Peter Rhodes on the next census, the Chinese bid for HS2 and the lure of dark satanic mills
Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.
Tory grandee Michael Gove says Britain has a moral responsibility to lead the fight against climate change because we started the Industrial Revolution. In doing so, he plays to an audience of dreamers who seriously believe life was better and richer in the days before the dark satanic mills, blast furnaces and railways. But it wasn't.
Back in ye olden days there was no pastoral idyll. Life in rural Britain was nasty, brutish and short and half your kids would probably die in infancy. The only people yearning for the country life were soppy poets and most of them were out of their skulls on laudanum. When the Industrial Revolution happened, most peasants – including my forebears - couldn't wait to get off the land and into the cities.
As for owing the rest of the world some sort of debt, Britain only did what any other country would have done if it had the coal, the iron ore, the manpower and the ingenuity. We led the world towards industrial prosperity and today we are leading the world out of the consequences of carbon emissions. Not because we owe anything to anybody but because it's the right thing to do and we still have the brainpower to do it.
Next year's census could be the last to be based on official forms and clipboard-carrying officials going door-to-door. The Office for National Statistics believes it can create a cheaper and more useful snapshot of the nation by using driving-licence records, GP lists, tax returns and various address lists. In today's logged-on society, just about every detail of our private life has been surrendered to the system. It's just a matter of bringing all the information together.
It will be fascinating to see whether the 2021 Census produces a bigger population figure than the 65 million usually claimed. There are occasional rumours from the supermarket and sewage industries – two organisations with a working knowledge of how much we eat and how much we excrete – that the true UK population has already passed 70 million.
It's difficult to argue against the Chinese building HS2 when our homes are already filled with everything from blenders to vacuum cleaners marked “Made in China” which seem to work perfectly well. The Chinese could probably build a first-class high-speed railway faster than a British consortium and, while we're at it, we might take the opportunity of tapping into their thriving defence industry. So that's one HS2, five frigates, ten submarines and 50 main battle tanks. To go?
Research in Missouri suggests that those who regularly play golf live longer than non-golfers. So we can look forward to our declining years in the company of lots of hearty old blokes in Pringle sweaters and check trousers droning on endlessly about the divots on the seventh. Suddenly, death seems not so terrible.