With an unerring talent for simultaneously missing the point and stating the obvious, David Cameron warns us it is impossible to keep people 100 per cent safe from terror attacks in an open and free society.
Leave to one side that it is impossible in any practical sense to score 100 per cent at anything very much, that most people understand this without being told and that even the smallest attempt to make us ‘safe’ sets limits on an open and free society. This compromise is embodied in a legal system to which most people are happy to adhere provided Parliament does not overreach itself.
The Prime Minister and most MPs need to be reminded regularly that their job is not to protect us so much as to protect our freedoms. It’s their failure to grasp this simple distinction that leads to the constant interference in our lives that would have been quite unthinkable a generation or two ago.
A political class that believes its mission is to protect us from harm feels justified in protecting us also from the harm that we might do ourselves, which opens the doors to ever more encroachment by authoritarian ministers and by cohorts of self-appointed busybodies and ‘experts’ who organise themselves into pressure groups and charities and whose first task is often to apply for taxpayer funding.
Like sorrows, the nagging quangos and charities come not as single spies but in battalions. They achieve enormous influence on policy and distort public debate. We have two good current examples of this right now.
A coalition of busybodies and health ‘professionals’ means that plain packaging on tobacco is likely to be foisted on this country following its introduction in Australia two years ago. The Australian experience has been very far from conclusive in reducing levels of smoking there and this latest measure in a decades-old campaign is every bit as likely to result in a loss of revenue to the public purse and an increase in smuggling as has happened Down Under. The decline in smoking among Australians continues, but has slowed since the introduction of plain packs and yet the antis point to intangible but beneficial side effects.
The argument is that in much the same way that Page 3 girls are apparently an incitement to rape, the pretty designs on cigarette packets are an irresistible lure to the impressionable young, who are sadly far too malleable and stupid to make up their own minds.
The philosophy behind the anti-tobacco campaigners is that tobacco is so utterly evil that no tactic in their war is too underhand and no lie is too extravagant. And of course they are already working on alcohol, sugar, fats and whatever else it is that you might enjoy.
When it comes to fibs, how about Oxfam? From being an organisation founded in Oxford and concerned with famine relief, it has morphed into a politically left-wing pressure group whose latest report claims that the wealthiest one per cent in the world will soon own more than 50 per cent of the world’s wealth.
The claim is based on a spurious extrapolation of current figures for net debt, which is to say that if you have a mortgage that is greater than the value of your assets, then you are among the least well-off in the world. On this basis, Europe has 12 per cent and North America has eight per cent of the poorest people on earth, while China has none.
When it comes to promulgating the mendacious and progressive agenda of the lobbyists, no one rivals the BBC. The World Service will broadcast a debate from the Davos summit on Sunday to discuss the one per cent: fifty per cent phenomenon. This will be hosted by Evan Davis, who must know that the Oxfam figure is hogwash but will push the inequality envelope nonetheless.
I started with David Cameron so let me end with David Cameron. The biggest disappointment of his premiership is the lack of vision that he has brought to the job. For all his ability to push out his chin and look resolute we have had five years of drift from a man without a mission.
He could have unscrambled the network of Blair and Brown placemen in the quangos, the mock-charities and in their public broadcasting megaphone, the BBC, and given the country back to its subjects. Instead, he has contributed to making us increasingly supine in the face of laws passed for our own good and widening the range of subjects on which the science is settled and contrary opinion is unacceptable.