“In accordance to the principles of Doublethink, it does not matter if the war is not real, or when it is, that victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous.” (Nineteen-Eighty-Four, by George Orwell.)
This is a rant by me about red tape. I’m afraid the whole thing is starting to drive me a bit loopy. It’s driven me into that dark place inhabited by George Orwell. I get their whole red tape thing now. It’s all starting to fall into place…
Business grumbles about whatever bureaucratic thing they don’t like. “Law”. “Rights”. That sort of thing. Anything, in fact, on which to blame the continuing recession, other than banks. Government listens, and says, “Something must be done. No – not just done, SEEN to be done. In fact it’s more important that it’s seen to be done than actually is done. We must very loudly and very publicly cut some red tape and the economy will improve. It doesn’t matter what red tape we cut. It doesn’t even matter what “red tape” is! We just have to be seen to be doing it, and businesses will know that we are creating the right environment for them, and they will start to invest in staff and the economy will improve. Yes, I know, our detractors complain that we have no evidence – that the supposed burden of red tape is just based on perception not reality. But they fail to realise the key point: market confidence IS perception not reality. If we can make enough noise about red tape being the enemy, and then fight that enemy, then confidence will improve and it’ll be champagne all the way. Now to do this we just need to sort all laws into two categories: those that are a burden on business, and those that promote growth. The language of ‘rights’ must be eradicated. Rights must be discredited. Rights are just weapons that terrorists, prisoners, illegal immigrants and vexatious litigants use against the interests of society. Rights are irrelevant to the question of economic recovery. Therefore there are no rights. There are only burdens.”
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” (Nineteen Eighty-Four).
Newspeak was of course the official language of The Party in Orwell’s book. The Newspeak dictionary was continually revised and was getting thinner and thinner, as any words which could be used to express unorthodox thoughts were gradually eradicated. By controlling language, the plan was to control thought.
Now I’m not suggesting the coalition government is adopting the same totalitarian approach. But even in this week’s debate on the proposals of the Beecroft report I have noticed several examples of Tory MPs not just trying to win the debate, but actually to control the language of the debate to prevent people even thinking about concepts which they find distasteful. For example, Mark Prisk MP twice seeking to prevent the use of certain words and phrases by the Opposition, as if the words themselves were harmful. The first instance was in relation to an observation that workers would be “terrified” of no-fault dismissal, and the second in relation to a description of Beecroft as an “asset-stripper”:
“I wish the hon. Gentleman [David Crausby MP] would read the report and stop using words such as “terrified”. Does he really think that that helps small business owners or people in work? Language like that will be taken up by the media and spun, and I do not think it helps anybody to use that kind of language in half an hour of partisan banter.”
“I think that he [Kevin Brennan MP] should be careful about referring to asset-stripping vultures and so forth. If we want people to develop and create jobs, and to invest in this country, we need to watch our language very carefully.”
It is also interesting that he tried to downplay the importance of this debate (which concerned, among other things, a proposal to water down almost to zero the most fundamental of all statutory employment rights, the right not to be unfairly dismissed) by describing it as “half an hour of partisan banter”.
The current obsession with red tape also reminds me of Orwell’s “arch-traitor”, Goldstein. The novel’s protagonist, Winston, starts to believe that Goldstein doesn’t really exist, and only gets an answer to that question near the end of the novel, after he has been tortured by the Thought Police. The point about Goldstein was that it didn’t really matter either way whether he existed. What mattered was that everyone must come to believe in him as a common enemy, so that the mere mention of his name was enough to trigger an automatic frenzy, “a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness”.
“But even as we grasp at victory, there is a cancer, an evil tumour, growing, spreading in our midst. (Image of Goldstein appears) Shout. Shout! SHOUT OUT HIS NAME!”
To go back to the quote at the top of this post, this war on red tape is not meant to be won. It cannot be won – at least, not without following it to this reductio ad absurdum by the Daily Mash. It is meant to be fought, and seen to be fought, continuously, until something else happens to drag us out of economic recession.
I am, of course, an unperson.