The politics of behaviour

Once upon a time, not that long ago, politicians were concerned with the big issues. Things like capitalism versus communism, defence of the realm, founding a welfare state, nationalisation versus privatisation, nuclear weapons and other important things. Now, we know the answers to the past big questions; almost all countries have a social market economy, we can’t afford a serious armed force, we have a welfare state, our nationalised industries have been privatised, we have nukes but can’t afford new ones and wouldn’t use them anyway.

So what do politicians do when there are no big questions left and, even if there was, there is no money to do anything? They have to do something, anything, to justify their salary. Otherwise, perish the thought, Joe Public might catch on just how ineffective the politicians are. One option is to tinker at the margins of a given issue. 1% or 3% increases in dole money, the age that pensioners can get a bus pass and the like. The trouble is that this tinkering is unpopular and loses votes no matter how many times our MPs say it is “fair”.

Then came the eureka moment. A way to be important and get headlines while presenting a caring image. Even better, a way to satisfy every politician’s desire to control the plebs. Bathe something in the light of it “being good for you”.

Think about it. In the last fifteen years or so the UK has become the most CCTV- infested country in the world, databases galore that contain data on almost every subject in the kingdom (often without their knowledge), heavy advertising about 5-a-day, exercise and much more. All because these things are good for us. Smokers have been taxed and legislated against to the extent of proposals to stop them smoking in their own car because it is good for them. Taxes on alcohol have risen and now there is a good chance of a minimum unit price because it is good for drinkers. Betting shops are in the cross hairs now; apparently because poor people gamble which isn’t good for them. And now the fatuous Abbott, Burnham and Hunt are contemplating legal maximum levels of fat, salt and fibre in foods, stopping chip shops being near schools and other things that are “good for us”.

Frank Field MP coined the phrase “Politics of behaviour” and it describes perfectly what our leaders are doing. No political party has ever had a manifesto telling the proles that that party will make them exercise more or tell them what to eat. All the things I wrote about in the last paragraph have come into law (or being thought about being made law) by stealth. We are sleepwalking into a nanny state like never before. A nanny state backed by the full force of the law. It feeds our politicians’ ego to make us conform and become dependent upon them. The Great Leader will decide for us and we will be happy. If not, we will be punished.

I believe in freedom of choice. Yes, there are laws and codes of behaviour that should be adhered to like, for example, not killing people or stealing. I can accept there has to be compromises between freedom and submission for society to work. However, your body is your body-it does not belong to the state or anyone else. It is yours to do with as you see fit. I maintain no politician has the right to tell anyone what they can, or cannot, bet upon, eat, drink or smoke. How would you react if a random busybody approached you and instructed you not to place that bet, eat that food, drink that beer or light up a cigarette? Most likely you’d tell them to get lost. So why tolerate it from a MP?


About ReidIvinsMedia

After working for many years in Higher Education I've decided to drop out and join the real world. Here I blog about my interests which include education, politics, backpacking, poker, photography and real ale.
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