Whatever happened to the Big Society? Nothing: it never happened. Edmund Burke anticipated its fate: “People not well grounded in the principles of public morality find a set of maxims in office ready made for them… the very idea of consistency is exploded. The convenience of the business of the day is to furnish the principle for doing it.”
So, instead of shrinking the tentacles of central government and encouraging local self-help and enterprise, coalition ministers increasingly do the opposite. Egged on by a familiar crew of diet reformers, neo-prohibitionists and salvation -through-misery evangelists, the government’s kneejerk response to almost every problem is more intervention. So, for example, it plans to press on with imposing a minimum price for alcohol, despite a clear warning from Brussels that it would be illegal and an admission from the relevant minister that it will bear down on moderate drinkers.
More recently, we read that GPs are to be required to supply a mass of hitherto confidential medical data on their patients to the NHS. Officials claim personal details will be deleted after analysis. The avowed purpose is to create a paperless NHS and save “thousands of lives”, just as the war on alcohol is supposed to reduce the financial burden of treating alcohol-related diseases.
“The government’s response to almost everything is more intervention”
Now, we all recognise that our mind-blowing national debt must be reduced, yet some areas of activity seem immune to cuts. Far from scaling down our £8bn overseas aid budget - an investment of questionable value - it seems ministers plan to increase it. Even this pales beside the waste arising from bungled contracts and tenders in defence, transport and data management. Capital investment, initially cut twice as severely as current spending, is now admitted to be the only way of getting the economy out of the doldrums but it will be years before any benefits come through.
What about the red tape-cutting initiatives by the Cabinet Office and DBIS? Aren’t they significant? Indeed they are, but they have to combat a revolving door. No sooner do a batch of old regulations go out than a new lot come in. The “business of the day” demands it.
Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant