Thursday, July 06, 2006

Disagreeing With Steve

Steve can’t see the problem with the way councils enforce traffic laws. To me, it seems like how you think about this issue depends on how you see the law itself. Liberals have always seen it as the way the powerful enforce their will on the powerless. Of course they’ve got no problem with councils shaking down people with insane gotchas.

Conservatives see the law as the codification of the common morality. The law is more than whatever is expedient for the State at the time. Yes, there’s a case for parking control and the like, but the way these regulations are enforced is a disgrace. I remember riding through a town where a Sunday morning Easter service was being held for the local Scouts and the like. Naturally there were a whole bunch of families attending, so equally naturally there were a pair of traffic wardens patrolling the area. Hang on a mo’ – what’s with that ? Yes, there was a lot of traffic for 10 AM on a Sunday, but the roads were resolutely unblocked and the such traffic as there was, was flowing freely. Bottom line – the wardens were there because they thought they could pick up some easy kills, not because there was any sense that the town was hovering on the edge of gridlock.

Equally, consider that 20% of tickets issued are found to be bogus. Since the whole system is so heavily weighted towards discouraging people to appeal, the true figure might be closer to 40%. I’m not sure we’d accept either figure with any other type of offence, but the real question is what is the difference between these people trying to shakedown motorists with bogus tickets and Jack Scammer at Phraud UK Ltd submitting bogus invoices to companies ? Oh right – Jack doesn't work for the government.

It’s not just that the government turns a blind eye to actual criminality, it’s that even when councils aren’t breaking the law, they are behaving in ways no private business could. A central facet of modern Liberalism, as exemplified by everything from the tons of anti-discrimination legislation to the EU Unfair Contract Terms directive, has been that private companies (or even individuals) can’t expect contracts to enforced if they are judged unreasonable. Yet now we have the State pulling in the cash with a series of ‘Gotchas’. Need to go the doctors but we’ve put double yellows everywhere nearby ? Who cares ? Give us £60!

If HMG is going to conduct itself like an old-time double glazing company, it can’t hardly complain if it gets treated the same way, but that’s a problem for all of us. Implicit in the whole concept of ‘policing by consent’ is the idea that social order can only be maintained with the support of the public. If the State now sees law enforcement as a branch of HM Revenue and Customs, endlessly shaking down Joe Public with unfair, or just plain bogus, charges, then that support is lost.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we may have to consider the possibility that Nu Lab is sacrificing long-term social stability in pursuit of a short-term tax rake-off. You could have knocked me down with a feather

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