Recently, MPs in the UK voted in favour of banning smoking in cars where a child is present. The shadow health minister Luciana Berger (Lab) addressed the house of commons claiming that 'This is a simple measure that would make a world of difference to hundreds of thousands of children right across our country. Reducing the misery afflicted by passive smoking. Saving millions of pounds for our NHS and protecting children who do not have a voice, and do not have a choice. Who in 20 years time, will wonder how this was ever allowed in the first place'. This amendment passed 376 votes to 107 (please see link at the end of this article). The most fascinating thing about the passing of this new law ( set to be active by 2015) is the lack of attention it received in the media, after a few days of coverage the issue disappeared. This piece of legislation follows in a long line of piecemeal policies that can only be defined as 'moral' or 'safety promoting'. Another recent example of this is David Cameron's 'opt-in' system of viewing pornography. Whereby in order to have access to adult material online, users must actively contact their internet service provider ( again set for implementation in 2015). Far from being an angry tirade against 'Health and safety gone mad', this article will seek to identify a worrying trend in politics, whereby it is increasingly the government defines how best to live. And by doing so, adds to the already byzantine state structue. This, of course has a long history stretching back to the birth of the modern nation, but arguably as a result of two large-scale public wars over the past ten years it has taken a characteristically 21st century tone. The War for health is the third public war.
21st Century Tone
'Liberalism has to an increasing extent adopted the
policy of dictating the actions of citizens, and, by consequence,
diminishing the range throughout which their actions remain free' - Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
Herbert Spencer wrote the following passage in 1885. Lamenting the rapidly expanding state. It is difficult to fathom what Spencer would have made of the modern state, however the meaning of this passage is to demonstrate how over the course of a relatively short space of time historically speaking. The idea of government intervention has changed mostly a foreign concept to an institution that has influence over every aspect of our lives. Since Spencer’s death in 1903 social concepts of liberty and life have changed dramatically. Throughout the postwar period,the public war been a defining feature. Since the late 90s a war for health has been quietly under way. Fundamentally, already at the beginning of the 2000s we were fighting two massive domestic wars. The war on drugs and the war on terror. Both have been disastrous in terms of casualties and in terms of expense The most renowned piece of legislation passed being the US patriot act in 2001. Similar laws have been implemented in Britain such as the prevention of terrorism act (2005). Arguably this sets a precedent of state power that is difficult to counter act. In fact it is obvious that in the media, government and big business. The idea of progress is inseparable from the growth of state power. It is this context that we must assess the gradual encroachment of the state into our lives. Not as opponents to safety and well-being, but as individuals that fully comprehend the very real dangers of unopposed government expansion. Even a cursory look at the exhaustive lists of legislation passed by the UK parliament over the past 15 years reveals that the vast majority are safety related. Often minor amendments to existing laws and regulations. This backdrop of constant high intensity government action, allows measures like banning smoking in cars possible with a minimal altercation.
Ultimately politicians on all sides provide little in the way of opposition to this 'progress'. Although in the news there may appear to be very real differences between the two sides of the debate represented by the established political parties. However in reality on the fundamental 'progressive' issues there is a silent, but concrete consensus. Ultimately it would be political suicide for any politician anywhere in the western world to denounce the war on drugs or the war on terror. Fundamentally the same atmosphere is rapidly developing around the issues of public health. It is often stated that in the UK, as a result of having a public healthcare system justifies an increasingly intrusive set of social policies. Yet in the USA, where healthcare is largely private, identical health policies have been implemented for a plethora of different reasons. Several US states have already banned smoking in cars where a child is present. True healthcare issues are complex and defy simple answers. However, increasing the scope of the state to deal with these issues will only lead to disaster.
Arguably governments are right to be scared about the public's health. In the next 20 years (see Link at the bottom of the page) an increasing majority of the populations of western countries will be of pensionable age. With the bankruptcy of the city of Detroit in July 2013 fresh in our minds. Governments are already struggling to keep the money flowing to their millions of dependants. The case is more acute in the UK where the public healthcare system faces a tsunami of demand in the near future. It is therefore understandable that governments are beginning to panic. Unfortunately many will fail to act before the situation hits crisis point. Consequently the 21st century theme of unopposed government expansion and public conflict will continue. As the state will need to grow, simply to sustain itself.
Wolves in Sheep's clothing
It is clear that the war for safety is rapidly gathering in pace. It is increasingly governments job to ensure that we live safe and healthy lives. Arguably, this is a long way off from William Beverage's idea of what a welfare state should look like. Ultimately government policy is more aggressive in protecting citizens from themselves then at any time previously. Again it is important to note that this is not a tirade against those who choose to live in a safer environment, or those who choose by voluntary means to live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, common sense encourages that we live safely and healthy, to the best of our ability. This article is concerned with the process whereby, under the guise of ensuring a high standard of public health, government is advancing it's reach far beyond what any sane person could permit.
As is the case with the war on drugs and the war on terror. The vast amounts of money spent on these public wars, does not justify the threat. Indeed, the threat is elusive. Intangible to the average citizen. Those outside the elite state sphere simply are not able to identify just how much we are all in danger. Thus, we must settle for the promise of protection. Usually at huge public expense, measured not only in terms of monetary value, but in terms of the liberties we must surrender so that our government can adequately fight this 'threat'. In his 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop Radley Blako outline a chilling scenario whereby under the guide of the war on drugs. The police forces in America have been militarized
'Not only does the military continue to provide surplus weapons to domestic police agencies, but thanks to the Department of Homeland Security grants, military contractors are now shifting to market resources toward police agencies. Worse, a new industry appears to be emerging just to convert these grants into battle-grade gear. That means we'll soon have powerful private interests, funded by government grants, who will lobby for more government grants to pay for further militarization- a police industrial complex' Radley Blako, Rise of the Warrior Cop
Furthermore already increasing amounts of government and state affiliated contractor money is used in airports, our streets and online to fight the war on terror. As a result of what has happened with drugs and terror, it could be argued that the same is happening to health.
Huge amounts of mandatory pricing already pushes up the cost of alcohol, cigarettes and foods that are high in sugar or fat. Despite the fact that little evidence shows that this has been effective in preventing people from living an unhealthy lifestyle. It is increasingly difficult to imagine a world in the near future, whereby the state does not use its power, under the guise on the 'war for health' to further advance its power. Admittedly there will be those who believe that the governments new role in promoting health is essentially benign. However this was the case with the war on drugs or the war on terror. Small scale advances that collectively add up, to from a new edifice through which the state extends its power. Ultimately these 'public wars' have little to do with the crusade that is used to identify them. The ultimate goal in an extension of state power. Evidence for this can be seen when we take a cursory look at society around us. Terror is no less of an issue, and illegal drugs no less relevant. The policies have had a negligible effect at best.
The war on drugs and the war on terror burn on. However another war is beginning to take shape, the 'war for health'. Even those who genuinely desire a more healthy society should worry about using the state as a means of achieving their desired aims.