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If only half of this is true, it's frightening enough
on 20 March 2009
On one level, this book wouldn't look out of place as an extended Daily Mail or Telegraph leader, albeit significantly better written than most. On another level, given the credentials of the author and his closeness to the affairs of government, it has to be taken as more than a reactionary rant or the sounding off of a golf club bore. Dr Butler has clearly thought this through and worked out his argument in fine detail, even allowing for his occasional divergences into personal diatribe.
What he expresses is what many of us sense, without access to the sources that he has to verify our instincts. It's a pretty damning condemnation of what has been a wretched and deeply wasteful regime. Not before time and not without very good reason.
I recently emigrated with my family from the UK to Germany. Aside from the personal reasons behind the move, at least a part of the final decision was made for us by the self-evidently parlous state of education, health and welfare provision in the UK. In short, it was obvious to us that (unless we were willing to take a chance on the local state schools - we weren't) a decent education for our son was going to cost us the thick end of 100K - money we neither had nor wished to invest in that way - that public health provision was a demonstrable shambles, and that any attempt we made to provide for a comfortable retirement was very less than certain to be successful. This much was blindingly obvious from personal experience, even without Dr Butler's informed analysis.
So we left, taking ten of thousands of pounds worth of UK tertiary education with us, for a country that has already achieved much of what Dr Butler puts on his wish list at the end of this intriguing book. Germany is run as a confederation of states, with strong local government and clear lines of accountability. It shows. Things work. On the face of it, taxation looks like it will cost us a similar amount to what we were used to paying in the UK, but I don't mind because it gives us excellent services. In the end, neither my wife nor I had the 50 years or so to wait for the UK to look across the Channel and apply some of the lessons offered by their European neighbours.
It isn't rocket science, nor, as Dr Butler points out, is change likely to happen any time soon, as long as the UK maintains a political system based entirely on interest groups and party politicking, miles removed from any sort of real public accountability - like losing your job if you mess up - and in service apparently exclusively to itself.
Dr Butler's book makes for a depressing if enlightening read. I found myself thinking 'it can't be this bad', but then looking to my own experiences and seeing the truth in what he said. In the end, if he is only half right, it's reason enough to march in the streets and get not a tweak to the current system, but root and branch reform. A timely message, but will it be heeded? Can it be?