Monday 5 June 2017

Lifestyle regulation and the general election

It might not be front of mind for everybody at election time but for single issue voters like me, only one question matters: where do the parties stand on the nanny state? For the benefit of those who have similar concerns, I have waded through every party’s manifesto to see what our would-be masters have in store for drinkers, gamblers, smokers, vapers and people who like eating food. And so, in alphabetical order and with marks out of five for devotion to lifestyle liberties, let us proceed:


I have previously argued that Theresa May is relatively sound on nanny state issues. She is reputed to have been one of the cabinet ministers who dissuaded David Cameron from introducing minimum pricing. She voted against the ban on smoking in cars and there is evidence that she watered down Cameron’s hideously paternalistic obesity strategy. We will have to wait and see if my hunch is correct because there is previous little to go in the manifesto. Aside from a vague pledge to ‘continue to take action to reduce childhood obesity’, lifestyle regulation doesn't get a look-in. Nothing on alcohol, nothing on smoking and nothing on gambling. In the spirit of misplaced optimism, I was going to assume that no news is good news and award three stars, but then I remembered plain packaging, the sugar tax and the outrageous food reformulation scam and downgraded it to two.

Green party

After publishing a loony’s charter of a manifesto in 2015, the Greens are keeping their cards close to their chest this year. It is reasonable to assume that they still want to ban horse-racing, foie gras and rabbit hutches. They probably still want to squeeze an extra £5 billion out of drinkers and smokers. But they do not explicitly say so. Nor do they explicitly say they want to legalise marijuana. Since they are maintaining a dignified silence over their policies, I will have to judge them on their previous manifesto and award two stars. Without the cannabis legalisation, it would be one.


Jeremy Corbyn might want to resurrect Old Labour but his first Five Year Plan doesn’t involve rolling back taxes on booze and fags to the levels of the 1970s. The great helmsman describes himself as ‘totally anti-sugar’ despite his hobby of jam-making and his manifesto promises ‘a new childhood obesity strategy within the first 100 days, with proposals on advertising and food labelling.’ In practice, this means a ban on so-called ‘junk food’ advertising on primetime television in a futile attempt to put people off eating tasty meals. The manifesto also pledges to ‘implement the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, commonly known as the ‘sugar tax’’, but the legislation for that has already passed through the Commons and is taken as read.

Labour has nothing to say about alcohol, tobacco or e-cigarettes, but it says it will ‘reduce the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2.’ It will also ‘increase the delay between spins’ which is currently 20 seconds. This would make them completely unplayable. To all intents and purposes, it would be a ban and it would almost certainly lead to the closure of hundreds of bookmakers around the UK.

Liberal Democrats

According to the Lib Dem manifesto, ‘Liberal Democrats believe that we should all be free from an overreaching state’. Three cheers for that. Alas, these fine words are rather at odds with the policies put forward. The manifesto contains a nanny state wish list that makes a mockery of the first part of the Liberal Democrats’ name, just as their refusal to accept the referendum result makes a mockery of the second.

Like Labour, they want to restrict food advertising before the 9pm watershed, but they are also keen on ‘closing loopholes in the sugary drinks tax’. It is unclear whether this means they want to tax other soft drinks or if they want to extend to tax to food products. Either way, it won’t be good for our wallets.

Farron’s freedom fighters want to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol and ‘encourage the traffic light labelling for food products’. Ironically, the UK is prevented from doing either of these at the moment thanks to the Lib Dems’ beloved EU.

They also want to make the sugar reduction targets legally binding, reduce stakes on fixed odds betting terminals to £2, and introduce a levy on tobacco company profits ‘so they fairly contribute to the costs of health care'. It will be interesting to see how they intend to do the latter, as most tobacco companies are not headquartered in the UK and therefore cannot be subject to a windfall tax. Whatever tax they come up with will no doubt be passed on to consumers one way or another, thereby adding to the £11 billion tax already paid by smokers each year, a sum that covers the 'costs of health care' associated with smoking several times over.

Once again, the Lib Dems have put together another monstrosity of a manifesto to make John Stuart Mill turn in his grave. On the other hand, they want to legalise marijuana - albeit in the most useless and miserable way. I would normally give an extra star for cannabis legalisation but the rest of the manifesto is so horribly paternalistic that I cannot bring myself to give them more than one.

Plaid Cymru

The Welsh nationalists have nothing to say about any lifestyle issues in their manifesto, but given that they tried to ban vaping indoors and are keen supporters of minimum pricing, we must assume the worst. One star. [Update: In fairness, it was the Welsh Labour Party that pushed for the vaping ban. Plaid Cymru seemed broadly happy to go along with it, but ended up voting against due to an unrelated spat.]


Why do nationalist parties have so little faith in their own people? Like Plaid Cymru, the SNP are past masters at treating their electorate like children. In their latest manifesto, the Scotch Nats reaffirm their commitment to imposing a deadweight loss on drinkers through minimum pricing and, like the Lib Dems, talk about ‘closing loopholes in the sugary drinks tax’. They also want to shaft commercial broadcasters with a watershed ban on advertisements for food that is high in salt, fat or sugar.

The only tiny glimmer of hope comes when they say that they 'will continue to advocate a review of alcohol taxation to better reflect alcohol content’. I have previously argued that alcohol should be taxed by the unit, rather than the current system which privileges cider drinkers at the expense of those who prefer spirits. The SNP appears to want to move in this direction because ‘the Scotch Whisky industry is a key sector of Scotland’s economy’. Given this hint that they might want to reduce duty on spirits, I will give them two stars rather than the one star that they almost certainly deserve.


Under Nigel Farage, UKIP could be relied on to take a relaxed approach to booze and tabs, but those days are over. The Kippers' longstanding pledge to amend the smoking ban is notably absent from the 2017 manifesto. Rather than repeal the worst thing Labour ever did, they are going to repeal the best. They want to get rid of the 2003 Licensing Act which was supposed to create 24 hour drinking but never did. UKIP cite some worthless research from the UK Temperance Alliance - or the 'Institute of Alcohol Studies' as it now calls itself - to justify closing the boozers at 11pm. It will, they reckon, ‘protect emergency workers from abuse’. They also want to ‘bring in new legislation to reduce the density of alcohol outlets and restrict trading times’. Back to the Fifties with Nutall!

As if that weren’t enough - and it really is - UKIP are the third party promising to reduce the stakes on gambling machines in bookmakers which, as mentioned above, amounts to a de facto ban on fixed odds betting terminals. They will also ‘keep and enforce current legislation on the use of illegal drugs’. So much for the purple libertarians.


All of these scores are probably too generous. Politicians know that nanny state legislation is not popular with the public and are therefore reluctant to show their full hand in their manifestos. Labour brought in a draconian smoking ban in 2007 despite its 2015 manifesto explicitly exempting drinking establishments that did not serve food. David Cameron did not mention plain packaging in his 2010 manifesto and the sugar tax did not feature in his 2015 manifesto. The only major nanny state policy to feature in a ruling party’s manifesto in the last decade is minimum pricing for alcohol - and that never happened.

Do your own research and let the buyer beware, but it doesn’t really matter who you vote for, the nanny statists always get in.

[Cross-posted from Spectator Health]

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