Wednesday, 19 January 2011
For heaven's sake leave us alone! A comment on choice, freedom and independence.
It struck me yesterday (while listening to the righteous discuss licensing and other matters at Council) that the idea of free choice, of personal responsibility and our autonomy as individual persons is a minority viewpoint among the political class. By way of example:
1. We debated whether the Director of Children’s Services should be consulted when the private sector wished to develop a children’s home. By the end of the debate I was convinced that the Director of Children’s Services should have no such right – by all means that individual can make representations in the same manner as any other person, put granting the developer's primary competitor (and also supplier) an privileged position is wrong. Yet we voted for such a privilege – it’s for the children, you see.
2. During this debate the matter of free schools arose - mostly so the Labour speaker could get over a pretty lame political point. And when the matter of planning leniency for new schools was mentioned a ripple of applause went round the chamber. I was shocked to see Conservative Councillors applauding an attack on the extension of choice and the reduction of bureaucracy.
3. In a different debate – one on ‘child poverty’ – the Labour speaker again mentioned free schools and academies. And her problem was that these schools reduced the Council’s budget – after all the money goes to the schools not the bureaucrats. Independence, autonomy and freedom were attacked because it meant the Council bureaucrats could not direct and control .
4. So much for debates at Council and onto a wider debate – this time the NHS. A doctor speaks and the gist of her comment is that patients don’t want choice and only ask for it when service is poor. This was compounded – according to the doctor – by the choice being between private and public providers. As I understand her view it was that we shouldn't get choice in healthcare because the public sector aren’t as good at it as the private sector! And the private sector is nasty because it makes a profit. This from someone who profits from the NHS to the tune of £100,000 or more.
5. And then we have the ‘drinking is bad’ debate – the lies and nonsense intended to reduce the access to drink for poor people. The underlying context of this is that old-fashioned middle class busybody view that the poor aren’t bright enough to make their own decisions about their own lives – they must be nudged, shoved and browbeaten into following the strictures of their public sector masters. I guess that talking strangely, listening to cacophonous base-heavy music and appearing on Jeremy Kyle’s daytime show provides the basis for this argument. Well it won’t do – if they want to wreck their lives with drink, fags and drugs that’s (most of the time) their business, innit!
I will not despair but will carry on making the sensible, usually evidence-based arguments that freedom, choice and independence – autonomy as is explained by Anna Raccoon – are the best route to a civilised, happy and successful society. When we’re free we work harder, we play better and we work out means to deal with out differences – all without the need for a political master race to direct our every childish action.
I do not understand why the political class so despise freedom – or rather freedom for other people to make their own successes and failures. And why appeals to authoritarian and draconian reactions – be it on immigration, crime or the economy – get such popular support. Maybe wiser heads might help?