Tuesday 20 March 2007

Full of bright ideas

I’ve always been a bit slow on the uptake. So I had a real “Aha!” moment last week when I belatedly appreciated the genius of the property mogul who changed the name of Swan House to 55 Degrees North. Because it is now clear that Sir Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison are destined for that deep and dark pit of public contempt hitherto reserved for the likes of Benson & Hedges. Their incandescent light bulb, once considered a boon to humanity and the very epitome of a bright idea, is now exposed as the greatest threat to our survival since the Black Death.

The reaction, naturally enough, is to ban them. What else would you expect, in a society that increasingly resembles a care home run by demented control freaks? Never mind that the fluorescent bulbs which will replace them take more energy to produce, contain hazardous mercury, and can’t be used in historic fittings, as security lights or with dimmer switches. Overlook the fact that they present a potential safety hazard if used with machinery or in domestic locations like staircases, because of the way they flicker and the time they take to reach full brightness. What does it matter that some people find them impossible to read by? They shouldn’t be reading anyway. They might get ideas.

As it happens, I have no personal problem with low energy bulbs. I’ve been using them for over 20 years, ever since I moved into a cottage with no mains electricity, and erected a wind turbine in the garden. You can’t fault my Green credentials. The point is: that was my free choice.

We don’t need yet more things being banned “in our own interests”. Most of us aren’t infants or idiots. The great light bulb ban is a prime example of gesture politics, designed to make us feel that we’re in a major crisis and that drastic action and sacrifices are required. It was chiefly interesting for being put forward by Gordon Brown as his counter to the Tories’ apparently barmy plan for clamping down on cheap air travel, and presented as though it was his own initiative. In fact, like most lousy ideas emanating from the Government, from Home Information Packs to the destruction of our post office network, it is merely slavishly conforming with yet another EU directive.

With 80 per cent of our laws now emanating from Brussels, the British Government’s capacity to make our lives a misery off its own bat is strictly limited. (Though when it is given its head, as with deciding precisely how to distribute farm subsidies, or organising the London Olympics, its ability to screw up is undoubtedly impressive.)

Opposition parties, on the other hand, can come up with genuine “blue skies thinking”, secure in the knowledge that the EU will never allow them to put their ideas into practice if they are elected. Young George Osborne’s brilliant idea to ration us to one short-haul flight a year, although much derided, is actually inspired. Have you ever seen it specified that he means one return flight? Exactly. It’s clearly a Machiavellian scheme to export our repulsive underclass to sun, sea, sex and lager (but mainly lager) resorts abroad, from which they will never be able to afford to return. Thus Britain will be made safe once again for Old Etonian Cabinet Ministers and horsy girls in pearls. It gets my vote, I can tell you.

The depressing thing for me, as a Cavalier, is that we all seem to be Roundheads now. The new Puritanism of cutting down on eating, drinking, smoking, driving, flying and even lighting seems to be embraced by all, with politicians vying to outdo each other on the fasting and scourging front. Who will speak up for the fat boys of Old England, and launch a crusade for comfy chairs, cosy firesides, loving hearts, good jokes, cakes and ale?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

No comments: