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The way we were

Posted by Richard Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A lament comes from the leader today in The Daily Telegraph about "town hall tyrants".

The piece starts with the report that households in Plymouth are being asked to nominate an individual who will be responsible for rubbish, thus making it easier for the city council to launch prosecutions for "refuse infringements".

It adds that, "Such stories defy credulity yet they are becoming commonplace", then retailing the fate of a woman was hauled before the courts for putting out her dustbin 24 hours too early. One council has deployed plainclothes investigators to snare dog walkers who allow their dogs to foul public places; another mounted a surveillance operation of which the security services would have been proud against a couple suspected of breaking the rules on school catchment areas.

The paper's remedy is that these tyrants "should be voted out" – but there is another way.

On 21 November 1942, Winston Churchill – in the aftermath of the second battle of Alamein and operation "Torch" – read in The Times that the Ministry of Food had banned the exchange of rationed food. He wrote at once to the Minister, Lord Woolton:

I hope it is not true that we are enforcing a whole set of vexatious regulations of this kind. It is absolutely contrary to logic and good sense that a person may not give away or exchange his rations with someone who at the moment he feels has a greater need. It strikes at neighbourliness and friendship. I should be so sorry to see the great work you have done spoilt by allowing these officials, whose interests are so deeply involved in magnifying their functions and their numbers, to lead you to strike a false note.
"The matter must be brought before the Cabinet next week," Churchill added, "unless you can reassure me".

Oh Churchill, would that thou lived now! But then, he didn't have a European Union to deal with … at least, not the sort we have now.

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