Little regulation & minimal enforcement

I can’t say I was big on or even thought much about regulation and enforcement until after the turn of the last century, but that’s probably because for most of my life UK governments, of all colours, made a reasonable fist of regulating and enforcing things across our society.

What I think made me sit up and take notice was when Gordon Brown brought in his ‘light touch’ regulation of banks before the financial crisis hit. It struck me straight away as being a bad move to trust too much those who control our financial systems and my feeling is that the crisis, which soon followed, demonstrated why shutting one eye to the activities of banks and the financial sector, in general, was a really bad idea.

But deregulation and light touch/no-touch enforcement is now the thing across many sectors. It’s as though there’s now a general acceptance that ‘do as you please and beggar the consequences’ is mainstream in our politics! Yes, I realise that the austerity which followed the financial crisis will have brought with it a considerable reduction in the enforcement of regulations simply via the regulators and enforcers being reduced in number within government agencies/departments, councils, the police etc. etc. So my first question is, was austerity used as a back door by the libertarian right to get regulators off their backs to enable that ‘do as I/we please’ attitude? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is a rather obvious YES.

Our roads are a clear example of pretty much no regulation or enforcement leaving drivers to do as they please with little chance of any come back other than via retrospective enforcement due to an accident where someone has been injured or killed. But policing, in general, is surely now a process of reaction to events with prevention very much a thing of the past. Community policing has all but been abandoned and with it the local intelligence that used to be gathered by policewomen and men in neighbourhoods they knew well.

There’s little point in having laws if there are no effective regulators or enforcers of our laws. However, bit by bit over the years we have arrived at a point where those who wish to break laws and regulations have realised that there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be able to get away with whatever dodgy things they wish to. Human nature is to push at boundaries to see how far our luck can be pushed. Sadly, we’ve now created a society where those who want to push boundaries a long way are doing so because they’ve twigged that no one is likely to stop them or enforce action against them.

So whether it be a poorly regulated financial sector or no effective enforcement of bad driving (and there’ll certainly be other sectors too) this process leads to a wild-west approach to our society. You could call it an ‘every man and woman for themselves society’ where significant numbers of the population are beyond any effective control and they know it.

This libertarian right approach has been driven by Conservatives and other right-wing political groupings, yet it’s within living memory that there would have been significant numbers of people within the Conservative Party who would have been far from happy about our developing a lawless society. To me, this shows how much the Tory Party has changed from being the party of law and order to a party of spivs and chancers. Of course, those spivs and chancers have always been there but our politics ensured they were kept in the background; now they are upfront and running the show!

Once you start down the road of desiring government to be as small as possible, deregulation and a lack of enforcement is where you’ll pretty much always end up. That’s a challenge for progressives as it’s hardly a vote winner to tell the electorate that you want more inspectors, more police etc. etc. It’s easy to say pay less tax and we’ll get rid of red tape even if that red tape keeps us all safe and sound.

So do we need better regulation and enforcement? Yes of course we do if we are ever to have a fair and equitable society. The alternative is more spivs and chancers taking us all for a ride!

Driving UK society to a new ‘wild west’?

If we can get away with it, it’s OK. Our leaders don’t follow the rules, so neither will we. It’s every man and woman for themselves. We are all Thatcher’s children. Grab what you can before anyone else does.

I put it that such is starting to characterise what is happening to our UK society which was once thought to be very stable and law-abiding.

A process that has probably been well in train and developing for many years seems to have accelerated since lockdown, indeed you could say it’s been driven with the foot very much down to the boards. The end result is one of us becoming a more self-centred and isolationist society. Wasn’t it Thatcher who said there’s no such thing as society? Well in 2021 that’s even more true than when she said it 40 years ago. We seem to have a significant section of present-day society that does not see itself as being a part of anything much at all and certainly not part of a neighbourhood or community, and very much not part of a wider world!

You see this most obviously on our ‘wild west’ roads where pretty much anything goes these days. I never fail to be troubled, and this is pretty much every time I leave our house by cycle or car, at lunatic driving. Not just breaking the speed limit but doubling it and red-light running is something I now expect to see at every traffic-lighted junction and Pelican Crossing as opposed to a once in a blue moon thing it was say 20 years ago. Litter comes tumbling out of cars at junctions, even dirty nappies. Anyone who drives at or just below the speed limit is hounded by abusive drivers who feel entitled to do whatever speed they wish and who know the chances of being caught doing it by the powers that be are all but non-existent.

And then I look at our wretched government which seems to lead this wild west society by doing just as it pleases and beggar the consequences. Yes, of course, I’m no Tory so I do have an axe to grind against them but surely the modern Tory Party is a world away from what it once was? A party which has always had its spivs and wide boys but which kept them firmly in the background now seems to celebrate dodgy doings and those who do them!

My Dad’s family were working-class Tories living in a council house but with a few unfortunate exceptions, in terms of beliefs, they were decent and law-abiding. The exceptions being, anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism. Dad died in 2009 but even back then he was clearly troubled by the declining standards within the Tory Party; his views on Johnson are unprintable. He once told me that his concerns mirrored what he saw as the decline in his much loved Daily Telegraph newspaper. He could not be doing with dishonesty and could not understand the drift of the Tory Party he had been a member (off and on) and supporter of his whole adult life.

Yet will this drift towards a wild west-type society be tackled or have we gone too far for any politicians to have the guts to stand against selfishness, I know best and sod everyone else I’m doing what I want attitudes? I have my doubts as bit by bit Johnson has been taking us towards a Trumpian-type society and it is very difficult having in effect endorsed a ‘do as you please there’ll be no consequences’ approach to then haul that back. That horse has bolted and the opposition looks too weak and ineffective to address matters; best to not see what’s going on.

As a Social Liberal, my guiding principle is along the lines of we should be free to do as we wish so long as we are not harming others and the environment in exercising our freedoms. If we learn that what we doing is hurting others/the environment then we should try to restrain our freedoms accordingly, but I appreciate that many Conservatives and indeed Labour supporters would not support such a view of our world.

On the whole, I’m pessimistic about our direction of travel not least because it will inevitably lead to the poor becoming poorer and the powerful grabbing an even bigger share of our ever more unequal society.