Friday, 7 January 2011

An occasional "thank you" to tax-payers would be nice!

You’re bowling along in your car down a narrow road. You see a 4x4 coming towards you and realize you can’t pass each other safely – especially not if they insist on driving in the centre of the road. You notice that the driver – often female – seems to imagine it’s not a problem (otherwise she’d slow down or pull into one of the many parking spaces available on her side of the road).

There’s only one space available on your side, so it’s unreasonable of them to expect you to make the effort, but as the vehicle hurtling towards you is the size of a tank, and as it’s being driven by someone without any obvious sense of spatial awareness, you pull in to let the selfish cow pass. 

She not only doesn’t make any effort to thank you with a nice smile or a cheery wave - she doesn’t even deign to acknowledge your existence. 

Controlling a strong urge to perform a U-ey and hunt down the ill-mannered wretch, you content yourself with a muttered oath, and carry on with your journey.

If this doesn’t happen to you on a regular basis, you either don’t live in London, don’t drive, or you’re an urban, female 4x4-owner.

In a way, this country seems to have been flooded with the equivalent of this breed, i.e. people in all walks of life for whom you have to put yourself out, but who don’t see why the hell they  should be grateful. 

To be fair, if you keep off the roads and avoid public transport (in other words, don’t travel anywhere), many of us – perhaps the majority - still display the sort of diffident good manners which used to make visitors fall in love with this country (nowadays, of course, Britain is globally renowned for it’s  “don’t ask, don’t tell” benefits system and the home from home it so generously provides for anti-Western political extremists).

But whenever our myriad kindnesses are systematized, i.e. the state forcibly removes a large chunk of our earnings at source so that a bureaucrat can hand it over to people we don’t know, the lack of any contact between giver and receiver means that any sense of gratitude has been removed from the transaction. Living in a welfare state means those who receive charity all turn into female 4x4 drivers.

Of course, saying thank you can be taken to extremes. I remember, as a teenager, sneering unkindly at a particularly groveling letter from a poor family whose Christmas lunch had been paid for by our upper-middle class landlord and his wife (“…and Granny Wilkins kept saying, I never did see such a wonderful turkey in all my life…). I now look back on my earlier, ignorant self with shame. After all, the Wilkinses (or whatever their real name was) were only expressing gratitude, and, if it sounded a bit Dickensian, that’s probably because it was already becoming unfashionable in the 1960s.

I remembered that incident often when I worked for the BBC: I reckoned it would have kept all 20,000 of us in touch with reality if each of us had been contractually obliged to compose and send hand-written “thank you” letters to at least a hundred license-fee payers every year, expressing our gratitude for their extraordinary generosity.

When people are forced to hand over 40% of their earnings so that a large chunk of it can be given to strangers who never acknowledge your kindness, but instead constantly whine that it isn’t enough, that’s going to lead to a whole heap of resentment – especially amongst those of us who represent the “squeezed middle”. 

Imagine waking up to a letter from one of those vicious Third World tyrants our money goes to, which ended, “And so, in closing, I would like to thank you, Scott, personally, for the generous contribution you have made to my retirement fund. I have already sent it – along with contributions from millions of other UK taxpayers – to add to the huge, blood-spattered fortune sitting in my Swiss numbered bank account. Let me assure you it will be well-spent on bodyguards, bribes, lawyers, drugs, luxury properties, swimming pools, expensive cars, prostitutes and casino chips. God Bless you, Scott – and a very Happy Christmas to you and your family, on whom you would no doubt have squandered your earnings if you’d had any choice in the matter.”

One from a French farmer would be nice. And from a French car worker. Not to mention a number from UK civil servants. And from a parent whose offspring’s’ state school education I have so lavishly subsidized. Or from a nurse whose wages have shot up even though she doesn’t have to do any real nursing any more. And a state-housed teenage Mum. And a Third World criminal who can’t be sent home because evil-doers actually get punished back there. Or a BBC executive who uses this right-winger’s money to pump out left-wing propaganda. 

Once we’ve re-introduced this vital link between donor and recipient, I will happily write to the Prime Minister of the day: “I never did see such a wonderful society in all my life. Thank you!


  1. I presume you had these urges to write to license payers after you left News. I don’t recall you mentioning the idea when we worked together.

    Would you like us all to write to rich taxpayers, as some of them pay substantially more tax than paupers like us, thereby easing our burden? I’d be intrigued to read your groveling epistles to Sir Elton and Lord Sugar.
    Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 11:18 AM

  2. Hey Woody, are you one half of that fearless US duo of conspiracy theory stenographers, Woodstein and Bernward. Wow! I've always wanted to meet you to say thanks for your services to American fiction. Pulitzertastic!

    As far as I am concerned, Scott, I would gladly have topped up the licence fee to hear an alternative view like yours coming out of the radio. No thanks necessary.

    By the way, Woody, in this country we spell it "licence".
    Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - 05:53 PM

  3. Woodstein, the thought of writing thank you letters to licence-fee payers came to me when I was working as a programme editor at Westminster, after my lengthy stint in News. It was the first time I’d had to write to viewers, and it just struck me that, while the BBC as a whole bangs on endlessly about its duty to licence-payers, it happily ignores them when it comes to much of its coverage – politics in particular. This was particularly irritating at Westminster, where the production staff were so overwhelmingly left-wing – and so nauseatingly cosy with politicians, I thought it would be a good idea to remind them that they had a duty to viewers to be truly even-handed, especially as a majority of our them had voted in a Conservative government four times in a row (fat chance – it’s just never going to change).

    As for writing to “Lord” Sugar and “Sir” Elton – a stonking great fortune and two glittering gongs (not to mention a government job and endless free TV advertising for the former) strike me as reward enough. Besides, I’m sure Elton will be far too busy breastfeeding his new human pet to be reading letters from the likes of me.

    And as this is a post about gratitude, I must say thank you, Ex-KCS!
    Friday, January 14, 2011 - 03:35 PM