Boris Johnson has advised us not to grass up our neighbours unless they are having an “Animal House party”. On the headlines, I was unclear whether the prime minister meant a party as large as the ones in Animal House, or a party to which many animals have been invited. Thank God, on this at least, he could clarify: “With hot tubs and so forth.” He is definitely talking about the US comedy film. The majority of animals hate getting wet.

It is a chilling insight into his thought process. “What are the proles doing for fun while we shoot grouse? I saw a film about this once: don’t they all get into outdoor baths and groom each other?”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, meanwhile, has announced her intention to call the police if any of her neighbours are found breaking the “rule of six”. It is the “big society” at its apex: who needs bobbies on the beat, if we hate each other enough?

It is pointless to linger on why government ministers can’t get even a line as simple as this one straight. If we are going to live under this government for longer than another week, we need to start practising “exception reporting”, so we don’t exhaust ourselves flapping about every time it does anything contradictory or incompetent. Wake me up when it does something that isn’t crap.

But clearly the government’s nudge unit is having a late-summer break, since the very idea that a government could have an impact on neighbourly behaviour runs counter to any understanding of human beings. We have known this since the Stasi. Someone who will call the police on a neighbour will do it anyway, whether it is their brother-in-law or their direst foe, whether they have been asked to or not – all they need is the hotline. And someone who would not go to the authorities over another person’s law-breaking, even while the hot tubs are overflowing and the hydroponic lamps are beaming straight into their conservatory, will never do it. And nothing Johnson, Patel or anyone else says will make the slightest difference.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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