When England’s countryside springs to mind, ‘bureaucracy’ is seldom the first word to accompany it. Her green and pleasant land is a place of custom, of order based on long-established ways of life, rather than of Orwell’s hectoring ‘Nosy-Parkers’. But if you go down to the sticks these days, Nosy-Parkers are exactly what you’ll find. So reads Josie Appleton’s new post in Reason, decrying the slow, silent rise of the rural Nanny State.
Jeremy Clarkson has railed before against the health Nazis who bustled round his farm, making him put ‘No Smoking’ signs on all his (private) barns. But it takes a special sort of person to find the sound of church bells irritating enough to complain to a local council. Or the sound of sheep ‘baaing’. Or the sight of peacocks roaming. Yet all three have lately been the subject of complaints, and all three have been on the receiving end of busybody local authorities as a result. Church bells were removed, and an ‘irresponsible shepherding task group’ formed. The peacocks, meanwhile, were given their marching orders.
This is the extent to which local government has sought to extend its reach into the daily lives of everyday country folk, often in the most bizarre and pedantic of ways – perhaps the most brazen example being the attempt to have the famous Cooper’s Hill cheese-rolling event banned on grounds of health and safety. (The way the ban was eventually defied is telling of just how this creeping authoritarianism is regarded by the average Englishman: with equally brazen contempt.)
Appleton points the finger for the rise in intrusions by the state to the 1980s demise of its great institutions – when their officials, shorn of purpose, ‘became the representatives of blank, empty officialdom, with no raison d’etre other than to subject social life to their bureaucratic tools.’
For those of you concerned, the peacocks, though ordered to disperse, remain firmly in place, the sheep have yet to have their vocal cords clipped, and some of the church bells have been reinstated. Still, now that they have been equipped with silencing technology, we must hope there is no prospect of invasion any time soon; or how else will we rally the yeomanry?
Then again, what will they have to defend? Keep it up the miserablism much longer, carry on legislating, and there’ll be no rural life left.