Mr Mulgan,

Your piece in today’s Guardian entitled “Anti-politics” was intriguing. Not because of the premise that prompted it, which was that “Modern electorates simply do not like governments” – I agree. What I found intriguing was that you call this “the bad news!”

You go on to suggest that the freshly re-elected Labour government should “rediscover its passion for social justice, community, childcare and internationalism” and give Britain “investment in transport” and “a programme on climate change.” In other words, to govern even more, not any less.

Maybe the reason that people do not like governments is that they are being governed too much already. From their eating habits to what they watch on television, from their choice of transport to their weekly shopping trip, from their educations to their health, from the fruits of their labour to the shape of their actual fruit – in some categories it is shorter to list what IS legal than it is to list what isn’t. People know when their freedoms are being violated; “anti-politics” is what happens when they come to discern that it is their government violating them.

I could spend a few weeks detailing all of the unnecessary ways in which government interferes in the lives of citizens, providing good examples of non-coercive ways of achieving the same objectives. But, to be blunt, it would be a waste of time. There is only one important point to be made: that to govern people in the ways that you have suggested and many of the ways already in place is simply outside of the legitimate function of the state.

If, as you point out, the people do not like governments, maybe there are a few questions we should ask. Is the solution really more government, less individual freedom? Is it a conspicuous fact that the answer to all our social issues is to engineer them by coercion? After all, points of public policy influenced by such thinking haven’t been particularly marked by any increase in happiness or satisfaction in society.

Government, beyond simply protecting rights, hasn’t been very successful. Politics hasn’t delivered what people want.

What they want is freedom. Is that such a hard thing to recognise?

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John Wright

johnwright@softhome.net

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REPLY FROM GEOFF MULGAN TO JOHN WRIGHT, May 10th, 2005:

No-one much likes governments. But the reason that parties proposing
fairly active roles for government have consistently beaten parties
proposing a sharp curtailment of government activity is that people
recognise that their well-being generally depends on a significant
amount of government action. Of course it is not government per se that
is good; but rather government focused on public needs which accepts
limits to its actions. It does not take much knowledge of recent
history to realise that government in this sense has done more to
promote human well-being than anything else, although I entirely
understand and recognise your ideological position, which has a long and
respectable history.
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