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Why is is that ...


If you ask a foreigner what they associate most with us Brits, what do you reckon they'll say? A green and pleasant land? Football hooliganism? Yorkshire pudding? Forming orderly queues? I reckon one of our most amazing characteristics is our unthinking ability to accept the way things are without question or comment. Perhaps that's what they mean by "tolerance".

It's amazing, but I don't think it's healthy, and this article is a lighthearted attempt to shake us up and have us look with a conscious eye at some of the ways our country works.

If you have a "why is it that.." item, or you know the answer to one of the items here, or you want to conduct a formal enquiry on an item for us, please contact us.

We'll include relevant items here.

So, enquiring minds (this one, anyway) want to know these things ...

Why is it that ... Our government is quite happy to give No Comment?

I was watching The World at One. When asked, the home office had no comment to make about questions regarding inmates of Guantanamo Bay. Oh, well that's alright then. Thanks for your time. I guess it's none of our business anyway, huh?

I mean - we just finance all that you do in our name. But you probably know best.

WRONG ANSWER. We need a mechanism to compel our civil servants and elected representatives to be accountable to those they serve. Us. "No comment" should not be an option - it's not symptomatic of open government or an accountable democracy.

Clearly, public bodes cannot be expected to respond an any issue to every journalist at zero notice. So we need some procedural system to facilitate the preparation of answers to questions of importance. Shouldn't be rocket science to sort that out.

Why is it that... MPs are allowed to use low tricks to avoid accountability?

Often, watching what passes for debate in the house of commons, I see MPs avoiding giving direct answers to straightforward questions, and the reason is invariably self interest. Giving that straight answer would involve admission of ignorance or incompetence, or the exposure of some fact which is not convenient to the MP or his party.

Well, sorry - but that's unacceptable (oh but wait, we accept it routinely. Dayum).

So why don't we give the speaker the power to stop proceedings and insist on a straight answer? If the MP fails after stern caution, he is suspended.

Why is it that... Society Subsidise Idiots?

Each year, and at length, Adam Hart-Davis assures us "Tax Doesn't Have to be Taxing" in a variety of oh-so-entertaining ways. Who pays for that guff? That would be you and me. Who benefits? That would be the idiots who need constant reminders to fill in their tax returns. Why should we do that? Why not just sting the delinquents hard when they fail to meet the deadlines?

This is yet another example of a phenomenon I see all over UK society - the disconnect between decisions and consequences - between rights and responsibilities. In almost every case, I think that it's the deciders who should bear the consequences of their decisions - not some innocent third party - who is - more often than not - the Great British Tax Payer.

Why is it that ... correcting lies in newspapers isn't properly sorted out?

Often we see a full front page spread spewing damaging lies, and later we see a retraction and or apology printed in small text inside the paper. Isn't there a really obviously better way to do this?

Why not insist that all retractions are placed in the same location, and cover the same newspaper area as the original article did? Not only would it ensure that the retraction got equal exposure for the victim, but it would make it pretty clear that the paper messed up to its readers, and the paper would take a corresponding image hit, as it rightly should.

Powers That Be - I'm guessing - will find this unthinkable, unworkable, and undesirable. Which is of course, so much bull - but entirely typical of our Powers That Be. Anyone want to take this up with the Press Complaints Commission?

Why is it that ... the pictures on boxed ready meals never tell the truth?

Well, Mr Cynical here, has three answers:

(1) These pictures lie because the manufacturers want to sell more meals by presenting their products not just in their best light - but in their better than best light. In other words, they're happy to misrepresent the truth to dupe you into a sale.

(2) What they do is to manipulate the products artificially to make them look more appealing; glycerine can be used to make stuff shiny; washing up liquid can be used to make beers foam; food can actually be painted to improve its appearance. And so on.

(3) These pictures are allowed to lie because the law is an irrelevance - it either doesn't make this kind of lying illegal - or else it does, but no-one gives enough of a stuff to make the law stick.

Why not start a campaign to make this problem go away?

Why is it that ... Enquiries and Legal cases are opened then Immediately adjourned?

Often the time elapsed between a disastrous event and its analysis - whether that be a trial or an enquiry - is FAR too long. YEARS in many cases. That's bad, of course, but why do they open proceedings only to adjourn them immediately, for perhaps many more months?


