Russell Taylor – In Praise of Protest

So the Tories took a kicking in the local elections, but they’re determined to win the voters back. Not with that malodorous potpourri of policies, they won’t. Until they’re prepared to ditch their Third Way politics and acknowledge the anxieties of their chief constituency, the voters they’ve lost won’t be coming back.

The problem is not that the Tories have been bad at explaining what they have to offer. Their erstwhile supporters are all too aware of what they’re being asked to buy into, and they reckon it stinks. If the Tories are serious about rolling back the state, they want to know why so little is being done about it. If right now is not the time for radical reform, when is? In lieu of any policy changes, Conservative talk of reconnecting with defectors sounds like they intend to hammer into these bozos that things like small government and national sovereignty have gone the way of slavery and workhouses, so hey, you might as well vote Tory!

Whenever I used to hear a Labour voter grumbling about the Tories not doing enough “for people like me”, I took it to mean they weren’t being offered enough of other people’s money. But I’m starting to get their point. Politicians are showing greater loyalty to their own tribe of legislators, technocrats and media acolytes than to the electorate. A Conservative government should be expected to favour the individual over the state, but under Cameron’s leadership, the Tories have shown an eagerness to maintain the house that Labour built. Perhaps I’ve had the wrong end of the stick all these years and that’s what the Conservative Party is really about: conserving the Labour Party’s legacy.

Most of the issues that animate real conservatives come down to the size of the state and its ability to bulldoze the wishes of the electorate. But judging by public voting habits, many people still want to see government services expanded and improved, irrespective of the cost. Assuming they associate any cost with them, that is. One reason the public sector enjoys such avid support is that it appears to provide something for nothing – like all those ‘free’ rides at amusement parks that cost a fortune to get into. Tax has become such a feature of our lives that many of us seem to have forgotten that it’s financing all those bureaucracies we don’t need and never asked for.

Perhaps if we received a bill for each of the services we contributed towards, we’d be less blasé about the proportion of our income annexed by the government each year, and we’d take a closer look at what we’re getting for our money. For starters, the NHS might look less like an angelic chorus of care-givers and more like an ossified relic straight out of Enver Hoxha’s Albania. We might reach for the calculator and work out that we’d be better off asking for a refund and going private. Given the return on investment it offers us, the nation’s near deification of the NHS is a mystery to me. What was its celebration at the Olympic opening ceremony supposed to tell the world? That when we thumb our noses at capitalism and adopt a hive mentality, we can just about muster a third-rate healthcare system? Bully for us.

The case against the public sector is well-rehearsed, but it boils down to its lack of competition. When there is no competition, bad decisions go unpunished. What you don’t punish, you reward; and what you reward, you get more of. Thus, the only thing the state can promise to provide us with any consistency is ineptitude and waste. It requires a gigantic leap of faith to believe that we can vote ourselves leaders capable of confounding this time-tested recipe for disaster. The god-like powers required have proved beyond the abilities of anyone in human history, so there’s no reason to believe the current crop of talentless popinjays are up to the job.

Then again, there will plenty of people who think they’re still getting a good deal from the state, because they’re sticking the rich with the lion’s share of the cost, and they figure they could never afford things like healthcare if they had to find the money themselves. But the reason healthcare costs as much as it does is precisely because the state has a monopoly on it. When all the drug companies, bed manufacturers, ambulance builders and so on have the government as their number one customer, they don’t have to worry about the competition, which undermines their productivity and inflates prices. By contrast, where there’s a free market in something, quality rises and prices fall. Consider how supermarkets offer a dazzling array of products at knock-down prices. Now imagine if the state got into the food business. Once it had turned its chosen suppliers into accountability-free monopolies, the regulators had extracted their danegeld, and the delivery process had been swathed in red tape, you’d have to queue around the block to pay fifty quid for a salmonella-riddled sausage.

Even if public services were paid for by billionaire benefactors, big government would still be a bad idea. When the state looks after your healthcare, your education and your housing, when it protects you from your mistakes and from the competing interests of others, what is there left for you to do? How is it possible to live a life of pride and purpose when people in high places have outsourced your autonomy to bureaucrats and panels of ‘experts’? What’s the point of kindness, generosity or civic pride if you believe you’ve already done your bit by paying your taxes?

