"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
Every visit I take to the UK raises serious questions - who the hell is running this place? A cartel of petty-minded bureaucrats and jobsworths by my estimation. The two nuttiest subgroups in this milieu are the health and safety lot, followed by the crown prosecution service. Let's deal with health and safety first.
The official fervour for safety knows no bounds. The Royal British Legion no longer supplies pins with your poppy, because you may prick yourself and then sue them. Some bars are refusing to let customers carry trays of drinks. You need to be ‘professionally trained’ for that role. Business opportunity there. The rules covering schools are legion. No football - unless a sponge ball is provided. No conkers, no snowballs, no games of tag … no wonder the little ones are obese.
Even the well meaning get caught in the web of health and safety. Mrs Beryl Smith, a retired lady, tended the local communal flower bed. She spent her own money on tools and plants. The local council then intervened. Her efforts breached safety rules. The adjacent road was assessed as a risk. Thus she must wear a hi-vis jacket, deploy signs and appoint a lookout. The cretins from the local Health and Safety Executive must be so proud of their work.
My favourite from this litany of stupidity is the postman from a Berkshire village. He has refused to deliver mail to a single cottage located on the opposite side of a village street. He asserted its dangerous to cross the road. Moreover, the Post Office supported his judgement. Thus, he delivers mail on one side of the street. Then he moves to the next village, turns around to drive back on the opposite side. He can then complete his fraught mission. I wonder how this poor man survives day-to-day when he encounters a road to cross. One assumed that the ability to cross a road was in the postman test. It appears not.
If health and safety is perplexing, then don’t get me started on the whole ‘right to not be offended’ nonsense. Here we go. A Shropshire hospital refused funds from a charity because men dressed as nurses to raise money. A bunch of blokes pushing a bed raised £2500 for an electrocardiograph. But, to the guardians of our morals this ‘sexualized’ the image of nurses. This in turn makes life harder for them in the workplace. How guys in drag contribute to the inappropriate treatment of nurses escapes me. Jan Ditheridge, Chief Executive of the Shropshire Hospital Trust, managed to join the dots to make that mental leap. She refused the donation. At least some nurses saw sense. Posting comments on Facebook, they asserted their support for the ‘hairy legs in nurses uniforms’.
Next up we enter ‘Alice in Wonderland’ territory. We’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Wolf whistling is now classified as a ‘hate crime’. But it goes further. The Crown Prosecution Service has taken upon itself to priorities 'hate crime' to include hostility. This covers 'resentment and dislike'. Thus police officers and courts will spend time addressing a perceived dislike of a victim. The stupidity of this is evident. With knife crime rampant, frightful acid attacks by gangs on the rise, the police are busy investigating our thoughts.
And yet of more concern, and chilling, is the impact on debate and free speech. More on that later. Much of the momentum for these changes arise from stuff on the Internet. Someone once said ‘The best thing about the Internet is anyone can write anything. The worst thing about the Internet is anyone can write anything’. In reality, most comments are tiny, inconsequential bubbles of spite. Spitting forth in the ill-tempered Internet swamp. Most are written by people who are inadequate or just odd. It's also true that people say stuff on the Internet to others that would never be said face-to-face. Social norms evaporate, customs are dropped whilst simple civility vanishes. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast.
Granted steps are needed to protect the vulnerable; children are an obvious example. The question is where do you draw the line and who gets to decide what's offensive?
In answer to that question, on university campuses, it appears that agenda-driven student bodies are calling the shots. Safe spaces abound. Speakers with opinions that differ from arbitrary agreed group-think get banned. This is so as not to offend delicate student sentiments. After all, these aspiring leaders can’t be bruised by having their world-view challenged. University deans and academics have capitulated to this absurd conduct.
Universities were once places that saw the young confront other worlds. By this they understood alternative insights, whilst in the process shaping their world view. Not anymore. Now I know I’m going to get into trouble, but it has to be said. The lefty-liberal types are driving this process. Why? Because I surmise they realise that only by shutting down debate, can they survive. Safe spaces gives them a fertile ground for fostering indoctrination of their agenda. The fascists did the same thing - so the old game plan is being applied.
Of course, it all rather falls apart when the 'strawberries' graduate to enter the real world of work. Unless they operate in a silo, their delicate skins will be battered by hostile opinions. Then, of course, they can play the ‘victim card’ by running to the Crown Prosecution Service. It's about to become a crime to cause offence. You think I’m jesting. Wait and see. Bonkers Britain just got more bonkers.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.