Alexei Sayle ©Clara Molden/CamaraPress

If I ruled the world: Alexei Sayle

Get rid of traffic lights
March 24, 2016
Read more: If I ruled the world: Umberto Eco 

If I ruled the world, I would want to know what kind of a messed-up set of circumstances had brought this strange situation into being. Is it some sort of zombie apocalypse? Because if that’s what’s occurred, then it boils down to me wandering around the deserted city with a rifle shooting the undead through the brain, and that’s all there is to it really. Maybe looking for a woman of child-bearing age to restock the planet with humans. Although you’ve got to say, in defence of zombies, that they are unlikely to pollute the earth as badly as we, the pre-dead, have.

Assuming the population is mostly not wandering around trying to eat each other, then in my first year as ruler of the world I will offer a busy programme of improvements. On the UK domestic front, I would remove 80 per cent of the traffic lights. People often say the UK has more closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras than anywhere else on earth. Well, I don’t know about that, but it certainly seems to have the most traffic lights.

If you look at a junction in France or Spain there will be four lights, one at each corner. I have just been to the crossroads at the end of my street, a modest enough crossing, where there are 12 completely different sets of traffic lights! Why? The only logical explanation is that the British traffic light lobby wields more influence than the National Rifle Association does in the United States, or has the same clout that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee brings to bear on Congress. Anyway, nearly all the traffic lights will go, along with the thousands and thousands of ugly and pointless metal road signs that litter our built environment.

The prevalence of traffic lights, CCTV cameras and so on, highlights something in our societies that I would like to change. In modern liberal democracies we believe we enjoy many rights and freedoms, but ultimately the communities in which we live are, in essence, still highly authoritarian. In return for these rights and freedoms we cede to the state a monopoly of violence in order for it to enforce societal norms.

If I, for example, chose to stop wearing trousers and underpants the state would eventually use violence to remove me from the streets, art galleries and paddling pools and to incarcerate me in prison. But if I ruled the world, I would like to trust people further, to appeal to their natural decency and to emphasise notions of social responsibility and honour much more, which will allow us in turn to do away with massive elements of the repression state. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll lock up everybody who doesn’t agree with me.

One of the problems with the way we in the west receive our current affairs is that many broadcasts and articles, whether in old media or on the web, are totally without context. Each story acts as if history began last Tuesday and not a day before. This, of course, tends to favour our own self-pitying view of ourselves as victims of random and incomprehensible violence from the “Other.” In my world, all news stories, for example concerning the Middle East would have to go back as far as the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, while every fifth piece would have to go all the way back to the Crusades to provide vital historical context, and every news story concerning China would be required to include a lengthy section on the Opium Wars when Britain forced the drug on the reluctant Chinese. All this context means that each edition of Newsnight will be 11 hours long and each article on foreign affairs in a newspaper will be the length of a novel, but that sadly is the price we will have to pay for being well informed.

Finally, if I am running a government that spans the world then I reckon I need one giant project which draws in and focuses the resources of the entire planet. What I propose is a worldwide network of all-you-can-eat buffets. I am a fan of these places myself and it has always been my observation that people invariably seem to be happy at an all-you-can-eat buffet, every race and religion mingles in perfect harmony, too busy cramming barbecue ribs on their plate to indulge in sectarianism or hatred.

So I propose the entire world economy is built on providing subsidised buffets. There will be halal, kosher and Buddhist sections in addition to all the normal stuff and people will learn respect for other cultures through eating their cuisines.

Read more: If I ruled the world: Lisa Randall