Polly Toynbee – People Don’t Want Her Kind of State – but They Don’t Want No State Either
But just a week since rioting kicked off, the political significance has yet to dawn. So far, the small-staters are losing. A small state means – and Cameron has not budged – a smaller police force and shrunken social programmes, with more potential for anarchy.
My immediate reaction was that she was (as usual) talking nonsense. From what I could see, the Right was making all the running in the debate on the riots.
David Cameron posing as the strong guy who would clean up the streets; the Broom Army; ordinary communities uniting against the “rioting scum”…
But wait a minute. David Cameron’s strong-arm promises were not for small State. They were for big State – promising that under him, the State would be more aggressive in countering rioters.
So is Ms Toynbee right? Are the “small-staters” really losing? Surely not. There is, as far as I can see, little stomach for a bleeding heart liberal response to the riots, a la Toynbee. People like Ken Livingstone, who have tried to blame the riots on “the cuts” or tried to sympathise with the poor misunderstood downtrodden looters have been met with a big raspberry from the public.
Can you really bracket “a smaller police force and shrunken social programmes” together, as she did?
It is true that people are responding to the riots by demanding that the State starts doing its job of protecting them against criminals. The Metropolitan Police are having to defend themselves against accusations of being over-timid in their response. And in turn they are criticising the politicians for being inconsistent – demanding a softer response one minute, and a harder one the next.
But it is also true that the traditional big-Staters, like Ms Toynbee, are losing big time on this. I have never seen the political class scrambling so hard to keep up with public opinion. There seems to be universal agreement that the riots were not caused by deprivation, that any lack of social programmes had no part in causing them. I was struck by that survey that said a third of those questioned wanted live ammunition used against the rioters. Not much sympathy there for Ms Toynbee.
Overall, it seems that people are talking in terms of rather old fashioned ideas like morals, the family and punishing crime.
The simple view of politics as a left-right spectrum doesn’t seem to be working here.
It is much more complicated than that. People are not demanding either big State or small State. They are demanding a different kind of State.
People want a State that fulfils its traditional responsibilities – law and order, security and education for example – but a State that stops spending time and money on social engineering, welfare handouts to people that have no intention of ever working and bureaucratic form-ticking.
People want more police on the streets, and fewer five-a-day co-ordinators.
I have always thought of myself as a small State kind of person. But now I think that may be because, throughout the whole of my life, the State has increasingly represented things I despise. It has steadily done less and less of what I think it should.
Perhaps most people in our country are of that view too.
No more political correctness. No more of the Toynbee-style idiocy of the “left”. But not a small State exactly either – rather a State that goes back to doing what it ought to do, and minds its own business otherwise.
Will David Cameron understand all that? I sincerely doubt it – in the past, he has been all too willing to pander to the Toynbees of this world. It is interesting to note which politicians have responded in a “traditional role of the State” kind of way to the riots. They range from Diane Abbott to Boris Johnson.
We do not need either a Small State or a Big State, but a Right State. One that understands it is there to serve the people, to provide the basic things like law and order and security, but absolutely not there to save people from the consequences of their own choices.
If the State pulled right back from welfarism, nannying and pointless bureaucracy, there would certainly be money for many more police on the streets, many more soldiers in our armed forces and big tax cuts as well. And that in turn could mean jobs for all in a thriving economy, even for the “rioting scum” – provided, of course, that they wanted to work. If not, there would be nothing for them at all.
The transition to that kind of Britain will not be easy. But surely the only alternative is continued decline and either eventual collapse, or descent into tyranny.