If there was one thing that really riled Conservatives in the dying days of the late-but-unlamented Labour administration, it was the posturing of Harriet Harman. She managed to epitomise all that was worst about the sanctimonious, politically-correct, intrusive Labour Nanny State. Her doctrinaire proposals to place an obligation on public bodies to combat discrimination were the last straw. Heavy-handed, expensive, bureaucratic, intrusive — and more likely to lead to oppressive reverse discrimination than to any increase in fairness, much less trust.
If there was one thing that Conservatives were voting against in June, it was exactly this kind of Nanny-Statism.
Yet our own Harriet Lansley — whoops, sorry, Andrew Lansley — has picked up Harriet’s baton, with a series of measures so bizarre that one wonders if he has taken a Master’s Degree in self-parody.
He wants employers to be more accommodating to breast-feeding mothers, with private areas provided for the purpose, and even more flexible working hours. (What makes me suspect that he has never run a business?). Of course we all want to provide reasonable help for new mothers, but they can’t expect the state and employers to do all the heavy lifting. There is a difference between a commercial business and a crèche. This idea is just another ball and chain round the ankles of the small businesses on which we’d like to rely for growth and employment.
He wants children to be given vouchers for shops and cinemas to motivate them to walk to school — perhaps to replace the £30 a week they have received as an Educational Maintenance Allowance to reward them for going to school at all. Education is already a massive freebie provided by the tax-payer. It is outrageous that we should be paying pupils even more, merely to accept the benefit.
Not content with vouchers for walking pupils, he proposes to create “The Great Swapathon”, under which he will issue the public with vouchers to persuade them to use gyms and swimming pools, and to eat healthy food (a food inspector in every kitchen, perhaps?).
Then there is his proposal for a minimum price for alcohol. There is no question that we have an alcohol-related public order problem, but it should be treated as a public-order/policing problem — not by unwarranted interventions into the market which will penalise pensioners but may have little effect on the target audience. Those who can finance a £100-a-day drug habit will be able to afford the price of extra strong lager. This is the thin end of a very nasty wedge. Next stop rationing.
He is proposing plain packaging for cigarettes. No one hates smoking more than I do, but the fact remains that smoking is legal, and if we believe in free speech we should at least allow brand names on packets — or has the humble cigarette become the product that dare not speak its name? The Americans have the First Amendment that guarantees free speech. Maybe we in Britain need one too.
A spokesman from Harriet Lansley’s department says that these policies represent a switch from “nannying” under Labour to “nudging” under the Coalition. You could have fooled me. The two words share half their letters — and most of their meaning.
We look to a Conservative-led government to back off, to get out of our hair, to stop interfering in our private lives, to desist from hectoring, from telling us what we must eat and what we must weigh and how much we can drink or smoke. But it is failing to deliver, and worse still, is apparently totally unable to grasp the point.
I have to be honest and admit that I never had very high hopes of Lansley. He it was who viewed the recession as a “good thing” because it would enable people to spend more time with their families (perhaps it’s time for Lansley to spend more time with his family?). He it was who urged the government to “tackle climate Change“, even at the cost of raising taxes — a profoundly un-conservative idea.
We did not campaign in 2009 for a Conservative government merely to see people like Lansley carrying on Labour’s absurdities.
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