Thursday, August 23, 2007

Nanny on the March

Cigarettes and Alcohol
Cigarettes gone, health nazis move on
I often comment about things I hear on Radio 4; it's simply what I've got used to waking up to in the mornings, and on occasion I catch the early evening news there too. I've generally avoided the lunchtime coverage, mainly due to the fact that I tend to be out at lunch, but also because of dire warnings about the nature of a particular programme entitled 'You and Yours'.

Feeling under the weather on Tuesday I was, for a while under the impression I may have been mistaken. The show in question in fact appeared to be a well written parody, taking the form of an apparently innocuous current affairs programme which had been hijacked to become a vehicle for mindless government propaganda. To add a topical element there was even a clearly rigged phone-in element to add that bit of authenticity.

The topic of Tuesday's episode was the alleged problem of alcohol abuse in the UK. Featured guests included a 'Dr Foster' (presumably created by one of the less creative thinking members of the script writing team who couldn't get past the nursery rhyme), who was meant to be Principal Lecturer in the School of Health and Social Sciences at, what I presume to be a fictional, Middlesex University. The part was brilliantly played, as the actor exhorted the nation to face its demons and accept its problems. He and the phone-in guests fell over each other to accept a clichéd litany of New Labour solutions to everything they are not keen on: tax it, restrict advertising of it, make it the employers' responsibility, and if all else fails ban it.

Another highlight was their comparison with drinking cultures in other countries. In a brave piece of self parody, two alleged reporters purported to have been dispatched to the US and Spain respectively. Naturally all aspects of the other cultures were superior to Britain's own, even the Spanish teenagers' custom of hanging around in the street swilling a Coca-Cola and red wine mixture in residential streets to save money on bar prices. Back in the studio presenters and guests agreed that both Spain's younger minimum age for drinking, and the US's much later one were both superior to our own.

Sadly the piece tailed off a little towards the end as a parade of unconvincing voice actors told unconvincing evangelical tales on the superiority of everything non-British. I suspect the idea was that they were meant to be the 'men from the ministry' calling in incognito, but it didn't quite work. The rubbishing of the views of a character claiming to be a landlady who countered the prevailing view of the panel and someone who simply wanted to be left alone to get on with his own life was done too crudely in what was otherwise a well constructed pastiche of this type of radio show.

Of course thought it was not a parody at all, nor a bad dream. The show, which you'll be able to 'listen again' to here for another week or so, was yet another example of the march of the nanny state and an exemplification of the prevailing attitude that because a few limited parts of society are having a problem that the whole of society must wear the hair shirt. Socialism's one great virtue, as Winston Churchill was alleged to have said was in the equal sharing of misery; in its modern incarnation, if that misery is in the form of taxation to mask the incompetence of the spending of existing revenues, then so much the better.

The smoking ban's greatest evil was the encouragement it gave to the control freaks. For the time being their progress seems almost unstoppable given the green light this government has given to their controlling instincts. It is now abundantly clear that the health community's next move is to attach the same stigma to alcohol consumption as they managed to achieve with smoking. Once that is achieved they will push for the same prohibitive measures to be taken against it.

I guess in part the problem I have with some of these idiot's views is their mindless assumption that the maximisation of one's lifespan should be the prime factor in guiding how we live our lives. Anything that interferes with this 'prime directive' must be discouraged, by persuasion at first, and if that fails by legislation and then prohibition.

I suspect that despite having no particular problem I can identify, my alcohol consumption will shorten my lifespan. It's a choice I'm happy to make and will not change it. Better ten good years now than ten bad ones tagged on the end. Frankly they can take their 'cost' argument and shove it where the sun doesn't shine. Barring some many miracle the exchequer will have taken far more from me than I shall ever take from it.

My personal nirvana is not one where people eat their five a day, drink in extreme moderation, eat a bland diet and do not smoke, drink, ski, box or play rugby, but in return live to be 150. It is one where people are free to make their own choices about their own bodies and accept the responsibility of their decisions.

It is also one where puritanical bigots like Dr Foster who want to assert their life choices on others through the mechanisms of the state are the ones who are shunned by society. I may not live as long as him and his ilk, but I shall most certainly have lived more.

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