Call me old-fashioned, as Dame Edna says, but I don’t fancy spending my remaining years in semi-darkness because this poxy government has performed yet another knee-jerk reaction and decreed that all incandescent light bulbs will be phased out, whether we like it or not. A warning bulletin from Defra informs us that should we be careless enough to break a long-life bulb, we must immediately vacate the room in which the tragedy occurs for at least 15 minutes. Then we are not allowed to vacuum up the broken glass because that will spread mercury droplets around the entire house. Instead we must don rubber gloves, sweep up the glass and place it in a sealed bag while making sure not to inhale any dust (does glass make dust?) before disposing of the toxic waste in a proper container. That is if by that time you haven’t lost the will to live. What joker writes this stuff? Can it be ghosted by Ed Balls to justify his surname?
Let me sketch a Monty Python scenario for you. Picture a typical British family gathered together in the gloom and squabbling over the best way to assemble a flat-packed Ikea dining suite they have just bought. Suddenly the two expensive energy-saving sources of illumination which, like the Third Reich, have not lasted for a thousand years self-destruct simultaneously (as is the wont of light bulbs). This calls for urgent action and the father is fit for purpose; he orders everybody out into the street where, unfortunately, one of his brood is immediately mugged by a binge drinker out on bail for a previous offence. Unaware of this new tragedy, the father risks dying from mercury droplet poisoning, dons rubber washing-up gloves, sweeps up the debris but, stupidly, puts the resulting toxic debris in the recycling bag intended solely for green wine bottles. His error is detected and traced and he is prosecuted. He claims protection under the Human Rights Act and the resulting court case costs the taxpayer only marginally less than the Diana inquest.
OK, I’ve stretched belief a fraction, but only a fraction because, more and more, the headlines bring us fresh evidence that we are living in a Lewis Carroll world. How about the case of the part-time coastguard who rescued a young girl perilously close to death having fallen down a cliff? Far from being commended, he was given a bollocking for having failed to observe health-and-safety regulations. Acting under the same lunatic rules, an amateur pantomime cast are required to put their prop wooden swords and guns under lock and key in case they are used for mass slaughter. Of course, should anybody wish to acquire a real gun, this presents no problems.
Then we have the spectacle of hitherto unknown junior ministers, who presumably live on another planet, trotted out on Newsnight to justify the massaged crime statistics. Unbelievably, NHS staff need to be given basic instructions on how to wash their hands and avoid the spread of disease (it’s rocket science — you have to turn on hot tap, apply disinfectant soap and scrub). Every few weeks we are insulted by some fat-cat pundit from the latest, unelected quango telling us that the Olympics will come in on budget, or that the 160,000 new boxes designated as houses will be built on known flood plains but somehow escape disaster by divine intervention. Incompetence is now allowed as justification for the offence of concealment. Those who govern us are confident that we have been so brainwashed by a decade of economies with the truth that we will accept every fresh lunacy. ‘Tax doesn’t have to be taxing,’ we are patronisingly told in a costly television ad. Of course tax is taxing, stupid, and we are driven to despair by the fact that our taxes are so casually squandered on useless projects.
My generation was the one, largely state-educated and reasonably literate, that fought in a war against acknowledged tyrannies to preserve basic and long-cherished freedoms. Since then what world have we been gradually forced to accept? A new religion of political correctness daily reaches fresh heights of idiocy, ignoring the fact that a society that willingly retreats from common sense is ultimately doomed. Privacy for the ordinary citizen is now dead. The latest tally is that we are being watched by a staggering three million closed-circuit television cameras, yet no camera has yet been invented that can photograph inside a terrorist’s brain. Government, police and security services possess greater legal powers to pry into our lives than they do in communist China.
With no proven evidence against us, a warrant can be obtained and our homes entered for the comparatively minor crime of failing to possess a TV licence. GCHQ is alleged to exist for the sole purpose of protecting us from attacks by enemy states but in reality also watches its own citizens using a variety of high-tech devices. Ninety per cent of internet traffic is scrutinised through a global system named Echelon, a combined effort involving the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK (although the UK does not admit it exists). Our mobile phones can be tapped into by remote machines called IMSI-catchers, and the mysteriously named Van Eck systems can read our computer screens from a distance. The codes we now live under no longer stem from a democratic reality, but a carefully constructed illusion of democracy that has been allowed to morph into a dictatorial presidential system. The manifestos issued by our political parties at election time have less validity than the guarantees on a child’s Christmas toy.
So how much credence should we give to this latest addition to the alleged causes of man-made global warming? Since I have observed that every government building in London is ablaze with light from top to bottom throughout the hours of darkness, why should I accept without a murmur that my use of incandescent bulbs will materially assist the demise of the polar bear?
Scaremongering about global warming is a politically convenient way of diverting attention from the real ills that beset our everyday lives. Can you imagine the chaos when the entire population is compelled to change every light bulb in their homes and offices? What happens when many of our increasingly aged population cannot afford it, as many won’t? And what of those who sensibly stockpile the soon-to-be-condemned incandescent bulbs against the day when they are classified alongside Class A drugs? Will they all be detected and criminalised alongside those who commit the heinous offence of selling fruit by pounds and ounces? What seems to be in store for us goes beyond any Orwellian nightmare glimpse into the future — it is the stuff of total fantasy whereby Big Brother watches many of us become morbidly obese because we lack enough light to read the labels on junk-food packaging.
© 2008 Bryan Forbes
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 26, 2008