Enjoyed Richard Revees’ blast against New Labour’s puritan streak in today’s FT. The Demos director’s main target is Andy Burnham’s plans to ban smoking in doorways.
It is not yet clear how the doorway rule would operate in practice….Perhaps we could mark-out six-yard boxes, around the doors, like the one around goals in football (Mr Burnham is a keen player). They might become known as “Burnham Boxes”.
It gets more personal.
But there is no evidence that physical harm can result from a brief whiff of doorway smoke….The suspicion must be, given Mr Burnham’s comments about unappealing “smells” and the impact of smoking on personal “appearance”, that part of his motivation here is simply distaste – or an attempt to further inconvenience smokers by herding them along the pavement. Mr Burnham is free to imagine a “smoke-free future” – but not to engineer it. His war against smoking has become a war against smokers.
Reeves does conclude with a thought-provoking thesis on New Labour’s zeal for meddling in poor people’s lives.
The motives are benign enough. It is the methods that are not. The levels of intervention in personal behaviour stand in stark contrast to the government’s laisser faire attitude towards markets and business. Until the financial crisis, Labour displayed a deregulatory instinct towards financial services, energy provision, competition law and corporate governance. With the big economic questions apparently settled, in favour of broadly free markets, Labour’s social engineers have had to tinker with our lives instead. They regulated the economy too little and the people too much.
Good to see that Britain’s wonks haven’t lost their appetite for polemics as the election nears.