I was listening to Peter Hitchens talking about the death of freedom in Britain, starting with conscription in WW1 and continuing with the post-WW2 Labour governments’ various utopian legislative programs.
One thing missing from his list of lost freedoms was the only lost freedom which had a profound personal impact on me: the 2007 smoking ban in pubs and restaurants.
Clearly Hitchens didn’t mind the smoking ban – most likely because he probably doesn’t smoke, and may even have approved of the ban.
Yet he’s far from being alone in this: Nobody cares about the smoking ban. It’s people like me who still bang on about it that are the exceptions.
One person’s freedom is someone else’s constraint.
WW1 UK conscription only lasted from 1916 to 1020, and was a response to a national emergency. But the 2007 UK smoking ban was quite different: it was an attempt by government to change British culture. It was top-down control.
No doubt it helped that almost every other country in the world was also banning smoking.
But if smoking can be banned, then why not alcohol as well? And meat and sugar and anything else? All on the grounds of “health”
The current Covid-19 lockdowns and mask mandates are an extension of restrictions which began with the smoking ban (or perhaps with bike helmets and compulsory seat belts in cars?). Are they ever going to be lifted?
Given the experience of recent history, most likely not. We have entered an era of mounting state tyranny.
Why not a renewal of conscription? Britain has already had two periods of this. All it needs is another national emergency. And these are regular events. In 2015 Prince Harry called for the re-introduction of conscription. Other advocates of conscription include the actor Michael Caine. In an era of mounting state tyranny, the return of conscription would seem to be a virtual certainty.
But I’m not at all sure that governments can change society through legislation. Societies are shaped by many more influences than legislation alone. It is possible for societies to distrust governments. Trust is not a constant.
But these days, as Hitchens points out, political parties have become indistinguishable from each other. Labour and Tory are both the same. There is no real opposition. Only a few outsiders like Nigel Farage provide dissenting voices.