Wednesday 16 July 2014

A question of priorities

Nearly two months ago I bought a house and advised the local authority and utilities accordingly.

My electricity supplier continues to insist that my property does not exist because their infallible and therefore immutable database has it listed under a different postcode.

Sarcastic enquiries as to whether the Land Registry, council, Royal Mail and everyone else can all be wrong and they alone right have so far produced the unexpected answer “Yes, they can”.

Meanwhile, feeling that the local authority was dragging its feet in the matter of a council tax bill, I put in a call to be greeted by a recorded message telling me that they currently have a 10 week backlog of enquiries to clear, and are unable to help with anything put to them since early April. 

You might say “fair enough” and blame the evil Tory cuts, but for the fact that this same (Conservative) local authority has found the resources to write to me and every other resident in my area four times so far this year, on the vital issue of whether there should be a change in the parish boundaries.

They have also paid several visits to the house we currently rent to put new and improved signs on the public right of way that runs through our garden. A public footpath that no member of the public has shown any interest in using for the last five years.

An odd sense of priorities also seems to afflict those at the political centre. These are the people who apparently cannot be trusted to keep hold of potentially explosive dossiers on historic child abuse by those in high places, or on British complicity in America’s programme of “extraordinary rendition”.

Yet at exactly the same time, and apparently without any sense of irony, they rush through emergency legislation because of the vital importance of keeping a full record of every mundane phone call we make, text and email we send, and website we visit.

No political party is prepared to take a stand against this wholly illiberal legislation. Not even the ones who proclaim their liberalism in their name.

Our politicians are apparently so busy that they cannot even undertake the rudimentary checks that would have revealed that their first choice to lead the child abuse enquiry was wildly inappropriate because her late brother was Attorney-General in the 1980s.

Yet all three major party leaders have find time to endorse a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women, which has found that Westminster’s art collection is “off putting” for women because it is too dominated by white males.

Not altogether surprising, you might think, in a centuries-old institution to which no woman could gain admission, unless she happened to be the queen, until less than a century ago.

But why let the inconvenient facts get in the way of a no doubt well-intentioned attempt to rewrite history, whether to redress ancient wrongs to the sisterhood or to pretend that recognisable ethnic minorities have featured prominently in our island’s story for centuries, and that Britain has really been gloriously multi-cultural since the time of the Romans?

Personally, I’d prefer my council to stop faffing around with meaningless boundaries and fill the potholes in the roads.

I’d like our MPs to be defending our national independence and protecting our freedom for unnecessary surveillance, rather than fretting about paintings and meekly rubber-stamping the executive’s every whim.

Photoshopped, obviously, but not so far from the truth

“If you’ve nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” is the lousiest and most totalitarian of arguments, but it seems that precious few are prepared to defend our freedom and privacy when doing so can be presented as being soft on terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals.

There are always going to be those who wish us dead. Doubtless the maniacal fans of the caliphate are more driven and less likely to bother with such niceties as warnings than previous terrorist enemies of the British state.

Nonetheless, we would do well to remember exactly what it is we are supposedly trying to defend, and reflect on the wise words of Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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