Last night was doubly unusual for me. I had time to watch TV, and there was something on a Saturday night I was willing to watch. I tuned in to the story of the political awakening of John Adams, the 2nd President of the USA.
In their vivid and simplified documentary way the film makers captured the rising tensions in America against the bovine insensitivity of the British government. We saw John Adams, the honest and fair minded man, defend British redcoats against false charges of murder from an angry crowd that had taunted and assaulted them. We saw him turn down preferment from the clumsy colonial authorities, only to go on to advance radical proposals concenring the rights of man when even for him the autocratic inflexibility of the British government became too much to stand, let alone defend. He and his fellow delegates to the Convention fashioned the philosophy and the fine words of freedom that made the intellectual backbone of the new Republic. They shamed the gross incompetence of the British some 130 years after Parliament had had to make a stand for its rights against the Crown.The irony of Britain moving from home of liberty to colonial oppressor could not have been missed by the English gentlemen who made the Amrican revolution. I wondered if any Americans watching could see some of the irony now that America is viewed as the oppressor by some in countries where she uses her troops against the will of the locals. The cause of freedom requires tolerance to the differing views of others in most circumstances.
It made me think how much today we need to fashion a new coalition for liberty in our own country. The countless intrusions into our freedoms have often been criticised individually but when we look back over the last decade the total impact is large. Much damage has been done in the false name of security. More has been done by taking in vain the name of social justice, and still more in misguided ways to save the planet. The government has found causes it thinks are higher than liberty, and has then invented ways of seeking to further them that all result in the same dead and deadly end – more state power, more state control, more taxation, more rights and privileges for the governing and more duties and obligations for the rest of us.
When I go the local shops this morning I will doubtless see several people breaking the law, as many do now most of the time. Some will drive at 35 mph believing they do so safely in a 30 mph zone. Some will park on the double yellow lines in the side road close to the shop, seeing no harm as they will not bock the road. Doubtless some will fail to record cash payments for their businesses in their tax account file. Some businesses will be trading today in ways that doubtless violate some little known or unloved regulation. Some break laws because they cannot see the point of the laws, some break them inadvertently because there are so many to know about, and some break them because it makes their lives easier to break them. Recent research has unearthed just how many thousands of new criminal offences this government has introduced, finding new ways to ensnare the usually law abiding. If you invent enough complicated forms, difficult requirements and new rules for business and the general citizenry you will end up making criminals of most. To what purpose?
As I watched the Adams story unfold I knew I would have been with the crowd in demanding liberty in 1770s Masachusetts. I today I am with all those of you who feel there are too many taxes, too many spy cameras, too many new rules, too many needless interventions in our daily lives. We need to rebuild our free society. As we emerge from the Credit Crunch the message should not be that we need more government, but we need wiser government. We do not need more red coats with better weapons, but someone in charge who knows the temper of the people and trusts them to be freer and to make of their own decisions.
When we get a change of government we do not want managerialists who think it is just a question of running the existing system better, but freedom lovers who ask which bits of the creaking machinery of state do we need to keep running, and which can we pension off.
Men and women in Brtain are no longer born free, and live in chains. We need to burst them, to trust people more and governments less. It was big government working with regulated big banks that got us into our current economic mess. It was big government running scared of terrorism that sought to protect us with guards and gates in ways which cannot work when we need to win hearts and minds. I just wish the architects of the current autocracy had watched and understood last night’s docusoap of freedom. They should see that there is relevance today in Britain from those events long ago on the wintry Eastern seaboard of a great country.