Why is it that ... Child benefit is still being paid?

In a world where people die on waiting lists for lack of funding to treat them properly, why did Britain spend in excess of £7 BILLION in 2,000 on child benefit?

Child benefit is given to parents of children under 16 years of age. It continues until 19 years old for those in full-time education. As of April 2003, it is set at £15.50 per week for a first-born child, and £10.50 for subsequent children. It is not means tested - all parents can claim. Take-up is nearly 100% of those eligible.

Apparently, it was begun after world war II to encourage restoration of the birth rate. So - what's the current reason to keep it? Anyone know?

When I ask this question, the most common answer is get is "Well, we all need children, don't we?". Yes, I suppose we do, though I wonder if a Britain with half the number of people in it might not be a better place. But in any event - we don't have to pay people to have children - they will do if without financial enticement! So this reason evaporates.

The second most common response I hear is that "everyone has a right to raise a family, and those who can't afford it should be supported". I probably agree. But my question is about an un means tested benefit, so this observation is not relevant.

I've also heard it said that leaving it non-means-tested saves the cost of the means testing. I would be interested in seeing the numbers here - the implication is that the cost of means-testing it would exceed the savings made by excluding those who don't need the benefit on financial hardship grounds.

Can anyone enlighten me?

Why is it that ... banks take between three and four working days to move money?

With the modern movement of money electronically, I really don't know what it means when we say that money has been moved. If you write a cheque for £20, then the computer holding details of your account subtracts £20 from your total. The "clearing" process then happens, and eventually the cheque recipient's account gets £20 added to it. Did money - paper and metal - ever move? Presumably not.

So why do banks bury money in a mysterious four-day clearing process?

If anyone knows, I'd love to hear an explanation. Right now, I'm inclined (being a cynical, negative type) that banks rather like all that money lost in limbo-land earning them interest.

Why is it that ... Justice cannot be seen to be done?

The UK National news recently reported the case of the driver who killed a little girl on a roundabout. It seems he had killed before and has 89 other criminal convictions to his name.

Yet he did not receive the maximum term of imprisonment permitted for his offense, and I am struggling to understand why.

Can members of the public seek understanding of specific sentencing instances? I'm guessing that our system will include various safeguards to ensure that we cannot access the facts of any specific case, nor the reasoning behind the sentencing.

If you know different, please let me know!

Why is it that ... The Rich and Famous get better court access?

Recently Michael Douglas and Ms. Zeta-Jones took Hello! magazine to court over allegations that they took unauthorized photographs at their wedding. In my view - a heap of trivia. Yet it managed to get through the court system very rapidly. Contrast that with the many serious criminal cases which wait years to see the light of day.

Does anyone know the precise mechanism by which money is able to manipulate things in this way?

Why is it that ... Beggars can be Choosers?

Here's a little extract from a conversation I had with a WPC beat officer:

Hi, I wonder if there's anything you can do about the beggars
We do try to move them on
Sorry, but you can't be trying very hard - they're always in the same places, all day, every single day
Well what can you do?
Well - arrest them?
We've already got people in custody

... and on and on.

Oh. Well, that's that then, I guess.

Notice how poor her first and her second responses were. Contemptible. Not to mention worrying.

I wonder why we don't take the same line on illegal parking.

Why is it that ... we issue Concurrent Prison Sentences?

You sometimes hear that someone was found guilty of a terrible crime, and was given "three life sentences, to run concurrently". "concurrently" means "at the same time", right?

Well, why would we want to do that?!

Are they going to make sure they'll be three times as miserable for each of those years? Do we think that 7 years is enough for anyone, and hey - once you've punished someone for one murder - there's no point in being bloody-minded about the other 6"?

Since "life" can mean only seven years these days, does that mean they'll be out in seven instead of 21?

And to extend the apparent wisdom of concurrent sentencing - why don't we cut down the prison overcrowding problem in one easy step by handing out sentences like "1,000 days, to run concurrently" - that way they'll be out tomorrow - or possibly early this evening for good behaviour?

Please - educate me.

Why is it that ... Pelican Crossings are so Belligerent?

You know how it goes - you stroll up to the crossing. Traffic's constantly passing - so you press the button.

The Pelican crossing ignores you with an aloof disregard.

