And I tell you this, gentlemen, I said, and 100 golfers in black tie boggled drunkenly and hung on my words… You know what this Labour Government wants to ban? I yipped.
What? they chorused, red-faced with anticipatory wrath. They want to stop you – smoking! I said. No more smoking in the workplace, or pubs, or restaurants; no more pint’n’Castella in the 19th hole, and in so far as the putting green is a public place, you will probably be forbidden even from having a crafty fag as you steady your nerves!
Outrageous, they said, and for a while the surf of indignation thundered around me, until a man just to my right piped up in level tones: “Well, you know, I am all in favour of a ban, actually.”
What? I said, amazed, but before I could get to the bottom of his dissent, two or three others around the room were putting their hands up and demanding a ban on any kind of smoking in public. But hang on, I said, and I explained the statistics about passive smoking: that you have only to charcoal-grill frankfurters for half an hour on your barbie, and you will inhale the same quantity of carcinogens as you could expect to absorb in two weeks of passive smoking.
Yes, yes, said my friends at the golf club dinner; we know all that, but the honest truth, they said, was that they used to be smokers themselves, and it was a filthy habit, and they thought the new law would help them to resist any temptation to take it up again.
What? I said, still incredulous. Next thing, I said, you’ll be wanting to ban drink in order to remove any temptation to get drunk, or ban cars, to avoid ever being tempted to drive too fast… But then I thought some more about their position, and I could see a kind of attraction in it. Of course it is ignoble to invoke the nanny state in order to correct your own personal weakness, but at least my friends’ motives were somehow honest, and based on intimate knowledge of the people they knew best – themselves.
My black-tied chums weren’t actuated by a desire to impose some superior code of behaviour on others; their motivation was purely selfish, and I can live with the selfishness. It’s the dogooders I can’t stand, and this Labour Government is riddled with people who long to stop other people doing things of which they disapprove. In so far as there may or may not be a case for banning smoking in public, it should be no business of central government – or at least not while smoking is legal.
It should be up to individual pubs, clubs and restaurants to decide whether their clientele want a fug or not; and if the emanations of the state must become involved at all, then we have innumerable tiers of parish, borough, district or country councils that could take a decision reflecting the views of local people.
As it is, the interdiction is to be imposed centrally, because the Labour Party has a drug of its own. It is called interference, and there is nothing that gives the present lot a bigger kick than locating what they believe is an imperfection in human nature, and stamping it out. That is why they want to ban hunting.
It is nothing to do with animal welfare; it is because they behold the joy on the mud-spattered faces of the hunters, just as they observe the blissful satisfaction of someone filling his lungs with smoke, and they are overwhelmed with disapproval.
It is not the fact of killing foxes that appals the Labour Party; it is the mental state of those who do it, the “enjoyment of cruelty”, as they put it. They make windows into men’s souls, dislike what they see, and resolve to change it, and they take no heed of the consequences of their ill-thought-out bans.
How is it supposed to work, if the hunts go over to drag-hunting, and then start finding, lo and behold, that the hounds chase live foxes? The police will want to show that they have been breaking the law, but how will they prove that there is a fox involved? They will assuredly have to catch the fox, and produce it in evidence. And how will they catch the fox? Why, with dogs, of course.
The whole thing is mad, and a waste of police time. There will be mutiny in the countryside, and lawlessness, and bloodshed, and all because the modern Labour Party believes in the perfectibility of man; whereas the true conservative knows that dogoodery is often far more dangerous than masterly inactivity.
If you want evidence of this truth on a global scale, look at the war in Iraq, which I supported, but which has proved a grim lesson in the hazards of imposing one’s own world-view on others.
We went in to Iraq – so we are now told – not because of the threat of the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, but because it was in the interests of the people of Iraq.
We didn’t do it for ourselves – oh no, we weren’t being selfish – we did it FOR THEM. And that was the argument I swallowed myself, when I spoke for the war in March 2003; and I must now admit, in all intellectual candour, that it looks pretty thin.
If we knew then what we know now, that the removal of Saddam – on behalf of the people of Iraq – would mean killing upwards of 14,000 of those very same people and starting a vicious insurgency in the Sunni triangle, would we do it again?
We should have the common sense to listen to others before we presume to act in their interests: we should listen to the landlords who would like to keep tolerating a perfectly legal activity; we should listen to the countryside; and we should not have decided, from a position of such ignorance, that the best way to help Iraq was to kill so many of its people.