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Only for the lonely.

By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.

LONG, LONG AGO (months, in fact) before the furore of Cambridge Analytica, the poisoning of Russians in Salisbury, Corbyn’s anti-Semitic crisis and the eternal problem of what should be done in the scorpion’s nest that is the Middle East (apart from just bombing one group or another occasionally), the British government announced a radical and life-changing policy. They had created a Minister for Loneliness.

Loneliness, say the experts, is as “harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day” and something must be done about it. I don’t know how you measure the effects of smoking 15 ciggies a day, so measuring loneliness must require real ingenuity. I certainly know that smoking that many cigarettes a day makes you cough. Heaven knows what happens if you’re lonely and you smoke 15 a day.

The minister now responsible for trying to alleviate the misery of loneliness, which, we are told, affects nine million people nationally, has fallen to Tracey Crouch, who is already Under-Secretary of State for Sport and Civil Society (what a dog’s dinner of a job and title that is). Perhaps she could combine all three occasionally – rugby for the young and lonely, mass bingo for the old and lonely, followed by a polite discussion in the tea rooms on the effects of Brexit on UK manufacturing.

Terrible as loneliness is, I don’t think this is the sort of thing with which the government should be concerning itself. There are far more important issues at hand it should be concentrating on – public finances, security, law and order, Brexit, to name a few. They shouldn’t be thrusting the state into such an area of life, any more than they should be trying to measure happiness (or “well-being”, as it is described, in yet another of those ghastly terms loved by the clerisy). Both vacuous policies smack of desperation as the political elites try to find something that says, “We care so much about you, we’re not really nasty, hard-headed people (please vote for us)”. Nothing beats a serious approach to politics as the “something must be done and we are going to be seen to be doing it” reflex.

Both policies, ironically, have been initiated by our so-called Conservative government, which has reverted to the failed semi-socialist interventionism of the sixties and seventies. This particular initiative arises from the work of the murdered Labour MP, Jo Cox, and her Commission on Loneliness, which issued a Call to Action, and the government insist the project will be cross-party. Theresa May begins to look more and more like Ted Heath, apart from going in opposite directions concerning the EU. She’s a bit soppy, and, like Cameron has done her best to change the perception of the Tories as the “nasty party” — a term which she coined herself.

I can’t see a minister popping up on BBC or Sky in a couple of years announcing triumphantly that loneliness has been halved and happiness tripled, can you?

She’s also happy to recycle the rather dull soundbites produced by her party these days: that “strong and stable” mantra from her recent disastrous election campaign derives from the government’s “strong and stable families test” issued in 2014, in which the effects on families of new policies were to be assessed. And there’s another pointless initiative: like the baloney over happiness and loneliness, we’ll never know if any of this produces the results intended. I can’t see a minister popping up on BBC or Sky in a couple of years announcing triumphantly that loneliness has been halved and happiness tripled, or every family in the kingdom feels 10 percent stronger and more stable than before, can you? I bet you the same happens with the ridiculous sugar tax. There’s no evidence whatever that it will reduce childhood obesity and no evidence will be produced once it’s underway.

Much of this nannying, soft totalitarianism is par for the course with the political elite now. A lot of it probably derives from the sinister “Nudge” Unit, aka The Behavioural Insights Team, pioneered by Cameron. Given how inept and inefficient the state is at most of the things it gets involved in, there is every reason to object to the idea of its poking its nose into our personal lives, thinking it can derive policy from the kind of data beloved of sociologists.

Happiness, loneliness, whatever next? A Minister for Making Sure You Eat Your Greens; a Minister for Tucking You In At Night; a Minister for Being Nice? A Minister for The Abolition of Pointless Government Posts would be a better idea, a kind of Witchfinder General, terrifying half the departments and units in Whitehall with liquidation. That’s one innovation I could get behind.


suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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