Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More liberty nibbled away

Westminster has decided to follow the Scottish Parliament and ban smoking in all public spaces on the usual grounds - the people who brought you longer opening hours and more casinos know what's best for you. They know what's best for them too, but it's different from you - that's why the Houses of Parliament are to be exempt. (Incapable of embarrassment, obviously.) And so we become steadily more American, with it's sharper division between what is legally permitted in private and what is tolerated in public spaces. British liberty, with it's greater public tolerance, was preferable - but it's ebbing away under a government that prefers social moralism to moral socialism.

Perhaps one shouldn't complain too much because this is, it seems, with the consent of the people. Last night, Newsnight referred to an opinion poll, which showed a majority favoured banning smoking in private homes if there are children present or if the smoker is a pregnant woman. If you belong to that majority, you're very scary.

Meanwhile, up here the destruction of traditional pub culture is a few steps ahead. Our smoking ban starts on the 28th of March and Glasgow City Council plans to ban glasses in pubs from January next year - and Edinburgh is planning to do the same. Also, Glasgow City intends to ban the sale of glass bottles from late night off-sales. Great impression to give the tourists, eh? Come to Glasgow, city of culture where you can't smoke and we can't trust the locals with glasses in public. What's next - plastic cutlery in restaurants?

The attitude of the government in relation to these petty liberties is all part of the New Labour philosophy - to have more laws is better than enforcing the ones we have already, pace Charles Clarke's assertion that 'glorification' legislation would have enabled the prosecution of the placard-holders threatening to hack people's heads off, already a crime without having to link this to terrorism in any way. And it's here the larger liberties are withering on the vine for want of people to defend them, for want of people who understand that the strength of British liberty was that the law set a floor, not a ceiling, for human behaviour.

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