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Reader’s Comment of the Day: Why we hate government


In response to Kathy Gyngell: Rotherham’s child abuse scandal proves again that government is the problem and not the solution, Groan wrote:

A matter of months after the last election a colleague of mine (in local government) observed how quickly the national political change fed through to local change compared to her native Italy, where Government changes actually make little difference. This in spite of the council in question remaining solidly labour. This stuck with me simply because it is the reverse of our national self-image of ‘moderation” and “checks and balances”. Subsequently in conversations with Dutch, German, French, and Danish colleagues it seems that in fact we are most akin to the French in the rapidity of national government reach and rapidity of change.

It seems our belief in the legitimacy of central government and its ability to drive through legislation quickly actually makes us far more vulnerable to national “experiments” and contradictory policy initiatives quickly implemented. Consequently even where local government is supposedly politically opposed to the government of the day, it actually faithfully pursues policy no matter how ill-considered or irrelevant to its local population.

In addition, this centralised power is crucially driven by the Civil Service who work on the detail of ministers’ policies (many ministers’ memoirs are replete with complaints that their policy turned out quite different in the hands of their civil servants) and one actually has a system both centralised and (unless ministers are phenomenally hard working) in the hands of the professional civil service. Councillors in Rotherham, amateurs by definition, will have largely depended on their officers, and those officers in fact are largely led by Civil Service “guidance”. Clearly the councillors were inept and incompetent in holding their officers to account. But the policy direction came from Whitehall, which is of course why Rotherham is just the most notorious of a long list of local authorities apparently blind to the same pattern of ethnic kinship gangs exploiting vulnerable girls and boys.

In Lancashire, there are a number of mill towns with large ethic minority communities, such as Rochdale (another scandalous case). But there are also some of the “whitest” boroughs in Britain (Wigan or St Helens industrial towns) and the local governments of these towns actually have to manipulate stats in order to demonstrate they are fulfilling central government requirements. For instance, spending precious resources on training and work on FGM when no one from the relevant communities lives in their area, putting on events supposedly for minority communities knowing full well that none of the visitors will be from those communities, and so on. 

I am amazed at my own conclusion but it seems we are both remarkably deferential to our Government (in fact it’s an agent to the civil service) and appear to accept its paternalistic direction even if it conflicts with our expressed views. As any psychologist will agree, human beings usually have simultaneously conflicting views without any problem. It appears that nationally we combine a self-image of independence with a deference to the paternalistic direction from the Government. So Politicians have to both feed our desire to be directed while feeding our belief in our own independence and self-reliance. No wonder we hate them!

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