When appointed foreign office minister in 1951, Selwyn Lloyd confessed to the Prime Minister that he had never visited a foreign country, spoke no foreign language and detested foreigners anyway. Churchill’s wry response: “just the qualifications we’re looking for!”

Approaching a fraught assignment in a state of innocence is an advantage. Untainted by trappings of knowledge, a fresh approach may be just what’s needed. The danger of being immersed in conflicting ferment is an assumption that this is how things are, and must ever be so.

“Less is more” is too simple to grasp. Less government, less tax, less regulation, will provide more freedom, more revenue, more individual responsibility, more enterprise, more prosperity – it sounds too utopian for minds steeped in complex arguments. The Lord’s Prayer, an exhortation rather than a regulation, is 66 words long. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is 286 words. Three EC Directives on permitted loudness of lawnmowers run to 9,672 words.

The longer it takes to say something, the less it is worth hearing.

Universal truths have a natural rather than enforced appeal. They can be declared with breathtaking economy and need no recourse to the 3-line whip. The longer it takes to say something, the less it is worth hearing.

Unwarranted intrusiveness

Much of today’s tortuous drivel is dreamed up by overpaid functionaries who measure importance by volume rather than need. Power to impose rules should breed cautious introspection, but the opposite is too often the case. Unashamed intrusiveness abounds in areas where tentacles of state have no legitimate interest.

The European Commission now prohibits producers of bottled water from claiming “regular water consumption is the best way to rehydrate the body”. Anyone infringing this ban faces two years in prison. It is a worthy successor to the law prohibiting bent bananas and curved cucumbers, scrapped in 2008 after attracting international ridicule.

On the professional front EC Commissioner Michel Barnier is pushing ahead with “reforms” requiring public companies to change auditors every six years to improve “competition and transparency” in the audit market. Not a word about quality – always the first casualty when competition becomes the priority.

Can’t M. Barnier distinguish cause and effect? Such are the demands of auditing global entities that only four firms now have the reach and resources to do the job. Maintenance of audit quality should be the real priority, but M. Barnier’s dictates will make it even harder to achieve the high standards needed. They will, however, waste vast amounts of time and money.

“European” regulation

He also wants regulation of auditors to be imposed at the European rather than national level. The insidious assumption underlying all such EU takeovers is “ I know better than you what’s good for you”. The bizarre Merkel/ Sarkozy pledge to “do whatever it takes” to save the euro is as staggeringly presumptuous as it is undemocratic.

How ironic that this anti-democratic theft of national autonomy engulfs Europe at the very time that millions are queuing at polling stations in Middle-Eastern and North-African states to shake off the loathsome dictatorships of yesteryear, and vote for the first time.

Beware complacency. The cycle of civilisations turns slowly, but inexorably. The five weakest European governments have already fallen prey to the euro-madness. As has already happened in Italy and Greece, they will all be replaced by unelected technocrats who – yes – know what’s good for you far better than you do.