Thursday, November 1, 2007

Malcolm's modest proposal

in which our hero solves the problems of devolution, the world and everything

  • Douglas Adams reckoned the best that could be said of Planet Earth (in the revised edition) was “mostly harmless”.
  • The Dilbert Principle is the observation that the most incompetent workers will be quickly promoted to the place they can do the least harm.
  • In Paul Eddington’s final interview, he proposed his own epitaph: he had done “little harm”.
There seems to be a pattern there. Could it be a template for government?


  • When the Social Workers in Tower Hamlets went on strike, the social problems recorded allegedly diminished.
  • When the medics in Israel went on strike, apparently fewer people were ill, and the death-rate improved.

All in all, it’s amazing what one can do without when one has to, and then feel better for it.

So (flash of light-bulb above head, rumble of drums) Malcolm proposes ...

The Belgium principle of harmless government

As Daniel Hannan is noting in today’s Daily Telegraph:

Belgium has now gone for 144 days without a government and you know what?… everything seems normal ...

Which prompts the thought: perhaps there should never be a Belgian government. Next week, Belgium will break its previous record for going unadministered, and no one – other than the armies of fonctionnaires who fret for their pensions – seems especially bothered.

If Belgium was a historical accident, then the “United Kingdom” was a geographical one, which has been soldered together by a banking system and by inheriting a (now defunct) empire.

Hannan again:

Belgium is failing because there are no real Belgians, just as there are no real Europeans. Rather, there are discrete peoples, with their own languages, television stations and political parties.

For “Belgium” read “United Kingdom”?

The ultimate devolution

They hold an election, and nobody comes.

And we're almost there already:

  • For local and Euro elections, we barely break sweat when we achieve less than 40% turn-outs: the system goes on regardless.
  • Malcolm guesses that few know the name of a single MEP, or the local Council leader.
  • The only time we get exercised is when the incompetence level transcends the incomprehension factor: the John Major effect, perhaps.

So, we should stay at home, yawn, and by default appoint the least active, least interventionist, least-competent-while-still-credible government in sight: a job for Boris and the LibDems, perhaps ...

You d'Hondt fool me

... or we go for the d'Hondt system we have imposed on Northern Ireland.

The result then is the only time anyone notices there is a government at all is those rarest of occasions when someone in it makes a decision, and the rest of the ministers are aghast at such impropriety.

Lewis Carroll would recognise the Caucus Race that is Northern Irish politics: everybody who is anybody has a job in the administration:

  • 108 MLAs represent an electorate of just 1.1M
  • A dozen Ministers have grandiloquent titles, and palatial offices (the catering is pretty good, too).
  • There is, of course, no such thing as an Opposition. This is the full beauty of an arrangement which would thereby delight a Hoxha, Ceaucesceau or Kim Jong Il,
  • Each department has to be scrutinised by a matching Committee, which needs a Chair and Vice-Chair.
  • There are half-a-dozen Standing Committees (also each needing a Chair and Vice-Chair).
  • Anybody of any stature, and few more besides, needs a bag-carrier, which soaks up any remaining unemployed MLAs.
It's a flock-wallpapered, leather-armchaired, 4* dining, internment camp for undesirables.

Law is for the lawyers ...

Medicine is for the doctors. Education is for the teachers. And government is for the politicians. All of whom need a small army of drones, acolytes, ancilliaries and support workers. It's all a matter of keeping people busy, doing as little harm as possible.

While the rest of us just get on with our lives, no fuss, hoping to be left alone, with just an occasional timid glance over our shoulders lest we be the target of the next "initiative".


That, then, is Malcolm proposing:

... the non-campaign for non-government government.

With a one-word small amendment, we anapoliticians (we're too inert to be anarchists) can borrow from Tennyson for our non-campaign song:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The state is dying in the night;

Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,

For those that here we see no more;

Ring out the feud of rich and poor,

Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,

The civic slander and the spite;

Ring in the love of truth and right,

Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,

And ancient forms of party strife,

Ring in the nobler modes of life,

With sweet manners, purer laws ...

or we could simply declare ourselves a non-territorial part of Belgium.

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