The same day the gas bill doubled, it snowed. Oh, and restaurants have been mandated to list calorie counts on menus. After 12 years in power, the Conservatives have gone from trying to fix the state to trying to fix us, so that we are less of a cold-blooded, fat burden to bureaucrats. Do not eat, they advise; do not steal, do not drive, avoid using the heater. In fact, it would be helpful if we could cease to exist altogether. The NHS would look good on paper if no one used it, and we would have a zero per cent failure rate in schools if no one took a test.
As MPs take a break from Parliament this week, the Tories must reflect on what they have actually done and what still needs to be done. It all depends on who they really represent. Considering they were elected to clean up the economic mess left by Labour, it’s a shame that the debt is higher than under Gordon Brown, the tax burden is rising and living standards are collapsing. We can’t blame ministers for a pandemic or a war, it’s true, but the Conservative Party’s solutions are almost indistinguishable from those of New Labour, and the alternatives are rarely aired. Last week I witnessed Rishi Sunak’s ‘grilling’ by the Treasury Committee and the two points I never heard were ‘you spend too much’ and ‘how dare you take my money voters to do so”. The anger is not there. No party in Westminster represents the consumer.
It’s not just a crisis of philosophy, it’s anti-democratic. MPs are supposed to be elected to do what their constituents want, but too many of them, as soon as they arrive in Westminster, are sucked into a culture that has a uniform idea of what constituents need, an all-encompassing plan for life which ranges from cutting carbon emissions to losing enough weight to fit in a size six dress (even better if you’re a guy!). Half the debates are pious nonsense that only benefits the electorate to reassure them that their MP is spectacularly compassionate – and the more laws you pass, logic goes, the more money we dump, the more compassionate they seem. Therefore, the most important measure of success in 2022 is the amount spent by the treasury, not the results.
Where to start? The Ockenden report said more than 200 babies and nine mothers could have survived had it not been for the failings of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust. During the lockdown, the government allocated around £37billion to the deeply ineffective Test and Trace project. He lost £4.9billion in loan fraud. Not a single police officer has been sacked over the Rotherham child abuse scandal. And the same Interior Ministry that struggles to deport foreign-born criminals is oddly struggling to let Ukrainian women and children in.
You’re paying for all of this, and probably more thanks, despite Sunak’s tinkering, to a combination of National Insurance changes and inflation pushing people into ever-higher tax brackets. The chancellor, in his munificence, says he plans to cut income tax in 2024, which means the UK government is now handing out IOUs. At the same time he also pays us £200 to help with electricity bills, a sum which the state will later recover, meaning he has also taken to writing ‘UOMes’. MPs receive a small grant of their own. Their wages will rise by 2.7% to £2,212.
If the government was a private company, you would switch providers. Yet whether you vote right or left, we always seem to be led by P&O.
What’s gone is the old-fashioned principle of giving us the best possible service at the lowest possible price. On the contrary, thanks to Covid, the public sector has taken the reins since 2020, while the burden of wealth and power has shifted decisively away from the individual. Does this look like a freer society than 12 years ago? Or a happier one? Paranoia and suspicion are not only prevalent but encouraged (ads on the London Underground now warn against ‘staring’), and privacy is dead. I remember when we were told to protect our data. Now, just to catch a train to Belgium, I have to prove my vaccination status by downloading the NHS app, sending them a photo of my driving license and recording a video of my face reciting a series of numbers. Am I to believe that the NHS will delete all this information once used? Be blessed. I would rather invite a rabid fox to guard the hens.
In a way, we have learned that we need a more active state, able, for example, to mount a vaccination program, just as we need some state management to ensure that we have a proper diagnostics industry. Small government does not mean ‘no government’, but more efficient government – more efficient precisely because it limits itself to a narrower range of tasks in which it can excel. Drawing a line under the Trimalchio feast of a spring statement, the Tories must spend the time they have before the next election peeling red tape where it is not needed, shifting benefits to people who have been stolen to pay for it, and come up with creative ways to encourage privacy to live again. I’m not just talking about talking about new markets in insurance or energy, but also about liberating culture and technology, faith and family, the very things that make life worth living. hard to live.
Instead, there is a feeling that under Covid the whole of society has been mobilized by the state, an atmosphere of regimented tension that died down briefly at the start of the year only to be reinvigorated by the Ukraine. The taxpayer must be pressed for the collective will, and submit to it as a good citizen. The Parliament and Health Services Ombudsman told The Telegraph over the weekend that the company behind HS2 had treated residents concerned about the line running through their neighborhood, or even their homes, as a ‘nuisance’, an image of the path of literal iron that sums up where we are. Voters, in the eyes of far too many people, are propagators of disease or pollution (in the opinion of certain old ladies who stick to the roads, farming should even be stopped), and pockets of money which are waiting to be exploited.
The paradoxical goal of conservative politics is to make politics less important in everyday life, and while it may seem hopelessly idealistic to expect powerful people to give up power, unless conservatives try to reduce the state, they will end up losing their functions completely. The time will come when voters will finally crack and prevail.