Last week, the BBC reported that “A five-year-old girl was fined £150 by a council for selling 50p cups of lemonade to festival goers.”
“The girl’s father Andre Spicer said his daughter had set up the stall in Mile End, east London, while thousands of music fans were on their way to the Lovebox Festival at the weekend. Mr Spicer said his daughter burst into tears and told him “I’ve done a bad thing””.
Apparently, Tower Hamlets Council has now cancelled the fine and apologised.
But without Council enforcement officers with the legal power to extort money out of people, who will keep us safe from little girls selling lemonade? I ask, sarcastically. The BBC referred to the incident using the popular phrase “common sense fail”, but that’s wrong. The Council itself, as a means to an end, is a failure of good sense.
The Council spokesman claimed it expects its officers to show “common sense” because he knows this is what the public wants to hear. But behind closed doors, this is absolutely not what the council expects of its enforcement officers. They expect their officers to enforce the rules uniformly and without using their discretion because, to paraphrase economist Thomas Sowell, procedure is everything to bureaucrats and outcomes are nothing.
This was demonstrated when grown men representing the Council forced a little girl to stop selling lemonade on the street. Think about that. They actually went through the whole process of issuing the fixed penalty notice to a five-year-old girl. At no point during did it occur to them to consider the outcomes of doing this. Only some time afterwards, when the public outcry began, did anyone at the Council suddenly give any thought to outcomes.
A couple of years ago, the same Council confirmed Sowell’s observation when I was appealing a parking penalty on behalf of my parents. The Council argued that, even though it had neglected to remove the parking suspension notice as it should have done (the Council had been told by the construction company that the parking suspension was no longer needed), it was still justified in towing my father’s car because this is standard procedure. And if the Council tows a car, then they have to issue a fine because that covers the cost of the towing.
This was the Council implicitly admitting that it tows cars for disobeying Council orders, and not for the purpose of preventing road works and other works from being obstructed. It’s not just Tower Hamlets enforcement officers that behave in this infuriating and literally unreasonable way, it’s every Council’s officers. This is the unchangeable nature of bureaucracies because they are inward-facing organisations and not consumer slash customer-facing ones like those we encounter in the private sector.
Tower Hamlets Council didn’t cancel the fine for trading without a licence out of remorse or because it felt that it had done something wrong. The fine was cancelled because it was in the best interests of the Council to do so. Councillors realised that if they didn’t rip up the fixed penalty notice issued to a child by their bureau-prat goons, then that would seriously harm their chances of being re-elected.
It’s curious how, sometimes, adults need children to reveal simple truths to them, which they’ve been intellectually evading in complex ways. Like the truth that local Councils are in reality groups of people engaged in legalised racketeering. And not, as people like to believe, an elected body of people benevolently executing the collective will of the community.
The injustice of the Council’s actions was made even more glaringly evident and drew more outrage because the victim was a five-year-old girl. But if it’s wrong to force a child to stop selling lemonade, then it’s also wrong to force an adult to stop selling anything. It goes without saying that whatever is wrong to do to a child is wrong to do to an adult.
Needing a licence (permission) to trade is an absurd and illiberal idea. Which is why acting upon it leads to such absurd and illiberal behaviour as four grown men ordering a child to stop selling lemonade. We should be outraged by the very idea of trade licensing, but we generally aren’t. Acting and living by permission of people in authority is all we’ve ever know, so we think it’s normal. But it’s not, it’s aggression and it has no place in free and peaceful society. That little girl’s’ reaction to the Council goons told us as much.