On The Proper Role of Government

‘What do we pay our taxes for?’ ‘The Government should do something?’ This and many other comments like them show our total addiction to the Government being the answer to most problems in our lives. Yet at the same time we hate Government intrusion into our lives and we hate paying the cost of big Government.

Whether it is flood defences or Cyber-snooping or police corruption – whether in India or Britain – the size, role and responsibility of Government has never been more assumed to be big and include everything.

We ask the Government to be at once cheap, and superhuman, full of people we know are singularly inadequate at managing their bodies, budgets or behaviour.

At Oxford I was taught in Economics that the type of person that seeks to be your elected representative is exactly the kind of person you don’t want being your elected representative. (We weren’t all told to go out and rule at Oxford, some of us were told simply to be useful and of value to society).

It is about time we the people realised Government by the people, for the people, of the people, means like most of the people it’s pretty shabby. Incompetence, laziness will all be rife. This not yet another attack on the soft soft target of MPs. But rather a realisation that if you pick life’s inadequate, incompetents to run a zoo, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re left with a circus full of individuals mimicking animals at Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Writing for the Financial Times I used to get the same caseload as an MP. I would write to banks on behalf of the poor old lady who had been maltreated. And of course she would be delighted that the bank listened to such power and got results for her.

But power in spotlight grandstands. My helping the little old ladies was not done in the public glare. I never wrote about it in the press. So I didn’t need to run to the nearest TV station to proclaim my heroics. They were for the individual. The media spotlight instead of helping has harmed the motives of those entering the politics. We now help for PR, for branding and that corrupts and does not get things done.

The ideal Parliamentarian is one who uses his office to do casework, without media courtship. One who doesn’t feel the need to make pointless endless speeches because it’s ‘their topic’ but puts their wellies on and grabs a shovel, or raises money by virtue of their office for a non-Governmental body.

That’s what politics used to mean – ‘of the people’. We are all politicians in the truest sense and the responsibilities of society’s failings do not lie with those we voted for – that’s too easy to shift the blame.

‘You get the Government you deserve’ goes the old saying. The hope is and always will be, ‘we the people’ and our community organisations.

As a former judge for the Asian Achievers Awards of this paper, I can tell you, tear-filled eyes read the nominations for the award for public service. Unsung heroes. Proper politicians them. No media glare to corrupt their motives.

And as for why we pay tax? Well if you pay peanuts you can only expect monkies. I don’t want the politicians having a bigger budget through my taxes – I want them having a smaller one and I’d rather volunteer to help non-governmental bodies and simplify my expenses. They’re the last bunch of people I would outsource even more things to.

Alpesh Patel


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