Put aside ideology for a moment

Leave alone the right versus left thing. The bankers\’ friends and those fighting for the dignity and rights of the working man. Equality, justice and fairness.

Then look at what has actually happened to this country over the last few years:

Take the Licensing Act 2003. Apart from opening the way to 24-hour drinking, it also brought in a new regime for licensing entertainment. For the first time, circus owners had to apply for a licence – and to do so at every venue they visited. It cost them money, which was a problem for circuses operating at the margins of profitability. It took ages to fill in the forms – one for each of up to dozens of local authorities that might be visited in a season – and, if anything went wrong, such as flooding, it could take 10 days for a new licence to come through.

They found themselves subject to the complexities of live musical entertainment licensing. If music is \”incidental\” (though the Act, rather unhelpfully, does not provide any definition for incidental music), it does not need to be licensed; if it is integral, it does. Is the music for a circus act incidental or integral? Why on earth should it matter? But in mad, rule-obsessed modern Britain, it does.

So, when Zippo\’s Circus pitched up in Birmingham in 2008, the council\’s licensing department insisted on alterations to the clown act. Three Spanish clowns, Nicol, Michael and Pappa, who would normally have introduced themselves with a blast of trumpets, were refused permission to do so. Also cut was the moment when Nicol sounds three notes on a tuba, which then explodes, the bell landing on another clown\’s head while Nicol blows a puff of smoke from his rear. The licensing officer insisted that, if the clowns sounded their trumpets or blew the exploding horn, it would be a live music performance and the big top would require a licence.

Martin Burton, proprietor of Zippo\’s Circus, who has battled with the bureaucrats for years over this law, was able to retain the deadpan humour of a professional clown: \”I\’m a big fan of silent comedy, but this is ludicrous,\” he said.

Now to be honest with you, however much I shout about things like taxes and the economy, I really don\’t regard them as all that important. If someone imposed 80% income taxes then they would, over time, realise that they were getting less money coming in than if they were lower and yes, it might take decades, but they would come down again. If true economic incompetents took power growth might stop….the economy might even shrink year by year for decades. But the UK would still be, by any international or historical standards, be an extremely rich country and the inhabitants of it would, even if not being as high on the hog as possible, still be living high on said hog.

What I do regard as vastly more important than this is the basic deal that we British made over the centuries. Yes, of course, there must be laws, there must be government, there must be taxes to pay for it all. But in terms of daily life, the liberties and freedoms to follow that path from cradle to grave in our own sweet manner, we\’d pretty much be left alone.

Sure, we might be asked to cough up the taxes to pay for some socialist wet dream like nationalising the commanding heights of the economy. But we didn\’t have, unlike many other countries, the man with the clipboard looming over the minutiae of the everyday. Few and simple rules, rules that were largely agreed were reasonable, the rest of it left to consenting adults to muddle through with.

The government of recent years has changed all of that. Not, you\’ll understand, for the better in my opinion. And I don\’t see any of the likely combinations of parties elected on May 6 th changing that.

No, this isn\’t a call to go vote UKIP…although that would help of course….rather, why is it that no major party is even thinking about appealing for what I\’m sure is the majroity vote in the country: the anti-clipboard vote?

6 comments on “Put aside ideology for a moment

  1. Good post, Tim.

    Don’t know the answer. Last week’s ‘Sunday Times’ indicated something like 4,300 new crimes have been created since 1997. If the Tories were serious about winning the elction, they would be proposing to restore our rather battered civil liberties to their 1997 position. But they’re not doing that, It’s all ‘economy, economy, economy’. To my mind, that indicates their agreement with these restrictions.

    My own view, which I’ve expressed before, is that the whole ‘globalisation’ thing, whatever that might be, requires that civil liberties be cutailed – in order for markets to be free as free markets are understood by those responsible for framing and implemeting the policy, the people must be incapable of disrupting them.

  2. But is it just this government?

    One could look to the past and Donald McGill being prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act for his postcards. Until relatively recently, you couldn’t buy a model aeroplane on a Sunday (but you could buy a wing). Or have a drink at 3 in the afternoon. The Major government introduced some laws against raving and assembly. Thatcher brought in the awful Public Order Act and the Video Recordings Act.

    I don’t think it’s a new thing. I think that governments in the past had plenty of bansturbating tendencies too.

  3. What Tim A said.

    Also picking the Licensing Act 2003 as an example of a bad law is simply weird – it’s one of the current lot’s few good laws. It took the utterly insane patchwork of strange old laws that venue proprietors in England and Wales had to deal with, and replaced them with a single, coherent and transparent regime.

    (whenever cases of “bureaucrats banned pub X / circus Y from having a folk night / clown music arise, it’s because the proprietor *applied for the wrong bloody license in the first place*. If you’re starting a new pub, it doesn’t cost any more to license it for booze and entertainment than for booze alone. If you’re starting a new circus, the same applied. The only thing which costs money is *changing* the license, which people who didn’t get it wrong in the first place don’t need to do…)

    It also seems somewhere between weird and actually psychopathic to lament the fact that causing actual bodily harm to a child is no longer considered acceptable.

    The Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 are some of the worst laws ever passed by any government – presumably the reason Johnston has to lie about the Licensing Act 2003 rather than dwell on them is that they were originally drafted by John Major’s government (the Blair government’s only change, which made things slightly worse, was to remove the exception for rimfire .22s).

  4. “…why is it that no major party is even thinking about appealing for what I’m sure is the majroity vote in the country: the anti-clipboard vote?”

    Because they all think they will be the ones writing the rules, and they assume they will only write perfectly good and sensible rules!

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