Home Page If we're in charge, we'd better take some responsibility 10/09/10

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Hart of the Matter

If you’re as old as me you may remember a comedy series of the 1970s in which Robert Lindsay made his name, called Citizen Smith.

It’s still going the rounds on the satellite channels and holds up quite well – I find it a lot funnier than his more recent incarnation in My Family, but that may just be a generational thing.

If you remember Wolfie, you will also remember his slogan ‘Power to the People’. Not particularly original, it nevertheless became more familiar to the People it referred to via that medium than it had through any number of dull Marxist tomes.

The irony of the whole thing is that Communism was slowly dying in the 1970s – although we were not fully aware of it – yet that slogan seems to underpin almost all the thinking of government today at national and local levels.

Those who surrounded Wolfie and his friends thought giving power to the people was a very questionable, even dangerous, idea in practice; their modern descendants view it as the Holy Grail.

That reflects the fact that governments and councils of 40 years ago took responsibility. They did things and if they got them wrong they got thrown out at the end of their term.

Now those in power are desperate to get us, the People, to decide, so that it is all our fault and not theirs if anything goes wrong.

We have seen it at national level with the ostensibly sensible idea of asking for ideas about how and where cuts should fall. We see it at local level all the time with one consultation after another.

We even see it in the police now, with more and more effort being made to get the public to come to meetings and tell the police what they are concerned about. Then the police will act accordingly.

The trouble with all this is that it doesn’t really throw any new light on the issues involved. The odd good idea may come through, but in general the result of all the talk is pretty much what one could predict beforehand.

Decades ago, governments and agencies could make the same sort of educated guess about what the People thought and wanted as I can now, without asking them more than once in four or five years by way of elections.

Sometimes what the People thought and wanted was not A Good Idea. Heretical though it may seem to say it, the majority is not always right.

Changes in value systems and movement away from established moralities have led many to see the popular majority as the only justification for action.

But that path leads in a difficult direction. The latest public meetings of Haverhill’s police-led Safer Neighbourhood Team have centred almost entirely on anti-social behaviour.

It was noticeable over the last week or so how little crime there was being reported in the town in comparison with previous weeks. Is it because the kids have gone back to school?

If so, what does that say about them? More importantly, what does it say about us that we may think that, even if it is not the case?

The other week we learned of a problem during school holidays of children slipping out of bed in the middle of the night to band together and steal or damage property.

This may have been an isolated incident, but there is no doubt that dealing with under 16s now takes an inordinate amount of police time and resources.

More and more it begins to look as if it is not only governments who have abrogated their responsibilities and wanted to let the People decide, but parents have done much the same in favour of letting their children decide how they want to behave.

Now we hear a lot of bleating that Society is somehow at fault. After all, it is unfair to blame the young. Most of them are an inspiration to us oldies, rather than a threat.

It is an old adage, but a true one, that with power comes responsibility. If individuals are elected to positions of power they should take the responsibility that goes along with it.

But if it is us, the People, who are to be given the power, then we have to exercise the responsibility that goes with it and not just dump it back on governments and agencies, who are then asking us what we want them to do. That is a vicious circle that leads nowhere.


David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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