April is the cruellest month, wrote TS Eliot. In political terms, the present one is also turning out to be the most perverse.
First, centralism and its friend the nanny state are making a comeback - not that they had far to come. The Whitehall machine was never going to give up the power it has accumulated over the past 30 years and, once in office, ministers were no doubt easily persuaded to put the Big Society on the big backburner. So the radical intentions that originally inspired both the Health Bill and the Localism Bill have been blunted. The grip of the centre is firmly in place.
Indeed, what should have been a major pillar of the Big Society - private philanthropy - is now directly challenged by the chancellor. No wonder the only genuinely radical thinker in Downing Street has gone off to California.
Second, the national union of busybodies and disapprovers is on the march. The various medical lobbies, having helped to mangle the Health Bill, are now coalescing to investigate obesity. As they’ve been peddling their remedies with absolute certainty for the past decade, this all seems a bit late in the day. So no prizes for guessing the outcome. The “pasty tax” will be their inspiration.
Meanwhile, the DH has succumbed to the anti-smoking lobby by treating tobacco like condoms were regarded up to the 1960s - safe behind closed doors and bought with a whisper. If the neo-prohibitionists have their way, alcohol will eventually get the same treatment.
However, lest you should think the politicians have a monopoly on absurdity this month, think again. The Local Government Association says it doesn’t want more betting shops, charity shops and kebab outlets in our high streets, as they drive away respectable shoppers. In the same vein Joanna Blythman claims, on negligible evidence, that people don’t want supermarkets to take over empty shops - better leave them to rot, eh? In a declining high street, do we really have the luxury of picking and choosing new entrants?
As Morrie Brickman observed: “I don’t know whether the world is full of smart men bluffing, or idiots who mean it.”