Thursday, 21 August 2008

Cricket, the key to good government

Many have already written about our present government’s unstoppable urge to pass new criminal laws, roughly a new crime a day has hit the statute books since they took office in May 1997. Many have also written about the way in which both central and local government now pry into aspects of our lives which were previously private and seem keen to use every opportunity to extract fines and fixed penalties for breaches of petty regulations which no sensible person would consider worthy of any sanction. I am not going to rehash those matters but I do want to consider a highly important consequence of them, the way they have changed the relationship between the governed and the governors.


I consider the correct relationship to be one in which both central and local government are servants of the people not their masters. There is, I believe, a need for government to make and enforce laws just as there is a need for a body to make and enforce the laws of cricket. Similarly there is a need for government to organise beneficial facilities which would never otherwise be available as there is for a committee to run a cricket club. And there is a limit to what government should consider within its purview just as there is for the committee of a cricket club. So let me continue the analogy by examining why we have cricket club committees and what they can and cannot do.

A cricket club cannot operate efficiently throughout a season without a considerable amount of planning and organisation. Fixtures need to be arranged, the pitch needs to be prepared weekly, teams need to be selected, a tea rota is a must, the pavilion needs cleaning, coaching sessions for the junior players must be held, kit must be purchased and, most importantly of all, the bar must be stocked. These ordinary activities of a cricket club will not run smoothly or efficiently if left to chance, they must be organised and some take a great deal of work. Those of us who have no skill for organisation or insufficient motivation or time to do so, elect a committee and then things get done. The sole purpose of the committee is to do the things which cannot be done efficiently without a degree of central planning.

One aspect of the committee’s task is to suggest ways in which both membership of the club and playing cricket for the club can be made more enjoyable for the members. They might decide on quiz nights, barbecues and an annual dinner and they might decide to have club rules about dress and behaviour on the field of play or in the pavilion. In order for any rules of conduct to be an enhancement of the members’ enjoyment they must be just that, an enhancement. A dress code requiring members to wear a club blazer in the pavilion might enhance enjoyment if blazers can be bought for £25 a time but not if they cost £250 and cause people to resign their membership. It is all a matter of balance and the committee knows that because the members of the committee know they are elected to serve all members of the club and not for any other reason.

What, I wonder, would happen if a cricket club committee tried to tell the members how to play? “Jones, when batting you must always play a sweep shot to the third ball of the over and you may not hit any boundaries. Smith, you must never bowl an off-cutter, every other ball must be a full-pace in-swinging Yorker.” By the time Jones has started the response with the letters F and U, Smith will have completed it with F and F. Once on the field of play the committee’s only task is to sit back and enjoy the game. The club might or might not win the fixture but the players on the pitch will always do best by being left to their own devices, they will also enjoy the game more that way, win lose or draw.

There is no difference in principle between how government should operate and how a cricket club committee should operate. Government exists to arrange the things that need to be arranged and to provide the facilities which are necessary for the people to be able to live their lives to best advantage. In the same way that cricket club members must pay for club facilities through their annual subscriptions and match fees so the people must pay for government organised facilities through tax. And in the same way that interference by the club committee with the actual playing of the game would be counterproductive, so is undue interference by government in the way we live our lives. What makes a cricket player tick is having a good ground to play on, a team to play with and the opportunity to use his own skills as well as he can.

People tick in their normal lives in exactly the same way. When I say “people” I do not mean the people in government. I do not mean friends of the people in government. I do not mean financial sponsors of the political party of the people in government. I do not mean Eurocrats. I do not mean the criminal classes. I do not mean the professionally indolent. By excluding all those groups we find what I do mean, namely, the hard-working and law-abiding majority in the United Kingdom.

What makes them tick is really very simple, they want to go about their daily business without fear and without undue interference in how they live their lives. They have a strong belief in treating others as they would like to be treated themselves, it is what makes them hard-working and law-abiding, and they expect government to treat them in the same way. Today in Britain the government is the cause of much fear and unwarranted interference through its desire to criminalise all sorts of harmless activities and regulate the minutiae of our lives. It is their most serious mistake and has created a society in which we have to look over our shoulder at all times for fear of an official slapping a fixed penalty notice on us. What I find mysterious is why they think it was the right thing to do with their time in power.


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