Friday 8 January 2010

Snow case for big government?

'Big government' is often attacked as political rhetoric. In the abstract, we all like to be agin it.

Yet, on every specific issue, from child protection to the collapse of the banks, most of the public calls are very often for government to do more.

Especially when it snows.

I would suppose that a 'big government' approach to heavy snowfall would place a good deal of emphasis on local Councils as having the taxpayer-financed responsibility for clearing the roads, and letting business and life carry on as far as possible, and paying particular attention to vital emergency services.

Mightn't a 'social responsibility' approach suggest we should rally around and sort it out for ourselves?

So you wouldn't expect local candidates and councillors whose political parties rail against big government to be pushing for more to be done on the side roads and pavements, though this seems to have been a common theme from local Labour, LibDem and Tory and non-partisan voices.

Similarly, at a national level, the severity of sustained conditions have led to worries about a grit shortage. The Conservative opposition is among those calling for more planning, to try to ensure resources are available and are rationally distributed, reflected in the Cabinet Office-led civil contingencies approach to looking at where salt needs to go most.

A similar instinct has been shown in Tory concerns over gas supplies and energy security.

It would be strange if a bit of bad weather were to trump the laissez-faire instincts of the libertarians.

So I am sure Hannanites of the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Taxpayers Alliance will shortly point out how all of these problems are caused, yet again, by too much regulation rather than too little. (Though we seem to hear so much less about Iceland from them these days).

Still, don't forget that big government is always the route of all of our problems.

Except when it isn't


Guido Fawkes said...

Privatise the roads.

Look Away Now said...

Round my way not a single person has cleared any snow from in front of their house. Feels like we crossed a line into a society that really doesn't give a shit any more. Not sure when it happened but it depresses me.

Robert said...

Come on in the past we use to go to the salt bins around the place open them and throw the salt onto the pavement, we the public would do this. I use to do it all the time when it was bad so what did my labour council do last year remove the bins saying the Public keep using them and it's costing us money, well yes you morons because we are doing your bloody job. Now this week they came around with a bunket of salt and asked us if we like out path cleared we said yes and they threw one hand full of salt on the path it was a waste of time.

We did not mind doing the pavements and we did keep it clear but the public are naughty people.

Sunder Katwala said...

Thanks. I hadn't seen, when writing this, that Daniel Hannan did blog first thing this morning about this, noting his own generosity in brushing the snow for his immediate neighbours too, and asking
Is our reliance on state intervention symptomatic of the sapping effects of big government?

Rather confusingly, Hannan seems to want a centralised Big Government edict to enforce the social responsibility he wants to see, writing "if everyone were responsible for his own patch of pavement, the disruption caused by snow would be much diminished.

TTGZ said...

Most US cities have laws requiring citizens to clear the snow in front of their homes within 24 hours of major snowfall. You know what? The law works. Sidewalks are always far more passable than those in the UK.

In as much as it's the State regulating minor aspects of peoples' lives, it's "Big Government". But in as much as it's citizens doing the work in the place of Government, it's "Small Government".

Sorry Sunder, but you and Hannan both have to take your ideological blinders off on this one. It's not about big government vs. small governemt, citizens vs. state. It's just common sense.

Sunder Katwala said...

TTGZ - I do welcome yr sensible attempt to provide us with some ideological bridges. I am not hostile to citizen initiative; was more querying the blanket critique of government in the abstract and its inconsistency in practice.

Guido - in the continued quest for pluralism and debate, Next Left would very happily offer you a platform to set out a case for privatising roads, and how George Osborne could make that a popular public idea.

Newmania said...

Is..” route of all our problems” , a pun or an error Sunder ?Lets say pun shall we .This is rather like a sermon is it not .“I was coming to church today and I saw the snow , you know this set me thinking about god ../ socialism …”. I like it
You are confusing a desire for a big state with a desire that the necessary evil of some government, be run efficiently .Conservatives have criticised the record of this administration on military procurement with suggesting we should return to the profitably entrepreneurial spirit of Raleigh and Drake .Still, square topical in a round argument , though it is, I sympathise with the underlying theme
The left ignore the profound human cost inherent in taking decisions from us .The Libertarian denies the cost to either safety and ‘security ’ in de-reregulation .Neither count long term value easily lost by clumsy or violent assaults on the nation’s body. Communities , deep mines , farming, the natural beauty of the country the diffuse knowledge coded in customs. Both big state and atomised anarchy are threats , an unholy alliance of these two demons is the story of the last ten years.

A clumsy but steady big state periodically has a role .Take state insurance at tariff terms . This is clearly inefficient expensive usually corrupt and glacially slow . It does however provide a guaranteed risk support system for emerging economies without the guarantee of soil , enterprise cannot grow . Similarly, the provision of housing after the war ,albeit sub contracted after Labour’s failure to launch , the a ‘safety net! ,the NHS , the BBC …. In each case for some period , a guaranteed universal level was, perceived as an urgent need
As the nation “emerges” the disadvantages of top down uniformity predominate .Unfortunately the scaffold has in the meantime grown to love his scaffold .Big state acolytes ,invent faux emergencies. We need the EU because of …The Environment ..” ..uhuh , and who are we at war with next week , ?
The Labour Party faces a country which needing less government without the resources to adjust. It retreats in violent jerks , each new line in the sand is washed away leaving damp collectivist planners . The SDP episode and now the post defeat de-fenestration of Brown .

