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
We'll include relevant items here.
So, enquiring minds (this one, anyway) want to know
these things ...
is it that ... Our government is quite happy to give No
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.
is it that... MPs are allowed to use low tricks to avoid
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.
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.
is it that ... correcting lies in newspapers isn't properly
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
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
is it that ... the pictures on boxed ready meals never tell
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?
is it that ... Enquiries and Legal cases are opened then
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
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
Can anyone enlighten me?
Why is it that
... banks take between three and four working days to move
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
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
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
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 Pelican crossing ignores you with an
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.