Friday, November 06, 2009

Being against the Daily Mail is not enough

Introducing the Britblog Roundup a couple of weeks ago I suggested that "sometimes being against the Daily Mail takes the place of constructive thought on the left". There is an example of this on Lib Dem Voice today, though it involves the Daily Express rather than the mail.

Ian Roberts begins today's Daily View 2x2 feature by talking about "daft health and safety scare stories":

A nice example appears in the Daily Express, which rails against “health and safety killjoys” who

"have forced a rugby club’s Guy Fawkes revellers to watch a film of a bonfire on television rather than enjoy the real thing."

Frustratingly for the Express, it turns out that nothing of the sort has happened. Faced with having to fill in paperwork, supply metal barriers and provide five marshalls to keep a crowd of 2,000 safe, the organisers have decided, in their own words to “come up with an original, imaginative and fun way to fill the void".

I am not sure that this story is quite as daft as Ian says. If you try to stage an event and find health and safety legislation makes it too difficult to stage, it is perfectly good idiomatic English to say you have been "forced" to abandon it.

And if Ian thinks that watching film of a bonfire is original, imaginative and fun... let's just say I don't agree with him. Come to that I am not sure this idea is so original. Ilfracombe Rugby Club did it last year.

But what worries more is what Ian goes on to say:
Maybe health and safety regulations go too far sometimes, but in my neck of the woods – across a population of a quarter of a million – not a single person ended up in casualty as a result of bonfire or firework injuries at guy fawkes celebrations last year, so perhaps there’s something to it.
Well what does he believe? Are present health and safety standards too onerious? And what do we Liberal Democrats as a whole believe?

Even since Labour came to power in 1997 I have been writing columns poking fun at their efforts to regulate things like fireworks and leylandii hedges.

I am not a parent and am no longer a local councillor, so it is easy for me to take the libertarian line. But to me these are the sort of issues that mark a clear boundary between us and Labour. Some of my fellow Liberal Democrats clearly see things differently.

Because, as things stands, whenever an issue which involves a sacrifice of individual liberty for the sake of public health you find Liberal Democrats on both sides of the debate. Both sides are convinced they are right and are being good Liberals - and the odds are that both will quote John Stuart Mill at you too.

If we are going to establish a clearer Liberal Democrat philosophy, and with it a firmer idea of what we stand for in the public mind, then we are going to have to do some hard philosophical work here.

We cannot remain sitting on the fence while laughing at the Mail and the Express for ever.

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