More rubbish from the Coalition of the Clueless. According to the BBC, the Government is about to announce the removal of local authority powers to issue fixed penalties to people who break the rules about refuse collection. Only the most serious cases of fly-tipping will continue to attract sanctions.
Rubbish, it seems, is a big issue in Middle England. The Daily Mail, the coalition’s spiritual guide, is full of stories about town hall bureaucrats who have the effrontery to require rubbish to be sorted, recycled, managed carefully. The coalition promised action and that, apparently, is what we have got. Dealing with waste is of course a serious issue – we as a society are running out of landfill and have an appalling recycling record, but nobody’s addressing that.
In my view, though, it provides an important insight into the Tory psyche. Tories have problems with public space; fundamentally they don’t believe in it. So we have rhetoric about bossy bollards restricting the right of the free-born English 4×4 driver to put his behemoth wherever he likes, and now about the right of householders not to sort their rubbish, or to put perishables out in inappropriate container. Rats, urban foxes and, where I live in Brighton, giant feral herring gulls can be ignored; rubbish strewn across pavements because somebody doesn’t use their wheelie bin or puts bags out two days before the collection date is a far more trivial matter than the inalienable right of the individual to treat their refuse as they see fit, without interference from town hall gauleiters, as the Daily Mail would put it.
But it ought to be obvious that how humans dispose of their waste is a public issue. Collective provision has been the norm throughout history; the issues of public health are obvious and even at the height of the age of laissez-faire, London’s sewers were provided as a public good. One person’s inconsiderate rubbish disposal is the community’s rat infestation or public health problem. It ought to be obvious – and in grown-up countries like Germany, where the duty of citizens to manage waste properly is accepted and enforced – it is obvious. It’s only in Britain, where the coalition channels an increasingly infantile view of public space as the playground of the individual, that the sort of nonsense Caroline Spelman appears poised to announce would be tolerated.
Con Dem Britain seems increasingly to be about pandering to the inner toddler – about allowing immature people to stick their fingers in their ears, poke out their tongue, and scream “it’s not fair” when required to think about the wider interests of society, while ingesting cheap fizzy sugary rhetoric from the Daily Mail. Sustainability starts when politicians grow up.