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Because I said so Aug 19

One of the worst things an adult could say to me when I was a kid was “Because I said so.” It’s a refusal to engage, a lazy response to inquisitiveness, a wasted opportunity to share knowledge.

It’s all too easy from a position of authority for a teacher to tell a pupil (hypothetically) “Don’t run in the corridor,” and when asked why reply, “Because I said so.” It appears to be a demonstration of authority, but rather than instilling respect for authority it engenders distrust – if you’ve really got a good reason, why won’t you share it? It’s also unhelpful in the long term: the pupil stops running in the corridor, but falls and hurts himself outside because it wasn’t explained that the risk of tripping and hurting himself was the reason not to do it.

It is too tempting for the Government, at a time of national crisis (as decreed by them), to disengage with the public. Why is the rucksack I’ve taken into the cabin on countless domestic flights now considered too large? Because they said so. Not knowing the reason doesn’t mean I’ll try to flout the rule – that would be futile – but it means I trust them less. If the Government won’t trust the public with simple information, why should we trust them with our security – with our lives? If the answer would compromise national security, then that itself is an acceptable answer. If the answer is that smaller bags can be searched more quickly to avoid delays, then why not tell us? If the answer is that airport X-ray machines can’t cope with larger bags, we have a right to question whether they were coping before the latest change.

I don’t doubt that there really was a plot by extremists to blow up aeroplanes on trans-Atlantic flights. Do I think the terrorists would have been successful if the security services hadn’t uncovered the plan? I don’t know. Should airport security measures have been tightened a long time ago if there was a real threat? Quite possibly. Am I prepared to place my trust in the Government to take the tough decisions to protect us? Of course not. I don’t trust them to reform local taxation; I don’t trust them to run our schools; I don’t trust them not to give political favours in return for party loans and donations; why on Earth would I trust them to make me safe?

We shouldn’t feel the need to back off questioning the Government just because it’s a “time of unity”. Governments love the concept of unity because it absolves them of the need to explain themselves. Were we not united before? Those of us who absolutely oppose murderous terrorism aren’t any less united in that opposition because a plot was foiled. If this really is a time of national crisis requiring political unity, Labour need to do what I’ve seen suggested on another blog (I can’t remember where): give up some power and form a plural government of national unity. If the War on Terror is a real war, act like it.

Those of us who believe in protecting our freedoms aren’t going to water down those beliefs just because the threat level was raised; that’s the point of having principles. If we suspend our disbelief for the duration of a threat, who decides when that threat has passed (or is sufficiently familiar that we are desensitised) that we are allowed to ask questions once more?

I’m a Liberal Democrat. We believe in questioning authority. That’s the responsiblity of society in a democracy. If we’re prepared to let the government of the day act without checks and balances, we don’t deserve our democratic rights. At a time when the Government talks about “balancing freedoms with security”, we don’t need to be less vigilant, we need to be more so. We’re Liberal Democrats. We’re the unfashionable, inquisitive, geeky kid who shouldn’t put up with “Because I said so.”

2 Responses

  1. Well said that man. 🙂

  2. 2
    Heather Quinton 

    Thanks for that Will. Your last line confirms that I’m in the right party!