The elf and safety racket has knocked the stuffing out of us If you have four young children and you sometimes find it difficult to keep order, let me recommend a television programme that seems to have an almost incredible narcotic effect. As soon as it comes on, they go into a semi-religious trance. The programme seems to be far more thrilling, to the younger generation, than Men and Motors, or the Playboy Channel. It is called Takeshi's Castle. It comes from Japan, and there is nothing like it, believe me, on British TV. Takeshi's Castle is a dystopic world in which the competitors are subjected to a series of tests involving medieval cruelty. They are endlessly bopped on the head, dunked in slurry, or attacked by horrible Japanese djinns and hurled into hot geysers. In one of the competitions, they are forced - men and women - to curl themselves up into a human bagatelle ball, and amid tremendous banzais and shouts of excitement from the commentators they are rolled down a gigantic board, bonking and bashing themselves fearfully as they go. At the bottom of the bagatelle course they are so shook up that they are offered a million yen if they can walk for 60 paces in a straight line. Or they are made to dress up as human skittles, and then they stand cowering as a one-and-a-half ton rock ball is rolled down the hill towards them and - nyeee-hah! - they are knocked silly by the impact, and the commentators scream with pleasure. Or they are made to leap from rock to rock as they try to cross some foul-looking mire, almost always falling headlong and clonking themselves in the face. My children watch it with complete rapture, because it is so alien to our culture. There are real teeth being knocked out here, surely; there are ligaments being torn, ankles sprained, ribs bruised, and still the sons and daughters of Nippon queue up for more. I do not think my children are being more than normally sadistic; it is just that Takeshi's Castle responds to a deep and unmet need in modern British life. It is the need to see real risk, real danger, real humiliation, and of course real failure: all the things that are so expensively and so ingeniously airbrushed out of our mollycoddled and over-regulated lives. Only this very day my office has been engaged in a surreal debate with the elf and safety about whether or not we could have a new printer installed. Such is the volume of correspondence that the old printer packed up the other day, and some of my letters have been piling up (for which apologies to anyone out there expecting an answer). So we got on to the works department, located a new Hewlett Packard, but were amazed to be told that the device could not be transported 200 yards by anyone in the IT department. Nah, they said; we can't do that. You need someone specially trained to do that, they said. It's the elf and safety innit. You'll have to wait two days, they said. So in the end we had to carry it ourselves and now it is of course chuntering out great quires of correspondence. But what kind of madness is it, I ask, that prevents a couple of grown men from transporting a Hewlett Packard gizmo not much bigger than a milkmaid's footstool? How is it that the Japanese are willing to be kicked around like human footballs, on prime time TV, and yet we are so terrified of injury that we forbid adults from lifting a piffling little printer? How has it come to this, my friends? I will tell you. Our modern pathetic airbagged society is the product of the lust of politicians to regulate and above all to be seen to be regulating, even when the law they are proposing is wholly unnecessary. Why is there a law against picking up a computer without proper training? Because at some time in the past someone was so foolish as to do this without making sure his lumbar vertebrae were all in a neat column, and the miserable swine then sued his company; and some idiotic judge made an award; and the company claimed it out of insurance; and the insurance people decided to insist that companies would have to follow elf and safety guidelines if they were to provide cover; and the companies decided they needed a "level playing field" in which everyone faced the same elf and safety regulations; and so some industry lobby group got hold of some dopy politicians and the result is that strapping British IT men may not pick up a printer, while in Japan you can be turned into virtual spagbol or hurled in a trebuchet before an audience of millions. The elf and safety racket is a great conspiracy against the taxpayer, and the public, and at every stage you will find collaborators. There are the media, who love to whip up a good scare (see MMR, BSE, avian flu, cellulite, you name it). There are the lawyers, who are always hungry for new grounds on which to litigate. But the most cowardly and reprehensible are the politicians, who never stop to think whether a piece of legislation is necessary, or whether the problem cited is already covered by statute. All they think about is whether they will appear to be "doing something", whether they look strong, whether they look in control; and of course it is always easiest to look strong and in control if you are passing some coercive piece of legislation. Look at Patricia Hewitt, and her magnificently invertebrate performance in the smoking ban debate. She began the day wanting to preserve the right of clubs to have smoking sections; she ended on the side of a total ban - not, as she later claimed, because she had "listened to the arguments", but because she had succumbed to the politician's overwhelming lust to be seen to "act". And it is this endless "action" that means we are slipping down the competitiveness tables, and it is the profusion of new laws, and the legions of elf and safety monitors and clipboard toters that go with those laws, that have pushed our taxes above German levels, and if you want to understand why Japanese productivity growth, after years in the doldrums, is now surpassing ours again, it is because elf and safety has so completely suppressed our spirit that we don't even dare pick up a printer without training. Banzai!