Daily Archives: 2 June 2008

Has Labour got two Balls?

Is it me or is there a disconnect between Ed Balls, the stalwart defender of playgrounds and opponent of compo culture, who two months ago was saying this:

“If you don’t want to do something a bit risky, too often people say ‘we can’t do that because of health and safety’.

“It is the risk aversion in some cases which stops things happening which I want to tackle head on,” he said.

The Government’s consultation paper says: “We need to work together as a society to create popular attitudes that embrace children in public space and challenge inappropriate ‘No Ball Games’ cultures.

“This means adults being willing to share public space with children and understand that play can, at times, test boundaries.”

And the killjoy who today was saying this:

“Tougher enforcement powers are needed to tackle under-age binge drinking, but enforcement measures alone are not the solution. We need a culture change, with everyone – from parents, the alcohol industry and young people – all taking more responsibility.”

You could argue I’m being unfair and comparing apples with oranges, but I do wonder. We’ve had ten years of this approach, providing people with more advice while making the law even more draconian at the same time. It doesn’t appear to have helped. It does appear to have gone hand in hand with a rise in anxiety about this issue.

Why do we need screeds of new health advice about safe alcohol limits? It isn’t as if young people are unaware that if they get drunk they lose the full use of their faculties; that’s kind of why they do it in the first place. And parents will either be the relatively responsible type who teach their kids how to drink socially, or the type who aren’t going to be interested in a leaflet giving them advice in the first place. What next? Parenting lessons?

It seems to me that youth binge drinking isn’t a problem in and of itself, it is a symptom. On the one hand you have a lack of facilities, meaning that kids have literally nothing else to do. On the other hand, increased hysteria about youth drinking has meant that instead of experimenting with alcohol in the relative safety of their local, they are doing their experimenting in either vast impersonal drinking halls (if they can afford it) or, more likely, downing Diamond White while sitting around in those playgrounds that Balls is so keen on.

The fact is, those sneaky night time park binges are as much a part of childhood as falling off climbing frames. The same anxiety that leads councils to closing down playgrounds is behind the current anxiety about youths drinking. Even if we had the best youth service in the world, generations of young people will go through that period in their lives. To use Balls’ own language, it is all about “testing boundaries”. Along with all other kinds of so-called anti-social behaviour, the main impact of turning naughtiness into a criminal offence has been to allow adults to excuse themselves of any responsibility for it. The result has been, young people are testing boundaries only to discover those boundaries growing ever larger.

Labour can’t really afford to have both Balls at the same time. To be fair on the man, he has previously expressed scepticism about the whole Blairite approach to anti-social behaviour in the past. His announcement today though just sounds like more of the same.

Government plan for cig crackdown is too weak

The government’s plan to make it even more difficult to market and sell cigarettes doesn’t go anything like far enough. Personally I think they need to do something serious, such as ban the word “cigarette” which sounds far too innocuous, even friendly. Surely “paper based tobacco smoke inhalation system” would be a better term? We could start by banning the term cigarette on the packets themselves and then reach out to TV, the press and eventually the internet. Pretty soon we could be issuing fines to people for even saying the word out loud in the street.

Some people might object that this all sounds a bit too draconian, but what about the children? And it’s not like I’m actually talking about banning the things, that would be illiberal.

Taking a stand

The new Standpoint magazine has made a great play of its plan to “defend and celebrate Western civilisation”, but how can a magazine do that? I suppose you could roll it up and bop anyone with brown skin on the nose but surely the Telegraph has served that purpose for decades and has the added advantage of having greater reach due to its broadsheet size? Will it come with retractable spikes?

Economics and oil

I didn’t watch all of Question Time this week but one thing that Eric Pickles said flew out at me (in what was otherwise an incoherent mess once Dimblebum had punctured his well rehearsed soundbite): before tax, the UK has the lowest priced diesel in Europe.

It sounds like a startling, killer fact, but it actually demonstrates what a pointless debate we are having in the UK at the moment about taxing fuel. We have understood since Adam Smith that price is determined by demand and supply. Tax petrol 2p and it doesn’t automatically go up 2p because competition will hold it down. Of course, because demand for petrol is inelastic, petrol stations have a bit of leeway and so can afford to pass the increase onto consumers. But sadly they retain the same advantage if you lower tax as well: if we cut the tax on petrol by 2p, you can guarantee that most of that saving will simply be eaten up as profit by oil companies which they can safely blame on global market forces. They won’t even be lying.

All this is sub-GCSE stuff, so how come I haven’t heard a single politician point this fact out?