Simon Carr: No wonder we are in such a sorry state

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The Independent Online

Here's a brilliant example of the sort of society we live in. Perfect, in its way. It's so boring that we never willingly focus on it.

It is the statutory instrument titled: "The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006". It's a piece of parliamentary drafting that tells schools how to keep an attendance register. You and I could write this in a couple of paragraphs. It would say something like, "Schools shall keep a daily attendance register. A proper one, with names and dates and reasons for absence ..." Maybe two paragraphs was too ambitious; I've run out of instructions.

The state version consists of nearly 4,000 words. If the formatting were kept, it would fill 10 to 15 pages of a paperback book.

And why does it take 4,000-odd words? In the Interpretation section at the beginning of the regulations we see this assertion: "'The local education authority' means, in the case of a school maintained by a local education authority that local education authority, and in every other case the local education authority for the area in which the school is situated".

Is that clear? "The local education authority" means the local education authority.

And when is the child considered to be a pupil at the school? Clause 5 (3) tell us this: "'A pupil'" is a pupil on the first day the pupil attends the school. Before the pupil has become a pupil of the school he or she cannot be considered a pupil of the school."

What have we learnt about head teachers so far? They have the IQ of a wet teabag. If they have to be told that a pupil of the school is a pupil of the school only when he or she has become a pupil of the school then I don't want them teaching my children.

Or maybe they're cunning. Maybe they're intensely legalistic and will argue that the regulations can't apply to their school because they don't define when a pupil becomes a pupil.

Hang on. More instructions: "'Deletions from the register'. A pupil shall be deleted from the register if [five paragraphs and 243 words later ...] when the pupil isn't at the school any more." Those 243 words cover two possibilities. The first, that the pupil has gone to another school. The second, that the pupil is being taught at home.

In total there are 14 sub-paragraphs defining when a child may be deleted from the register. The tenth is: "That the pupil has died." Yes, you've got to have that in. Otherwise head teachers could use the Gogol Technique of claiming funding for schools full of dead children.

What does it tell us? One: That Parliament's belief in its powers of command and control are insane. They also have a very low opinion of the citizenry.

Two: It's not a party-political problem. No politician would write this sort of drivel. The proclamation at the beginning about what "a local authority" is, for instance. That's in there merely to say to readers: "You're out of your depth, matey. We are the power behind the Government, and if you think normal rules apply we'll have your arse."

Third: That the administration's ambitions are probably limitless and that their habit of specifying the minutest details of public life will go on until stopped by a revolution.

Remember, these regulations define one tiny aspect of daily life. There are tens of thousand of pages of this sort of thing coming off the the parliamentary presses. And the trend is only going one way.

Enough to make you take flight

It's going to take much more than this to get me back happily in the air.

Heathrow has been so seared on the memory as a set for the director's cut of Bladerunner. Five sets of security. Taking your shoes off. Having your hair conditioner confiscated. Sitting in a seat when some goon rams his chair back into your face.

Or paying twice the price for the extra six inches of premium economy and sitting next to the nannied children of mummy and daddy who are behind the curtain in business class.

It's all just too mortifying. Even when the shoe bombers don't get through, the carbon footprint stamps out whole ecosystems. I'm going to cycle to the Caribbean in future.

* Here's a phrase we don't hear much any more. "Tory boom and bust!" It used to get a cheer every time it was belted out by the man who is now our prime minister. No more Tory boom and bust. It was the end of the cycle. Stability forever.

John McFall told the House of Commons about the speculations concerning the extent of the sub-prime mortgage liabilities. On his committee's visit to the States he was told $600bn (£300bn). Enough to rattle your teeth but not knock them out. But now people are mentioning figures of up to $4tr. That's trillion. And that's a bust by any standards.

We wouldn't blame our government necessarily, but their pretensions to omniscience have been very irksome over the last 11 years.

As it turned out, they knew even less than the bankers. They didn't operate a strategy for stability, they just rode the boom.