The other day I was browsing the online edition of the Sunday Times and came across a brief quote from Jeremy Clarkson :
“I mean, if you really want to serve the nation, you could stop whining about the council gritters and shovel some snow off a school playground yourself.”
This set me thinking back to when I was a child. Yes, we had bad winters back then and one of the things I remember clearly is being equipped with a shovel and sent out to clear our garden path of snow, then clear the stretch of the causeway from our gate to the next door neighbour’s fence post. I think that part of it was probably a maternal exercise in keeping me busy, but it seemed to be an activity that was done by a number of householders and shop keepers in the town where I lived.
As I got older, it seemed to happen less, and then somewhere along the way I heard that one of the reasons why people no longer did this was that by clearing the causeway you laid yourself open to being sued if someone slipped on your clear patch. Leaving the causeway to the tender ministrations of the local council didn’t leave you open to this risk. Whether this is true or not I have no idea, but it seems to be widely believed.
Moving on a few years, one day I was walking past the gates of the local maternity hospital when I noticed a chap, rather worse for wear, sitting bleeding in the church-yard next door. I poked my head in to the hospital lobby and mentioned it, expecting a nurse to perhaps pop out to take a look. Instead, I was told that I would have to call 999 and a nurse couldn’t be made available because ‘it wasn’t their job and they might have problems if someone sued’.
Have you noticed an emergent pattern here? Don’t do anything that might be helpful to people in your community – what you might call exercising community responsibility and your part of what was once called the ‘social contract’ – because you may get sued. There’s also the call to ‘Elf and Safety’ – that’s the thing that’s been used in the past to prevent the collection of extra bags of rubbish from the roadside – it’s against health and safety regulations for the bin men to lift the bags. People wishing to volunteer for charity work may have to have a Criminal records Bureau check because of the small risk that they may be a child molester. Again – something of a breakdown between local government and citizen and community.
Which brings me to my point – are Health and Safety and the generally risk averse culture we seem to have generated over the last 15 years or so – unsurprising mostly the ‘Big Nanny’ years of New labour – leading to a breakdown in community greater than anything managed by Thatcher in her years in charge? The general expectation in society has become ‘someone will deal with it’ – usually the Government, Local Council, ‘them’. This may work well when ‘they’ are actually delivering the goods, but today this is becoming less and less common. More often than not central and local government. along with big business, the banks, etc. are failing to deliver whilst at the same time legislating to prevent us from helping ourselves.
Folks – you centralists can’t have it all ways. If you wish to control all aspects of our society then deliver the goods. If you can’t deliver, then stop playing ‘dog in the manger’ and allow us to start helping ourselves.
Because we will help ourselves, soon. With or without your agreement.