Friday, December 29, 2006

A bonfire of liberties

2007 will see a smoking ban introduced in public buildings in England. Most significantly, no provision is allowed for private clubs who may wish to allow smoking.

As a cigar smoker myself, I am acutely aware of the degree of moral hysteria surrounding this issue, where there has been an intertwining of public health concerns (often based upon exagerated misinformation), and an acceptance of the basic principle that the government should legislate against behaviour regarded as anti-social.

On the public health issue, some otherwise sane people lose all sense of proportion over the dangers of second hand smoke. As social animals living in collective, industrial societies we are exposed to constant diverse health risks due to the activities of others – traffic fumes, industrial waste gases, pollen, food additives – second hand tobacco smoke is only one of many.

And the evidence of health dangers from second hand smoke are presumptive projections that are not empirically established. Everyone understands that buying a lottery ticket doesn’t mean you will win the lottery, and in the same way slight exposure to second hand smoke does not necessarily pose any significant health risk. Public policy considerations need to balance an actual assessment of risk, against the requirement that individuals must be able to make their own choices, not idealise a risk-free environment that can never exist.

What is more, the ban on private clubs allowing smoking was allegedly based upon the entirely specious hokum of health concerns for bar workers. But cigarette smoke is measured at around 1 micron, whereas a good extraction system will remove particulates down to about 1/3 micron. Good air circulation will also dilute and disperse any gaseous components, so that a smoking environment with air purification can be cleaner than a non smoking environment without extraction. I have worked in factories where much more toxic substances than cigarette smoke are handled, and appropriate extraction systems can and do provide a safe working environment.

Had the health issue been the genuine cause of concern then legislation could have enforced extraction systems, and other measures. But the real issue is that people support the ban because they think smoking is anti-social – “why should I breathe your smoke?” Now to a certain degree this is sensible, and a choice of non-smoking and smoking venues should be provided. But of course a choice has precisely not been allowed in the current legislation.

This is what ties the smoking issue into the wider politics of New Labour, with its preoccupations about anti-social behaviour. Or more specifically, using legislation to enforce arbitrary social preferences of the majority against minorities, in order to enforce shared community of values.

For example, Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are, to the best of my knowledge, an internationally unique form of legislation because they do not criminalise specific behaviours, but rather any arbitrary behaviour that anyone else find anti-social, provided a magistrate agrees: then if you breach the order the behaviour is criminal. The only international precedent for this form of legislation I have been able to find (and this is not just a cheap shot) is Himmler’s proposed legislation of 1944 against Gemeinschaftsfremde. (Community aliens). This was more liberal than New Labour's law, because it required a compulsory referral to social workers before imprisonment if the Nazi equivalent of an ASBO was breached, and only proposed prison if social work referral failed. Interestingly Himmler's law was not enacted as both the German judiciary and the police opposed it for being unworkable and in principle contrary to natural justice to imprison people for arbitrary anti-social behaviour.


It is no coincidence that the Nazis were also the first country to ban smoking. A myth is propagated by today’s anti-smoking campaigners that the Nazi ban was racially inspired due to Jewish influence in the tobacco industry, and therefore different to their own campaigns. This is entirely false, the concerns of the Nazis were exactly the same issues of public health, and even echoed leftist criticisms of smoking that tobacco comapanies were making profits at the expense of public health. The 1944 national ban on smoking on public transport was personally initiated by Hitler over the issue of passive smoking risks, and Nazi scientists Franz H Muller (in 1939) and Eberhard Schairer and Erich Schoniger (in 1943) were the first to publish good research demonstrating provable links between smoking and lung cancer.


The question is whether the state should restrict choice in order to enfoirce healthy living. The anti-smoking campaigners, (including the Nazis!) believe the state should play this interventionist role - and the spurious arguments about second hand smoke are a stalking horse for their full agenda, which is to ban smoking altogether.

Now clearly New Labour are not Nazis. But there is a tendency within New Labour that shares the Nazi ideology of communitarianism. This was expressed by the Nazis in terms of Volksgemeinschaft – a national community with shared values that were rather arbitrary (for example, against swing music and English style clothes). The logic of New Labour is “triangulation” around the issues that affect swing voters, to win electioons at any cost. As seen in the 2005 Hodge Hill by-election this can lead Labour to conduct a basically far-right election campaign, pandering to the prejudices of voters, in echo of Thatcher's defence of "people like us".