That is my sermon for today

I take your point our current travails come from the Passporting system within the EU and affiliates. UK institutional checks have been hollowed out and replaced by a spurious rubber stamp, giving the green light to investors .No surprise that Councils that took the boldest leaps ..innocents abroad.
There is much more of this to come. Your fault , top down planning `s fault, the EU`s fault .The fate a wealthy people slightly less numerous than the denizens of Croydon is hardly a burning issue

13eastie said...

If you're using the recent weather as evidence of the folly of the public's distaste for "big government" you're way wide of the mark.

We've had a "big" (but far from clever) government for twelve years.

This is the second "warm" winter that has been forecast on the trot. Last year we ran out of grit. This year year we've run out of gas as well, with factories closing shop. FAIL

Running out of fuel is shambolic on any scale. If I run my car out of petrol, I have to take responsibility. This is a national problem. This is the space in which "big" government should anticipate and solve problems. FAIL.

The country has been paralysed by nonsensical and spurious "elf an' safety" cop-outs, which have benefited no-one and cost a fortune in lost productivity. It's annoyed employers no-end, but parents who have lost January wages (because schools won't accept kids for fear of snowy days affecting their truancy scores) are livid. This is "big" government meddling at the level of ordinary people trying to get on. FAIL

And now that I've moved on to the subject of schoolchildren, let's go back to your:

"…from child protection to the collapse of the banks, most of the public calls are very often for government to do more."

You cannot honestly believe this?

Sorry, Sunder, I must have missed the clamour for interference from:

a) workers for more job-sharing colleagues to be investigated for mutual baby sitting without "registering";

b) parents who want to be worried to give children a lift to sports matches for fear of being labelled a paedophile;

c) teachers who long to be fearful of being seen touching a child in any way because they know the only thing the law will ever do for them is ruin them.


People are fed up of "big" government - "big" government that on the one hand can't resist interfering in folk's personal lives, but on the other merrily shirks helping them when they are in need. FAIL

People are not so stupid that they don't see the irony of a government that cannot stop telling them what do, while itself being incapable of taking any timely and decisive action itself.

People want a government that actually works. If it can resist the temptation to bother them at home, that would be a bonus.


Sunder Katwala said...


I do stand by my statement. It was to point to a contradiction in attitudes, not to make the case that the extension of government is always the right answer. The claim was that there are more abstract calls for 'less government' but *more* specific calls for 'more government' than 'less government'. Not that the latter never occurs, but that it is outnumbered. (The SMF used to regularly carry out the - somewhat daft - exercise of adding up all of the pressure group calls on the Today programme over a period, to make this point).

Re, parents giving lifts to sport matches. Yes, this was an over-reaction, and is now reversed. But it was not government's idea. It was the product of an independent inquiry, where there is enormous pressure on government's to say "we accept all of the findings in full". And that is part of the dynamic where I think we do see the oscillation I refer to - eg in the micro-case of child protection, social workers are too intrusive (case with sympathy to parents, eg children removed, was there evidence? PC gone mad, etc), followed by scathing criticism of shameful failure to remove child more quickly (any case where a death has ocurred; failure; PC gone mad for other reasion). Now, we could all legitimately have different reactions to the different types of case. But one rarely sees a discussion about the balance, but often Daily Mail certainty and outrage in one direction, then the other.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. Yes, an error, not a pun, but nice of you to suggest the alternative.

The discussion may, however, be snowballing. Alex Massie responds at the Spectator Coffee House. And I have put a couple of questions to John Redwood in his thread this morning, where he also makes the point "We do look to government to organise the roads and railway lines. They own them and are responsible for them".

Here endeth the lesson!

Newmania said...

Oh piffle Sunder it has been a hallmark of this administration to conduct supposedly independent enquiries that magically conclude that the government is right to do what it wanted to anyway. It is meretricious to the point of sinister to blame the lackeys for the mistake and applaud the almighty state for the correction.
Your frustration with the contradictory complaints levelled at administrators is the perennial whine of an elite good or bad . It proves nothing . A bored civil servant unable to get his Indian rabble to help him run the Raj ,the Romans in Israel …” Oh god now what do they want , can’t they see my problems ?”
Yes tsk tsk its tough bossing people around isn’t it they are like “ Wait for it “….like children! You know you want to say it …. Treat yourself
True ,we have produced a nation of risk averse , its big mummy’s fault, wimps unable to ‘get it in proportion’ . The social services screw up …what do you expect , they are paid just as much if they get it wrong . The teachers play truant , what do you expect , they cannot be touched . The NHS is a shambles , course it is , but its there when you need it for all that .
You infantilise adults ,and then you don`t like the tantrums ? I have children Sunder three of them , I do not expect or wish to be spoken to or treated in that way by anyone . Do you know what happens if I screw up I lose my client , result , I don’t .
You want us denied the power of exit .That leaves complaint …so people with nothing getter to do complain this evidence of too much state , not too little

..and annuver fing …the rose tinted notion that “Pubic Servants “ as they are risibly called ,get up everyday intent on “Serving the Public “anyway , is so na├»ve that I am tempted to send you to your room. Have you ever dealt with one ?

13eastie said...

Sunder, I hardly ever agree with what you write: it's usually entertaining and coherent enough to tempt me back.

But this is just garbage.

The most moronic voters can tell the difference between nationwide issues that they are powerless to affect and a worthless cascade of unjustified, patronising, ideological, meddlesome drivel.

Many of the them can recognise this difference without contradicting themselves. (Those that can't are hypocrites, but they likely constitute the unthinking Labour core vote.).

Don't you think it's just possible that people want the government not to do *more* but just to do *less wrong and get the few things they need to do right*?

#snide remark#
If you must insist on treating the whole world like kids, perhaps you should publish your own CRB check?
#/snide remark#