Britain: A Nation Strangled by Red Tape

The function of a government is to provide the conditions in which its people can flourish with the minimum supervision and control. The more invisible its guiding hand, the greater its effectiveness and success. In essence all the state needs to do is to defend the realm against outside aggression, preserve internal law and order, and maintain a stable currency. Any activities carried out beyond these parameters will curb the liberty of the people and restrict their opportunities for free development and growth. This threshold has long since been breached. According to Eamonn Butler, head of the Adam Smith Institute, at least 3,609 new

criminal offences have been introduced since 1997. These petty restrictions and ludicrous health and safety rules mean that we can no longer ‘give our customers a glass of mulled wine, cuddle a crying child, enjoy a violinist at our restaurant table, organize children’s outings, smoke in a private club, feed the dog grapes, or sing a song at a pub piano without their permission.’ This is death by bureaucratic strangulation. What’s rotten in Britain is certainly not its people’, concludes Butler in the final pages of his anguished diatribe The Rotten State of Britain.(2010) ‘They are as proud, inventive, outgoing, fair-minded, tolerant and enterprising as they have ever been. What’s rotten is a system of government that has concentrated power at the centre so comprehensively that these virtues can no longer flourish.’

History reveals that it’s far safer to put one’s faith in private enterprise than in government promotions, because their success rate is higher and their failures less severe and easier to contain. Nevertheless we’ve allowed successive governments to take increasing control of our daily comings and goings. Even though taxes have risen by more than half since 1997, Britain has amassed one of the world’s highest mountains of sovereign debt, the interest payments on which will cripple our children for years to come. To settle the nation bills, the Treasury is indulging in various acts of ‘quantitative easing’, printing bank notes with a profligacy which is causing inflation to rise to more than twice the accepted safety level. Each year we now have to work until June to meet the tax man’s demands. Yet despite this crass economic ineptitude, successive governments have made laughing stocks of themselves by trying to compete with privately funded entrepreneurs.

One Friday afternoon in 1999, when MPs were safely back in their constituencies, Gordon Brown surprised the world by announcing that he was going to sell half Britain’s gold reserves, seemingly without any prior consultation with the Bank of England. Since he wasn’t an experienced currency dealer he probably didn’t realise that he was selling at the very bottom of the bullion market, getting nearly three times less per ounce than in 1980 and considerably more than half less that on offer in 2007. That one exploratory gamble cost the British taxpayer £2billion, and enabled the far wiser traders at the Bank of China to make £1 billion, by purchasing our grossly undervalued family jewels. Another fiasco occurred when the British government decided to exceed its brief and assume the role of a commercial impresario by building an exhibition hall to celebrate the advent of the new millennium. Its totally unrealistic expectation was that it would raise private capital to cover the construction costs. When this failed, it repeatedly plundered the charitable Lottery Fund to pay the developers as their bills rose inexorably to four times the original estimate. The project quickly became a subject of public ridicule, the makers of Wonderbra running an opportunistic advertising campaign: ‘Not all domes lack public support.’ On the day of the ceremonial opening hundreds of VIPs were kept waiting for hours because of ticketing problems. Attendance figures were half those expected. After a month the CEO was sacked. When the year ended it was clear that the organisers had no preconceived exit strategy. For a while the tented space was used to hold free music festivals, and then during the 2004 Xmas period as a refuge for the homeless. For a time there was a suggestion that the arena might be used as an enclosed football stadium. Unfortunately, the only interested team was a local club called Fisher Athletic, which couldn’t afford the million pounds a month the doomed dome was costing to maintain. Eventually the government had to admit defeat, and sell the complex to a private American company, who turned it into the highly successful O2 entertainment’s centre. Something similar happened with an earlier government venture into industrial farming, when two-and-a-half million acres of central Africa (an area equivalent to that of Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent) were purchased, cleared and planted with ground nuts. The scheme was expected to provide a third of Britain’s fats as well as provide work for the local population. It didn’t work, and had to be abandoned, because nobody realised that the area was prone to prolonged droughts and was populated by troops of ravenous baboons which dug up the nuts by night. With such an appalling record of mismanagement, perhaps it’s time we slashed the range of central government activities and allowed the country’s economy to be run in a democratic fashion – by the people, for the people.


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