Nor was this an aberration, Liam Byrne the victorious labour candidate is an affirmed Blairite who is now immigration minister! You can view all his election material here. Labour decided to contest this marginal working class constituency on the issues of opposing immigration, and authoritarian measures against anti-social behaviour. More recently we have seen New Labour orchestrate a moral scare about Moslem women wearing a veil – largely demonising people because they are different from the arbitrary values of the majority.

I have argued elsewhere about the changes in the Labour Party: “the Labour Party has a broadly progressive electoral constituency, and historical links with the trade union infrastructure, but it is in continued antagonism with both of these elements. Nevertheless, although the Party no longer articulates the aspirations of these support groups, they do provide a constraint upon it, and mediate the transformation of the Labour Party, so that it appears less dramatic than it is.” The important point here is that the electoral support of Labour is broadly to the left of the party over a number of issues, such as the Iraq war, opposition to privatisation, support for trade unions, etc. But New Labour also know that on the issues of race and immigration, and social conformity, they can mobilise their electoral base around a right wing communitarian agenda.

Interestingly, no voice within the Labour party distanced itself from the far-right campaign in Hodge Hill. There does need to be a serious debate about whether socialists should be more actively arguing for opposition to Labour and union disaffiliation from the Labour Party, given its irreversible shift to being a neo-liberal authoritarian party.

It is in this context that New Labour have introduced the smoking ban, and ban on hunting with dogs - because they believe it is a defensible role of the state to legislate to enforce the preferred choices of the majority, even where the minority activity does not harm other people. This is whipped up by moral scares, and ill-informed arguments.

Unfortunately many on the left do not realise that we have to defend the rights of all minority activities that do not inherently harm other people, even those who make life-style choices different from our own,




12 comments:

Manchester University Labour Club said...

I though Hodge Hill was pretty morally abhorrant yet very electorally effective.

However, in terms of our working class support, our policies on crime are very popular.

Louisefeminista said...

"However, in terms of our working class support, our policies on crime are very popular".

Adele: But the policies are simplistic and populist. I assume you are meaning street crime and drugs. ASBOs are shown to be unworkable. And now you have Blair going on about these bizarre and reactionary Respect zones. What about New Labour doing something more constructive than their piss-poor attempt with Corporate Manslaughter and other forms of hidden crime which do affect working class people.

What about poverty, atomisation, inequality and alienation that exist in this society? The question is: Why does crime exist (sounds like a Social Policy BA question, I know, but it is nonetheless important)?

Re: Hodge Hill. It may have been "electorally effective" in your opinion but is it right? No. Playing the "race card" is utterly wrong. And LP members have a duty to fight against this populist style of elections (I'm probably in a minority there as well...)

AN said...

yes Adele in terms of labour's working class support the policies on crime are effective - but we could also say that the BNP's campaign in Barking was effective.

What is particularly intersting is how very similar the New Labour material in Hodge Hill was to the themes peddled by the NF in the same election:
http://www.geocities.com/byelections04/hodge04/nf.html

But ever since Patrick Gordon Walker lost Smethwick to the Tories in 1964, after the famous "if you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour" campaign, we have known that working class constituencies can be overtirned by pandering to racism.

My thesis here is that as New Labour only cares aboout winning elections at any cost, they are prepared to pursue a far right agenda to compete for working class votes, as an alternatove to arguing progressive politics. they are not alone in this - the Lib Dems have done it for years.

BUt if Labour are a socially autoritarian party who are prepared to fight election on the race issue, and whip up hostility to people who are different, then shouldn't socialists oppose the Labour party?

I don't say this lightly, as labour is in my blood, real labour, much more than it is in yours from what you have written before. I come from a familly who for generations have truely beleived that the labour party would one day deliver socialism.

Louisefeminista said...

"But ever since Patrick Gordon Walker lost Smethwick to the Tories in 1964, after the famous "if you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour" campaign, we have known that working class constituencies can be overtirned by pandering to racism".

And coming from Smethwick that campaign had repurcussions for many years (some of the Tories who were active in that campaign were winning council seats in the 1980s!!). And the role of Smethwick Labour Party as well was racist.

Yes and AN is correct when he says the Lib Dems have done it for years, as look at their role in the election of the BNP in Tower Hamlets esp. The Isle of Dogs in the early 1990s.

