General Plea from a Libertarian

January 7, 2013 at 6:16 am (labour party, Max Dunbar, strange situations, Tory scum, welfare, whiskey, wine)

Some truly crazy ideas have been bouncing around various Whitehall policy departments. Taken together they give a sense of a general trend.

Back in December we had the welfare card proposal, so that unemployed people couldn’t spend their benefits on cigarettes and alcohol. This week: an idea that fat unemployed people should be ordered to exercise or else lose benefits.

Many people will approve of these ideas, because they would make life difficult for people on benefits. The rationale is ‘You are dependent on the state for your income, so we have a right to dictate how you spend it.’ But there is no way that the government will stop with welfare claimants. Plain packaging, minimum pricing, proposals for legal limits on sugar and fat content will affect working people too. If unemployed people should have a welfare card, why shouldn’t working people get paid in food vouchers? After all, otherwise we would just waste our salaries on Camel Lights, pizzas and red wine. And we are all dependent on the state to some extent. Even Jeremy Clarkson drives on publicly maintained roads.

Under a Tory led austerity government you would at least expect negative freedom. They won’t empower you, or help you out in hard times. You could at least expect them to leave you the fuck alone. But they won’t leave you alone. The Fabian authoritarianism that New Labour brought into public life has not been abandoned: quite the reverse.

So they cut essential services – sickness benefits, debt advice, legal representation, you know, things that people use, stuff that matters – while grasping for more and more control over what people do in their free time.

It is a kind of government by brainstorm or thought camp, where bizarre and silly ideas are implemented with seemingly no thought for the science, the economics or the practical reality of people’s lives.

Of course sometimes we need to be protected from ourselves.

But people also need the freedom to make their own mistakes.


DoH launches new public health poster campaign


  1. ACA The Underground said,

    Nice post and a worrying look into the near future.

  2. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    ‘The Fabian authoritarianism that New Labour brought into public life’


    New Labour has little to do with the Fabian tradition (which dislike it or not is still a socialist one – it was Sidney Webb after all and not Harold Laski who drafted the Clause 4 whose replacement was the key totem of New Labour) but was and is a complete and abject surrender to a quite new and revolutionary neoliberal ideology which seamlessly combines authoritarianism for the poor and libertarianism for the rich as it serves nothing and nobody other than the interests of the global plutocratic elite.

  3. Scott Reeve said,

    It is a kind of government by brainstorm or thought camp, where bizarre and silly ideas are implemented with seemingly no thought for the science, the economics or the practical reality of people’s lives
    Did not the last Tory Government introduce a silly idea called the poll tax.
    Whats new!

  4. Darren redstar said,

    Jeremy clarkson, as a bbc employee is entirely dependent upon tax payers for his income; joyriding scrounger scum!

  5. Francis Sedgemore said,

    Fabianism may be a bourgeois deviation from ‘true socialism’, but New Labour owes more to the late 20th century managerialist ideology that sometimes goes by the name of “Thatcherism”. Fabian municipal socialism was middle class and a little paternalistic, but at the same time it had respect for the dignity of the individual, and worked to foster a sense of personal responsibility. It certainly wasn’t overtly authoritarian.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,


      ‘Fabianism’ usually is just a strawman set up by ultraleftists many of whom have barely heard of the Webbs, Shaw, Wells, Tawney et al.

  6. Jim Denham, said,

  7. Laban said,

    How can you cover this without a Dr Johnson reference ?

    “What signifies”, says some one, “giving halfpence to beggars? They only lay it out in gin or tobacco.”

    “And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence?” says Johnson.

    “It is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths.”

  8. maxdunbar said,

    Thats brilliant Laban

  9. Jim Denham, said,

    “The miner’s family spend only tenpence a week on green vegetables and tenpence half-penny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less than three years old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes — an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread” – G Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      IIRC a footnote in Raphael Samuel’s East End Underworld points out that fish and chips were in fact a great step forward in working class diet – being a superbly cost-effective delivery system for the calories a manual worker (or even a housewife who spent her days beating carpets, scrubbing floors and putting wet clothes through mangles actually needed) needed.

      Corned beef, spam, fish paste, sardines, condensed milk and all the other awful things that were still around during my sixties childhood also probably represented great steps forward in working class diet when they were introduced.

      Really want to restore working class people to whippet-thinness again?

      Take away their washing machines and give them jobs digging holes and filling them in again….

  10. Rosie said,

    Heresy Corner has a good piece on how politicians moralise about food these days instead of about sex, as they did in former times.:-

    “It’s no coincidence that today’s politicians see all these “sins” as things about which they ought to lecture the population, or even to legislate, as we saw yesterday with Labour’s Andy Burnham wanting to regulate the sugar content of Kellogg’s Frosties. Brendan O’Neill (along with Mr Puddlecote) finds it remarkable that politicians should concern themselves with such essentially private matters as what people eat. He suggests that if a minister or shadow minister “did something like this a few decades ago… People would be bamboozled. They’d think the minister was mad.” Perhaps so, although postwar British governments continued with rationing for longer than was strictly necessary. But if that same minister had claimed that what people did in their own bedrooms (and with whom) was the business of the government he would have found a considerable degree of support. It was ministers who believed that people’s sex lives were their own affair, like Roy Jenkins, who got a rough ride in the press.

    The fact is that politicians have always seen advantage in moralistic finger-wagging, but the subjects of that finger-wagging change. The morality of health – in which smoking, drinking and being fat are seen as personal failings, like being unemployed – has largely replaced the morality of sex*. And moralism this clearly is, although politicians tend to disguise this (perhaps even from themselves) by advancing utilitarian arguments about the cost to the NHS of all the binge-drinking obese smokers. Bourgeois moralism, one might add, given how these “sinners” are usually conceptualised as lower-class Wayne and Waynetta Slobs. Where once politicians promoted the moral agenda of bishops, and feared the church’s power, nowadays they defer to the BMA and are all but openly contemptuous of ecclesiastics.

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