Friday 4 December 2009

Of nanny states and bully states

Chris Snowdon notes that Action on Smoking and Health in the UK is largely funded by big-Pharma companies making Chantix, Nicorette, and so on. Remember that next time they talk about big-tobacco funding.

Snowdon also points to his review of Monteith's book The Bully State.
In the years that followed, countless campaigners, do-gooders and moral guardians invoked the precedent set by the helmet and seat-belt laws to compel other members of society to do what was thought best for them. Ever-dubious estimates of the money smokers, drinkers and motorists were costing the National Health Service were used to justify a raft of regulations, bans and ‘sin taxes’. Each new restriction inspired another. Few expected the ‘sin tax’ on cigarettes to inspire campaigns for higher taxes on alcohol, petrol, meat, sunbeds and carbon dioxide. Who really believed that schools would ban Marmite from being served inside and ice-cream from being sold outside? Even five years ago, the idea of forcing shopkeepers to hide their tobacco products from view or banning pub-goers from standing at the bar would have been almost universally mocked (the first of these will soon become UK law, the second has been trialled in several towns).

If the mandatory wearing of helmets and seat-belts marked the beginning of the nanny state, the smoking ban raised the curtain on the bully state. The smoke-free legislation was such a blatant attempt to discourage and ‘denormalise’ a legal activity that the fig-leaf of passive smoking could barely disguise the overt paternalism that lay behind it. In keeping with nanny’s transformation from Mary Poppins to Biffa Bacon, no exemptions could be permitted and no tolerance could be shown.
The UK sounds a lot like New Zealand:
The coalition of government agencies, professional reformers and state-funded charities that engineered the smoking ban set the template for the neo-temperance campaigners, green activists and food faddists who came in their wake.

These activists – or ‘storm troopers’ as Monteith’s describes them – are far closer to the government than the public is led to believe, both in ideology and funding. Action on Smoking and Health, Alcohol Concern, Barnardo’s and dozens of other ‘campaigning charities’ receive so much money from the state that they could almost be considered the government in drag. Through the use of rigged public consultations, dubious opinion polls and policy-based evidence, this self-serving elite manufactures a demand for greater state power.

A favoured tactic is to float a new piece of Draconia in the press and if it is met with anything less than howls of derision, it gets the go ahead. The public, says Monteith, are then fed ‘a steady stream of news releases, PR stunts, giveaways and junk science dressed up as authoritative research from quangos and politically active charities that have morphed into lobby groups’. If, on the other hand, the idea gets shot down (such as the plan to force people to buy smoking licenses or banning people from buying more than three drinks in a pub), it is popped into a file marked ‘Too Soon’, to be reopened at a later date.


Indeed, it is the very fact that the bully state serves so many vested interests that makes it so formidable. Although he is convinced that any system of government built on repression and prohibition will be doomed to failure, Monteith paints a convincing picture of a many-headed beast comprising ‘fake charities’, government departments, NGOs, ‘earnest do-gooders’ and ‘malevolent power grabbers’, to say nothing of the over-eager epidemiologists and the ‘monstrous’ British Medical Association.

Some are motivated by their own obsessions, some by government targets and others by the need to keep the grant money rolling in. Their one shared characteristic is a complete lack of humour...

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