We've lifted this article by Leo McKinstry from the Daily Telegraph website because we think it's excellent, and because it echoes exactly what we have been saying in our own poor inarticulate way for months …
George Orwell's epic Nineteen Eighty-Four set out a chilling vision of Britain under totalitarian rule. But for New Labour, the novel seems to be regarded not so much as a warning as a blueprint for action.
The machinery of the state is taking on ever larger powers of intrusion into our lives, bullying, lecturing, taxing and watching. Driven by the ideologies of equality and environmentalism, civic bureaucrats see themselves as the masters of the people rather than servants, hence their enthusiasm for ID cards, racial monitoring and, now, the continual surveillance of motorists.
Local government is a central part of this process. Our town halls are filled with officials who have lost the concept of public service. Instead, they feel they have the right to demand more money from us, to threaten us about the way we dispose of our rubbish, to spy on our every car journey, and to hector us about the joys of multicultural diversity.
Municipal pen-pushers are fast becoming the shock troops of Big Brother Britain, as was graphically demonstrated by the news that councils may be given authority to tag cars and use the council tax revaluation exercise not only to take more of our cash, but also as a means of acquiring detailed information on every household.
In a dramatic extension of town hall extortion, residents could find themselves having to pay higher taxes because they live in a quiet neighbourhood, are close to local facilities or have made improvements to their properties. Inspectors could be given powers to demand entry into homes to take photographs and demand information from the owners.
During the council tax revaluation in Wales in 2005, people were warned that, if they did not fill in detailed questionnaires about their houses, they could face forcible entry from officials. In a typical piece of political deceit, the Welsh were promised that there would be no overall increase in taxation, but the revaluation led to huge rises, with four times as many homes moving up the tax bands as down.
Now the experiment is likely to be repeated across England.
Individuals are to be punished for wanting to enhance their home or enjoy a prosperous, tranquil neighbourhood. This is socialism with a vengeance, class envy masquerading as fiscal rebalancing. Local government is being turned into a mafia-style protection racket: pay more if you want a quiet life.
What is disturbing is the way that self-important bureaucrats may be allowed, supposedly for council tax purposes, to ask for data about our lifestyles as well as our properties. In fact, the programme for the municipal revaluation includes a section with no fewer than 287 different questions about personal lives, covering everything from holidays or political party membership.
Ministers will no doubt claim that the tax reassessment will concentrate purely on property values. But that will hardly be convincing, given Labour's sorry record. The 2001 Census was transformed from a straightforward headcount into a national farce by the obsession with ever more detailed questions, especially on ethnicity. Similarly, because of the institutional neurosis about "equality of access", students applying to university now have to provide details about their parents' economic and social status.
Nor has local government shown much respect for personal privacy or individual freedom. Bullying the public has become one of the central characteristics of the modern town hall and, like all forms of political oppression, it is usually carried out in the name of the public good.
So, brimming with self-righteous zeal over the nation's health, councils are recruiting thousands of anti-smoking officers to enforce the ban on smoking in public places, which comes into effect in July. Similarly, they are using bogus concern about the environment to enforce increasingly complex rules on recycling, abandoning traditional weekly collections and threatening heavy fines, even jail terms, against those who show insufficient adherence to the fashionable new green creed.
In one outrageous recent case, a 78-year-old wheelchair-bound multiple sclerosis sufferer was sent a letter by Burnley council after he made the understandable error of placing an empty orange carton in a container meant for cardboard, warning him that any further recycling misdemeanours would result in a £1,000 fine and a criminal record. (Sorry, the GOS simply has to butt in here. How did the council officials find out the man had made this dreadful and inexcusable mistake? They just happened to be passing by his bin, and just happened to notice? Pull the other one! They deliberately and with malice aforethought searched through his rubbish bin in the hope of catching him out. How many other bins do they target in this way? One of them might be yours. And this is how they spend our Council Tax - rummaging through people's dustbins out of spite.)
It is unlikely that the town hall inspectors will show much restraint over revaluation. Yet this exercise could be far less complex and controversial if local authorities were less grasping. The reason council tax is becoming ever more hated is because municipalities are so spendthrift. On average, tax bills have doubled in the past 10 years, though the public has seen little improvement in services.
Last week, the Audit Commission, the independent financial watchdog, reported that the majority of councils had raised their standards of management over the past year. They were, however, starting from a worryingly low base and a substantial number of councils have actually become weaker. In truth, the education system is a national scandal, failing to provide basic literacy and numeracy and only sustained by bloated subsidies and inflated exam results. The quality of elderly care, social services, and street cleaning hardly reflect the large sums they receive.
Too many authorities are self-perpetuating bureaucracies, squandering money on paper-shuffling hierarchies of top-heavy management and armies of overpaid, unnecessary officials. Just as an example, Lambeth Council, named by the Audit Commission as one of the worst-performing authorities, is recruiting a £79,000-a-year "Director of Campaigns and Communications", the aim of whose job is to "build a lasting dialogue with our citizens". It is unlikely that any Lambeth citizens would notice if the post were to remain unfilled. Waste is endemic in local government.
Productivity in the workforce is low, absenteeism high. And too much activity is geared towards social engineering rather than providing efficient services, as reflected in the disastrous drive to promote multiculturalism, which has done so much to tear apart the fabric of urban Britain.
If local authorities were properly managed and less bureaucratic, they would not have to make such excessive demands. The need for all the stealth taxes and bullying inspections would disappear. But that would entail a wholesale change in the culture of the state sector, for the contempt for the taxpayer only reflects a wider arrogance towards the public. It is up to all of us to sound a trumpet blast against the march of official tyranny. When the inspectors come knocking, we should show them the door. Unlike Winston Smith, we must never learn to love Big Brother.
The GOS says: Funnily enough, I am currently engaged in a battle with my local council over just such a piece of bullying. They sent me a leaflet warning me of the dangers of fly-tipping, how antisocial it is, how anyone who does it must be a fool, and what the penalties would be if I were caught.
Since I have never fly-tipped and never would, I took some offence at this unnecessary warning, and wrote to complain. I asked them how they'd like it if I sent a letter to their homes outlining the penalties for child abuse and warning them not to do it.
After some correspondence characterised by their total inability to understand how their leaflet could possibly cause offence, and some macho posturing along the lines of "It's our job to stamp out fly-tipping so we're jolly well going to do it whatever the cost and whatever you say!", I have now escalated the process to a Formal Complaint. If I don't get any satisfaction, I plan to publish the entire correspondence on this website.
Come on, all you Grumpy Old B*gg*rs! The only way to effectively fight these people is to use their own PC procedures against them. If we could muster enough complaints we could get their entire work-force so busy answering our letters that they wouldn't have time to keep threatening us …
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
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