Ban, ban, ban, ban...
So Nanny Blair and Comrade Clarke are determined that smoking shall be "banned in public places". I may be putting myself at odds with some of the more strident wing of the Tory Party with this article, but I feel much needs saying against the latest Labour reaction to a problem by banning one of its symptoms.
Firstly, as a Tory, I find the definition of public place which has been used throughout the "debate" the Government has half-heartedly tried to promote almost offensively loose. In what way does a building I own become public just because I decide to start selling meals in it? I cannot understand why we have as a country dumbly walked into a mindset that views somebody else's property from which they operate a private business as public. It's far from it - it's a private place of business. Now, council car parks, council and government offices and libraries are all enclosed public spaces over which the Government in Westminster rightly exercises power as to what goes on, but to suggest that Tony Blair in any way has any right of ownership to my local country pub is absolutely bonkers. So, first thing, they should be honest about what they are doing. They're restricting what many people can do in their own land and their own buildings.
Now, I'd better be up-front about where I'm coming on this. I'm in no way a smoking sympathiser, and I hate being doused in the stink of smoke the day after a night out as much as the next man. I'd be quite happy to go to non-smoking pubs and bars. What has enraged me about this is how we are sleep-walking to yet more Government interference with the minutiae of our lives when they could do a lot worse than butting out and making people take responsibility for their own lives - thereby offering an incentive for us to behave in a more positive manner - and ensuring our children have a decent standard of education to rationally weigh up decisions about their lives. If the Tory Party stands for anything it is freedom, something which this Government has no qualms about whipping away at the drop of a hat.
Indeed, what this represents is nothing more than banning the symptoms of poor education as a response to its failure. What's really needed is teaching, by parents and schools, for our young people so they make informed decisions, about smoking and many other issues. Will it even solve it? Most likely not.
Now, many say they don't want to be plagued by other people's smoke. I heard one gentleman on the radio this morning who said he didn't want to be "forceably exposed" to other peoples' smoke when he'd gone to a nice restaurant. Excuse me, but if the chef is so good and smoke is a problem doesn't his word, and that of the proprietor count for something? He's quite free not to go, and the owner and chef are quite free to make it smoke-free, either off their own bat or as a response to customers refusing to take their money there. Is he not exposing himself by his own decision to go to that restaurant? At university, I spent many a pleasant evening, when I wanted to dodge the smoke of other pubs, in the smoke-free and mobile-free Free Press. They do a flourishing business and are a great example of the sort of flexibility and choice which the Conservatives have to instinctively be seen to champion. In the past every pub had a smoking room, where those who smoked or didn't and didn't mind the smoke could go and enjoy sociable company and a beer. Why is this market-led flexibility impossible under the elective dictatorship of Blair? We should be proud to encourage a choice amongst the public and one which responds to genuine desires of customers not just those with the loudest and most organised political voices.
What's more, whereas the restaurant gentleman has an option to go elsewhere, those who live in households with smokers have no such freedom. All such a measure will do is mean more smoking takes place in smokers' homes and cars where these people are even more exposed and will suffer even more. If we are to look to the nanny state to look after our every problem and ailment why are those who have no power and no choice cared for less and after those who choose to go to private pubs, bars and restaurants?
Without even starting on the absurd complexities of whether somewhere is enclosed (Are football stadia? Outside on a balcony?) and whether someone is smoking one metre of one and a half from a bar, this debate and the level of discussion about it has really worried me. On the same weekend we hear members of the army are being deployed to deal with late night shenanigans I worry about how easily we restrict the freedom of others with barely a thought. I worry at the extent to which we are all so keen for the state to cure every ill, rather than facing up to what we can do ourselves.
If the Conservatives are to regain power, I believe we have to be seen to stand for freedom. We have to be seen to stand against a Government whose every instinct is to dictate through diktat from the spinning hordes in Downing Street. Freedom to succeed and make the most of all of our potential and the freedom to do things with which not every Guardian-reading, Muesli-swilling bleeding heart would agree. To cast ourselves in this mould there will be a number of reactionary measures with which we may instinctively agree, but which we must oppose out of principle. There will be hard calls to make, when we see freedoms we don't really want people to exercise but have to say they ought to not be banned from using them anyway. We must hold our course, however, and explain how the way forward is to help persuade people not to do what they may by means other than the monopolistic coercive force of the state. This ban on smoking on many private properties is one such call.