Liberals like to bemoan our vacuous consumer culture, but what did they expect us to do, having persuaded the government to make all the big decisions on our behalf? Learn another language or get into French philosophy? When the income we’re left with is little more than pocket money, don’t be surprised if we choose to spend it on toys and trinkets. Along with our diets and leisure activities, our choice of material possessions is one of the few areas of our lives where we still exercise control, yet even this small liberty has come under the disapproving gaze of the nanny state. Increasingly, we are guilted and legislated into observing the lifestyle codes of the liberal Mutaween, and public services are the stick they use to beat us into submission.

If the state controls our healthcare, it will want a say in how we live, ostensibly to ensure we don’t place an extra burden on the taxpayer. And that principle holds true across the board. Wherever the state compels us to give it a monopoly, it is in a position to make demands of us in return. Take, for instance, environmental policy and the tyranny of CO2 reduction. There is virtually nothing we can do to enhance our lives that doesn’t require us to commit the eco-blasphemy of carbon emission. As long as the government pursues a green agenda, it has an argument against us exercising free will.

No one actually enjoys the humdrum administration of everyday life – managing our finances, arranging car insurance, and so on – and no one relishes the prospect of failure and humiliation. But taking charge of life, and dealing with all its mundanities and vicissitudes, is a life. How we meet its challenges, both big and small, defines us as human beings. We are more than just herd animals to be maintained in comfort by benign keepers. It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied. It’s time to send this message to our politicians.

Protest is the only power we really have as individuals against the might of government. If UKIP’s strong showing at the local elections was ‘merely’ a protest against the state, so be it. Those who made a stand have done their duty by their conscience. As Abraham Lincoln put it: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”

4 comments on “Russell Taylor – In Praise of Protest

  1. dustybloke
    May 8, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    Hmm, before I read your article, I need to know the answer to a few questions:

    What is your religion?

    What would you say was your ethnicity?

    What is your body mass index?

    Do you smoke?

    How many units of alcohol do you consume each week?

    Do you eat 5 different fruit or vegetable portions a day?

    Do you snack between meals?

    Do you take regular exercise?

    Do you eat burgers, sausages, bacon, sweets, full fat milk, processed food, cheese, ready meals, or any other proscribed foods of which i should be aware?

    Have you ever had any criminal convictions?

    If these questions sound intrusive, well tough. I am a modern child of the State and want to integrate into the State and if reading this article prejudices this, well, it;s just not worth the candle.

    And by the way, I just got bored. The lsit could have been much, much longer…

  2. Simon Roberts
    May 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    When I was a Civil Servant years ago, it always struck me as strange that politicians seemed incapable of getting to grips with the machinery of the State. Expanding it was simplicity itself, reducing it was presumed impossible.

    The Civil Service is well-rehearsed in defending itself from politicians. Civil Servants gain years or decades of experience before they are let near a Minister, whereas the Ministers and Special Advisors are transitory figures who are never present long enough to learn the system.

    The Civil Service justifies itself as being the tool with which government policy is implemented. If you pass laws, you need people to implement them. If you have Public Services then you need people to oversee and run them. This is true, but as Russell observes, the number of people employed to run them in practice balloons way beyond what is actually necessary.

    Consider that politicians are only interested in their public image and their re-election. They feel the need to be seen to be “doing something” to address the issue of the day. Securing a few billion pounds from the Treasury to fund a project or new Government Department is a headline-grabber, showing that you are taking action.

    It requires relatively little pain for the politician and is a short-term activity, allowing him to move on to dealing with the next crisis. Efficient management on the other hand, offers no short-term headlines and is a long process of reform which will be peppered with public sector strikes, marches, demonstrations and punch-ups with unions.

    Only Mrs T had the stomach for this kind of fight and, truth be told, even though she curtailed the power of the unions, she didn’t reduce the size of the State (she re-categorised a number of Government Departments as QUANGOs to reduce the Civil Service headcount).

    I’m afraid that it’s a consequence of Democracy. All democratic societies will go the same way eventually. Personally, I feel that the only real solution is a system of government as detailed in the US Constitution (and no, it doesn’t mention democracy).

    • Brian the Rhetor
      May 9, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      The article and this comment show us very starkly that it is going to need very strong resolve on the part of someone to reverse this Orwellian trend.

  3. Don Surber
    May 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

    At least the Canadians can explain their passion for Medicaid as sticking it in the ear of Americans (whose private health care is conveniently within driving range of 90% of Canadians). But then warm beer and the overuse of U (labour, etc.) puzzle me.

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