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.


  1. The counselling thing is absurd. My wife recently reported her phone lost/stolen, mainly in order to be able to claim on the insurance. She subsequently received a letter saying that as a victim of crime she was entitled to receive counselling to help her deal with the 'trauma'. If it had been taken from her at knife point by a gang of muggers that would indeed have been traumatic, but to have had it pinched from her handbag or off the pub table doesn't qualify. Use of public funds and resources in this indiscriminate fashion is perhaps one pointer to where Gordon could save a few quid in his efforts to reduce public spending.

  2. The counselling thing's a joke, isn't it? Fine if your house has been ransacked and burglars have trampled all over your chintz and IKEA furniture, but not for what you've described.

    As for the passport incident, I've noticed - as I'm currently applying for jobs - that everywhere has this extra tick box now that asks if you have 'the right to work in the EU' or some such other odd wording.

    OK, so I understand they have to take things into consideration, but it sort of smacks of 'nationalism through the back door'.

  3. Paul K9:28 am

    Look, I'm as cynical as any man - when you smell flowers, look for a coffin, etc - but can I just point out that, in the original post and all the above, counselling was simply OFFERED? If you don't need it, fine, just say no - but the person whose house has been ransacked may still be in shock, may be unaware of the opportunity for help, may have no-one to talk to themselves - and may actually be grateful for the offer?

    Fair enough, we are paying for someone to ring every single victim of crime, regardless of the circumstances, but frankly, I would rather have that than have a desk copper judge whether or not someone should or shouldnt receive counselling. Isn't it actually better to offer it to all, and have people like us turn it down, than to have any traumatised victims left uncounselled?

  4. I think a lot of this is backside covering that arises because of the disproportionate amount of attention that gets focussed on rare events - e.g. (hypothetically) the BBC gives lunch expenses to someone who works for an extremist cleric which gets translated into "BBC funds terrorism - Something must be done!" So then you can't get your lunch money without a 3 page report. Meanwhile real threats are being dealt with quietly - my wife's company were in the supply chain to the 7/7 bombers. Large gentlemen in heavy shoes helped set up systems to stop that ever happening again. That's what we need.

  5. If I want to pay a guest lecturer he or she has to provide a passport, fill in a nationality form, etc, etc, to claim the paltry sums that we are able to offer. However, this started as a result of lovely old Michael Howard's final act in government, basically a sop to Daily Mail readers worried about immigrants eating swans.

  6. Paul K11:53 am

    Oh, I can beat that one - I'm in the process of selling my flat, and having appointed a solicitor, I had to provide a utility bill to prove I lived where I said. Despite the fact that I was providing her with the lease and property register details!!!

  7. A lot of this box ticking nonsense is in reaction to the tabloid media stories that typically include phrases such as "illegal immigrants", "handouts" and "no questions asked". Same with the counselling, with the phrase "counselling has been offered" now a standard part of the news bulletin writer's toolkit for anything more traumatic than a shaving mishap.

  8. I'm with Paul K on this. We got burgled last year by someone who gained entry with some clever device through our letterbox. He only got my phone & wallet, and I wasn't terribly upset, but it was unsettling, and I can easily imagine how even a minor crime like this could really freak somebody out. God knows what it would be like if I were mugged violently.

    So either you tell everyone about the schemes on offer for victim support, or you ask someone in the local nick to guess whether they'll want the support. The former is easier.

    If this is part of a trend, it's the same trend that's seen victim impact statements read out in court = an entirely good thing.