Better deafness than madness

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The Independent Online
'I 'M FIT, I'm well, I'm here and I'm staying,' cried John Major recently. Even at the time, some found this statement a bit controversial. He was there all right, with the Conservative women. Fit and well he may or may not be. But staying? Staying where? In power or just in office, to adapt Norman Lamont's mordant jibe? The probability of his staying in either has dwindled since he spoke.

We shall see. Personally, I hope he stays. He has probably made all his mistakes. Any likely successor would feel bound to make new mistakes of his own to add to the awful pile.

Warming to his theme, Mr Major declared himself 'weary of gossip dressed up as news, of malice dressed up as comment and fiction dressed up as fact'. From this I surmise that this sensitive man must have been 'listening' again, a habit against which I have warned him. Eavesdroppers seldom hear much good of themselves.

'Listeners', furthermore, pick up the most frightful advice - to sack Norman Lamont, for instance. This pseudo-brutal move predictably made everything worse than ever and Mr Major weaker than ever. Apart from the independent bank, the policies with which Mr Lamont was associated are either in uncomprehended ruins or to be retained; they were all Mr Major's anyway. In effect, Mr Major said to Mr Lamont: 'You got everything right, we'll go on doing so, so you'll have to go.'

Mr Major's weakness is thus compounded. He is urged to commit crimes unnatural to him but allegedly necessary. He is harshly criticised for hesitating so long - too loyal to old cronies, etc. At last he girds himself for the evil deed and commits it. He is harshly criticised then, often by the same critics, for the belated crime, which is suddenly discovered to have been unnecessary. He has thus lost at least one friend, probably more, and gained nothing.

It was once said in criticism of Mrs Thatcher (as she then was) that 'she never listened'. Time has endeared this foible to us. Was it ever real anyway? Did she never listen? I remember her talking to these very same Conservative women, passionately proclaiming her need for new ideas to put in the manifesto, beseeching her audience to let her have attractive bargain items to display in her shop window. Madness] As Richard Strauss put it, a conductor must never encourage the brass - they don't need it.

In her defence, Mrs T's admirers would swear she never took any notice of what she heard. I don't know. She seemed to take notice. The poll tax, for instance, was not her own unaided work. Many must have expressed to her their hatred (inexplicable to me) of the rating system. Somebody then mentioned the poll tax; and hey presto] She was listening]

Listening government is not necessarily, or usually, good government. Ear to the ground, it is far too quick to hear complaints, too quick to base ill-considered legislation (savage dogs, for instance, and food hygiene) on them. When this in turn produces new complaints, listening government is far too quick to abandon it. Yes, the poll tax was abandoned just as, sensibly adjusted, its merits were beginning to emerge.

Listening government destroys the natural sequence of orderly law-making: that the government, after long cogitation and consideration of the alternatives, proposes and then the electorate disposes. And remember, too, that a listening government is doomed to listen not only to every competing contradictory crackpot in this country but also to crackpots in Europe and the whole world. In such circumstances a certain deafness is desirable.

'The Times may be a-changing,' Mr Major went on, 'but I am not.'

Incensed by William Rees- Mogg's attack on him, he presumably meant a-changing for the worse. If the Times displeases him, I can think of no more fitting punishment for it than to launch at it what it

recently launched at the monarchy: 'an intelligent debate'.

To debate something is inescapably to question it, to welcome, respect, feed and encourage dissent and criticism. This is particularly so when that something is regarded by genuine supporters as beyond and above all debate. Indeed, for true monarchists, one of the Queen's noblest functions is by her presence to silence contentious disputes and divisive struggles as to which party political non-entity should be elected head of state. To debate her is thus a hostile act, albeit a sly one.

One of the debaters, Anthony Holden - once, I fancy, a royal sycophant, now 'a radical reformer' - writing in our own columns, quotes 'younger Britons' against the hereditary principle. That principle, he rumbles on, is 'a curious way for a supposedly mature and vigorous democracy to choose its head of state'.

'Younger Britons', it appears, increasingly want more say. Looking at the weird figures they at present choose 'to represent their corporate identity and aspirations', one trembles to think what Gazzas, Burchills or Terry Christians would stumble towards the throne or presidential palace.

IN newspaper stories and television programmes we often witness the utter dependence of 'clients' on their social workers. Less obvious, though perhaps no less real, may be the utter dependence of social workers on their clients, whom they always seem to outnumber. A single delinquent child can apparently keep whole armies of social workers gainfully employed, not to mention their ancillary solicitors, psychiatrists, paediatricians, policemen, probation officers, stipendiary magistrates, councillors and what not.

A whole problem family is presumably better still: to be discussed at interminable and innumerable conferences for a start. As for that woman who, unmarried and unemployed, has had eight children by two different men, is expecting a ninth, and hopes for a free extension to her free council house to accommodate them all - just think of the bureaucratic activity and employment she must give rise to]

I am reminded of a Whitney Darrow cartoon. A New York psychiatrist is peeking through his consulting room curtains, rubbing his hands with glee. Outside, an eight-

horse state coach is drawing up, with liveried coachman and footmen, and Napoleonic emblems on the door panels, presumably containing someone not only as mad as a hatter but also rich] Do social workers hail the arrival or discovery of a promising problem family with like rapture?

The ludicrous sums paid out to industry bosses are sometimes justified by the enormous sums of money they have to deal with. Well, on a single nine-strong problem family in Solihull, pounds 1m of taxpayers' money has been spent in 17 years - or pounds 58,000 a year. Surely, by the bosses' logic, the social workers who administer such considerable funds are also entitled to a hefty rise? Just a thought . . .

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