Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Who will stand up to the lifestyle bullies?

Last weekend’s Mail on Sunday had a major front-page splash warning of Labour’s “Nanny State” plans to crack down yet further on smoking, alcohol and “unhealthy” food. I heard Shadow Business Secretary Chukka Umunna, who is supposedly one of its opponents, interviewed about this on the radio. While he pointed out that it was only a consultation document and the proposals are not currently official Labour policy, he didn’t give any impression of questioning the general direction of travel.

There has always been a dichotomy in Labour between those representing the party’s working-class roots, and the middle-class element that takes the view that the man in Whitehall (or the Town Hall) knows best. At present, the latter seem to be on top, and the leaked manifesto looks very much like a sustained assault on working-class lifestyles. Considering what the last Labour government did to pubs, the statement that they want to use a mechanism such as minimum pricing to stop the shift of alcohol sales from pubs to supermarkets comes across as breathtaking hypocrisy.

But, as Simon Clark laments, if you want to stand up for lifestyle freedom the other parties don’t offer you much choice either, as they seem to have been infected by the same paternalist virus. The Tory ranks include Philip Davies, who is probably the strongest defender of individual freedom in the House of Commons, but also the minimum pricing cheerleader Sarah Wollaston. The Tories have always been stronger on economic than personal liberty and the Parliamentary party contains few MPs who seem to take much interest in lifestyle issues. Even if they do speak out, it’s usually on the grounds that it will cost businesses trade rather than as a matter of principle.

The Liberal Democrats, despite their name, contain some of the biggest smoking ban and minimum pricing enthusiasts, although there are some honourable exceptions such as John Hemming. And it must be remembered that in the 19th century the Liberal Party championed the anti-drink movement. While Nigel Farage is often seen with a pint and a fag, UKIP is something of an uneasy alliance between classical liberals and right-wing populists and the latter seem to be in the ascendancy at present. The party contains plenty of members whose instincts are much less libertarian than their leader’s.

Sadly, while the principle of economic liberty seems to have become more or less generally accepted, the idea of liberty in terms of how you live your life as an individual is becoming increasingly eroded as the authorities seek to dictate to you – for your own good, of course. The great Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill famously said “All errors which a man is likely to commit against advice are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him for his good”, but you’ll find few present-day politicians willing to stand up and make a staunch defence of that principle. So all you can do really is plug away at each individual campaign in the hope a few victories can be won against the oncoming tide, accepting that no politician is going to be your salvation.

And disappointingly few people seem to appreciate that liberty is indivisible, and that if you want to defend your right to do the things you enjoy, then you need to stand up for other people’s rights to do what they enjoy, even if you have no interest in those things or indeed find them distasteful. All too often, unpopular minority activities are picked off first, but then the campaign is extended once the principle is established. You might think it’s only tramp juice that will be affected by alcohol crackdowns, but before too long you’ll find yourself paying through the nose for 2.8% pisswater.

“First, they came for the smokers...”, as the paraphrase goes. But, in the British context, the pistol shooters came before them.

10 comments:

  1. Shed a tear for the death of Britain.

    The quislings lost the country when the smokers were consigned to the shelters like the gas chambers of Hitler. The pub has died.

    No one can bring it back. Gone forever. Valiant heroes can only lament, nothing can regain what is lost.

    Anon.

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  2. Alcohol has been around since the dawn of mankind.

    Tobacco for over 600 years and with that many prohibition movements each abolished as time went along.

    The Pub it will always be here even if shut down. Every Bloke likes his buddy and BS time together whether its the local new pub garage they built for a new place to hang or moms kitchen. The comaradery of the human species will always mean a reason for the Pub........It shall never go away,its roots and meaning lie within each of us and will be rebuilt upon those same human needs that created it to start with!

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  3. Professor Pie-Tin7 May 2014 at 00:25

    UKIP is the way to go for you Mudgie.
    Ignore Fleet Street's increasingly hysterical attempts to uncover the occasional barmpot in its ranks.
    It's a genuine party standing up for,among other things,the right of people to smoke and drink as they please.
    It's not anti-immigration or xenophobic either - merely suggesting we,like many other major industrialised countries around the world should have the right to control who we let into our country to avail of facilities for which they haven't paid any taxes.
    I certainly know which party leader I'd prefer to have a pint with and it ain't Gromit or Call Me Dave.

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  4. Professor Pie-Tin7 May 2014 at 00:28

    Or is it Wallace ?
    Rather like Labour and the Tories it's easy to forget which is which these days.

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  5. If you believe this Daily Mail article is accurate then I am lost for words. It's an anti-Labour propoganda piece playing directly on the fears that the DM loves to stoke. UKIP are disgusting, they want a flat tax rate for all people. not even the Tories would dare do that (yet).

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  6. Oh I'm sure the Mail report is broadly correct - there's no shortage of Labour figures supporting minimum pricing, plain tobacco packaging, advertising restrictions, limits on fat and sugar content etc.

    But the question is whether anyone else would be much different. The present government have largely continued on the course followed by their predecessors, with the exception of the recent welcome alcohol duty cuts/freezes.

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  7. All parties are coalitions of differing interests, but in the end every issue is only them V us and you pick whether you are them or us.

    Even in PR systems, it boils down to binary choices as the parties horse trade their promises.

    At any time, any given party may appear more in favour of personal liberty, but those that favour economic liberty tend to favour it over all.

    I'm sure Nige will do well in May, and I hope he does. Nice to see complacent professional politicians get a kicking from a beer swilling joker. Gotta love a bit of Nige, he's a lad.

    Wouldn't like to guess 2015, but it's Ed V Dave and to me, Dave looks the least worst.

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  8. Strange,since the rise of universal suffrage and extended
    voting rights we have had 2 World Wars and an ever increasing reduction on basic liberties
    For 700 years ,parliament was answerable to at least some of the people,now it ignores all but a few
    Even stranger there are working class people who still vote Labour

    Restrained Anarchist

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  9. "Lottery cash to build skateboard parks." What complete bastards.

    ReplyDelete

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