My long crusade for common sense
By Christopher Booker
To mark The Sunday Telegraph’s 50th anniversary, Christopher Booker, its longest-serving columnist, looks back on 21 years of campaigning against a broken system.
I was pleased to see the television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall winning more than 600,000 signatures for a petition protesting at the ecological catastrophe that each year forces fishermen to throw millions of fish, already dead, back into the sea.
But I cannot help noting that I first began reporting on how this obscene scandal is made inevitable by the absurd bureaucratic rules of the EU back in the early Nineties.
Then there was the time, in 1996, that the government’s chief scientific adviser on BSE triggered a scare that would cost Britain £7 billion, by predicting that 500,000 people would soon be dead. A year later, this column – which had been sceptical of this scare from the start – was alone in noting that the same official had now revised his predicted death toll down to 100.
More recently, I have written much about global warming. This is the greatest scare of them all, not least because it has led our politicians to threaten us with by far the biggest bill in history. Through my researches for this column I found the story to be so bizarre that I wrote a book about it, The Real Global Warming Disaster.
My reporting has ranged over countless other scandals in the past two decades, from the rise of the health and safety culture to the disastrous mishandling of the foot-and-mouth crisis, from the wind farm scam to the asbestos scare, from the ever-expanding powers of the EU to the destruction of our Armed Forces.
But in a sense, these were all just different aspects of a single story – an extraordinary revolution which has taken place in how Britain is governed. The way our country is now run is almost unrecognisably different from what it was, as I first began to realise in 1992, after asking our readers to let me know how they were affected by a deluge of new directives then emerging from the EU.
A flood of replies, from people running every kind of small business, all reported the same thing: their lives were being made a nightmare by an explosion of dotty new rules and regulations, enforced with puritanical zeal by a new army of petty officials.
Many of these regulations claimed to be promoting seemingly worthy causes to which no one could object – healthy and safety, better hygiene, protection of the environment, caring for young and old. But there was a strange, pettifogging unreality about all this new legislation, which seemed to have little to do with the problems it was purporting to solve, only with increasing the powers of officialdom. Not all the new laws originated in Brussels, but as I pointed out, even those that did were often being made far more exacting by our own civil servants.
What also became apparent was a remarkable shift taking place in how most of our laws were made. No longer were they being debated and voted for in Parliament; instead they were being issued by officials as statutory instruments, administrative diktats. Our MPs, it emerged, had been handing over their law-making power to officials, through “enabling acts” – a process which began with the European Communities Act in 1972, designed to put the growing mass of EU legislation into UK law, but now being routinely extended.
All this amounted to a mutation in the nature of our governance. And the consequence is that we are now ruled by a vast maze of bureaucratic structures, not answerable to Parliament, operating at every level, from Brussels down to the town halls and a plethora of executive agencies. The power of elected politicians at all levels of government has been immeasurably diminished – which is one reason why they are now held in such contempt by the public.
The dead hand of this system now stretches into almost every area of life, not just sapping businesses but exercising its grip over the NHS, the education system, the police and much more besides. And the most striking thing about this new presence in our lives is how it lives by its own peculiar values, talking only in its own stultifying jargon, unable to relate to the real world. Common sense, like democratic accountability, has gone out of the window.
The system damages all it touches, which is why it lands us with one disaster after another, from the pointless destruction of billions of fish to the shambles it has made of our rubbish collection; from the skewing of our energy policy in favour of useless windmills to the way our family courts have turned every principle of justice on its head to allow politically correct social workers to seize children from loving parents.
The system’s one success has been to seal itself off from the rest of us, so there is virtually nothing we can do about it, other than pour in ever more money through our taxes to keep it in being.