Friday, April 17, 2009

House Points: A review of The Rotten State of Britain

With Parliament in recess there was time for a review of Eamonn Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain.

You may also be interested in Austin Mitchell's reaction after reading it:
“Suicide may be the only answer. Though I will bet the bloody Labour Party has prohibited that on health and safety grounds, and that they won't be able to cremate the body because crematoria aren't allowed to smoke any more.”

The Rotten State of Britain
Eamonn Butler
Gibson Square, 2009, £11.99

Eamonn Butler, the director of the Adam Smith Institute, was in Church House, Westminster, doing an interview for a Canadian TV station to promote this book. When he had finished he went outside with the camera crew to do some shots of him walking down the street.

After a couple of minutes a police car screeched to a halt, and two armoured officers got out to ask what they were doing.

Butler says it must have looked pretty obvious. The cameraman had a huge camera on a tripod and the interviewer was carrying a microphone like a shaggy dog.

But the police officer explained that, since they were on at least four different security cameras, he had to go through the procedure. Butler and the crew were obliged to provide identification and fill in forms. Name, address, date of birth, height...

All of which goes to prove the point Butler makes in this book. The Rotten State of Britain is a bit of a cuttings job, and its many claims are not referenced, but Butler succeeds in painting a clear and damning picture of the centralisation and loss of liberty we have suffered under 12 years of Labour government.

Among the facts unearthed in the book are that Britain has a quarter of the world’s CCTV cameras. And that in the year 2006/7 half of the 722,464 DNA samples collected by police came from children. One came from a seven-month-old girl.

Eamonn Butler combines this concern for liberty with a desire to make deep cuts in public spending. In doing so, he is a little unfair to Labour. True, the improvements gained from increased spending on education and health are disappointing, given the scale of that extra spending. But surely there has been some improvement?

But there is a challenge here for Liberal Democrats. We tend to be keen on the good things a strong state brings – like socialised health and education – and against the bad things, like surveillance and identity cards.

Being against nasty things and favour of nice ones is a natural instinct, but does not constitute a coherent political philosophy. We need to do some more thinking.


lifeonmars said...

Coherent political philosophies lead to totalitarianism, or the mad house. Muddling through is the Liberal way. What's wrong with being pro NHS and anti authoritarianism?

A Very Public Sociologist said...

Is this book just pure partisanship? I haven't read it, but I have read a few reviews of it and none of them have mentioned if Butler lays into the Tories who began the royal road to the surveillance state before New Labour was a gleam in Tony Blair's eye. If Tories want to grandstand on civil liberties they ought to show some awareness of their less than spotless record.

dreamingspire said...

If ID cards were linked to a public key infrastructure (PKI) so that they could carry digital certificates to usefully help us to be secure on-line, and if they were to also be usable as travel documents across the EU (instead of having to carry a passport) - which is the way many other EU countries are looking to do it, some even have started to go there - and if (given our Common Law constitution) they were to be totally voluntary - then increasingly we would be taking them up. So why don't we have a positive, liberal, and Liberal, proposal being put forward? Because all that we have is Yah Boo politics, and LD MPs are frightened to stand up and be counted on real policies.

Jonathan Calder said...

AVPS: He is very partisan for the Adam Smith Institute line of limited government, rather than for the Conservative Party.

The book does just deal with Labour's record, but after 12 years of Labour government that is not so unreasonable.