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« Lansley unveils Tory proposals on health | Main | How Hamish fell foul of UKIP »

Doing "the right thing" - who decides?

If you want to know where we're heading under the next Conservative government, there's a clue in THIS article by Tim Montgomerie (left), founder of ConservativeHome.

The title alone is fairly explicit: "We need a state that helps people who do the right thing". It all sounds very reasonable, doesn't it? The problem is, who decides what the "right" thing is? Politicians? Bureaucrats? The media? And what does Montgomerie mean by "help"?

At the Conservative party conference in Birmingham in 2008 Tim was a panellist at a fringe meeting organised by The Free Society. We called it "Libertarian Paternalism and the Nanny State" and it followed reports that David Cameron was in favour of a policy known as "nudging".

This, it seems, is the acceptable face of the nanny/bully state. Instead of forcing people to change their behaviour, they are encouraged or "nudged" in the "right" direction.

To his credit (because he was the only panellist to do so), Tim defended this policy, and the concept of "libertarian paternalism". Outside of that meeting, however, I suspect he represents a majority within the Conservative party because one thing I've learned about the Tories over the years is this: libertarians are very much in the minority. There is a far greater number of paternalists who are more than happy to tell the rest of us what to do in our own "best interests".

Yesterday - and this was the catalyst for Montgomerie's article - David Cameron gave a speech to the New Labour think tank Demos in which the Tory leader said:

"I know this is tricky territory for a politician. We're not exactly paragons of virtue ourselves. But to those who think politics should stay away from issues of character and behaviour, I say this: When there are more than 120,000 deaths each year related to obesity, smoking, alcohol and drug misuse. When millions of schoolchildren miss out on learning because their classmates are constantly disruptive. When British families are drowning in nearly one and a half trillion pounds worth of personal debt. And then ask yourself: do any of these problems relate to personal choices that people make? Or are they all somehow soluble by top down government action, unrelated to what people actually choose to do? Can we hope to solve these problems if we just ignore character and behaviour?"

I don't disagree with the reference to disruptive schoolchildren. But what about obesity, smoking and alcohol which he describes as issues of "character and behaviour". I am not denying that there are problem areas (for example, excessive drinking by some young people) that need to be addressed. But what is he implying? That people who smoke, drink or are overweight are guilty of bad character or poor behaviour?

Cameron and his associates will deny it, but this smacks of a moral crusade (more echoes of Tony Blair).

Click HERE to read the full speech.

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  • Response
    The optimism I have heard, from Tories natch, about a possible departure from the current dictatorial style of politics ushered in by post-Blair, top down, for-your-own-good mentality, just doesn't appear to be borne out by anything Cameron has come out with so far.

Reader Comments (22)

I saw this yesterday on ConHome and it terrified me.

My only consolation is that should they decide to continue in this direction, then at least we may begin to see the political upheaval that this country so desperately needs.

January 12, 2010 at 11:13 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I absolutely agree with you Simon.

As for people drowning in debt, much of that is down to government too, the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer!

These days I am quite lucky in the respect that I am not drowning in debt, but a few years back, when free NHS dental treatment was withdrawn and NHS dentists were prevented from using sedation, I had years with absolutely no dental check ups or treatment at all, simply because I could not afford it! Now, when I need a dentist I have to pay privately and still cannot afford to go regularly, only when I have a problem. As a result of this, at the age of 49, to save money as much as anything else, I had my remaining top teeth removed and now have a full plate. My bottom teeth are going the same way, but just now I can't afford the £2,500 plus that it will cost to have them sorted!

Just one of the little things that government did years ago that had a drastic effect on many people at the time and a continuing financial impact on people today!

January 12, 2010 at 11:16 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

This is frightening. People are being told to vote Conservative as the party of choice and freedom. As a parent and taxpayer I am highly insulted that the Conservatives propose to use my taxes to pay a bunch of busybodies to tell me how to raise my daughter.

I had been reading that the Conservatives will regress the encroachment of the Nanny State not make it worse. It seems Tory or Labour will continue to interfere in our lives and tell us how we must behave and Cameron even talks about starting the indoctrination at the age of 10!

