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See it. Say it. Sod off!

Against the naggy state

Artillery Row

Whilst returning from a recent trip to Barcelona, I was struck by the number of nanny-state posters at Stansted Airport. I have had a growing interest in paternalistic signs over the last few years — as so many were introduced on the underground in that time — documenting them on Twitter with anthropological fascination. The trip abroad made their presence and proliferation even more noticeable. I experienced a culture shock in my own culture.

You’d be insulted, before concluding we’re a nation of freaks

Barcelona had offered me escapism from inflation and hopeless MPs in Barbour jackets. It was cheap, friendly and, crucially, a place where the state trusts its citizens. The city does not, unlike Stansted, have signs telling you not to “abuse staff”, or that the train doors (to central London) “close 30 seconds before departure” or how “using the platform helps everyone board faster”. As I was on the last leg of my journey, I saw the infamous words “See It. Say It. Sorted” and sighed. Welcome home, welcome to Big Brother, they might as well have read.

It is troubling on multiple levels that paternalistic posters are one of the first things you see upon arriving in Britain. For starters, you have to wonder what tourists make of these bossy displays. Imagine landing in Blighty, perhaps for the first time, giddy to see Paddington and Buckingham Palace, believing that you’re in the land of “keep calm and carry on”, only to be hit by an avalanche of signs telling you not to stare at or touch others, as well as how to use escalators and board a train. You’d be insulted, before concluding we’re a nation of freaks.

It also strikes me that paternalism is now so normalised that a Brit actually needs to escape the country or London to realise the extremism of the situation. As with Stockholm Syndrome, one cannot fully understand the nature of what he or she has been subjected to without distance and perspective. The role of the state in directing behaviour has been an insidious thing. We are one step away from a poster warning Brits “don’t dribble” or “here’s what a nose looks like”, yet no one seems to have noticed the change.

Where did it all begin, this curious case of See-It-Sort-itus? It’d be easy to blame the pandemic for infantilising the nation. That period was, after all, one in which the Government advised citizens on everything from whether a Scotch egg constituted a “substantial meal” to what time they should be going to bed. You can kid yourself that every country micro-managed this way; that it was good for Joe Bloggs to be told how many friends he could have, so why shouldn’t the Government continue with more of the same?

I believe the pussification of Britain goes much further back, however, positively correlating with the rise of soft power under New Labour, which has continued to the modern day. Far from Brits living under Tory tyranny, as the mainstream media makes it sound, the reality is more complex, with the Left equally dominant in many regards. Thanks to Blairism, multiple pockets were created for progressive influence to flourish.

What do adults do? They set the rules

Some of these include devolved administrations across the UK, quangos and the education system, in which PSHE has played a particularly powerful role. Its initial purpose was, of course, to teach kids about the birds and the bees, a function that seemed particularly important in the 90s, when teenagers were popping out sprogs left, right and centre. As pregnancies decreased (much more than anyone could have ever expected), the remit of PSHE expanded into new areas such as drugs, food and health. The beauty of PSHE for progressives was that it allows teachers, who tend more to the Left than Right, to blend their own worldviews (“there are many different genders”) with neutral information. Thus any criticism of the ideology becomes a criticism of education itself, a case of “so you don’t think kids should know about periods?”

PSHE is emblematic of a wider tendency amongst progressives, which is to believe that people, young and old, need guidance to navigate life — in essence, the nanny state. Some nanny others because they genuinely think everyone else is thicker than them. There are also sinister reasons behind the trend, however. Regardless of whether it is subconscious, progressives see PSHE and public messaging as pathways to political power. Infantilising others makes you the adult in the room, after all, and what do adults do? They set the rules.

Here lies the fallacy of the “See It. Say It. Sorted” advert and other insanely patronising messaging in Labour-run London and elsewhere. The installation of these signs does not prove politicians or TfL leaders actually care about Britons. What they mostly achieve (aside from masking TfL’s lack of advertisers) is desensitising the public to — and therefore normalising — authoritarianism. This makes people easier to boss around. Judging by lockdowns, when Brits voluntarily imprisoned themselves, the formula is effective.

I expect some will find these conclusions too dramatic, so entrenched is progressive propaganda. At the very least, can everyone admit that hostile signs telling people how to stand on a train track aren’t great for a country that needs all the tourism it can get? Never mind the fact that they never target actual problematic behaviour on public transport, such as people who listen to their mobile without headphones, eat tuna or make loud phone calls before 9am.

I rather took heart from a girl I heard on the tube a few months ago, who chanted, “See It. Say It. Snort It” at her friends. It gave me a moment of quiet solidarity, knowing that others have spotted Big Brother, too. Joke whilst you still can, my friend!

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