The Houses of Parliament

“There was a political U-turn when Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced that the plan to reduce the top rate of taxation from 45% to 40% was going to be ditched. The current media reaction is that both Kwarteng and Liz Truss were downcast, humiliated, wounded and weakened.

Nevertheless, we should be celebrating the working of a democratic society and appreciating that we have politicians who listen, learn, and eventually decide to reverse a decision. This should be considered a positive rather than a negative feature of the workings of the UK political system

Media and political commentators enjoy policy U-turns as they are seen as a sign of weakness, however, this is not the case. Policy U-turns prevent the negative outcomes that come from plan continuation bias. We should celebrate policy U-turns.

Plan continuation bias occurs when an individual decides to continue with their original plan despite changing conditions. This is seen as an unconscious bias that plays an important role in aviation accidents. This form of unconscious cognitive bias occurs when a decision-maker formulates a plan which includes contingencies and then begins implementation. During the implementation stage, it is important to monitor changing circumstances and modify the implementation plan. If a plan is not adjusted in response to changing circumstances, then there is an increased risk that the outcome will be some form of failure.

This type of cognitive bias occurs when a decision-maker experiences a process of attentional narrowing. This narrowing results in ignoring cues that suggest that the plan needs to be altered and instead seeking out cues that support plan continuation. 

Both Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng were adamant that they were committed to delivering on their 'mini budget'. However, they have been forced to consider alternative cues and the outcome is a significant revision to their plans. This should be seen as a positive outcome.

The alternative to a policy U-turn is occurring in Russia as Vladimir Putin continues to try to implement his plan for Ukraine. This is an excellent example of plan continuation bias in which Putin and the Kremlin are unwilling and even perhaps unable to alter their plan. They are unable to appreciate that their intelligence, strategy, and plan were wrong. All this means that we should celebrate policy U-turns and not see them as a sign of failure but as one acknowledgment of the strength of an approach to government that is founded on listening to the people.”