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Monday, December 14, 2009

Spiked have done a review of Brian Monteith's new book The Bully State (what the nanny state turns into when we don't want to put up with more nannying). Brian is probably the only certifiably sane & honest person to have served in the Scottish Parliament. As a full blooded libertarian he fell out with the particularly anodyne Scottish Conservative party who went into the last election promising only more council houses & more money to win the war on drugs, hence he is no longer an MSP. I wrote before decrying the fact that when he alone voted against subsidising the Borders railway (a piece of Lib Dem pork barrelling that everybody else was keen to pay, or at least promise to pay) that it was disgraceful that the sole opponent was not allowed to speak in the "Parliamentary debate" on the subject. I have since then questioned the sanity of the current MSPs who have voted unanimously to get rid of 42% of our CO2 producing electric power (ie 50% including ending nuclear) over the next 10 years & 1 month. I cannot imagine any circumstances under which he would not have voted against that lunacy. Whether he would have been allowed to speak is a different matter.
In some ways, Monteith has written a British companion to David Harsanyi’s self-explanatory Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotalling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children (2007). Both books take a chapter-by-chapter swipe at the ongoing battles over diet, alcohol, smoking, motoring and surveillance, and both feature an interchangeable cast of professional reformers. Wielding spurious research and chanting their ‘think of the children’ mantra, these neo-prohibitionists will be familiar to anyone who has read a newspaper in the past decade...

It is an irony not lost on Monteith that Scottish devolution did not so much lead to a Braveheart-inspired dash for freedom so much as a rush to become the international bellwether for what he calls ‘lifestyle fascism’...

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...

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.

The book covers much ground. Eating, drinking and smoking feature prominently, since they have been propelled into the frontline by an over-mighty public health lobby. But, as Monteith argues, this regulation of lifestyle is a symptom - albeit a far-reaching one – of a wider shift of power from the individual to the state. The expansion of CCTV, the erosion of trial by jury, identity cards, censorship, health-and-safety hysteria and the DNA database constitute a ‘bullies’ charter’ made more dangerous by the ‘jobsworth mentality’ of British officialdom.

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, not an accusation that could fairly be levelled at Monteith himself, who proves to be an affable and gregarious guide throughout, liberally scattering his narrative with personal anecdotes and stories of the ‘you couldn’t make it up’ variety.
As the only person to have spoken directly against the smoking ban at the "Liberal Democrat" conference at the time & someone who wrote to their MP suggesting that giving a let out to the smoking ban to prisons but not mental homes was simply torturing the most vulnerable in society (she didn't bother to reply) I hold the same traditional liberal views as him, though I would put more emphasis on banning things being a way of providing employment for ever more government parasites & less the benefit of any doubt that most are sincere noseybodies.

Spiked also published a letter from me on the r]not unrelated subject of whether global warming fraud is a conspiracy or sincere foolishness. Only the highlighted bit was published.
In saying that the climate emails reveal people who honestly believe in it & have only gone way OTT in supporting it rather than conspiracy Frank Furedi is engaging in either/or logic rather than the more messy stuff of real life. We human beings have a massive capacity to believe what is in our own interests & sensitive antennae for detecting the way the moral wind blows. Thus it is possible both that Professor Jones really believes the world is catastrophically warming (though the emails show they know there simply isn't evidence of it) and that that belief is dependent on him getting £13.7 million from the government, which would not be available if he had disagreed with them. The conspiracy may be merely winks & nods but it is real.

Government's always want a scare story to keep us in line & with the collapse of the Berlin Wall needed a new one. They have supported & paid for this one for that reason rather than that they had enough scientific knowledge, or indeed interest, to have a real opinion on its veracity. They are equipped to recognise its usefulness.

An analogous situation is that recent research shows that when Hitler came to power there were no edicts issued saying science should become anti-Jewish but most people got it & those who didn't got shunted aside.

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