But on the issue of the LP I think as socialists you oppose them from within. That's my strategy.

D.A. Becker said...

I love cigars as well, and would hate it when I'd have to go outside EVERYWHERE to smoke 'em. Though I understand it is bad for my health and that of those who are around me, I reckon people shouldn't even move because that might endanger themselves or others. It is an endless pit of liberties thrown out of the window because of the possible chance that someone might get ill because you smoke a cigar in a public place.

Over here in the Netherlands we are still allowed to smoke in many cafés and such, but other public spaces; even open-air trainstations; have banned smoking. Smoking in the open shouldn't be a problem I'd say, but if we can't even smoke when we're outside at work, what is this world coming to then? Car exhausts are much more toxic and a much larger threat than a gentleman walking by with a cigar in his hands. I'd rather have ten smoking men in a café than one heavy truck smoking by when I'm walking next to it.

What is this world coming to...

AN said...

Good point d.a

The health concerns are real, but are also mixed up with a hostility to people being different. The hysteria is perfectly illustrated by the following: I was listening to a radio play on BBC7 set in the 1940s, and appernetly the BBC had two complaints about smoking - ON THE RADIO!

And it is smoking now, but next it will be some other mark of social conformity - obesity, drinking, whetever.

AN said...

Loiise, is it a "strategy" to be in the Labour party, or the triumph of hope over experience?

Louisefeminista said...

AN: Firstly, "And it is smoking now, but next it will be some other mark of social conformity - obesity, drinking, whetever". I agree and there are reports that NHS might not give any kind of medical intervention to people who smoke or are considered obese. Absolutely appalling, judgemental and moralistic crap. Also smoking bans do have health and safety implications as smokers go and find somewhere to smoke where they shouldn't. You don't stop smoking through prohibition. It's daft. I therefore think the ban has been ill thought through.


RE: LP. Think it depends what you want out of the LP. Yes, the LP has deffo got worse since i first joined it in 1985. But there is a fragmented left but how do you tap into it? Ok then, what is your strategy in building the left that would be a force to be reckoned and take on the LP?

Contradictory I would support the SSP if I lived in Scotland as they have shown to a certain extent about what can be done and they do have good strong women at the forefront and I admire that as well.

Manchester University Labour Club said...

Having John Reid as home sec I don't thing is helping us. I think we need to be truly tough on crime and its causes. At the moment I think we have the balance wrong.

Louisefeminista said...

Adele: Yes, but he might still go for leader................(hopefully not!)
Well, sure the balance is wrong. Issues which are fundamental to the causes of crime such as poverty, alienation, atomisation and inequalities are not examined.

The Sentinel said...

Once again you play underhanded games. Obscuring the truth and propagating lies, everywhere you slither.

You are nothing more then an excuse for a man with no concept of right or wrong.

Your repugnant beliefs are responsible for this shit hole we call the UK today.

You despise this country and its inhabitants and are nothing more then a traitor who does not have enough courage to live in the countries whose peoples you wish to import here wholesale or whose systems you advocate for our own.

History is a self repetitive entity however, and your day will soon end.

And the traditional punishment for treason will come back again.

The Sentinel said...

Andrew Newman, or 'an' by his Socialist unity blog alias, is one of the prime examples of the marxist threat we face in this country.


A short, fat gormless, bespectacled, grandad-jumper-wearing, scruffy menace.


Just from the that photo, I can see why he is so full of hate for us all; hate for a society that never fully accepted him when he was a child. Hate for a society that left him with feelings of inadequacy. Hate for a world that left him with mere scraps of romance, the last offering no one else wanted. Hate for the status quo.


Life is so much better for unfortunates like this man when they can find people that appear to have even lower status in society then themselves.


It serves a multifaceted, deep-rooted need within their psyche to become the defenders of the underdog. The new underdog that they have helped to create, in order to elevate their own perceived position.


Any creed that will allow them to exercise their revenge on the society that rejected them, or the world at large is fully embraced.

As the 'right' do not generally appear to welcome such obvious runts like this one, and besides unconcealed authority scares him, it has to be the 'left' that he falls for.


As the empty rhetoric of brotherhood, fraternity and equality play into this angry man's mind he burrows further and further into the 'left' until he sits as close to the wall as he can.


