S. J. Perelman put it like this: ‘I guess I’m just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.’ I know the feeling. I reckon that’s how most people feel. Give us a car that starts, a job to go to, a home with broadband, and we aren’t too troubled. It makes you feel sorry for the politicians who’ve been trying so hard to win hearts these past three weeks, especially as no one in these parts seems bothered about the goings on in Bournemouth, Brighton or Manchester.
Which is not to say that it’s all quiet on the rural front. For one thing, news that the recession is over hasn’t reached the countryside. I have an experienced and intelligent financial advisor on my payroll who was made redundant three months ago. Roger is now organising the shop warehouse, bringing order to our chaos and systems to our anarchy. Go into the cafe for eggs Benedict, and the waitress who takes your order has a 2.1 from Sheffield in maths. Sadie began her career here when she was doing her AS levels, and returned to work for holidays and summers. Efficient, methodical and fun, she’d like a job that requires a degree and pays accordingly.
Once upon a time, country folk hid their politics under a bushel. Not any more. Men dressed in Old Town cords pause in the farmer’s market to complain about the grim economic future that we’ve strapped to the backs of our children. At CLA meetings, retired army officers in Huntsman tweeds talk about the folly of going into a desert war in Iraq with Snatch Land Rovers designed for Northern Ireland, of fighting a war in Afghanistan that we can neither afford nor win. At the village post office, pensioners gaze at the table of newspapers and ask how we’ve allowed a generation of children to grow up half civilised, half human. The feeling is that a change of lawmakers is needed but laws alone won’t save us.
What will save us? Less. Less of everything. Fewer laws. And fewer MPs. I still have hopes that the Tories have genuinely embraced the idea of 10% fewer MPs, a modest proposal that shouldn’t be left by the electoral roadside. I’ve now latched on to an even better idea, proposed by Charles Moore in the (other) Spectator. The Australian parliament sits for only 18 weeks of the year. Proof that ‘less government is better’ can be seen in the way that country has weathered the economic storm that Gordon Brown claims has us all in the same boat. Australia’s four major banks still have double-A credit ratings and haven’t had a penny of taxpayer support.
Mr Moore goes further. Instead of denying MPs the right to have a second job, he suggests that second jobs should be compulsory. Then, we’d have lawmakers who are doctors, lawyers, farmers, journalists, teachers and waiters. People who live in the real world. Right away, we’d have fewer and better laws.
I suspect that MPs who had to work for a living would feel less inclined to force-feed the unelected bureaucracy that now guzzles £40 billion a year of taxpayers’ money. My friend Anna wants to start by abolishing health and safety. ‘Let people have accidents,’ she says. ‘Otherwise, they don’t learn common sense.’ The very idea fertilises our collective sanity.
While I’ve been chewing over these thoughts, our national debt has doubled. The interest payments on that debt will cost more than the education of our children or the defence of the realm. I’m a fan of Mr Perelman, but I think we need to get rid of the folks who’ve been writing the nation’s laws. It’s a heck of a note that we can’t actually afford a couple of atom smashers, that health and safety wouldn’t allow a diaphanous veil in a laboratory.