As I write, Great Smith Street – home of the Adam Smith Institute – is closed off by police. There is red and white ‘do not cross tape’ everywhere, two police cars and a police van are parked at one end of the road, and another two police cars at the other. Policemen and Community Support Officers are swarming all over the place, doing what they do best (being officious and irritating) and they have just been joined by a collection of yellow-vested fire marshals from the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
What has happened? Is it a bomb scare? A terrorist attack? Or is there a sniper on the roof, as I just heard one passer-by saying? Actually, no. It’s none of those things. The reason for all this fuss is… wait for it… a piece of lead-cladding that has come loose from a building across the road.
Now, OK. Falling pieces of lead are, I suppose, a genuine health and safety risk. But do we really need the efforts of a small army of officialdom to protect us from it? Do we really need the disruption of closing a road to traffic, as well as pedestrians? Couldn’t they just block off the bit of the pavement underneath the hanging lead, put up a few ‘danger’ signs and be done with it? And if they’re really that concerned, couldn’t they just station a polite bobbie on the street-corner to warn people and direct them to the other side of the road?
Well, apparently not. Not in the crypto-facsist, risk-averse, bureaucracy-obsessed Britain of the twenty-first century anyway.