The passing of Ye Olde Englande

This story can be read a couple of different ways:

They are the traditional pleasures of a British summer fair. But the spin of the tombola and the fun of the coconut shy are being eclipsed by the rustle of paperwork and the shuffle of the inspector\’s footsteps.

Village fete organisers say they are having to cancel events because volunteers are struggling to cope with the demands of officialdom.

It\’s the bureaucracy run mad, insisting upon pages and pages of forms for the simplest things:

This newspaper approached public bodies to ask what licences and other permissions would be needed for a hypothetical fete on a village green, which was expected to attract 750 people and which would feature standard attractions including a coconut shy, fancy dress parade, bouncy castle, home-made cakes and bands playing music.

One council press officer, asked to explain what was required, said: \”To give you all the information you need would take absolutely ages.

\”Unless you issue a formal Freedom of Information request, we won\’t be able to give all of it, because it really is that much information.\”

Or it\’s the insurance companies:

Many of the requirements arise because councils insist on public liability insurance and insurance companies, in turn, insist on health and safety guidelines being adhered to.

But we might think that the insurance companies are simply being used as enforcers for those reams of paperwork.

But there is something quintessentially English being lost here. And no, this isn\’t just rose tinted spectacles looking back at an England that never was. There really was a revolution here in the 1660-1690 period, something far more important than the events of the 1640s or 1688. Influenced by them, of course, but what it amounted to was that you no longer needed permission to do things.

You could set up a club, an organisation (unless, as is well known, you were a trade union) to do anything you wanted to and you didn\’t have to ask permission, inform anyone, get a licence, beg allowance. You just did it. It\’s this that led to the explosion in civil society. Sports clubs, coffee houses turning into insurance exchanges, book clubs, the Royal Society (they did get approval but they didn\’t have to have it) and so on.

It really was something very different from what happened in any other country at that time: heck, it was past WWII before you could set up an organisation of more than 25 Frenchmen without permission from Paris.

Burke\’s little platoons came directly from this freedom and it is precisely this freedom, this liberty, to get together with whoever you wish and do as you want, that we now call the freedom of association. And it\’s a freedom as vital to the maintenance of a free society as is the freedom of speech, about which we expend a great deal more ink and electrons.

In one sense it doesn\’t matter whether it\’s the bureaucracy or the insurance demands which is throttling it, something is and we need to stop that encroachement on our liberty to meet, gather and do as we damn well please without permission or approval.

In another, of course it matters which for without identifying the problem correctly we\’ll not find the solution.

Me, I say it\’s the bureaucracy, the insurance companies merely being the enforcers. So let\’s kill all the bureaucrats so that we can see another flowering of civil society, just as we led the world the first time around, when we were the first nation to actually have the freedom to have such a civil society.

7 thoughts on “The passing of Ye Olde Englande”

  1. Bureaucrats are just doing the best job they can get in order to earn money- and from my experience they take no more joy of it for the most part than the above mentioned press officer.
    I would suggest that the insurance companies just might have lobbied a teensy bit to make insurance compulsory- and might even have suggested extra requirements to make everyone super safe- and improve their chances of avoiding a payout.
    And of course local politicians want to be seen to be safeguarding the local community- so they want all this in place- after all when something goes wrong the papers will be screaming it’s their fault. Its a rare politician who says that nothing could have been done to prevent such and such tragedy- which is mostly the case.
    What is needed is that every time there is a disaster, however caused, a flood of letters go to papers pointing out forcibly that no government action could have stopped this and could they please stop wasting everyone’s time and money pretending to.

  2. Has anyone information on how other countries approach these activities?

    The small french village (pop400-500 including surrounding farms) where I’ve spent the last year hosts a summer & a winter fair both of which involve blocking the road through with dodgems & roundabouts plus a couple of smaller events. Other villages in the area are much the same & the small market town seems to have something on every other week.
    A quick phone call, filtered through my lousy french, seems to indicate that events are initiated at commune level & then the responsibility for all this crap is bucked upwards through the admin levels through to department. It’s regarded as a service, which is what local taxes are paid for.
    OK, France can be a bureaucracy ridden nightmare but our maire is someone I say bonjour to every day & she does have real power. If you want something to happen, you start with her & can get a result within a couple of days.

    Peripherally, a big sport in Flanders is archery.* Except they do it vertically, firing at targets on the top of a 90′ tower. Most fine evenings in villages throughout the region, the local youth can be found practising with blunted arrows flying hundreds of feet into the air & several tons of steel tower being winched up & down to replace targets. Totally unsupervised. I imagine a UK safety elf would give birth to a perfectly formed kitten just thinking about it.

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popinjay_(sport)

  3. This is partly our own fault, as ordinary members of the public. We have become litigious, and we reject our own responsibility for our own thrills and spills because of the temptation to sue someone else if things go wrong. It is time we were made to resume our own responsibility, as individuals, parents and guardians. Especially when we are dealing with not-for-profit associations, which should not be obliged to provide insurance, security guards, or any associated pallaver unless they are charging an entrance fee.

    The other side of the coin is that the presence of liability insurance cover is not an indicator of safety anyway, and we shouldn’t blindly waltz in without making our own common-sense assessment of how well things are being run. If the people caught up in the Bradford Football stadium fire had only looked around, they should have noticed that they were sitting on a timber staging with an accumulation of fine kindling underneath them.

    We have a responsibility to think. And if we shirk our responsibilities, we have to accept all the restrictions that nanny applies to our lives.

  4. Monty is right and we should blame Thatcher, yes really, for it was her Government that introduced “no win, no fee” litigation. This allowed lawyers to set unreasonably high expectations and the greedy to think that there was such a thing as a free lunch.

    It doesn’t matter that most of the frivolous claims are thrown out, every time we get a headline of someone suing because the damaged an ingrowing toe nail walking along the pavement it encourges yet more claims.

  5. This afternoon I wen’t to our local Gala, (very well run, excellent turnout, everyone having a good time), and the organisers had to be insured. Despite this the event was free, you only had to pay for what you bought at the stalls. It was run to support the RNLI. (The same people who leap into a rescue boat and save your kid’s life after you let him play on a bloody sandbank. But it could have been the hospital League of Friends, or the Legion.)

    On the way there, I had called in at the supermarket. Again it was busy, lots of families. Kids playing outside. Youngest nipper I saw was pre-school I would say. They were playing on the safety railings that seperate the pavement from a busy main road. Their parents weren’t even line of sight. An old bloke said “I’d tell the little buggers to get off the railings and stay on the pavement, but I’d probably get arrested for interfering with children.”

    We are too ignorant about risk, and too reliant on “them”, whoever they are. This makes our society more dangerous, not less.

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