During the day, I caught up with my good friend and Stony Stratford charioteer, Tom Paine. I was planning on writing a rundown of the day's events but - as he said he would do - Tom left earlier than me in his gleaming Speranza and beat me to it.
His account of Saturday's events was of his usual exceptional standard, but the masterful prose he employs to describe yesterday's sessions is a joy to read ... even if the subject matter was exasperatingly pessimistic at times.
Do go read the whole thing, it might make you shift uncomfortably in your seat.
After such a comprehensive report, there's not much left to pick over except to expand on a couple of Tom's points with my own observations.
The second session I attended was called Risk, regulation and red tape. I am sorry to tell you that it was even more depressing. Professor Nick Butler of Kings College and more relevantly the Fabian Society actually said from a public platform with a straight face;
All the regulations of the last 50 years were necessary and are effective.
I noted it carefully at the time because I could not believe my ears.Indeed Butler did say this, but what is more extraordinary was that he had begun his allotted time by declaring that yes, indeed, rules had gone too far, and a safe environment requires people taking responsibility for themselves. But he followed that with the bizarre conclusion that "deregulation should not happen" and we should carry on with the state taking responsibility away from individuals, as before. Huh?
|That's 'im, on the right|
|Yeah, funny that Tory policy-makers used to value freedom, isn't it?|
A different strand of the same authoritarian thinking was displayed by Tom's pick of the weekend's miserable micro-managers at the second of the sessions I attended, Drink, Smoke, Eat; Prohibition Today.
My choice is Dr Michael Nelson, director of research and nutrition at the Children's Food Trust (a "social business" working with the "charity" the Schools Food Trust). ... it wasn't the advice he would give parents as to what their children should eat but his contempt for their ability to make choices and their right to do so that was the problem. He ... complained that parents (as witness the contents of packed lunches they sent with their children to school) could not be trusted to make good choices for their children's health. Government attempts to improve nutrition by requiring catering contractors to offer healthy choices had failed because those choices were simply not taken up. If we care about "our children" he said (oddly as he and I have no children together) then we must help parents who;
...we know from experience do not themselves have the the power of executive decision when it comes to their own diet...
In other words, these people are too stupid to be parents. I asked myself (but did not dare to articulate the suggestion unless it gave him ideas) why he stopped short of taking all of British childkind into care. After all, their parents are too stupid to raise them properly and are jeopardising their families' health irresponsibly.
It has to be remarked that the installation of someone as dreary in thought and deed to a role which impacts on the exuberance and joy of childhood is frightening in itself. So monotone and dull was this guy that when he uttered the word 'fun' it almost sounded as if it contains two syllables, even Lurch would probably have run away in terror if they encountered each other in a dark alley.
His insistence that parents should have no say over what their children eat at school is only possible due to his previous repositioning of his role in the rearing of them. I heard Tom - as Nelson was rambling on about our children - ask the question "whose children?". I'm sure this wasn't audible to Nelson, but even if it was, the response would have been to ignore rather than try to justify it.
Regular readers here will remember that we have seen the same arrogant assumption that the state is now de facto mother and father to all of the country's children in an exchange on BBC radio back in June. On that occasion, it was the Libertarian Alliance's Sean Gabb asking the simple question "whose children?", only to be met with screeching fury from Sonia Poulton at the temerity of someone highlighting this inconvenient flaw in the assumed powers of the state.
The same thread runs through all authoritarian thinking, in all areas.
Nick Butler's stubborn blindness to the state's inadequacy with regards regulation is driven by the same reasoning that motivates Michael Nelson to get up in the morning and inflict rules on parents. They both share the view that people are not capable of running their own lives, and that someone else must do it for them.
In Butler's case, without regulations, we would all be running around irresponsibly killing and maiming one another because it's only the state's intervention which regulates our window-licking ignorance. With Nelson, only the state and its agencies know how to feed kids, parents are just unpaid morons who only think they know their offspring well enough to rear them, but who would see them dead in their twenties through neglect without his (highly-paid) intervention.
You are stupid, they are not. You are merely dangerous unthinking de-humanised livestock, to be managed and controlled by central tax-funded bureaucracy. It's why the same strand of ideology is floating ideas such as hand-made humans, advocating discarding the "fetish of consumer choice", and declaring that government "will no longer tolerate" your free choices.
Anyway, to lighten the mood, you'll be pleased to know that the best lines, and laughs, of the Sunday were provided by panellists who opposed the turgid 'liberal' control agenda, some of which Liberal Vision has highlighted.
The last word of Michael Nelson's session was one such instance, as delivered by Rob Lyons. Responding to a question from the audience - which had been studiously ignored by the po-faced contingent among the top tablers - about how our risk and health obsessed modern British society would view Felix Baumgartner's inspiring leap from space, Lyons declared that they would have tried their hardest to ban it. Not because of the feat itself, but for the fact that it was sponsored by a sugary drinks manufacturer.
I swear I saw even Nelson's frown-aged face crack into a reluctant smile at that.