Plus ça change (plus c'est la même chose).

January 12, 2010 at 12:59 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Peoples

I have a slightly different take on this. I believe the difference betweeen the Tories and Labour is that the Tories are concerned about our health and want to persuade you change your ways, while Labour want to control you.

Centre right people like me can be taken for granted that I will be voting Conservative, David Cameron is making a pitch for the centre ground. The Lib Dems, soft Labour voters and the apsirational working class. Hence his courting of centre left think tanks.

The Tory Party know full well the damage the smoking ban has done to the hospitality industry. Ken Clarke in a speech in Wales 21st March 2009 said "ASH were extremely veherment that the smoking ban would have no effect on the licensed trade at all, and produced the completely untrue assertion that it had had no effect on bars in Dublin."

I find it interesting that ConservativeHome have run a poll on the amendment to the smoking ban last year attracting a yes vote of 58% and did a poll this year on an amendment for private clubs. CH is read daily by anybody who matters in the Tory Party.

For an issue that all the major parties had thought been kicked into the long grass it does seem easy to find and put back on the pitch. The problem Cameron has that if he made a promise to amend the smoking ban the resulting furore from ASH, Dept Of Health, Labour, Lib Dems et al would divert and distract the main stream media from his core policies. Eye catching headlines like "Cameron turns back the clock on health...Cameron to put bar workers health at risk etc" would be all to prevelent.

My instinct is that if the Tories get in power the nanny state will be put on hold, and we can only hope be reversed.

January 12, 2010 at 14:57 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I wish I could I agree with you Dave. I think if the Tories win, those smokers who voted for them will be regretting wasting their time. As for the rest of us, I guess we'll be looking to emigrate to a fairer more just country if such a thing even exists anymore.

January 12, 2010 at 16:32 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

It is not just their attitude to the smoking ban that concerns me but the consistent meddling. More interference in the home, in the school and the workplace. The Tories seem intent on continuing what Labour has started and rather than get rid of the quangos and the bloated 'advisors' they seem to want more.

I do not want my child indoctrinated at school from an early age and nor do I believe it is the function of government to determine how I raise her. What about parental responsibility? It is being eroded and this speech seems to encourage the transfer of the raising of children to the State and away from parents.

We have the crazy situation where an overweight couple had their newborn baby removed from them by social engineers because of their weight but Baby P can stay with drunks, drug addicts and paedophiles. This is what Cameron should be targetting. Adults now have to take 15 year olds to the toilet in Scottish pubs or the establishment could lose it's license but what are the Tories going to do about that?

These politicians are all the same and think that they know best, whether it is how to spend my hard earned money squeezed out of me by an unfair tax system or how to raise my own child. They should leave us all alone and I despair for this election when we have 'Nannies to the Left of us and Nannies to the Right'.

January 12, 2010 at 16:33 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Peoples

I tend to agree with Dave A.
After so long in the wilderness Cameron is not going to do anything which would incur the wrath of so many Labour inspired quangos until he has power. The same logic applies to his current (in my view ridiculous) stance on AGW.
I sincerely hope that a more libertarian and pragmatic stance is adopted on all such issues quickly if the Tories do win a workable majority, itself by no means anything like a certainty.
It's very tempting to consider a UKIP vote (I'm an ex UKIP member) and they have some very good policies which are well considered.
However, when you look at things in the cold light of day that would be a "toys out of the pram" vote. You may feel better momentarily that you may have made a stance against the "system" in some way but when the counting is finished what are UKIP likely to end up with - maybe one seat.
And the price for diverting votes away from the Tories could be very costly for us all.

January 12, 2010 at 17:27 | Unregistered CommenterGoodstuff


I wish UKIP every success in the GE, their stand on the smoking ban should be applauded by all smokers and libertarians. I also like UKIP's other policies on immigration, crime and punishment.

However it is going to take 2-3 elections before UKIP could have a working majority and I will be over 60 years of age. Also that I quite genuinely have been a Tory for 30 years are my reasons for throwing my lot in with them.

