Russell Taylor – In praise of good government

If support for the NHS is anything to go by, people can’t get enough of public services. They’re free at the point of use and there’s virtually nothing we can do that would deny us access to them. They’re the stuff of spoilt childhood fantasy made real, which probably explains their appeal. In which case, perhaps we should go the whole hog and serve jelly and ice cream in GPs’ waiting rooms.

Judging by media reports, however, us state-haters are finally getting our way, with ‘Tory cuts’ wreaking havoc. Untold millions who rely on the government for sustenance and support are finding care homes shuttered, libraries boarded up, local bus services terminated, and benefits slashed. Children are shivering in houses their parents cannot afford to heat. Packs of dogs are savaging people too weak from hunger to defend themselves. Motorcycle gangs stalk a post-apocalyptic wasteland, looting and murdering with impunity.

I exaggerate, of course, but not by much, because the sheer dishonesty of the cuts debate beggars belief. Read the Guardian or listen to the BBC and you would think that large numbers of people are incapable of fending for themselves, and that cuts to public spending are depriving them of the bare necessities of life.

It’s not too difficult to expose this despondency as a sham. Just cast your mind back to 2000, fairly early in New Labour’s inglorious rule, and shortly before Gordon Brown ripped the top off the spending spigot. It seems a long time ago now – a lot of red tape has passed under the bridge since then – but I don’t recall NuLab’s cheerleaders bending its ear over its stinginess. The sick weren’t dying in the street, children weren’t going hungry, and angry crowds weren’t marching on Downing Street demanding more diversity consultants and health-and-safety officers. Blair and Brown were sitting pretty, thanks to a healthy economy inherited from the previous Conservative government, and people were getting on with their lives, free from the million-and-one state intrusions that were to come.

Despite there being no obvious imperative to increase public spending, New Labour ramped it up anyway – by more than 50 per cent in real terms over the next decade. At no point during this time did leftists complain that Labour wasn’t going far enough, let alone express the kind of hysteria now on display. What was being spent in 2000 was apparently fine at the time, as was the size and condition of the public sector. And the same is true for any year you care to name until the start of the Tory Terror.

So if public services are in such an undernourished state today, and liberals are howling with outrage at their decimation, it stands to reason that the current government must have slashed spending to well below turn-of-the-century levels. Even allowing for the extra burden of rising unemployment and Labour’s immigration bonanza, it would take some radical penny-pinching to have plunged us into the Victorian squalor being described by the media.

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that by 2017, the government hopes to make overall spending cuts of 2.7 per cent. In other words, if those evil, banker-loving Tories get their way, New Labour’s record-breaking spend-a-thon will remain largely untouched. Which tells us three things: that the government is run by crypto-statists (and unabashed statists, for that matter), that the media is exaggerating the effects of spending cuts, and that the fat is being deliberately trimmed from areas where its effect is most conspicuous and most damaging. What chance have we of seeing real cuts when that’s what we’re up against?

The reluctance or inability of the government to strip away the dead wood is especially infuriating. The public payroll supports legions of make-work mandarins, many of whom were employed while New Labour was inflating the state into the groaning Hindenburg that hangs over us today. Logically, they should be the first to go, but in fact they are more important to the Left than all those soldiers, fire-fighters and binmen the public is rightly happy to finance. Because these ‘workers’ serve no socially-useful purpose, were employed with no public mandate and can act with relative impunity, they represent the acme of statist self-indulgence. Start laying them off and their worthlessness will become evident, making it difficult for the Left to justify the mega-state it yearns for. And that’s a slippery slope towards the public having a say in the running of things, which will never do.

The problem with runaway spending is not just that it’s unaffordable. Big spending means big government, which equals small liberties. Freedom might be an unfashionable concept nowadays, because it’s often seen as a licence for exploitation and ruin; but, for many of us, the right to live as autonomous, self-reliant individuals is the only right that matters in our culture of phoney-baloney entitlements. We want a government that gives us room to breathe, not one that sits on our chest.

As Thomas Jefferson put it: “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

2 comments on “Russell Taylor – In praise of good government

  1. dr
    June 7, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    Coalition spending cuts are so severe that many local councils are facing financial collapse:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22801759

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