Monday, October 31, 2005

Roy Hattersley talks nonsense

Will there be a sillier column published in the Guardian this year than the one Roy Hattersley contributed today?

Here is his take on whether to ban smoking in private members' clubs:

But the notion that liberty demands that members of gentlemen's clubs be allowed to expose the waiters who serve them to the risk of lung and throat cancer is a sophistication of Mill's theories that can justly be described as original. The claim that the exceptions to the smoking rule have something to do with freedom is absurd.

Since passive smoking is a cause of cancer, allowing continued contamination in privileged circumstances is about as defensible as arguing that little boys should be sent up chimneys, so acquiring scrotal carcinomas - but only in big houses.

As everyone except Hattersley knows, the debate over whether to give some premises exemption from does not concern gentlemen's clubs but working men's clubs. John Reid, uniquely in this cabinet, recalls that the Labour Party was formed to defend the liberties and advance the interests of the working class. This puts him in conflict with the likes of Tessa Jowell for whom socialism has always been something done to the working class.

Hattersley way of resolving this dilemma is to pretend that it does not exist and to witter on about gentlemen's clubs in a way that would have sounded dated 50 years ago.

As the mention of Mill reminds us, Hattersley has pretentions to being a philosopher. But he does not convince in this article. Take the sentence that comes before the passage I quoted above:
It has often been argued - quite wrongly, in my view - that a truly free society would not prohibit self-styled guardians of the countryside killing small furry animals in the process of what they call sport.
I am not sure what "a truly free society" means, but it can hardly be denied that a ban on hunting is an infringement on liberty. You may well think that infringement a price worth paying to further animal welfare, but an infringement upon liberty it remains.

To some extent we are all in favour of curbing individual liberty for the common good - even a wacky libertarian like me. That is inevitable. It only becomes dangerous when we seek to fool ourselves about what we are doing - when we start saying that "true liberty" or "real liberty" consists in doing what the government tells us. Or that liberty consists in doing things of which Lord Hattersley approves.

1 comment:

Bishop Hill said...

"This puts him in conflict with the likes of Tessa Jowell for whom socialism has always been something done to the working class."