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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why is government wasting its time *pretending* to do things?

When John Major was Prime Minister somebody stole the radio from my car. I reported it to the police who said there was nothing they could do. They gave me a crime number and I claimed on the insurance. Some years later, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, somebody else stole the radio from my car. I reported it to the police who said there was nothing they could do. They gave me a crime number and I claimed on my insurance.

The only difference was that this time somebody rang up asking how I felt about the experience and, hilariously, enquiring if I needed counselling. For me that difference seemed emblematic of a shift that had taken place in the way we were governed. Neither government offered an improved outcome but one of them wanted to know how I *felt* about things. You couldn't help feeling that there was some Peter Capaldi in the bunker beneath Whitehall who was constantly calculating how people in marginal constituencies felt about everything apart from the weather.

After that I began to note how the rhetoric of government has gone one way while the experience of being governed took another path entirely. I had another glimpse of that disconnect today. In the same week the Attorney General has had to answer some embarrassing questions about the immigration status of her Tongan housekeeper I have had to supply a TV production company with a copy of my passport so that they can pay me a small, one-off sum. Among the things I had to copy and supply was the cover of my passport. Go and look at yours. I think you'll find that one is indistinguishable from another. They apparently require all this because they need to know whether I have the right to work in the UK. They need to know this even though I have supplied them with a VAT number.

I can only assume that a new arm of some mammoth bureaucracy is creating a lot more work for lots of other people - in this case the production company, me, my accountant - in order to guard against something untoward happening. In doing this it probably won't prevent that thing happening but it will certainly make life more complicated, expensive and tiresome for the rest of us.