Sunday Column: Time to reset government to factory defaults.

With the removal of Dominic Cummings, there is a lot of talk of Johnson's government resetting but its time for the government to return to its basic functions of protecting life and liberty.


By Derek W Gardiner

The Historian A.J.P Taylor said that prior to the outbreak of the First World War a citizen of Great Britain "could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman.” But since then there has been a massive growth in the size of the state, yes, there are more entitlements but also with it comes bureaucracy and limitations in what you can and cannot do with your own land by legislation such as the Town and County Planning Acts, barriers to entry to certain jobs and professions, expensive licensing procedures and high taxes to pay for it all.


Take the analogy of the mobile phone, when you get it, it is empty of large files and applications, it performs basic functions like making phone calls and texts and gives you some access to the internet. Over time a desire to do more with the phone means you will download apps to perform additional functions which will, in turn, clog up storage until you reach full storage and your phone becomes faulty then you have to begin freeing up space, the same is true of government when it grows too large, it becomes ineffective, making rules that cannot be enforced like the rule of six or bans on indoor gatherings and people begin to resent all the bureaucratic procedures they have to go through to set up a business or drive a car and it becomes time to reduce the size of government.


The basic functions of government, which existed before the first world war, were the protection of the lives, through prevention of crime, liberties, through the common law and property of the citizen. However, crises such as wars, pandemics and terrorist threats often create a public demand for more government action. After the second world war, there was a need to rebuild the country which was led by the state and cemented in the nation's consciousness, after the 9/11 attacks measures were introduced such as airport screenings and electronic surveillance and most recently the latest coronavirus lockdown measures, compulsory face coverings and now there are calls for social media to be penalised for posting content deemed "anti vaxx". There is a narrow window of opportunity to ensure these measures remain temporary, if not, as Lord Sumption pointed out, panic measures have a habit of becoming permanent, nearly 20 years after 9/11 and we still have to take our shoes off at airport security, it's worrying to see people compare face coverings to seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, even though there is little evidence of their effectiveness and they failed to prevent a second wave of coronavirus, which suggests to me they could become a permanent feature unless the people demand they be thrown out.


Now that Dominic Cummings, an advocate of a smaller and more effective state has been ceremoniously thrown out of no.10 on live television, there is a danger that the government will go back to a "business as usual" approach like it did under Theresa May, no attempts will be made to reduce the size of the state because it benefits the Tory party to keep things as is.


The opinion polls that show mass public support for authoritarian measures should be discarded. The public at large want the freedom to get on with their own lives and Cummings understood this which is why the message of "take back control" won the leave side the Brexit referendum and an 80 seat majority for a Conservative party that pitched itself as libertarian under Johnson (of course that all changed on the 23rd of March with the imposition of lockdown), Margaret Thatcher won three elections on the promise to reduce the size of the state, while "centrist" Conservatives could at best pull off a paper-thin majority.


It will be a long a difficult road back to a minimalist state but I believe the more state power goes into overload the more the public will want to return the state to factory defaults.


We need real leadership to win an independence referendum.



BBC

I have been disappointed so far in the performance of Douglas Ross as Scottish Conservative leader, his predecessor Jackson Carlaw failed to stand up to the SNP in any meaningful way over lockdown restrictions and Ross has fallen into the same trap. Actively siding with the SNP on furlough and giving them a green light to initiate lockdown any time they like and saying Nicola Sturgeon is a better communicator than Johnson.


Meanwhile, the SNP are not being held to account for their failures. For the millions of pounds they have not spent to help businesses in need, they should be asked why they did not take money offered by the UK government to help Scottish universities, they are hardly the fiscally conservative type. They need to be held to account the deaths in Scottish care homes (which is one of the worst in Europe), the levels of poverty and deprivation in places such as the east end of Glasgow and Dundee (which Andrew Neil compared to subsaharan Africa) and properly challenged on their authoritarian Hate Crime Bill.


Now the SNP government are now calling for a new independence referendum next year which if it went ahead they would most likely win, not because they have a better argument but because there is a serious lack of leadership on the unionist side. Someone like Gordon Brown needs to return to frontline politics to make a good case for saving the union; that it would be a partition of the island of Great Britain with one part inside the EU and the other part outside the EU, creating the potential for a hard border, that during a recession and global pandemic the level of disruption caused by independence would be catastrophic. Not to mention the lack of currency and trading arrangements an independent Scotland would have.


If opposition politicians continue to follow the SNP narrative that Scotland hates Brexit and wants independence to make up for it then they will lose.