Ten things that the British government can’t do (regardless of political hue).
1. Control the weather. They could, however, be a little better prepared for when weather happens, and they could also listen to experts a bit more to understand the consequences of certain practices, such as chopping down trees or not dredging rivers. The problem is that governments take a short term view of most problems, based on what is going to make them popular and keep them in power. While flooding is devastating for those that experience it, it is one that that only a small proportion of the population will suffer and then probably only once in their life. Governments are very good at building flood defences after the floods have occurred.
2. Control the economy. Perhaps some elaboration on this one. Economies are influenced by global factors far more than by local ones. If China reduces its spending it doesn’t make a spit of difference what the UK government does to try to compensate. Governments can make minor shifts in policy that can make minor changes to local economic conditions, but in macro terms they’re about as much use as a chocolate tea pot. Proof, if it were needed, was Gordon Brown jetting round the world from 2007 to 2010 "solving" the economic crisis. It didn't stop Britain going into recession or prevent unemployment from rising and it certainly didn't stop both Britain's deficit and debt doubling. The post of Chancellor of the Exchequer is the most futile job in the world and doomed to failure or even disaster. When that happens the Chancellor gets to retire on a fat tax-payer funded pension while we suffer the consequences of their hubris.
3. Stop teenagers from being rebellious. This is a good thing. Teenagers need to be rebellious in dress, language, culture and attitude. It teaches them that they don’t know as much as they think they do, and it gets it out of their system in time for them to become responsible adults. That may not occur until they are 60, but it will eventually occur. Never trust anyone who didn’t rebel a little bit when they were young, like politicians for example.
4. Stop people taking the piss out of governments. It keeps us sane and reminds them of how insignificant they really are. There is a long and very rich history of political satire that goes back to ancient Greek theatre and maybe even before that. It's healthy, democratic and fun. If the politicians don't like it then they shouldn't go into politics.
5. Stop the taking of mind altering substances. Leaving aside that some of these are actually legal (Pint of beer anyone?) if someone wants to pump poison into their bodies and they have the money to pay for the privilege they will eventually find some way of doing it, despite anything that the government does. What governments have to do is make sure that the victims can put their shattered minds and bodies back together again afterwards.
6. Produce a World Cup winning football team (or any other sporting team) for any of the home nations. If their own football associations can’t do this then politicians have no chance. However, governments can fund sporting activity and get children off to a good start by making sure schools teach sport. It will also improve the health of the nation by reducing childhood obesity. But no one should be made to take part in sports if they don't want to. Some people will never enjoy sports so there’s no point in forcing them into it. Plain old PE, on the other hand, is another matter and all children need to take part if we want to produce healthy adults. Compulsory swimming lesson will save lives, so leave that in as well.
7. Convince the French that British food is actually quite good these days. The same might be applied to many other aspects of British life, but the French are particularly scathing about our food. No, nothing to add to that. Prejudice is prejudice and rational arguments are rarely successful. Of course this sort of prejudice is equally present on this side of the Channel, it just takes a slightly different form. “Don’t bring me any of that foreign muck. I’ll have a curry!”
8. Convince the Scots and the Welsh that the English like them really. The Scottish people are very balanced, they have a chip on both shoulders. Ditto for the Welsh, but expressed in song by a really good choir. This, above all, is why the Scots wanted independence. It has nothing to do with having their own parliament or the ability to raise taxes (who in their right minds would vote for that?). It was all about telling the English to get stuffed. Fortunately only 45% of Scots thought that way - this time.
9. Make us love Europe. They’ve tried. The best we will ever do is tolerate it. If we pretend very hard we can even believe that it doesn’t exist, until we want to go on holiday of course. The government does have a habit of trying to remind us of the existence of Europe by holding elections for the European Parliament, which puts even more snouts in the trough, but we can still try to pretend. Then we will go somewhere hot, complain about the food and the beer, be rude to the natives and generally make everyone in Europe wish that Britain didn’t exist. Of course UKIP are trying to change all that. They’re trying to make us actually hate Europe. They really don’t get it, do they? The genie is out of the bottle and we’ll just have to make the best of our three wishes, rather than trying to do the impossible and stuff the genie back in. If we want to trade with Europe, and I assume we want to, then we have to obey European directives, even if we aren’t in the EU. Just ask Norway and Switzerland. As for trading with the Commonwealth – that ship has already sailed. They have new trading partners and in many cases it isn’t us!
10. Make me believe that politicians are worth a single penny of their over-inflated salaries. It’s a matter of trust and we no longer trust them and with good cause. Only this week another MP (Conservative, just for the record, but he could have been from any party) was found to have over stated his mileage claims on more than 700 occasions. Yet he is still an MP. Why? If you want to win back our trust you have to first root out the wrong doers in your midst and then make sure that all MPs behave in a trustworthy manner at all times, including stopping them lying to us about matters which we can check the truth of for ourselves. You can’t just say to us “trust us” and hope that we’ll fall for it again. You have to prove that you are trustworthy – every day.
This was first written as a much shorter, light hearted piece in late 2013, but it is still as valid (or not, depending on your personal opinion) today as it was then. I have updated it for this week's blog and also added the reference to Bob Blackman MP.
There is a General Election not too far away, though the campaigning makes it seem like a lifetime. Whichever party gets in we can be sure of three things:
- 50%, and perhaps a lot more, of the people who vote will be unhappy with the result. See my blog of 25th January for a fuller explanation.
- Those who didn’t vote for the winning party will moan and moan and moan about the result for the next five years.
- They will also moan about it if they voted for the winning party because the government isn’t doing precisely what they wanted, or they expected, or they are doing it too slowly.
There are three sayings that apply to this situation:
- No matter who you vote for, it’s always the government that gets elected (anon).
- Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (from “Won’t Be Fooled Again” performed by The Who. Written by Pete Townsend. That phrase is possibly of earlier Chinese origin).
- Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few (George Bernard Shaw).
And if you’re thinking of abandoning Britain in favour of foreign climes, don’t expect to find any improvement when you get there. Britain is typical of governmental systems, not unique. How can we be unique? We’re proud of having given modern democracy to the world (sorry if that makes you hurt yourself laughing).