River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Soapbox

August 2008

Ron vents his spleen on Government intereference with our everyday lives and on class, sex and wealth.

The Nanny State

How often do we hear that phrase? The government is constantly telling us what is good for us and what is bad for us. They go so far as to introduce laws governing our behaviour, not just laws controlling our behaviour for the benefit of society but laws that are supposed to be for our own good as individuals. More and more it seems they are endeavouring to restrict our freedom of choice. We don't want the government telling us how much we can drink, not to smoke in our own homes, what to eat, how to bring up our children and so on. Furthermore they want to watch our every move, there are CCTV cameras everywhere. To make matters worse they burden us with taxes. Or that is how it seems to some. People don't like rules that they are required to live by. Why do we see it like that?

When things go wrong, houses that are built on flood planes get flooded, a bank collapses, smokers get lung cancer, obese people get heart disease, people lose their savings in so called boiler room frauds or when other investment schemes go bust - that is when we ask: Why did the government allow people to build houses there, why didn't the government prevent us from investing in such schemes, why didn't they warn us about this or that, why didn't they try to stop us? It does seem that we want it both ways. We want the government to take responsibility when our actions get us into difficulty but we don't want the government to limit our freedom to take these actions. We want to take responsibility for our actions when things go right but to blame the government when things go wrong. Of course there are things that the government does that they can justifiably be criticised for and that they must take responsibility for, but those matters are nothing to do with the accusations of 'nanny state'.

And CCTV cameras! We are becoming a police state, they say. Losing our liberty! We don't want to be watched all the time. Why have we got more CCTV cameras per capita than any other nation? The police have too much power. We don't want the police to have details of our DNA. Immigration officials are not treating people with respect, honest upright citizens are being treated like smugglers. Speed cameras are just a nasty way of catching innocent people and raising money. The newspapers are full of this type of comment. Then, probably in the same edition of the paper, they want to know what are the police going to do to cut the extent of knife crime, street robbery, violent behaviour, vandalism etc. What is the government going to do to cut the inflow of drugs into the country? Why isn't the government doing more to stop the slaughter on our roads.

Personally I have never experienced anything that makes me feel as though I am living in a police state. I take some consolation from the thought that there are a lot of CCTV cameras around, I think we could probably do with a good few more in this area. I know that CCTV cameras don't always help to catch culprits but I have watched 'Crimewatch' and seen how CCTV has often helped. It was CCTV cameras that caught and helped to convict the Ipswich serial killer. The criminals know this and the possibility of being caught on camera must act as a deterrent in some circumstances. DNA has helped to catch and convict dozens of murderers and rapists.

We all talk of things that the government ought to do. They should spend more money on the National Health, make more of these expensive drugs available to everyone, they should subsidise the Post Office, provide better care for the elderly, increase state pensions, build more railways, reduce class sizes - the list is endless. Why do we not see that our taxes are our contribution towards obtaining these things, why do we see them as a burden? Why do we expect the government to pay for our care should we need to go in a home when we get old, whilst at the same time oppose inheritance tax and look for ways to avoid it?

It seems to me that the public, and those in the media, need to stop whinging, grow up and take a more responsible attitude.

Class and Wealth

Several months ago I wrote a piece in The Pump about the way in which class divisions had been re-established in this country over the last twenty years or more. A recent report seemed to me to be somewhat complementary to that piece. This report claimed that the increase in prosperity since the1970s was entirely due to the increased contribution by women. It claimed that, after allowing for inflation, the average earnings of men had not increased at all. Men were working more hours but getting nowhere. This situation is reflected in the number of men suffering from depression or mental disorders due to stress. 20% of British men are said to have these problems, almost twice as many as in the rest of Western Europe where the figure is put at 11%. Most striking, however, was the fact that, over the same period, the wealthy had become a lot wealthier, confirming what we already knew, that the gap between rich and the rest has widened considerably. Some of this excessive wealth has gone to entrepreneurs, much has gone to those closely associated with the financial sector in the City who have displayed unbelievable avarice and behaved recklessly, creating hardship for many other people. Through financial dealings in the City and by way of property a large proportion of this wealth is with the aristocracy and the traditional wealthy families that continue to own the major part of the British landscape and who have re-established themselves as a class apart.

More than ever before a child's future prospects are dependent upon their educational achievements. The only exceptions are those with significant family wealth, they can be as thick as planks and it matters not. These days a child from a poor family, especially one from an inner city area, will go to a school where there are a number of immigrants struggling with the language and where many of the better teachers prefer not to work. The likelihood of that child obtaining a good education is very slim, in fact they have practically no chance of improving their status in society. They are likely to slide into what is now a large underclass where they find difficulty in finding work. Such work as they might get is poorly rewarded. They will live in an area where there is high unemployment and they may well finish up unemployed, living with unemployed parents. It is not surprising that some of them rebel against society, unfortunately those with whom they should be angry keep themselves remote and so they vent their anger on those around them who are little, if any, better off than themselves. For these kids politician talk of increased social mobility is just honeyed words. A report by the Sutton Trust in 2007 claimed that Britain, along with the USA, had the lowest levels of social mobility in the developed world.

On the other hand, children from a wealthy background who go to a first class independent school will be assured of a good education, they stand a far better chance of getting into a top university than any child from a state school. Their success in life is assured. It is all very unjust. What is surprising is the way in which modern British society has acquiesced with this situation. Fifty, even forty, years ago this was not so; people with considerable inherited wealth were seen as something of an anachronism, they were heavily taxed and that was seen as just. Inheritance tax did help to reduce the wealth of those families. At that time they tended to keep a low profile. We thought that Britain was moving towards a meritocracy. Less than twenty years ago Douglas Hurd was seen as a potential leader to replace Mrs Thatcher but his Eton and upper class background were considered to be likely to damage his popular appeal. Today it would seem there would be no such worries. The laws that used to tax the wealthy more appropriately have been greatly eased and tax evasion has proven to be much easier, to the extent where some very wealthy people are paying less tax than the average. I find it strange that there are not stronger protests over the serious inequities that exist in Britain today, or should I say in England because I think the Scots are trying to do more towards achieving greater social justice. Any protests that are voiced in England are immediately scorned and the protesters denigrated with cries of 'politics of envy'. There is nothing wrong with some people being better off than others just as long as everybody has the opportunity to better themselves and to aspire to emulate the better off. Envy is the discontented resentful longing for what others have. If people have no chance whatsoever to emulate the better off then envy seems to me to be a quite reasonable emotion.


"We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish."

Frederich Hayek Political Philospher 1944

Ron Watts

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