I have previously written about the need to review the relationship between the State and the individual, in particular about placing back on the shoulders of people the responsibility for maximising their own opportunities and not expecting the State, ie the general body of taxpayers, to bail them out. The exception of course, is where mental and physical incapacity requires a caring State to look after the welfare of such individuals alongside their families’ efforts. The aim would be to replace an overarching sense of rights with one of personal responsibility so as to earn rights. It is also a critical factor in rebalancing taxation and government spend.
That has set me thinking about other aspects of the current direction and tone of our Society. I find that four trends have significantly and, in my view negatively, affected the climate in which we live, taking it in an adverse direction.
Firstly, we seem to live in an environment where ‘outrage’ is the encouraged reaction to every piece of bad news or problem. You only have to listen to Radio 4 in the morning to hear the tone and manner in which such items our covered. ‘Woman’s Hour’ also is guilty of this. On so many occasions the interviewer puts words into the mouth of the interviewee or makes observations that ratchet up the emotion of the discussion. The latest hot topic is mental health. Yes it is sad that some people suffer. Yes it is necessary that help is provided – but the tone is always that somehow it is all the fault of our society, the responsibility of government and therefore limitless amounts of taxpayers money need to be spent and it is so outrageous that this is not done. Organisations, most of which seem to be charities and so called ‘think tanks’, manage to be invited to use Radio 4 as a mouthpiece for lobbying, political agenda grabbing and general criticism of society and the government. These are not, in my view, level headed studious discussions but emotive pieces of blame game journalism.
Another example of the ‘outrage’ agenda is the way in which accusations of racism are the ‘go to’ way of damning somebody when actually there should be no real case to answer. UKIP of course has been a huge victim. However, consider the case of Kelvin Mackenzie who apparently likened a footballer’s eyes to a gorilla. I do not know all the detail and whilst this may not have been a particularly nice thing to stay it appears Mr Mackenzie was totally ignorant (as were many other people) of this particular footballer’s partial black ancestry. At worst therefore his remark was unfortunate in the circumstances but to insist it is racist is to assert that Mackenzie intended to criticise him as of black origin in a demeaning way. In effect this allows an accusation of racism to be made on spurious grounds, supercharged by emotion, and to have it accepted with great or even irreparable damage to the accused person. The consequence is that proper debate such as on immigration can be stifled on the basis of false logic.
That brings me to charities as my second concern. It seems to be received wisdom that any organisation that can become a charity should have a right to get government help in the form of tax refunds. That is the current regime. However, I would argue that there is no doubt that many charities are engaged in political activity, although I accept it is a somewhat grey area of what that means. However, what is very clear is that the charitable sector benefits enormously from tax recovered on donations made so they are heavy beneficiaries of taxpayer money. Whilst individuals decide they wish to give to charity, there is no reason why the rest of the taxpayer population should have to pay higher taxes to make up for what is paid back to charities because some taxpayers decide to give them money. Any special status on business rates etc should also be eliminated.
Charities are in an incredibly beneficial financial regime compared to any other business. The fact they are ‘not for profit’ does not entitle them, in my view, not to be regarded as a business like any other. Is it time to ban political lobbying? That would not preclude useful communication channels being open for charities to bring their experiences to the attention of government policy makers or departments with relevant responsibilities. Charities who provide services in the UK that directly relieve strains on the NHS or similar directly related government health services could be given increased grants out of the taxes saved. Examples would be hospices and children’s orphanages and I am sure there are others. No doubt there will be gasps of horror at this suggestion but if you can suspend that reaction and give it some dispassionate thought, I believe you may also conclude this makes some sense.
Thirdly, Health and Safety. It is difficult to know where these grey faced bureaucrats are based but they seem to be everywhere, are multiplying and are intent on ensuring that individuals must be saved from the responsibility of applying common sense to their own actions and so must either be prevented from doing anything or otherwise the responsibility for anything that goes wrong is somebody else’s failure and therefore unlimited liabilities are thrust upon them. The result is that our lives are poorer for activities prohibited. Any sense of adventure is squashed.
Surely the answer is that every participating individual must take responsibility for applying common sense and if it goes wrong then it is their misjudgment! I am reminded of a Doctor friend who received a health and safety visit in her practice where one of the outcomes was the requirement to put a notice on the radiator to the effect that ‘ This radiator might be hot’. I hope you groan as I did.
Only if there is clear negligence by someone else that could not be foreseen by the participant and that has directly caused the problem should liability arise for them. We are creating an ‘anaemic’ society void of the iron of experiences that so benefits the self esteem, confidence and sense of adventure from which each of us should derive so much benefit. I would also argue that our competitive position would benefit from the reduction in regulation and costs of doing business.
Fourthly, the blame game. There seems to be a growing sense that accidents should never happen and no bad news is acceptable. If these occur then somebody has to be blamed, pilloried and sued for it. These days it is a pretty unattractive proposition for anyone to take responsibility for anything. There is every incentive therefore to pass the buck, protect your own backside, avoiding decisions and generally keep your head down. None of this creates a dynamic, imaginative, creative society that is intent on pushing boundaries forward and taking on new challenges. I suspect that this is also a consequence of the ambulance chasing legal system we now have, of success fees and third party funded litigation. It is time to end this lawyers’ gravy train from which they earn a lot but the victim gets rather less. Probably time to end lawyers lobbying Parliament in their own business interests too!
I see the problem that these forces give rise to: debate is warped and subjects become no-go areas. We live in a society that increasingly moves away from the ability to address what are very proper concerns of ordinary people.
Are these thoughts which also resonate widely with others? Are these matters on whIch UKIP should take a stand? Let me know.