French evolution builds resistance to the overly mighty state

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In the airport queues at Stansted, 12 per cent of the passengers are clearly evolutionary dead-ends. The shape of their heads is unsustainable, their legs are ape-like. And is that a tail pushing at the back of their pants? Of course, they're all English.

In the airport queues at Stansted, 12 per cent of the passengers are clearly evolutionary dead-ends. The shape of their heads is unsustainable, their legs are ape-like. And is that a tail pushing at the back of their pants? Of course, they're all English.

In the arrival hall at Toulouse we also see people who leapt, in an evolutionary sense, before they looked. Noses hang off faces over tiny chins. There are vast biceps and bandy legs. But our reaction to them is entirely different because they are French.

What character, we think admiringly. What essence! These aren't mutants, they're stubborn individuals who resist the conspiracies of the globalised, media-driven fashion industry. They are a glimpse of our past; we all looked like that in days gone by. How much more convincing the French are, we think, even in the matter of mirror-shattering ugliness. Anything we can do (with the exception of warfare and breakfast) they do better.

Their shops don't seem to open much so we admire their ability to relax. Their television aspires to public access quality, but that is why they read so much Sartre. The women drive like kamikaze pilots but what esprit, what eclat! The men drink shorts on their way to work in a way that would be impossible in England with the barbaric licensing hours we subject ourselves to.

Even their system of government seems to work for them better than ours does for us. The Napoleonic Code directs the country from its centre. The prefects, deputies, mayors are all tools of the state, in place only to make sure laws made in Paris are obeyed in every department, even down to what lesson is taught when in every classroom.

However, let us remember that of the 10 poorest, most miserable, countries in the world, eight are governed by the Code Napoleon.

The fact that the French have adapted so well to its authoritarian idiocy shouldn't blind us to its general defects.

The French do well in it because they ignore it where they can. There is a constant resistance movement, even among state servants. The taxman came round to my friends last year and looked sceptically at the rental income they'd declared. If you declared another 4,000 francs, he said, you'd only have to pay another 1,200 francs, and I wouldn't query your accounts.

The last phrase was quite clear, though unsaid.

The collector would be congratulated for improving returns, and so would his superiors. My friends were content. Everyone was content. Except, perhaps, the Treasury.

This generalised corruption is deeply embedded in their national psyche for a variety of historical reasons. The system works marvellously well because it is their system.

However, exported, the dirigisme has failed everywhere else. If it proves to be the same with the 80-odd Euro-regulations we pass into British law every working day of the year we're in for a very rocky 50 years.

Labour's outflanking has betrayed us all

Something very odd is happening to Britain and it's happening fast enough to be discernible. Normally we live like boiled frogs – our masters turn up the temperature so slowly we get used to each incremental increase. Now the pace has picked up so much I've started yelping. You may have noticed. Two experiences from different, perhaps opposite, perspectives show what I mean.

A story in The Daily Telegraph last week told of a woman who'd loaded her Mercedes up in France for two big parties. On her return to England, a customs officer questioned her. Because she could not prove the alcohol was for private use, it was confiscated. Her Mercedes was confiscated on the spot as well. It's about to be sold at auction. There's no appeal. She was guilty because she couldn't prove she was innocent. People have difficulty believing this story when they hear it.

Add to this the Government's wheedling efforts to vote itself ever more draconian powers in Parliament. David Blunkett's terror Act last year swung him enormous new powers. If these were denied him, he said at the time, there would be an atrocity before Christmas. There was no atrocity, and no indication that it its was his increased powers that prevented it.

None the less, he wants more. He tried (and will doubtless try again) to empower council officials to read our e-mails, check our internet habits and follow our movements via our mobile phone records. It's possible he will get identity cards passed into law and within a brief period make them compulsory.

The state, in short, has been empowered in a way that offends the freedom-loving right.

From another perspective, the Guardian writer George Monbiot's book Captive State, published a couple of years ago, contains an analysis of how the state has sold out to corporate interests. The privatisation of – say – hospital construction operates directly against everyone's interest except the developer's and, obscurely, the politician's.

Coventry's new hospital built under the Private Finance Initiative "would have to make a surplus four times as big as Coventry's hospitals made in 1998 if it were to be profitable," Monbiot says. "It would only be affordable if Coventry were to lose 25 per cent of its all-purpose beds and 560 – or 20 per cent of its staff." The health authority in question "had been left in no doubt that if they did not apply for a PFI scheme, they needn't apply at all." This is what the centre ground has come to mean.

Tony Blair has outflanked both ends of the political spectrum. He's more authoritarian than the Tories and more regulatory than Old Labour. He has covered all positions to create a one-party state (remember, he told us he wanted to keep the Tories out for a generation). "The political wing of the British people" as he called his party, has taken a peculiar turn.

By appealing to right and left the Government has betrayed both left and right.

My expert advice: don't listen to experts

There aren't many advantages in a full-blooded, thorough-going, scything recession, but there are at least two. One is that we in the bourgeoisie can get our own back on all the plumbers and builders who have spent the past decade not turning up. The other, more subtle, pleasure is that we won't have to listen to Gordon Brown canting on about Tory boom and bust as if he had personally abolished the business cycle (a minority interest, I agree).

If the economy climbs into its handcart and sets off for one of its periodic holidays in hell, it leaves an important question: what do we do with our money, assuming we have any? Do we sell everything and put the money in the bank while everything else collapses in value? Do we buy property? Do we go into the stock market?

Stock market experts argue that there is "good buying" out there. I've lost fabulous sums in rising markets, I can't imagine falling ones would be different.

Cash experts assume the stock market will bring down property prices with a bump. Without the engine of City bonuses, they argue, the market runs out of steam. People who have bought second homes for rental income won't be able to service their vast mortgages. The seller's market will turn into a buyer's, and the sudden glut of property will mean values slump by 50 per cent and stay there for five years.

On the other hand, property experts point out, inflation is defeated; Opec has been undermined by Bush's relationship with oil-rich Russia, and interest rates will stay low in a recession, so investors who have lost faith in the stock market will retreat to bricks and mortar. The long-term shortage of houses in the South-east will drive house prices for the next 20 years.

The important thing to hang on to is that nobody knows how this will play out. Particularly experts. The more expert they are the less they are to be believed.

We are either on the brink of a major recession, or a resumption of the decade-long boom. Unless things carry on much as they are, possibly getting a bit better. Or possibly a bit worse. Whatever we do, it will almost certainly be wrong.

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