Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The government once more treats us like Big Babies

Two government initiatives are severely taxing my patience, especially as I find myself in a post-festive crapulous funk: the one whereby the public gets to vote for bits of legislation they want, and the plan to increase our philanthropy by allowing us to make charitable micro-donations every time we use a bank or  credit card.

In his very funny 2006 book, Big Babies, Michael Bywater argues that Britain has been infantilised by the nanny state and its cohorts in business and the media, who spend their time warning us not to do things any sentient adult would know to avoid, simultaneously promoting the idea that we never really have to grow up. Constant references to old people having an active sex life make me feel ill, local councils chopping down chestnut trees to protect us from falling conkers make me despair, and the sight of a grown man wearing a back-to-front baseball brings out my inner psychopath.  

On the one hand this silly coalition government tells us that health and safety regulations are a nonsense (doing sod all about them, however) while continuing to treat us as if the country were one vast kindergarten. (And now those two little pals, Elton and David, who are a bit, well,different, have been given a nice little dolly to play with – sweet!

The majority of UK voters are pretty clear about what they want from this government: fewer immigrants, tougher criminal justice, a referendum on whether to remain in Europe, a total halt to immigration, racial profiling in the fight against terrorism, imprisonment for all benefits scroungers, a halt to English subsidies for the Celtic fringe, a proper transport system and lower taxes – for a start. 

Now, the government could arrange all that, because, you see, it’s the government, and what do governments do, Alopecia? Well, yes, they do hand over other people’s money to your skiving slag of a mother, but they also… Anyone?... Yes, Peng Wei, they run the country. Well done! 

But because this government is a wishy-washy, left-of-centre car crash of different political parties, without a single political principle in its muddled little head - and because the former headteacher, Miss Prudence, overspent the school budget by a factor of 50 – some of the things we’d like them to do might prove a little, well, controversial. So, taking advantage of our utter inability to concentrate on anything for more than three seconds, they’ve asked the class to waste its time coming up with ideas which everyone will be able to vote on, and the winning ideas will be placed in teacher’s bottom drawer and instantly forgotten about.

What is an election manifesto if not a set of policies we get to vote for or against? (Yes, I know the answer – it’s a set of fantasy commitments which will be jettisoned the moment the lying toads are in power.)

And now that nice Mr. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, wants to make the UK more philanthropic by affording us the opportunity to give even more of the money the state has deigned to let us keep to deserving causes whenever we use a bank or credit card. 

Bless him – what an adorable chap

No matter that the UK is already the second most generous nation on earth (in terms of percentage of GDP) when it comes to charity (some way behind the USA, and just in front of Canada and Australia – I wonder what links these four countries?), Mr. Maude thinks we can do better (and of course, the government has led by example, actually increasing the amount of cash it hands over to Third World kleptocrats to help them bump up their retirement funds).

“If we can agree as a society the values that underpin helping each other,” Maude asserts, “we can unlock huge potential for a stronger, bigger society.”

Bunkum, balderdash, piffle and bollocks!

Nobody understands the Big Society concept, and Maude has been told to get weaving with the smoke and mirrors to provide “Call Me” Dave with a fig leaf.

Of course, there’ll a reward (apart from a smug inner glow) for the most generous givers – they’ll receive letters from government ministers, and, if they’ve been very good children, those letters will probably have gold stars on them, and a certificate stating that the giver is simply the most lovely, huggable person in the whole wide world.

You arrogant, silly, patronizing bastards!

Tell you what, Frank – stop handing out our money to people and causes we wouldn’t choose to give it to, use the savings to cut our taxes, and leave it to us to decide who and what to support. 

Or would that imply that you’re dealing with grown-ups?


  1. Robert Winnett, 28 December 2010, 'Philanthropy plan: donate to charity every time you pay by bank card', Daily Telegraph [1]:

    "The plans are unveiled on Wednesday in a discussion paper published by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, who wishes to foster a culture of charitable giving."

    Francis Maude, 27 December 2010, 'The nudge is no policy fudge', Guardian [2]:

    "Over recent weeks, there has been criticism of the government's interest in behavioural economics (the academic discipline associated with nudging). The criticism is that nudging behaviour is either ineffective or represents a cop-out from the proper business of government to legislate and enforce change."

    This government initiative to prompt charitable giving is one instance of their faith in nudging [3]. The articles of that faith were enunciated three-and-a-half years ago by Oliver Letwin [4]. Crucially:

    "Cameron Conservatism puts no faith in central direction and control. Instead, it seeks to identify social and environmental responsibilities that participants in the free market are likely to neglect, and then establish frameworks that will lead people and organisations to act of their own volition in ways that will improve society by increasing general wellbeing."

    Is it, just possibly, the Letwin notion implicit in that quotation that he knows better how to allocate Scott's resources than Scott does that might be getting up the Gronmark nose? That, and the fact that Letwin has a Cambridge PhD in philosophy – how can he include so many self-contradictions in two sentences? That, and the fact that Letwin is meant to be a Conservative and yet here he is advocating the influence/manipulation of people's very thoughts.

    There's a whole gang of them. Letwin. Willetts, I'm sorry to say. Maude, obviously. Steve Hilton. David Cameron, presumably. And Daniel Finkelstein. Their claims for nudging would be sinister if it weren't for the fact that they're no damn good at it [5].

    I may start a petition for Letwin to give his PhD back.






    Wednesday, December 29, 2010 - 11:19 PM

  2. I think Maude should have linked it to the Blair idea of marching the local oiks to their nearest cash point to pay instant fines. In that way, every miscreant could pay his fine and choose to top it up with a donation to the charity most closely representing the victims of his most bit of villainy. Two bonkers ideas combined in one, usefully illustrating that whether its through central diktat or "nudging" no politician is ever completely happy until he is influencing the behaviour of the masses.

    It's not as if they can blame this rubbish on their coalition partners. This is what now passes for Conservative thinking, Lord help us.
    Thursday, December 30, 2010 - 11:05 AM

  3. DM, I will happily sign your petition! What is the point of doing philosophy for six years if you end up with such silly conclusions? And yes, it is the fact that yet another bunch of politicians assume they know better how I should spend my money than I do that gets up my hooter. How dare they! Willetts’s intelligence appears to decrease at the same rate as his hair-loss – i.e. disastrously.

    Ex-KCS, they should have combined the two policies with a third, by force-feeding yobs with five items of fruit on their way to the cash-point.

    Conservatives have always been prepared to ditch certain cherished policies to fit the circumstances – that’s a key tenet of Conservatism – but it’s the sheer glee with which this lot are jettisoning what passes for their principles that’s so nauseating. This is Heath and Major all over again (no wonder the latter is so keen on extending the Coalition) but with better suits and posher accents.
    Thursday, December 30, 2010 - 03:58 PM