Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Placebo politics

With the emergency budget safely pencilled in for after the election, there's clearly no need for the Tories to discuss economic policy any more. Moving down the list of key priorities, the next giant to slay is, naturally enough, Health and Safety legislation. Cameron's speech comes as a timely reminder of how tired we all are of a government that's obsessed with cheap, populist initiatives rather than addressing the big issues facing Britain today.

And they don't come much bigger than this: bureaucracy is killing the village fete. I'm going to repeat that so the full horror can sink in: bureaucracy is killing the village fete. Or in other words, the people in charge of organising village fetes are such gullible, lazy, pigshit-thick inbreds that not only do they believe they'll have to fill in reams of forms to get a tombola permit, but they are so scared by the prospect of reading, understanding and completing said mythical forms that, like the selfish bastards they are, they'd rather see the whole village go without the much-anticipated, long-remembered once-a-year thrill of winning a bottle of Tizer at a coconut shy than crease their illiterate brows in thought, or sweat over a row of tick-boxes.

It hasn't occured to them that the popular conception of Health & Safety as bureacracy's war on common sense is outrage porn peddled by right-wing tabloids who are still institutionally aghast at the Factory Act. It might have occured to Cameron, but if it has he's doing his best to hide it. For example, if you're going to kick off your speech with dramatic anecdotes about kids being forced to wear goggles to play conkers, you could have the decency to point out that this nonsense has been debunked by the HSE:

This is one of the oldest chestnuts around, a truly classic myth. A well-meaning head teacher decided children should wear safety goggles to play conkers. Subsequently some schools appear to have banned conkers on ‘health & safety’ grounds or made children wear goggles, or even padded gloves!

Realistically the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low and just not worth bothering about. If kids deliberately hit each other over the head with conkers, that’s a discipline issue, not health and safety.


Cameron does, eventually, admit that the problem lies not with the HSE, but with employers and councils who are a) wilfully ignorant of the regulations and b) terrified of being sued. In fact, he's even prepared to admit that maybe we're all a bit to blame for being so keen to sue over accidents. But that doesn't mean he won't blame the HSE, or commission a report on how quickly workplace safety regulations can be overturned. As Boots recently admitted in a different context, just because what you're selling doesn't work doesn't mean people won't queue up to buy it.

3 comments:

Tom said...

Also from the speech:

"...when office workers are banned from moving a chair without expert supervision... "

Anyone who works in an office will be able to tell you that Cameron is in no way overstating the impact of health and safety legislation.

donpaskini said...

Excellent stuff as ever. Would it be ok if we crossposted this post to Liberal Conspiracy?

Andrew R said...

Don - sure, be my guest. And thanks.

Tom - I think every example Cameron gave of 'Elf and Safety gone mad is debunked on the HSE's Health and Safety Myth pages. But it really, really shouldn't need to be.