Ski helmets have a lesson for us … on ‘localism’



Boris Johnson rails against the centralization of power that has caused the cost of government to rise like a rocket, saying the sensible way forward is to simplify and devolve.


In an article in The Daily Telegraph Boris Johnson admits — despite the economic rigours the population generally is suffering — to going ski-ing.  He does claim in mitigation that it was a cut-price affair with, as he puts it, “home-made sandwiches for lunch, washed down with eau de robinet”.

It is not, he says, just that he loves ski-ing and is addicted to hurling himself down the slopes and that his children are quite keen.  A collateral purpose drove him to take this vacation :  journalistic research.

Having reported last year on a disturbing phenomenon sweeping the pistes, he wanted to see how it had developed :  the news was not good.

He invites us to imagine a horror film called Tadpole Head “in which a weird cranial mutation is transmitted from person to person until thousands of formerly happy-go-lucky skiers were in its zombie-like thrall ;  the hills crawling with the glistening black bonces of a new race of human scarabs.”

red jacket
That, apparently, is what is happening at ski resorts all over Europe.  The ski-helmet epidemic is out of control and hordes of would-be Darth Vaders have colonized the Alps.  When he reported last year, however, about 35 to 40 per cent. were infected ;  this year, he estimates, more like 50 per cent., perhaps more.  He calls for a re-examination of the arguments — and the risks.

Whilst conceding that all have the right to wear and to have their children wear helmets, that those devoted to running a slalom course quickly amongst the trees would be wise to wear them, that light and durable helmets might offer confidence to those nervous of ski-ing, he repeats the opinion he gave last year :  for a ski-er of moderate ability keeping to the pistes they are just not necessary.

Apart from anything else, ski-ing, with to-day’s safer bindings and boots, is the most beautiful way to enjoy the landscape ;  why spoil it by hiding inside a lump of plastic ?

Boris also wonders whether those wearing helmets are a threat to those that choose not to, reminding us of the tragic accident at the start of 2009 involving German politician Dieter Althaus.  He turned on to a run in the ‘wrong’ direction, colliding head-on with Beata Christandl.  He, wearing a helmet, survived ;  she died.

Cases of this kind, he continues, increase the pressure for a change in the law and insurance policies, making helmets obligatory for all.  He doesn’t mind helmets’ being spread by fashion but objects strongly to compulsion ;  not just because compulsion is offensive to the principles of liberty but because he believes the problem of politics in the last three decades has been legislation at the centre, where decisions ought to have been left to individuals and communities.

Southwark town hall
He points to the trouble the Coalition is facing trying to cut the bill for government.  Councils across the land claim to be forced to cut libraries and other much loved public services, whilst preserving the posts of ‘equality officers’, ‘outreach officers’ and other occupants of the ‘non-jobs’ that have blossomed under Labour.  “Why ?” he asks.  “Because of all the ill thought out legislation about equalities and Heaven knows what emanating from Westminster and slavishly obeyed by local authorities.  Although councils are not obliged to have libraries, they are obliged to have officers to count the number of bats and stag beetles.  Is that really what their electorates want ?”

The centralisation of power, over-regulation and the meek acceptance of Whitehall diktat have massively pushed up the cost of government in this country ;  the sensible way forward is to simplify and devolve.

And the only way to start on the path to long-term fiscal stability, he says, is with a thorough pruning of central legislation, hacking back the nonsense and letting people decide their own local priorities.  Leave it to local authorities to decide about bat-counting officers, and leave it to the individual to decide about ski helmets.


Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.

20 thoughts on “Ski helmets have a lesson for us … on ‘localism’”

  1. Sounds like another classic “slippery slope” argument – literally. You don’t need to have a collision to be at risk on the slopes e.g. actress Natasha Richardson fell over and bumped her head during a skiing lesson, and the next day she was dead. Even the hardest of heads can be surprisingly vulnerable.

  2. Are you missing the point? Isn’t the Mayor talking about regulation, not about whether helmets are a good idea? It is a crying shame that the most likely solution to the phenomenon he observes is a statutory duty on local authorities to maintain libraries – as well as beetle counters…

  3. Firstly, i don’t think boris needs to apoligise for taking a four day holiday do you?

    Secondly, i think i remember commenting on an article about ski helmets last year, was it not proved that they do not actually make you any safer?

    Ed? Mel? Pericles? Do you remember ?

  4. Janina, it seems obvious to me, now. George Osborne was photographed at a ski resort wearing a helmet; Boris has
    made it clear that he shall not wear a helmet on the slopes.
    The Chancellor clearly doesn’t want to be recognised. Boris does!
    A laudable triumph of vanity and romanticism over dull-as-ditchwater pragmatism.
    Down with the political class! Vive Le Whiff-Whaff!

  5. One day, Mr Johnson, I hope to present you with the Aircraftman T.E. Shaw Award for the Last Person Not Wearing a Ski Helmet. Until then, watch out for Livingstonistas with tripwires!

  6. To be honest with you all I can’t ski because I’ve never learnt it as I don’t like snow because it’s too cold and it freezes my down-under. But if we look at it this way folks- if you don’t wear a helmet, you can enjoy the sensations of cold winds blowing past your naked face, but you might crash and injure yourself and you need to go to hospital and you trouble doctors and nurses who should spend their time on real sick patients.

