Confessions of a Middle-Class Anarchist

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If Gordon Brown
really wants to start appealing to the middle-class vote, he could
start by picking up my rubbish. The bin bags outside my flat in
Kentish Town, north London, weren’t collected for four weeks
over Christmas because of the snow. When the foxes started to rip
them apart and left a trail of chicken carcasses and half-chewed
bread across my front garden, I cracked.

Patching up
the most damaged bag and strapping it to my handlebars, I pedalled
along the snowy roads – if my bike could negotiate the streets,
so could a rubbish truck, by the way – to my local park. There,
I poured the rubbish into a large, metal-mesh bin. As I did so,
a plump, unshaven man in an official council fleece stopped casually
scattering grit on the park footpaths and accelerated towards me.

‘Bag that
up and take it home,’ he said, in the flat, passive-aggressive
tone of the jobsworth bolstered by a tiny measure of official authority.

‘I’m
very sorry,’ I said, unaware that I’d done anything wrong,
‘But no one’s picked up my bags for four weeks and the
foxes are ripping them up.’

‘That’s
nothing to do with us – we’re the parks department; we’re
different from the ones who do your bins.’

‘I see
your point…’ – I didn’t, but the only way to deal
with this sort of official bullying is to be polite, to stop them
enforcing the small powers of punishment they’re aching to
use. ‘I’m very sorry; can you give me their number, then,
so I can sort this out?’

‘No. That’s
nothing to do with me. Bag that up and take it home; if you don’t,
the CCTV will get you. Or they’ll go through your rubbish and
find your address, and get you.’

‘I can’t
bag it up…’ – my bin bag, half-destroyed by the fox,
had completely fallen apart after I’d emptied it – ‘but
I’ll take what I can.’

The plump man
returned to his casual grit-scattering, staring at me as I rummaged
through the bread and the carcasses for an old Soave bottle, a few
damp newspapers speckled with coffee grounds, and any envelopes
with my address on them. Stuffing all this in my coat pockets, I
gingerly bicycled across the snow to some bins outside the park
fence, and outside his control.

This little
tale – of one arm of council power crippled by health and safety,
laziness and dislike of the public; the other crippled by aggression,
trivial regulations, laziness and dislike of the public – is
just the tip of the iceberg. Britain has become so overwhelmed by
petty rules, regulations and laws, that sometimes you have to break
them, knowingly or unknowingly, to get anything done.

When I trained
as a barrister in 1997, we were proudly told in our first constitutional
law lecture that Britain has few laws but, as a result, they are
broadly obeyed; while in Italy, there are so many laws that they
are blithely ignored. It was a coincidence that the lecture took
place in Tony Blair’s first year in office. The avalanche of
new law began before Labour came to power, but it has speeded up
to extreme levels over the last 13 years.

Read
the rest of the article

February
5, 2010

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