A nanny state that dictates what we drink will soon be telling us how to think
23:47 GMT, 28 November 2012
One great, long-standing British tradition has been that governments wherever possible left people alone to get on with their lives.
Provided you broke none of the sensible laws that existed to keep the peace, interference in your life by any agent of the state was almost unheard of.
Now, however, those days are gone. Governments see it not merely as their right, but their duty, to intervene in our lives.
Involved: MPs used to let the British public get on with living their lives
Suffocating: The government sees it as their right to interfere with our lives
The state has long since decided that it knows what is best for us, and our opinions on the matter are not deemed remotely relevant.
This approach to governance, in which our political leaders stop us from doing what they decree is bad for us, robs people of the ability to think for themselves; it also vastly increases the power of the state.
Armies of advisers are now employed at our expense to dream up new ways of protecting us from ourselves, which means their tentacles penetrate further and further into every aspect of our existence — and with a zealotry that verges on the totalitarian.
We are, of course, well used to many of the government campaigns to improve our health. Some, such as those concerned with the evils of smoking, have been sensible. Others, however, are absurd.
Perhaps one of the most absurd is this week’s suggestion from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence that car park charges should be raised to encourage people to walk or cycle on short journeys. This is to help counter what countless groups of government advisers concerned with our wellbeing have called the national ‘epidemic’ of obesity.
Had a government body had the temerity to tax us into taking more exercise in such a way 50 years ago, it would have caused an outcry. The person in charge would have been sacked. The minister responsible would have been roasted in the Commons.
However, we appear to be so cowed by the interfering state today that, without much of a fight, we are happy to accept that government advisers have a perfect right to lecture us on such intimate aspects of our personal behaviour as how far we should walk every day. This both endangers our liberties, and undermines our self-respect.
NICE’s nannying plans to make us walk everywhere coincided with the Government’s proposal yesterday to set a minimum price for alcohol. This is designed to stop cheap alcohol from being available to binge-drinkers, some of whom are violent, others of whom sustain liver damage, and all of whom are an anti-social menace to society.
However, this new measure means that millions of responsible Britons who like to drink in moderation and who have never hit a policeman or had any drink-related illness will also be punished financially.
In the same way, NICE’s strictures to force the overweight to walk more will punish all those who live so far from work that cycling or travelling by Shanks’s pony is not an option.
Ah, say defenders of the nanny state, it is only trying to improve the health of the citizenry. And it is true that most of the state’s nannying is health-related. The success of its persecution of smokers, in slowly reducing the numbers persisting in the habit, has given it confidence to attack other traits of which it disapproves.
Increase: An average family's drinks bill will rise by almost 100 if Government plans to increase the minimum price of alcohol
Alcohol was the natural next target after smoking. The Government’s excuse for above-inflation rises in duty on beers and wines in recent years — and indeed in the proposed minimum unit price — has been that higher prices cut consumption and, therefore, have a beneficial effect on the nation’s health.
Yet spirits, the most damaging alcoholic drink of all, have been let off the worst of the tax rises — notably by the last Labour government, which wanted to curry favour with the Scotch whisky industry.
That revealed the cynicism of these policies — they are really aimed at raising revenue.
For what this Coalition government will never admit is that so many of these initiatives are a desperate attempt to increase the tax take at a time when Britain has the biggest deficit in our history.
The sheer hypocrisy of the way the state insists it is saving us from ourselves with all these measures, as it delves into our wallets, simply beggars belief.
Along with alcohol, as NICE has shown, the obesity epidemic is another area for tax rises. Various medical groups have lobbied for a tax on fatty foods and fizzy drinks, and the Government has not yet dismissed such calls out of hand.
However, when George Osborne tried to put a tax on Cornish pasties — admittedly, not exactly a health food — such was the revolt that it almost ended his career at the Treasury. And the Danish government, which imposed a tax on fatty products such as butter, removed it after realising that all it did was push up the price of food.
As well as seeking to eliminate smoking, drinking alcohol and eating unhealthy foods, the Government also hopes to improve the lives of the unborn, by militantly warning mothers of the dangers to their children of indulging in such activities while pregnant.
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Then, after birth, their mothers are subject to a propaganda campaign about the superiority of breastfeeding. An army of health visitors and other advisers is there not just to help with this aim, but to insist on it with evangelical zeal.
Health and safety fascism is another manifestation of the political classes’ belief that they must take responsibility for us, and remove risk from lives, forbidding us to make our own mistakes.
Few parents can escape the risk assessment form, often running to several pages, that accompany a child’s participation in even the simplest school outing. And it is now common for a clergyman, before a solemn act of worship, to tell the congregation, on government orders, where the fire exits are, in case God chooses not to look kindly on them during the service.
The problem is, it is a small step from a government which seeks to safeguard the health of individuals to one which imposes on them the state’s views on all manner of other matters.
And there are now signs of this happening. The Prime Minister’s obsession with saving the planet, for instance, gives him — or so he thinks — the moral right to increase the price of petrol above inflation, to make it more expensive to heat our homes, and to carpet our once green and pleasant land and seascapes with fatuous and ugly wind farms.
People do not elect governments to tell them how to live their lives, or to lecture them about ethical living. They elect governments to keep the country running, preferably as cheaply and as efficiently as possible. When people submit to such nannying, it alters the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. Worse, it inspires such arrogance in those who govern us that it instils in them the belief that there is no aspect of our lives into which they cannot pry.
A government that feels it can tell people what to eat, what to drink, what habits they can or cannot have, how much exercise they can take, what energy sources should heat their houses, when they can or cannot drive and what risks they may or may not take will soon become a government that feels it can tell people what to think.
In some ways the Coalition already does this. The Prime Minister, for example, can scarcely conceal his contempt for those who challenge his minority view that people of the same sex should be allowed to marry each other.
After all, if you set a national standard for eating, drinking, smoking, driving, exercising and even going on school trips, why not set one for thinking Why not make it clear that all sorts of views — including those based on deep-seated religious beliefs or on matters of the highest principle — are as socially unacceptable as smoking high-tar cigarettes, drinking a crate of lager or gorging yourself on burgers and Coke
It may seem that the Government is doing us a favour by trying to prevent us harming ourselves. But it is not.
Thanks to extensive state propaganda, we all know the facts. It is up to each of us to judge how, and whether, we act upon them.
Because if the state relieves us of the need to make such judgments, it will soon relieve us, too, of the right to hold any opinion other than its own on any subject at all.