No sooner had I read Andy’s blast in last week’s edition, however, than my attention was drawn to an item in one of the tabloids reporting that his company had affixed a message on its milk cartons warning unwary shoppers that they contained milk. Yes, it was an error and the said warning is set to disappear. But, given the well-known idiocies of the UK’s health and safety regime, would we really have been surprised if it had not been a mistake? As the present Government has no apparent intention of curbing the growth of the nanny state, one can only hope that its successor will do so. One of the most interesting things in President Obama’s inaugural address was his pledge to rebuild the trust of the American people in their government.
The same aspiration is just as relevant in the UK where trust in government, as measured in successive polls, is now dangerously low.
The reason is patently obvious. If successive governments behave in a way that leads people to believe that they are not trusted, why should they in turn trust their government and the inflated bureaucracy that supports it? Nearly two centuries ago, Alexis de Tocqueville warned against the growth of the centralising, paternalistic state, “an immense and tutelary power” that would ultimately spare its people “all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living”.
What de Tocqueville did not foresee was that the aspirations of the centralising state would run far ahead of its competence to deliver them. The lengthening list of regulatory failures and bungled public projects stretching back over the past 30 years says it all. Yet we still hear diet reformers asserting that yet more state regulation is needed to make farmers produce more, retailers sell more and consumers eat more of the “right” food. In Alan Coren’s words, “Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.”
Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant.