17 April 2007

Big Bertha

Useful new phrase from The Week's Jeremy O'Grady: not Big Brother, Big Bertha.

Frankly, we've been seduced by the wrong metaphor. ... It's not Big Brother we really need to watch out for, it's Big Bertha. Fat, loquacious and sclerotic, this impossibly overbearing maiden aunt threatens our lives not with excessive control but excessive care. She loves us to death. Pick up a paper any day of the week and see what Bertha has in store. These were her plans on Monday: to give "able" secondary school pupils a fund of their very own "to develop their talents"; to provide cheap buses (50p per trip, max) to carry pupils in poor areas to schools in rich ones; and — to help "youngsters compete in the global economy" — to make it a criminal offence to leave school before 18. Oh yes, and a helpline for lonely judges.

What's scary about this is not the encroachment on freedom — B. Bertha, unlike B. Brother, is hopelessly disorganised — it's the massive constipation of the body politic. Every one of her plans entails the birth of a new bureaucracy. ("We are not expecting practitioners to deliver this without guidance and training," as Bertha reassured us last week, introducing a scheme to have nurseries and childminders monitor the babbling of babies.) Long before the ice-caps melt ... Bertha will keel over and die from sheer flatulence. Welfare warming, that's what terrifies me. *
One rider. Yes, no doubt the new nazzy state (meme, anyone?) will be hopelessly disorganised, which doesn't quite fit with the ruthlessly efficient 1984 model. However, that doesn't prevent it playing havoc with people's liberties. In fact, it makes it more likely that it will do so. Think about the current system for "child protection", for instance — some of the miscarriages may be motivated, but there is probably a lot of simple bureaucratic ineptitude involved. Not much skin off civil servants' noses if the authoritarian system is a mess; rather more serious for people like poor Sally Clark.

* from the 31 March issue