Peter Hoskin

Willetts takes on the nudgers

Willetts takes on the nudgers
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The Guardian’s interview with David Willetts is a decent preview of the Tories’ forthcoming green paper on family policy, and is neatly summarised by Jonathan Isaby here. Although I have my doubts about some Tory thinking in this area, there are a few encouraging ideas in there – such as relationship guidance schemes modelled on those provided by the Bristol community family trust.

One of the most eye-catching passages of the interview comes when Willetts takes on the “nudgers” in his own party, who are keen on influencing public behaviour but feel that promoting marriage may be a step too far:

“Willetts believes that marriage should be promoted and protected as he expresses exasperation with people who rave about the new "nudge" philosophy, which says people can be gently persuaded to change habits, but who seem wary of speaking up about marriage.

‘Given that “nudge” has become such a fashionable theory it seems to me odd that in a world where so many other things nudge behaviour but this great big thing called marriage doesn't nudge behaviour, I think that is a very odd picture of the world indeed. It seems to me pretty clear indeed that it must have some effect on behaviour.’” This difference in thinking, between the nudgers and those who want to promote marriage, has raised its head before – but seemed to quiet down after it became clear that the Willetts approach was the official party approach. You wonder whether Two Brains is concerned by the recent appointment of Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge, as a Tory party advisor.