With its obsessive law-making, this government has sought to micro-manage our lives, says Brendan O’Neill. Let’s hope the next administration leaves us alone
The Ten Commandments, which stood Judeo-Christian societies in fairly good stead for centuries, only forbade eight things: murder, adultery, theft, bearing false witness, coveting your neighbour’s missus and things, taking the Lord’s name in vain, worshipping false gods and making idols. New Labour, which clearly knows better than God, has, in its 13 miserable years in power, created thousands of new things Thou Shalt Not do. In fact it has instituted an ‘Era of Thou Shalt Not’, where there’s always some law, busybody, copper or camera keeping a watchful eye to make sure we don’t commit any of the 4,300 new criminal offences created by the government. That’s approximately one new offence for every day Labour has been in power. An average of 27 new offences a month under Tony Blair, and 33 a month under Gordon Brown. A new Ten Commandments every couple of weeks. Here are just 50 of the things we are no longer allowed to do thanks to the suspicious, stony-faced killjoys who rule over us.
We can’t buy more than two packets of painkillers at a time, lest we use them to try to top ourselves. We can’t hunt foxes with dogs. If you’re under 16, you can no longer win goldfishes at funfairs (the practice was banned in order to ‘send a message that buying a pet or owning a pet is an act of responsibility’, said Ben Bradshaw in 2004). We can’t bear arms, even for sport — one of the first things Labour did in 1997 was implement a complete ban on handguns, forcing competitive shooters to go abroad to train for the Olympics. We can’t smoke in pubs. We can’t smoke in restaurants. We can’t smoke at bus stops if they are more than 50 per cent covered, in which case they count as a ‘public indoor space’ in which, of course, smoking is forbidden. We can still smoke at home. Unless you live in Scotland, that is, and you’re expecting a visit from a public servant, in which case the public servant has the right to demand that you cease smoking in your home for an hour before he visits and for the entire duration of his visit.
We can’t drink in public. Well, it depends on where you live and how your local policeman is feeling that day: there are now more than 800 ‘drinking control areas’ across the UK in which a copper can, if he feels like it, tell you to surrender your can of lager or to tip its contents down a drain. You are guilty of a criminal offence if you refuse. If you are 17 you can no longer buy a knife (any kind of knife: pen, Stanley, bread) whereas you could in the past. You can also no longer buy a crossbow. We can’t impersonate a traffic warden. We can’t sell grey squirrels. We can’t cause a nuclear explosion (as of 1998; before then, presumably we could if we wanted to). Under a Protection of Wrecks Order of 2003, we can no longer enter the hull of the Titanic without permission from the government. We can’t organise an unlicensed concert in a church hall or community centre, and if we do we could be banged up for six months.
Even working with children now requires a licence. We can’t teach, look after or care for people under 16 without first submitting to a criminal records check. Because we might be paedophiles, you see. We can no longer protest as and when we choose in the square kilometre around the Houses of Parliament. We can no longer send emails or post letters safe in the knowledge that only the intended recipients will read them — under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), the state has the authority to intercept and check our private correspondences. We can’t even walk down the street in peace — the Ripa has been used by local councils to justify following and spying on families to check they live in the school catchment area they claim to live in. In some parts of Britain we can’t throw our rubbish out and expect it to be picked up: we have to sort it and separate it out first, in order to save the planet.
We can’t let our children get fat — well, not unless we want a letter of warning from the children’s schools, which are now weighing our kids as part of New Labour’s National Child Measurement Programme. (Racists used to try to determine if children were ‘good citizens’ by measuring their skulls and noses, now we do it by measuring their body mass index — BMI.) We can’t put sweets in our children’s lunch boxes. Such items are increasingly being confiscated as contraband under the government Obesity Strategy’s ‘healthy lunch box policy’. Even the lunch box, that special bond between a parent and child when they are parted during the day, has been invaded and colonised by New Labour. We can’t express hatred of religion. We can’t glorify or condone acts of terrorism (asked to expand on what this might mean, Lord Falconer said it basically meant ‘attacking the values of the West’).
We can’t bring ‘too much liquid’ on to aeroplanes, only 100ml containers in a re-sealable clear plastic bag measuring 20cm by 20cm. We can no longer resist being manhandled by the police: under the 2000 Terrorism Act the police can stop anyone within a ‘designated area’ and search them for material related to terrorist actions. Also under anti-terror legislation we can’t, without potentially being stopped and questioned by the police, take photos of policemen or buildings such as Buckingham Palace: last year the police forced two Austrian tourists to delete photos of famous London landmarks. We can no longer expect to have the right to silence if arrested. We can no longer expect a right to trial by jury — this year four men were convicted in the first criminal trial without a jury in England and Wales for 400 years. And thanks to New Labour’s assault on the ‘double jeopardy’ rule, we can no longer expect to be tried for a crime only once. According to one historic study of the democratic leaps forward made in British history, the doctrines of autrefois acquit (formerly acquitted) and autrefois convict (formerly convicted) were considered ‘essential elements for the protection of the liberty of the subject’, since they guarded us from being doggedly pursued by a vindictive state determined to find us guilty of a crime. Now we can be tried for the same crime again and again.
We can’t stand up at football stadiums. We can’t use bad language in football stadiums without running the risk of being caught by the fuzz (in 2006 two Swansea City footballers were arrested for waving a Welsh flag with the words ‘F*** off Cardiff’ on it). If you’re a young person, you can’t hang out on street corners, and various Willy Wonka-style authoritarian measures have been introduced to make you scarper: the Mosquito (a gadget that emits a piercing noise audible only to young ears); acne-exposing public lighting (which makes youngsters look extra spotty and blemished); and even, in Weston-super-Mare, helicopters that shine super-bright halogen lights into the eyes of young people drinking in parks in order temporarily to blind them. Religious institutions can no longer fully act on their religious beliefs by, for example, declining to allow gay couples to adopt children in their care. And judging by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s recent forcing of the British National Party to rewrite both its constitution and its statements of principle, we can no longer set up political parties that do not meet the approval of the state — a stinging attack on the right of free association.
We can no longer reasonably request that the
United States has some evidence against us before demanding that we be extradited there to be tried for a crime. We can no longer keep our fingerprints to ourselves (they will be stored in the national ID database). Courtesy of New Labour’s antisocial behaviour orders, which empower the curtain-twitchers of the nation to demand that their local authority clamp down on some aspect of their neighbours’ behaviour, commandments can be written to govern the behaviour of specific individuals too, while also, of course, sending a warning to the rest of us. ASBOs have been used to prevent people from wearing hats or hoods in public. From using a mop too loudly. From buying eggs with the intention of throwing them at people’s properties on Halloween. From dressing up as a werewolf and howling. From going into the garden dressed only in bra and knickers. From drunkenly arguing with one’s wife. From buying matches. From playing football at bus stops. And from having sex too loudly. Caroline Cartwright of Wearside has been banned from making ‘excessive noise during sex’ anywhere in England. She will literally have to cross the border to Scotland, like a frisky fugitive, if she wants to let rip with her fella.
We can’t have sex with prostitutes without first enquiring whether they have been trafficked. We can’t walk or travel anywhere in Britain without being filmed on one of an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras and having our image stored for 30 days or more. We can no longer buy any products made from seal skin or fur. The list goes on.
Haven’t we had enough of this? Clearly New Labour, with its incessant rule-making and micro-management of our lives, has never heard the words of the Roman historian Tacitus, who said: ‘The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the state.’ A message to the incoming government: thou shalt not over-police our thoughts, choices, pleasures and habits.