tell us about some of the most difficult issues of our times. Because it places a particular vision of the good life above procedural fairness, it is largely silent on human rights and constitutional government. It struggles to tell us anything useful about what morally to value in life and has little to say about the red-green agenda of marrying ecological sustainability and social justice concerns.
Happiness is therefore a flexible friend for the political right. It can provide a veneer of radicalism to a project that eschews difficult trade offs and policy choices. In the wrong hands, it appeals to a stressed out, downshifting middle class but speaks less to those suffering the misery of poverty.

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