We are so overwhelmed by petty laws that it has become impossible to get through the day without committing a crime, says Harry Mount
If Gordon Brown really wants to start appealing to the middle-class vote, he could start by picking up my rubbish. The bin bags outside my flat in Kentish Town, north London, weren’t collected for four weeks over Christmas because of the snow. When the foxes started to rip them apart and left a trail of chicken carcasses and half-chewed bread across my front garden, I cracked.
Patching up the most damaged bag and strapping it to my handlebars, I pedalled along the snowy roads — if my bike could negotiate the streets, so could a rubbish truck, by the way — to my local park. There, I poured the rubbish into a large, metal-mesh bin. As I did so, a plump, unshaven man in an official council fleece stopped casually scattering grit on the park footpaths and accelerated towards me.
‘Bag that up and take it home,’ he said, in the flat, passive-aggressive tone of the jobsworth bolstered by a tiny measure of official authority.
‘I’m very sorry,’ I said, unaware that I’d done anything wrong, ‘But no one’s picked up my bags for four weeks and the foxes are ripping them up.’
‘That’s nothing to do with us — we’re the parks department; we’re different from the ones who do your bins.’
‘I see your point…’ — I didn’t, but the only way to deal with this sort of official bullying is to be polite, to stop them enforcing the small powers of punishment they’re aching to use. ‘I’m very sorry; can you give me their number, then, so I can sort this out?’
‘No. That’s nothing to do with me. Bag that up and take it home; if you don’t, the CCTV will get you. Or they’ll go through your rubbish and find your address, and get you.’