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The start of the battle

Posted by Richard Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Business today, has an entertaining romp on the general subject of regulation, written by John Blundell, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs – Maggie Thatcher’s favourite think-tank.

His thesis is: "the more laws change, the less they achieve", from which starting point he tells us that he is still working on the formal enunciation of "Blundell's Law". It may one day be more precisely expressed as an equation perhaps, he writes, but today it simply states: "All new laws and regulations create the opposite of what was intended."

The immediate "hook" for his piece is the Queen's Speech, and the raft of new proposal introduced by this Labour government. It represents, according to Blundell, "a fairly sinister body of proposals that are designed to enhance the powers of the state and its budget."

This gives him the opportunity to tilt at EU Bill which, in Blundellesque terms, "gives formal consent to a huge raft of regulations from the commission in Brussels." This is not exactly how I would describe a Bill putting into effect the EU constitutional treaty but never mind. The next few points are sound enough, and need shouting from the roof-tops. Writes Blundell:

This is still referred to as a liberalising process yet the EU is now no longer a common market but rather in reality a common bureaucracy. It will authorise a referendum for us all to agree to the creation of a federal Europe. The extraordinary growth of euro regulations is deemed to strengthen Europe. Does it? My appreciation is that most people are either utterly bamboozled or repelled by the thick undergrowth of euro rules. Powers to boost Europe may well be the very poisoning that will ruin it.
He then makes the point that neither people nor businesses are static. They all respond to new rules or taxes. Rarely do firms comply meekly. They simply adjust their behaviour. Just as we all know we have tax avoidance and evasion, so we have regulatory avoidance and evasion.

The Blundell antidote also has some merit. "Benevolent intentions are not good enough," he writes:

The theme common to the Queen's Speech is a belief that benign purposes emerge on to the statute book as nourishing virtuous or obedient behaviour. We British are more cussed than they think. As businesses and individuals, we adapt to respond to new impositions… What we need, as ever, is a less omnipresent state, forever asking us to prove who we are and pay taxes at every move.
If he is right, and I believe he is – although you would never get that impression if you listened to the BBC, or read either the Independent or the Guardian – then the anti EU case makes itself. The Union is all about the omnipresent state, one which believes being “in your face” is good for you.

Mind you, even when we have defeated that monster, the list of new laws which the government proposes reminds us that there is another monster waiting for us at home. It is a daunting thought that, for those who see as an objective, leaving the EU, success will only be the start of the battle, not the end.