It is not always that we can know with certainty what the coming year’s advertising will bring, so it is with a special thrill of anticipation that we await an exciting campaign to be launched in the spring.
Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo, a woman whose propensity to irritate more than compensates for the absence from our lives of Patricia Hewitt, has announced that the Government is planning a “major multi-million pound campaign to coincide with the introduction of new labelling on all bottles and cans that will show the Government’s sensible drinking message and the alcohol unit content”.
It is a measure of how supine a nation we have become and how inured to statism that this announcement was not greeted with a fusillade of boos and a salvo of ripe tomatoes. Instead, we meekly accept that it is the proper concern of government in the absurd person of Dawn Primarolo, a woman who has not had a proper job in her life and possesses as much medical knowledge as a geranium, to meddle in our drinking habits and presume to tell us how much we may or may not consume.
Believe me, my friends, we stand, you and I, at the summit of a very slippery slope. We have been here before. We tumbled to defeat last time and, unless we are careful we shall do so again. For the self-same forces that brought us the great anti-smoking terror are marshalled once more. We know them by the fanatical glint in their eye and the messianic self-righteousness of their purpose. They are the doctors, the do-gooders, the single-issue lobbyists, the busybodies, the health fascists, the bossyboots.
Their tactics have not changed. And why should they when they proved so effective last time? The chief weapon in their armoury is the statistical barrage. Week after week they launch new figures, none of which are to be trusted, purporting to show the devastation wrought by, in this case, alcohol, though it might just as well be hamburgers, fizzy drinks, the sun’s rays. Their chief ally in a gullible press, ever eager to shock, ever willing to pass on unquestioningly the latest scare.
Inevitably, we are worn down. Like prisoners deprived of sleep, our senses become numbed and we come to believe that the statistical apparitions have substance. Though it was just a concoction in a fairy tale, thousands came to accept as real the ogre of passive smoking. Thus gulled, they acquiesced in the repressive anti-smoking legislation that made us less free as a nation than we were the day before.
It will happen again with alcohol. Of course, it is a fact that we British do not know how to drink, or rather that we know only too well, it’s just that we don’t know how to stop. But for centuries there have been laws, both common law and statute law, forbidding drunken behaviour.
But drunkenness is not what concerns the busybodies. Their target is people who drink too much, which is not the same thing at all. It is particularly iniquitous because they decide what constitutes too much. And they revise the figure on a regular basis. It is as random and as lacking in substance as passive smoking, and if we are not careful we shall believe in it.
Consider again the impertinence of Ms Primarolo’s announcement. She, or rather the Government to which she is attached like a barnacle on a ship’s stern, boasts of an intention to spend many millions of our money (never forget the Government has no money of its own) drawing our attention to something called a sensible drinking message and marking the introduction of new labelling on all bottles and cans.
It cannot be said loudly enough that provided we do not break the furniture, kick the cat, or cause a public nuisance or affray while under the influence, it is no proper business of the Government how much we drink.
Ah, says the Government, think of the days lost to alcohol, think of the cost to the National Health Service, think of the lives ruined by drink. And yes, there is a cost. But the damage done by excessive boozing, though lamentable, is one of the prices we pay for living in a society in which adults are free to make choices of their own. Remove those choices and we become as infants. Worse, we find ourselves submitting to the preposterous nannying of Dawn Primarolo, a here-today and thankfully gone-tomorrow politician of no distinction whatever.
Oh, for a return to the England of yore when the likes of her were pelted with bottles by the likes of us. Bottles, moreover, free of health warnings.