When in government politicians become deeply concerned with relatively small details of policy, such as the money supply and whether it is too generous or has been squeezed too much, and these strike voters as a long way from the strategic visions of party election speeches and manifestos. Politicians are inclined to defend themselves by suggesting that the public simply doesn't understand the realities and responsibilities or power. Both sides have a point, but the lay perspective is perhaps more persuasive. There is no doubt that the finer points of government can be very important, for example in maintaining stability, but they are, all things considered, mere driving, minor corrections to the direction and speed of progress, rather than navigating, the selection of a route through congested traffic to a chosen destination, or, perhaps a better analogy, avoiding certain locations while touring many others.

The driving certainly matters, but it is a means to navigation rather than an end in itself. Government ministers and their civil servants drive more than they should, largely because they can, and because there is in any public business, commercial or otherwise, a tendency to become harried by circumstances and so merely reactive. Some driving is absolutely necessary, but how can this be minimised so as to leave time for navigating? What, in any case, is the minimum? Managing the money supply? Interest rates? The prohibition of dangerous substances? Taxes on luxury items? Individually, each may seem to be justifiable, yet conceding such points incrementally leads us back to the current situation where government is so concerned with staying on the road or avoiding a collision with another vehicle that it loses its way. Staying out of the ditch is good, but ending up in the middle of Death Valley with no fuel and precious little water is foolish.

It is perhaps more useful to ask why Government has been pushed into this degree of neurotic driving (and back-seat driving, which is what the sinister 'nudge' campaigns really are). The answer is not far to seek; because of the very substantial public sector expenditure for which they are responsible, governmental exposure to criticism is broad, and hence its focus is increasingly on small details related to the disposal and management of expenditure and the raising of revenue. Energy is thus dissipated and strategic direction lost. For government to do less driving and more navigating the public sector simply has to be smaller. If the public wants more long range leadership and less fiddling about with details, which they genuinely do, they will have to accept a much smaller field of state action. We are some way from this.