    It’s like wearing a condom, innit? if you don’t wear a condom, you can enjoy the sensations more, but your woman might get pregnant and produce children who will be a burden on the state ( or you might get infected with some STD and be a burden on hospital, doctors and nurses who should spend their time on real sick patients )

    But shouldn’t the Mayor be talking about the current exciting mass uprisings across the Middle East?

  7. To the root of it as usual Boris.
    It is like angling. If you followed the H&SE regulations you would never get kids into angling.
    According to them each child will wear a hard hat with visors, gloves and protective overalls topped off with a lifejacket.
    There is no way a child can tie a knot with gloves on or bait a hook with a maggot.
    So my wife and I gave up teaching kids because they lost interest before you got them kitted out.
    So I know exactly how you feel.

  8. No, Janina, of course Boris has no need to apologize for spending his money and free time as he chooses.

    The socialist’s life work, on the other paw, is to dictate the way every-one else shall live his life ;  where he shall go to school ;  the work he shall do ;  the type of motor-car he shall own ;  according to the socialist no-one — except he be a member of The Party — may have any fun at all.  No, the last thing any-one should be permitted to do is to enjoy himself.

    Socialism is all about telling others how to live their lives in a society of uniform drabness — as drab as those thousands of grey-concrete prisons apartment blocks they build for their slaves citizens ;  and every government of the modern world — regardless of how it describes itself — is a socialist government.  Hence the regulation of everything you do.

    As to the degree of protection afforded by a helmet :  it’s like the curate’s egg, good in parts.  A helmet will protect the cranium from minor injury.  A cycling or motor-cycling helmet protects the head against a light impact and a scuff injury (in which the head is dragged along the abrasive road surface and a minor accident becomes a serious) ;  it will not help him that crashes head-first in to a tree or the back of the vehicle he’s following :  he’ll be killed by his spine’s ramming in to the base of his brain.  Similarly a helmet will do nothing for the skier that collides with a tree or other immovable object.  (Generally, a skier will not be troubled by abrasive contact with asphalt.)

    The problem with helmets is a phenomenon known as risk compensation, whereby some-one wearing a helmet, a seat belt or a Mercedes-Benz goes faster and takes more risks because he feels protected against the consequences of his actions.


  9. Having considered Pericles’ vision of the bleakness of existence that our governments offer, and Jon Gratton’s tale of the H&SE’s expurgation of angling from childhood, and Edna’s depressing risk-assessment of what used to be making love, I find myself again asking, as did the great Frank Zappa,

    “What ever happened to all the fun in the world?”

  10. Localism, now there’s wonderful concept…

    “Okay, Addie, I told my friend, we’ll just park in here. The marshes are just 10 minutes or so walk from here.”

    “Sorry, Colleen, but you can’t Park in there any longer”, said Cllr Unwiseman, suddenly appearing from behind the hedge like a dark shadow across our path.

    “Why not?”, I asked, winding down my car window.

    “This car park’s been taken over by Worssex County Council for the additional staff they’re moving into the grange”, Unwisman replied.

    “But that’s outrageous…this is the only public car park for the marsh’s wildlife centre…it’s just a piece of rough ground…the public have used it for donkey’s years….the council have twice the staff they need…there’s been no consultation”, I spluttered as anger kicked in.

    “what about the Big Society, what about…”, I gulped as I a deeply emotive word seemed to stick to my larynx and tears began moistening he corners of my eyes, “what about…


    Unwiseman drew himself up to his full 4’6 height, stuck out his 32″ chest and spat his words aggressively, as though challenging me to fight,

    “What about it?”

  11. “Edna’s depressing risk-assessment of what used to be making love…What ever happened to all the fun in the world?” (Ed Gibb)

    Good question, Ed.

    Edna: Do you think that you might need to refresh your sense of romance?

  12. Colleen, may I recommend that Edna listens to the wonderful pianist James Rhodes’ new record, Bullets and Lullabies?
    Both Romanticism and romance! Beethoven, Chopin, Greig, Rachmaninov…well, it might be a start!

  13. Brilliant choice, Ed, a wonderful pianist and glorious music. Go on, Edna, we double dare you to listen to it and not want to get out on those sky slopes and throw caution to the wind.

  14. Edna,

    But don’t you eat that yellow snow
    Or you may turn into an eskimo
    And watch out where the huskies go

    …what am I saying?

  15. Oh don’t listen to them crafty men love, I mean how can they say a little rubber tube like that can ruin the romance? they are just selfish that’s all, don’t let them fool you, love, to be honest with you everywhere I look I can see risks lurking around, I mean if if I’m standing at the base of a snow covered mountain and I see the Mayor thundering down from the summit, I can foresee an almighty avalanche about to roll down, and I will run for my life I will, love, you’ll never know.

  16. Oh men, you don’t know how cunning they are, love, if they say ‘open wide!’, don’t think they say that because they are a dentist, it’s their secret code, love, that’s all, and if they say ‘could we have a double dip?’, don’t think they are pondering about the state of the recession, love, it’s their secret code, that’s all, and for how long, love? 30 seconds of fun and you are rewarded with a bundle that will be a burden on the state, and you have a life sentence, and they just disappear into the sunset looking for another innocent victim! oh no. no, I won’t have that, love, I’ve been there, done that so I know what I’m talking about, just so you know love, take care love.

  17. +

    Edna: “30 seconds of fun”, blimey, you’ve not had much luck, have you? But you can’t condemn all men just because you’ve had bad luck in your relationships. That’s irrational and unfair.

  18. Edna – congratulations on becoming Prime Minister of Ireland!

    (It is you, isn’t it? Edna Kenny?)

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