At last he has found a home where all the pent up rage, all the bitterness and all the contempt that burns a hole in him is actually a positive.


The more he calls for society to be destroyed the more he is applauded. He can even come out of it looking like a hero.


Uncontrolled immigration for our global brothers and sister! Marriage for homosexuals! No more prison for criminals! ...and all of the other insane mantras.
Of course, the recipients of such insane generosity will be most grateful, but only for a short time, so the campaign must go on.


Because the treacherous band of incompetents and thieves that pass for our government are largely composed of people cut from the same cloth as this man, these polices have been taken on as official policy.


But they do not go far enough for the likes of Andy Newman, the man who's life now revolves around this self-empowering game of politics. The movement that gave him a sense of belonging, a sense of worth, a reason to live cannot end, not even in victory. All of his struts in life would be swept away if it did.


No, the fight must continue with even more radical ideas, even more extreme actions.Of course he knows that the real by product of all of this folly is the complete destruction of the country he grew up in, but that is the whole unsaid point.


Of course he knows that 'rights' for ethnic groups and homosexuals really means the stripping of rights for Britons and productive citizens. But they deserve it.


Of course he knows that unpunished criminals commit more extreme crimes. But after all, if people are more afraid of what might happen on the way home from work then what the treacherous parasites that have wormed their way into power are doing, then that policy will have served its purpose.


The whole game is attack; attacking our values, our morals, our laws and our way of life until we collapse in confusion and exhaustion.


"Between 1995 and 1997, Andy Newman led a successful campaign against the deportation of Mumtaz Begum, a grandmother who lived in Broad Street. The campaign won because it was able to win support right across the community, and also because it was prepared to defend Mumtaz by any means necessary. Andy Newman explains: "Justice sometimes means you have to break the rules, we didn't comply with the deportation order, and we were able to get widespread support for that position across Swindon."


Sums up all of the elements I have described here perfectly.


Why on earth, in all reality, would a normal middle aged man from Swindon feel the overwhelming compulsion to campaign for a woman who lied to customs to enter our country on a visitors visa and deliberately stayed for years, showing complete contempt for our laws and us in general. If she had a legitimate reason to stay she could have applied for a legitimate visa.


But this is like the milk of the god's for this man and his ilk! A chance to display his complete hatred for us all, erode our system and purport himself as a hero!


"On the day of the threatened deportation we organised a picket of the family's home including the mayor and the leader of the council (Labour in those days). We made it clear we would defend Mumtaz by "any means necessary", and she was hidden by the local Islamic community. So we organised and supported self defence by the family and their religious community. However the political context for that was solidarity based upon compassion. We managed to create a supportive atmosphere, where no public voice was raised in the town in favour of deportation. At one stage we even had a Jazz band play at a benefit for the family that included US servicemen from nearby RAF Fairford! We held out for 3 years until the government changed, and the incoming Labour government overturned the deportation order on compassionate grounds."


Source

You can feel the smug and gloating tone of this whole statement.


This wasn't about her it at all, it was all about him and his feelings of esteem and ego.


As for 'hiding her amongst the muslim community' besides the fact that he should have been charged with obstruction, this is a man who now seeks to deny islamic terrorism as a reality or the possibility that we could have many, many dangerous muslims in our country today, hidden out of sight.


Of course double speak is the main tool employed by the marxists in their quest for destruction.


'Rights' actually means restricting the rights of the majority. 'Equality' actually means inequality for the majority. 'Respect' actually means contempt for the majority and 'tolerance' actually means intolerance for the majority.


It is a nasty, corrosive, warped and perverted form of politics that is practised by men such as Andy Newman (race and Equality Officer for the GMB union) and has pervaded, not just our society but most of the western worlds.


How?


Primarily because most ordinary decent people have no interest in playing politics everyday, attending every union meeting or devoting their waking lives to committee meetings.


But it is the life blood of social inadequate like this one.


The fact that it disgusts and angers people, and after provocation's made, it fails to sink into this very ill man that his behaviour may have actually consequences and he screams out in anger when someone publishes his address on the internet.


"If it was just me who was affected, I would not be worried at all, but I have a family ­I have a four-year-old and a baby of three weeks" he cries.


Source


So do most of us you fool, but you and your cronies are putting them all at serious risk and ruining their lives with your subversive actions.


Maybe that is the lesson you were being taught.