WITH the arrival of the pre-festive season, I am suddenly overwhelmed with lists, some of them disconcertingly long; as my local poet Robert Burns would say ‘as lang’s ma airm’.
There’s the shopping list for all the entertaining, the annual card list which sadly gets a wee bit shorter every year, and my granddaughter’s Santa list.
Some lists have been historically significant. In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, and caused the Reformation.
Then there was the UK Civil List, the annual grant from government which covered some of the Queen’s expenses, such as Royal duties, ceremonial, staffing, state visits and the Royal household upkeep. This was abolished in 2011 and replaced by the Sovereign Grant Act: A rose by any other name.
Some lists are negative and euphemised, for example NHS waiting lists, now referred to as ‘times’.
The maximum waiting time for non-urgent consultant-led treatments is 18 weeks from the day your appointment is booked through the NHS e-Referral Service (might there be a catch there?) It speeds up for urgent referrals, although this only seems to cover suspected cancer, and is two weeks as above.
Lists can also apply to competitions and job applications. The longlist is the pool of possibles; the shortlist is where selection gets a bit scary, both for the selection panel and the narrowed list of candidates.
But at this time of year, lists are everywhere: The year’s 100 best books (mostly unreadable), best music (turn that off!), and the year’s best mince pies – hmm, M & S don’t stand a chance against my home baking. But I fondly remember an old BBC favourite, Your 100 Best Tunes, and most of them still are.
Lists, in computer terminology, are a different matter altogether. In that arcane world, lists stretch to lengths unimaginable to ordinary people like me. I have read about their problems – lists of more than 5,000 items cause their program to crash and some are even wrestling with more than 10,000.
But it appears that Python (a high-level programming language devised to handle, inter alia, very long lists) might just be able to help.
Today, however, we were confronted with the longest political list ever devised, and it was published in Labour List. It’s a kind of summary of their manifesto – they call it The Complete Guide.
Within that, the key pledges run to a list of a mere 12 bullet points, to which most people would reckon one Parliament’s lifetime could never do justice. But they go on to say ‘If that’s not detailed enough for you’ … here’s a total policy list.
Under 69 headings, it runs to more than 500 points. (After 500, my eyes started to glaze over.) Among the individual gems were: Invest in three new gigafactories (?); ban the keeping of primates as pets; end nationality-based discrimination in seafarer pay; bursaries for women, BAMEs, care leavers, ex-armed forces, and the disabled to take up climate change apprenticeships; funding for walking; invest in county farms (?); aim for net-zero in the NHS; a Right to Food; invest in eating disorders; extra services for drug addicts, alcoholics and problem gamblers … I could go on. All this, and I haven’t even got to the really big-ticket items.
Are they planning this just for their first term? A list like this would, in reality, take a lifetime, nay, two lifetimes, just to scratch the surface. And they intend to do it all on the extra taxation proceeds from corporation tax and a few billionaires (many of whom have already booked their flights out. Even South of Scotland Electricity has already found a new home in Switzerland).
If I were burdened with the delivery of all this, I might just baulk. But nil desperandum, as Boris might say. Should a new Labour government actually be faced with the challenges of this delivery, it can always have recourse to Python, the merciful solution for all those burdened with troublesome long lists.