David Cameron’s placebo politics

7:00 am - December 2nd 2009

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contribution by Andrew R

With the emergency budget safely pencilled in for after the election, there’s clearly no need for the Tories to discuss economic policy any more. Moving down the list of key priorities, the next giant to slay is, naturally enough, Health and Safety legislation. Cameron’s speech comes as a timely reminder of how tired we all are of a government that’s obsessed with cheap, populist initiatives rather than addressing the big issues facing Britain today.

And they don’t come much bigger than this: bureaucracy is killing the village fete. I’m going to repeat that so the full horror can sink in: bureaucracy is killing the village fete.

Or in other words, the people in charge of organising village fetes are such gullible, lazy, pigshit-thick inbreds that not only do they believe they’ll have to fill in reams of forms to get a tombola permit, but they are so scared by the prospect of reading, understanding and completing said mythical forms that, like the selfish bastards they are, they’d rather see the whole village go without the much-anticipated, long-remembered once-a-year thrill of winning a bottle of Tizer at a coconut shy than crease their illiterate brows in thought, or sweat over a row of tick-boxes.

It hasn’t occured to them that the popular conception of Health & Safety as bureacracy’s war on common sense is outrage porn peddled by right-wing tabloids who are still institutionally aghast at the Factory Act. It might have occured to Cameron, but if it has he’s doing his best to hide it.

For example, if you’re going to kick off your speech with dramatic anecdotes about kids being forced to wear goggles to play conkers, you could have the decency to point out that this nonsense has been debunked by the HSE:

This is one of the oldest chestnuts around, a truly classic myth. A well-meaning head teacher decided children should wear safety goggles to play conkers. Subsequently some schools appear to have banned conkers on ‘health & safety’ grounds or made children wear goggles, or even padded gloves!

Realistically the risk from playing conkers is incredibly low and just not worth bothering about. If kids deliberately hit each other over the head with conkers, that’s a discipline issue, not health and safety.

And anyone who works in an office will be able to tell you that Cameron is in no way overstating the impact of health and safety legislation when he claims that “office workers are banned from moving a chair without expert supervision… ”

Cameron does, eventually, admit that the problem lies not with the HSE, but with employers and councils who are a) wilfully ignorant of the regulations and b) terrified of being sued.

In fact, he’s even prepared to admit that maybe we’re all a bit to blame for being so keen to sue over accidents. But that doesn’t mean he won’t blame the HSE, or commission a report on how quickly workplace safety regulations can be overturned.

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Reader comments

If we accept that people are overly scared of litigation over innocent infractions, and we also accept that current civil liability legislation could do with being simplified, doesn’t that mean that Dave’s two concrete proposals (a single Civil Liability act, and a good faith exemption therefrom) are good ones?

Martin @1:

I’d argue (and indeed I have) that the key concrete proposal in the speech is a review by Lord Young – a ‘forensic examination’ into health and safety legislation/culture – but the outcome of which is explicitly pre-ordained by Cameron as the removal of existing health and safety legislation.

I think there’s real Trojan Horse stuff going on here. See http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2009/12/02/health-safety-the-rhetoric-and-reality-of-compassionate-conservatism/ and that this is a bit more than a) populist guff b) legitimate reflections on creeping litigation culture.

He knows – or should know – that this is an EU competence anyway.


Placebo, waffle, fudge….Cammo.

Thats strange, my village has more fates and village activities going on throughout the year than it had 10 or 20 years ago. More people have got involved.

Martin @1:

I agree with Paul @2, basically. Cameron isn’t making a major policy stand on preserving school playground conkers: he’s got his sights on bigger game.

The structure of the speech is:

1. Here are some unfounded anecdotes which prove beyond doubt that Health and Safety has gone too far…
2….but yeah, when you look at what it actually does the HSE is really quite useful and successful institution…
3…so we’ll get someone with a “track record of deregulation and cutting red tape” to look at the working of the HSE.
4. But before he’s even started, we can “make it clear. The Conservatives will reduce the burden and impact of health and safety legislation.” We don’t know how or where, but something’s getting cut.

If Cameron and Young don’t already know what that review is going to say, I’ll gouge my eye out with conker fragment. On point 2, it’s particularly instructive that Cameron can say:

“We will never know exactly how many lives have been saved or illnesses have been prevented by [Health and Safety legislation] but we do know that Britain has one of the lowest workplace fatality figures in the EU – and close to the lowest for non-fatal accidents.”

before suggesting in the same speech that the millions of pounds spent enforcing these laws are a waste of money, rather than a good investment that saves lives and man-hours and medical bills.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: Placebo politics http://bit.ly/61V1OS

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  3. Jack of Kent

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  4. Rachel Johnson

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  7. Bryan McComb

    RT @dnotice RT @libcon Placebo politics http://bit.ly/7dydC1 #elfandsafety #pcgawnmaaddd

  8. sianberry

    Ha! 'right-wing tabloids still institutionally aghast at the Factory Act' (some nice debunking from @libcon) http://bit.ly/7dydC1

  9. Robert Gomm

    Goggles to wear conkers? Nah. http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/12/02/placebo-politics/

  10. Tom Sheppard

    David Cameron’s placebo politics http://tinyurl.com/ybdv27r <- good article from @libcon

  11. Kurt

    Liberal Conspiracy » David Cameron's placebo politics http://bit.ly/8l4st7

  12. andrew

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    RT @dnotice RT @libcon Placebo politics http://bit.ly/7dydC1 #elfandsafety #pcgawnmaaddd

  15. topsy top20k

    :: Placebo politics http://bit.ly/61V1OS

  16. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  17. Richard Lane

    RT @pickledpolitics: RT @libcon David Cameron's Placebo politics http://bit.ly/7dydC1

  18. mike currie

    http://j.mp/7nHPCI cameron is a total bell end

  19. Nicholas Stewart

    David Cameron’s placebo politics http://bit.ly/7aCH1i

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