However a very strong vote for UKIP is very welcome and I hope you pick up votes in more working class constituencies, especially at the expense of the BNP.

Out of all the political parties they are the people I have had most interaction with, and very impressed I am too. Their stand on the smoking ban is both tangible and sincere.

As well as Nigel Farage in Buckingham, I understand Stafford has a sporting chance too.

I wish UKIP well but I fear it may dilute the number of Tory seats.

January 12, 2010 at 19:08 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Atherton

Dave - I believe Ken Clarke said at that same meeting in Wales that the ban would never be amended.
That doesn't sound very encouraging.

January 12, 2010 at 21:22 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Optimistic Tories, eh? It's a veritable micro atmosphere of believers v sceptics here, isn't it?

Who will have the bragging rights come this time next year. I hope it's not me. ;-)

January 12, 2010 at 21:46 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

YoU can talk until you are blue in the face Dave, this lot will never understand.

January 12, 2010 at 21:56 | Unregistered Commenterpeter thurgood

Karen you are right about Ken Clarke saying it will not be amended, in the short term at least.

As someone who is involved in the Tory Party I do have an inside track to a certain extent. For example at the Progressive Conservatives, the libertarian grouping within the Conservatives, all have expressed support to an amendment to the smoking ban. Of course there are Conservatives happy with the ban and support it.

Rightly or wrongly the Tories will most probably be the next government and it is far easier to fight from the inside, than having your nose pressed against the glass trying to get in.

January 12, 2010 at 22:23 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Atherton

Dave and Goodstuff - I agree about UKIPs chance but it will be the Tories fault if they don't win. Sorry, as much as I hear what you say, and to an extent I agree, UKIP is the only way I can vote. If not, it would be no vote.

I don't see anyhting changing under a Con Govt. The Tories should be trying to win us over if our vote really matters and makes that much difference - not turning us away by using healthist issues against us and expecting us to tow the line just because we don't want Lab in again. This is a vote of conscience for me. I cannot compromise at this election. I think smokers have compromised more than enough over the last couple of decades and where has it got us? Excluded denormalised, outcast. There comes a time when you have to make a stand. This is mine.

The massive share of the vote UKIP got in Europe just shows that it has the power to get support. It will put up enough candidates to win. It simply needs your support at the Ballot box. In any opposition they would be great. At least it begins to break up that 3 party aliance. A hung parlt means they'd all try harder. That's my view.

Rememeber, there was a time when even the mighty Lab party was considered fringe. The times can't change quick enough for me.

The 3 main parties must get the message that we smokers have had enough. This is the line. Do they want our vote? What do we get in return? They have to earn it!

January 13, 2010 at 9:05 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

I agree with with Pat Nurse 'they have to earn it'.
Believing politicians promises at this strategic point in time is a fools game, no matter how much they pretend they say they are listening to 'our pain' or whatever weasel words they trump up leading up to an election to get our votes.
We all know how they promise the sun, moon and stars before an election until they get in, then the excuses start.
The scaremongering has even started already for gods sake when they say that a vote for a fringe party will result in Labour getting back in.
So does that mean voters wait for the election after next to give a fringe party a chance, even though they are the only ones that have taken a stand against the smoking ban and have promised an amendment regardless of what the do-gooders or antis think, unlike the Tories.
Now that Big Brother is snooping in every hole and our movements and freedoms becoming more restricted by the day, voters havent much to loose and a bigger chance of something to gain by backing a new horse, in my view.
England is very lucky that they have a new party to vote for in this election and in my opinion it would be a lost opportunity to miss giving the main parties a very badly needed reality check.
And it would give us smokers a great sense of achievement to see them suffering some of 'our pain' for a change, that we have been suffering for the past few years since the smoking ban.

January 13, 2010 at 11:37 | Unregistered Commenterann

Well said, Ann - to quote peter Thurgood "you can talk until you are blue in the face and this lot still wouldn't listen."

Some of us are purple in the face because we cannot understand how the rest of you cannot see that this is the ONLY chance we are ever going to be heard. If we vote Tory we are acceptting a ban and it will never be changed.