Then, when all the traffic's gone, you cross in defiance of the little red man. Of course, halfway across, he turns to a little green man, and the beeping starts.

Cars arrive and sit stationary at a completely empty crossing. You walk on, satisfied in admiration of modern technology. Another public convenience, and such a bargain for the rate payers...

NOT! It's the worst of all possible worlds!

Many of these crossings have sensors which can tell when someone's standing at the crossing. At least I guess that's why we've paid to have them up there consuming electricity. Surely, this is a solvable problem.

Answers on a postcard, please.

Why is it that ... no-one stops those Screaming Mopeds?

They're invariably ridden (recklessly) by young lads, at breakneck speed, around town centres. You see them hunched over "to cut down on drag"; far noisier than can be legal, because they removed the baffles from the exhaust system.

Why don't we help the public purse, increase safety on the roads, promote peace in our towns, and lower the cost of primary health care, by asking our police to spend a day sweeping the little buggers up and putting them in the bin?

I guess it isn't a priority.

... which is a phrase that comes up a lot these days. I wonder which prioritized our £83M a year buys us. More on that elsewhere.

Why is it that ... Public Toilets Generally Stink?

When I ask that question (as I do), I generally get an incredulous response along the lines of "errr, because it's a toilet?".

Well, I don't know about your toilet, but mine doesn't stink.

Of course, mine doesn't have half the shire presenting at it each day, and my aim and attention span may be better than some (though opinions differ) but all that's just a ... flash in the pan.

Toilets stink when they're not cleaned properly. Simple as that.

In Bedford, we have men with mops, and little rooms with kettles and TVs. They move a mop around the floor now and then. They sit and watch the world go by. They drink tea and they smoke. But even at minimum wage they aren't my idea of value for money, because they are not cleaning our toilets adequately.

We have a few public toilets in the town centre in Bedford. I don't know why we can't have ONE MAN cleaning them ALL - and doing one hell of a lot better than they all do right now.

Of course, that would require someone to care about jobs being well done, to pay attention, to see a problem and act to resolve it, to cause a little upheaval, to rock the boat, to risk "unpleasantness", to put a head above a parapet and be noticed.

I guess that proposition must stink too much - toilets have been stinking this way in Bedford for many years.

Read about my drive for Sweet Smelling Loos in Bedford here

Rachel Points out: that the Ladies' public toilets in Bedford are generally excellent. She goes on to propose a series of humorously radical measures to cure the problem, but these are not for the feint-hearted.

Penny asks:
Why is it that people believe in weather forecasts?

I take a detailed interest in the weather because I carry out indoor photography and prefer a white sky to a blue one. So far, I have never yet found the Met Office capable of making any accurate predictions of cloud cover even within 24 hours.

Take this bank holiday for instance. It was forecast that Friday would be stormy while Saturday and Sunday would be bright and sunny. What happened? The sky on Friday was blue and gray by turns, while the whole of the weekend was under perpetual white cloud cover. As for any kind of forecasting beyond 24 hours, it is in my experience, pure fantasy. There are obviously too many butterflies flapping about!

I can only conclude that weather forecasts are the modern day equivalent of the Oracle in Delphi, whose predictions were correct at least some of the time due to the laws of chance. Just as the High Priestess relied on the incredulity of the local population and their bad memories, so it is with the pronouncements of the cheery Weather Girl today. We recall when the predictions were correct, and forget the times when they weren't - except for a few unfortunate farmers. As weather forecasts are so forgettable, there is obviously no problem in perpetuating the myth that they provide some insight into the future. Now as then, we still crave predictions that prevent us from relying solely on our own experience and judgment.

- Interesting, Penny? And did you know that ... UK weather forecasting is done by the MET office - which is publicly financed? Or that the BBC - which buys its weather forecasting services from the MET office (financed a second time by public cash) costs us between 5 and 6 million pounds a year? - Chris

Why is it that ... news reporters always have to "sign off"?

There's so much wrong with news reporting, but that's for another article. Ever seen "Brass Eye"?

But what is the function of the "sign off" which TV news reporters go through?
Is it just pure vanity? I can't think of anything else it can be for. But perhaps you know different..

This has been Chris,
for Let's Fix Britain,
Ranting in his office,
on a Windy Dark Sunday in April.

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