For once, I was actually sitting in front of a TV set when Fiona Bruce announced on BBC1 6 o’clock news last night that the government were intending to introduce minimum alcohol pricing. A raddled ex-alcoholic was then interviewed saying how it would have worked to stop him drinking, and various pundits talked about “health”, and a supermarket manager said it was a bad idea. Somebody else said that “It’s probably never going to happen,” because there was a lot of opposition to the idea.
That’s what I thought about the smoking ban. It’s never going to happen, I thought to myself. Except it did. And so I think minimum alcohol pricing will happen too.
The idea has been floating around for months or years. There have been public consultations, during which people have aired their disagreement. Except nobody was listening to them. And now they’re going to introduce minimum alcohol pricing.
This is how government works these days. A few people decide some new measure - banning smoking, minimum alcohol pricing, whatever – and there’s a big show of having a public debate. But actually the decisions have all been taken in advance. The ‘debate’ is just a showcase to preserve the appearance of democracy. And when the new measures are in place, they are invariably a “great success” and “very popular”.
It’s top down control, masquerading as democracy. DP:
“The era of big, bossy, state interference, top-down lever pulling is coming to an end.” David Cameron, June 2008.
“No more of a government treating everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions. Instead, let’s treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their lives.” David Cameron, February 2011.
I no longer see any difference between David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Herman van Rompuy, Manuel Barroso, and all the rest of them. They may as well all be the same person, with the same set of opinions. We are living in a one party state. You can vote for different political parties, but you will wind up with the same government.
But people don’t want to think this. DP again:
Now, Mr P Snr – an old-school lifelong Conservative voter – is completely against the idea too, but has an interesting theory which he appears to be using to reconcile his idea of a Conservative politician with the batshit crazy behaviour of the Prime Minister.
He is of the opinion that Cameron is such a master of manipulation; such a political genius, that this is all a ruse. He’s playing a game to appease the health lobby, in full and certain knowledge that parliament will reject it and he can be seen to have acted in a correct manner.
Yes, it’s wishful thinking but how do you expect a real Conservative to react when the leader of a party he has always kept faith with comes out with a policy that Old Labour would have recoiled in horror at?
No, you really don’t want to believe that David Cameron is simply another interchangeable member of the ruling politburo, and currently appointed to push forward the smoke-free, alcohol-free, carbon-free, one-size-fits-all, europhile agenda of the Party, do you?
It’s nothing new. When the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire under the sole personal control of Augustus Caesar, the Senate kept on meeting and debating. The appearances of the republic were preserved. But the real power now lay elsewhere. Politics became pretence and masquerade. Even the emperor acted his part: “How did I do?” Augustus asked, shortly before he died. “Did I play the part convincingly?”
And perhaps, when a political society becomes large enough and unmanageable enough, this is what always happens. The Roman Republic, with its Senate and elections, was probably well suited to manage the city of Rome. But once Rome’s dominion expanded to include all Italy, with colonies all around the Mediterranean, this form of government became too slow and unwieldy. Little rowing boats can be squabbling republics, but not ocean liners: big ships need decisive captains, because too much is at stake, and debate takes too long.
But when the general public, on whose behalf measures of one sort or other are ostensibly being enacted, are no longer consulted except through faux public debates and faux elections, while the real decisions are made elsewhere behind the scenes, political engagement must necessarily atrophy. What point is there in voting, if a vote carries no weight? You are either an insider, with connections to the real seat of power, or you are an outsider with no say whatsoever in the decisions that affect you. And most likely you will find yourself the latter.
And if you are a smoker in our current political order, you will be an outsider. And in fact, you will be quite literally standing outside. And you may even have been completely expelled from polite society. And you will have no voice, except what you can scrawl on walls with pieces of chalk. From DP’s comments today:
“We no longer associate with the very many friends we had in the pub. The pub closed and has been re-developed into a Tesco Express.
Our social circle and those of our many friends has been obliterated.”
In this manner, as political power falls into the hands of a few, and most people no longer have any say in their own lives – not even over the places where they meet to eat and drink and talk - society becomes atomised.
It is as if, once such a totalitarian state has been erected, the social foundations upon which it has been built begin to dissolve. And when they dissolve, they become liquid. And when they liquefy, they can flow very suddenly in any direction. And a previously stable society becomes unstable and highly volatile.
And that’s where we are right now. We are living in a society which is becoming atomised into a cloud of disconnected individuals, and also becoming correspondingly unstable.
Perhaps this is what the totalitarians intended, in order to make people more manageable. But I can’t for the life of me see how. Because people like me only feel complete and utter contempt for them. And we don’t listen to them any more. We have become less manageable. And we are set to become completely unmanageable.
But most likely they have no idea what they’re doing.