Perhaps, after all, it doesn't mean that much to most smokers if even the active ones are prepared to let the Tories pull the wool over their eyes and they accept our fate by voting Conservative

January 13, 2010 at 14:32 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

As many of you know I have suffered badly from depression and stress, particularly since the announcement of the smoking ban in 2006.

I am a little better these days, much of that being down to myself spending my savings on opening a new career in HGV driving. I now have no savings, but am more relaxed being out of an office environment and, when I can get work, being out in trucks.

I had an appointment today with the psychologist and we discussed the fact that I can actually relax and feel 'human' when I go abroad on holiday to Spain/Majorca, simply because, better weather or not, I can sit in a bar, drink water, coffee, wine or whatever and have a smoke! In the discussion I stated that I would never again holiday in this country as it is far too expensive and much too restrictive, so why would I want to spend my hard earned cash to holiday in the UK where I cannot smoke and am treated like scum, when I can spend less, more or less guarantee better weather and enjoy a relaxing smoke in the hotel or local bars and restaurants? Plus, the added benefit is I can buy my cigs to bring home at half the price I would pay here!

Of course, with the global warming scam, I imagine that going abroad, even to Europe, will be a big No, No in the not too distant future!

Numbers of people apparently dying from smoking vary but are often quoted at around 100,000 per year. I wonder how many people die as a direct result of government actions? That number must be increasing daily too, I would think.

January 13, 2010 at 14:59 | Unregistered CommenterLyn

Tory rhetoric is unambiguous to me - more nannyism - end of!

I can't see Cameron changing this just to be accused of what Labour have been doing throughout their term - breaking pre-election promises.

If he says there is to be more encroachment on individual choices, and this IS what he is saying; "Can we hope to solve these problems if we just ignore character and behaviour?" Then expect it to happen.

I have been a Tory supporter since before Maggie, but my vote will be with UKIP unless I am convinced that the present Tory road map has changed markedly. If this means Labour get back in - so be it. It is pointless 'hoping' that the tories will be any different when everything they say indicates otherwise.

The Tory 'freedom charter' I had hoped was to be the start of a return to common sense - That didn't just fall the first fence - it didn't even reach the first fence.

January 13, 2010 at 16:35 | Unregistered CommenterKin

Kin - I too was inspired by both the Tories and the LibDems "freedom charter" until I realised that with no mention of lifestyle choice, then they have no idea of what true freedom means. It was just another con.

I completely agree that Cameron has made the Tories view on lifestyle choice very clear.More of the same and it matters not to be whether it is Tories or NuLab that dishes it out.

I think he needs to get the message that smokers have compromised for decades - it is our turn for some consideration and if his party doesn't give it now, then he may lose the election. There would be nothing else like it to focus his mind on the smoking and choice question once and for all.

January 13, 2010 at 21:57 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

The 'a vote for a fringe party is a wasted vote' line is heard before every election and will always be heard. it's equally true that a party remains a fringe party only as long as people don't vote for it. Forty years ago in Scotland the SNP was a fringe party. Nobody then would have predicted that any party could oust Labour in Scotland, yet Labour has been ousted - and by that fringe party, the SNP! By voting for a fringe party we won't change things overnight but it's a first step in breaking the stranglehold. If we vote for the Tories it looks like more of the same - except, of course, things will actually get worse as they progress down each continuum.

January 14, 2010 at 16:18 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Oh dear -

It seems that Nanny's been at the gin again.

How CAN we 'help' her to give it up ?

And WHO keeps supplying her with the bottles ?

January 15, 2010 at 8:54 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

PS -

I tend to agree with Joyce.

'Heads' - we lose.

'Tails' - we lose.

Time for a new game.....................

January 15, 2010 at 9:00 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V


Judging from his 'Demos' comments, David Cameron appears to be to Political Philosophy what Rab C Nesbitt is to Haute Couture.

But at least Rab can make you laugh occasionally.

Cameron just makes me weep.....................

January 15, 2010 at 9:07 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

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