Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Looking both ways...thoughts on the Coalition

When the coalition deal was first struck, those of us with something of a liberal inclination smiles a bit. Indeed, even some of the more rabid libertarians pointed to the proposals with acclaim. Some folk suggested that the coalition - oh, how the media savoured that word - meant that the nasty Tories would be reined in by sunny, smiling, progressive liberal democrats.

And some good has come to pass - the Government has got to grips (more or less) with the fiscal train wreck left behind by Gordon Brown. We have begun to see a welcome loosening of that great bastion of social control, the planning system. The great lumpen barriers to individual progress - out benefits system, our school system and our housing system are being challenged. And the horses are getting frightened - even the 'catch 'em and string 'em high' brigade have been pushed back as Ken Clarke begins to inject some sanity into our criminal justice system.

Those who know me will appreciate that I would go a great further and rather more quickly but for once I happy to cheer on the government - indeed a government that puts an end to the arbitrary tyranny of speed cameras is one to be celebrated.

But there's another since - the side of "nudge". Or rather "ramming you fist into my midriff". This is the world of the fussbuckets - legislation will arrive over the hill to control the "sexualisation of children". We can expect more weaponry to be handed over to social workers who, caring though many of them are, remain almost wholly uncontrolled and unaccountable.

There is no sign of the puritans losing their grip on public health - we're going to get yet more passive-aggressive attempts to stop us smoking, drinking, eating burgers and other lifestyle choices. The denormalisation of our choices is one of the great offences of government and anyone laying claim to the title of liberal should oppose the smoking bans, controls over alcohol and the failed war on drugs.

And we are witnessing the 'good cop, bad cop' approach to the Internet. On the one hand, the Government recognises that the web ain't free and resists trying to regulate how ISPs and search companies operate. This is great. But at the same time, we are told that access to pornography must be controlled - "for the children". And will this be followed shortly by bans on violence in computer games, by the tightening up of licensing regulations and by a "you can only look at what we approve" attitude to the Internet?

I have no doubt at all that the coalition - how that term still sticks in my craw - is vastly better that the Labour alternative. But, we still have too much "Government by Daily Mail Headline" and not enough extending the bounds of freedom.


No comments: