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The horns of something, maybe …

A champion of free speech/enterprise or an interfering Nanny State? Which of those two should an ideal modern, dynamic but caring government be?

It’s an aspect of politics that has always fascinated me.

I used to take the simplistic view that best way to characterise politics was that (in the UK) the Tories basically stood for the law of the jungle – free speech, enterprise, hard work, promotion of personal responsibility and the attitude that ‘we cannot all be winners, there are bound to be losers and whilst that’s tough, it’s also actually inevitable’ … albeit perhaps with a touch of leavening from the ‘One Nation’ wing of their party allowing that there ought to be a social welfare ‘safety net’ for those who sadly were (by nature or nurture) unable to prosper in said jungle, or alternatively fallen on hard times – irrespective of whether this was their own fault, not their own fault, or simply just bad luck.

At the opposite end of the scale was the left-leaning Labour party, advancing or protecting the rights of the ‘working class’; holding that (as the Tories might put it) ‘if everybody cannot have something, then nobody should’; operating on the basis that profits earned simply by chance, wits, enterprise, sheer hard graft etc. – inasmuch as they could be claimed to have arisen from exploitation of the efforts of those doing manual work – were wrong in principle [if profits were to be made, why could they not be shared equally amongst all those who contributed to them?]; and believing that central government should ‘micro-control’ policies upon every aspect of life, e.g. (especially in hard times) borrowing money to improve national infrastructure and so on, not least to give work to those who were unemployed. If idealised Western social democracy was indeed best set out by Abraham Lincoln’s ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’, then Labour’s mission was to ensure that this was pursued in the cause of creating the greatest good for the greatest number of people – and not just for the few who in their lives were fortunate enough to become exceedingly wealthy.

No doubt Rust readers will make allowance for the crude generalisations I’ve made in setting out the above extremes and which I may have exaggerated somewhat in order to make my point(s).

It occurs to me that the starkest contrasts and dilemmas arise in the area of public health policy.

Arguably, taking their ‘free market, law of the jungle’ line to its logical extension, the Tories would begin from the position that every individual is responsible for his or her own life and therefore it should be of little concern to the State – apart perhaps from always being prepared to provide the aforementioned ‘welfare safety net’ – if any individual chooses [and let’s leave out of this for the moment any consideration of the extent to which ‘poor people’ can actually be said to have a choice in some of their life decisions] to live unhealthily by e.g. by drinking, smoking, taking drugs, eating junk food, or gorging themselves on sugar.

It would simply be their own fault and if they blight their lives and/or die earlier than otherwise they might, that’s their lookout, frankly. The costs of them getting ill and then being a sizeable drain upon public health resources would/might be offset by the fact that, by then dying early, the State would have to fork out far less in state pension payments (hopefully, perhaps, the expense of one would cancel out the other?).

Meanwhile – I’d purport to suggest – the default position of Labour would/should be that central Government ought to regulate such things. If sugar is proved to be scientifically bad for public health (let’s just mention obesity and diabetes here) then Government is (and jolly well should be) justified in legislating to regulate how much sugar can be added to foods or drinks – or indeed, ban it completely if necessary, end of message. It shouldn’t matter a jot that great swathes of their natural supporting constituency (the working class) love sugary foods or drinks, or indeed what the ‘pro-sugar lobby’ thinks.

But life isn’t quite like that, is it?

Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is apparently against the concept of a ‘sugar tax’. I’m not sure whether this is because he doesn’t believe the science, is in thrall to the food industry, feels that it flies in the face of the ‘free will, law of the jungle’ Tory starting principle, or is just reluctant to interfere with the life choices of ordinary people.

For myself, I strongly suspect that the fact of the matter is that our national politicians are generally reluctant to advance draconian policies that would improve the lives of the UK population immeasurably – for example, in the field of public health, as outlined above – because to do so might upset greatly the very people whose lot they are most trying to improve.

Hell’s teeth, they might even vote against a Government that implemented such policies – and that just wouldn’t do, would it?

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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts