British Drinks Industry

Who thought of health warnings on wine?

And there I was – all set to blame Brussels. As soon as I heard there was some loony plan to put health warnings on wine bottles, my Eurosceptic aero engines began to rev and whirr.

I knew where the culprits must be, and the all-purpose vertical take-off Euro-rant began to throb on the launching pad. Could they really be serious?

Were we really going to have labels on wine bottles, warning the consumer that the contents might make him drunk? It was insane, and there was only one type of bureaucrat – or so I instinctively thought – who would dare to promote such lunacy.

As I prepared my continental bombing raid, I could see my target in my imagination.

That’s right: it was some Swedish divorcee health commissioner, sitting in her velour slacks in her taupe-coloured office in the Breydel building, Brussels; and I could just imagine the imperious set of her jaw as she put down her glass of Badoit and prepared to Mont Blanc her initials under the EU edict that alcohol was henceforward to be clearly labelled as a poison; and in my rage I reached for another lunchtime glass of Mazis-Chambertin 2000, to fortify myself for the rigours of composing my column, and I can tell you that it was with all bomb bays fully loaded that I arrived at my desk; and I was on the very point of launching the great Brussels-busting task force when I paused.


I had a spasm of journalistic scruple. I picked up the phone. I made a couple of calls to check that this bêtise was indeed the product of the European Alcohol Action Programme, launched in 2005; and after about an hour’s research I sat back in a state of amazement.

No, my friends, I must be honest, and I must tell you that this piece of nonsense was not generated in Brussels. It is entirely home grown.

It is the British Department of Health, in Whitehall, that wants a new label on every bottle of wine and every other alcoholic beverage, with a load of baloney about the risks to unborn children (not very great, frankly), the need to drink “responsibly”, the websites of various “drink awareness” organisations, and a load of bunkum about the piffling number of “units” the Government thinks a man and a woman can drink “responsibly” every week.

The whole project has been personally invented and pushed by Caroline Flint, a junior health minister, and you may reasonably be asking yourself why.

Why now? For well over 45 centuries the human race has been squeezing grapes and fermenting the juice into anything between seven and 15 per cent alcohol, and so producing the ecstatic drink that has been as sacred to every pagan religion as it is to Christianity.

As a great French historian has pointed out, the vineyards of France are perhaps the single greatest cultural legacy of the Roman empire, and it is now more than two millennia since people in Britain first became aware of the intoxicating powers of wine.

In all that time, no government in history has yet thought the people so moronic that they needed to be told, on the bottle, that wine could go to your head; and Flint’s proposed act of desecration is all the more shameful and baffling when you consider – in your state of agreeable post-prandial rapture – that a bottle of wine is really a thing of quiet beauty.

For hundreds of years, the play of light on the glass and the liquid has entranced the eye of our greatest painters, from Caravaggio to Manet. Think of all those bottles twinkling away behind the bar girl in the Folies-Bergeres; think of that Van Gogh still life – the bottle, the bread, the cheese.

That’s what we want: simplicity, elegance – not some plodding Flintogram plastered all over the thing and telling you that wine is potentially bad for your health.

Does she really imagine that her ghastly “message” will make a fluid ounce of difference to the total quantity of alcohol consumed by the British people? Will it remove a single splash of vomit from our pavements? Will it deter a single bladdered ladette from hoisting another one away?

Of course not. It will simply add to the costs of the wine producers and bottlers; the gummy Flintolabels will make wine bottles more expensive to recycle, and apart from anything else, I can’t see how a British-only system of health warnings on alcoholic beverages can be in conformity with the principles of the EU single market.

If Flint tries to force this on the British drinks industry, it strikes me that she could easily face a legal challenge for introducing an impediment to the free circulation of goods. Yes, folks, we could be in the absurd position of having to go to Brussels to protect us against the nannying and bullying of the Labour Government.

But of course the junior health minister doesn’t care about any of these practical questions, any more than she cares about the negligible impact her Flinty health warnings will have on our drinking habits. It is nothing to do with health, or alcoholism, or binge-drinking, and everything to do with the terrible deformations of democratic politics.

She is a junior minister anxious to make a name for herself, and she has seen that there could be no more powerful way of asserting her own existence than stamping her mark, like the signature of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, on every bottle we buy. It is all about Caroline Flint, and it has very little to do with the drinkers of Britain and their problems.

I am told that the drinks industry is in two minds. Some say capitulate and agree to the “voluntary” code; some say fight and force Flint to try to bring forward legislation.

I say fight, fight, fight. Fight against these insulting, ugly and otiose labels.

Oblige Flint to bring her plans to Parliament, so we can fight for common sense against the tide of infantilising elf and safety madness, and when we have won we can help her to drown her sorrows in the time-honoured British way – and our potations will be equally responsible, or irresponsible, whatever it says on the label.

67 thoughts on “British Drinks Industry”

  1. Why now? For well over 45 centuries the human race has been squeezing grapes and fermenting the juice into anything between seven and 15 per cent alcohol, and so producing the ecstatic drink that has been as sacred to every pagan religion as it is to Christianity.

    I wonder if someday we’ll be forced to engrave some sort of ludicrous health warning on silver chalices, or maybe have the officiating priest include a health warning in the Eucharistic prayer:
    …… qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum.
    Hoc facite in meam commemorationem.
    Drinking the blood of Christ may cause harm to unborn children
    Mysterium fidei.
    Mortem tuam annuntiamus……

    In any case I’m not actually opposed to this measure really. So long as alcohol is not being banned the way cigarettes suddenly were after health warnings were put on them. After all a warning label is just a piece of information, defined as currently true by our scientific establishment. It’s a form of education, and in my view education is a good thing, being absolutely essential to the smooth running of democracy and a free market.

    I agree with Boris that a wine bottle is a thing of beauty, as are the labels often enough, fairly elegant and charming (incidentally like some cigarette packets). I agree that compulsorily printing warning labels on them is going to spoil that. But perhaps we can reach some sort of compromise? Having the warning printed on the seal at the top perhaps, or on shelves where wine is purchased? It does seem like an obsessive and unnecessary step to me, and thus certainly not a good idea, but I also think it’s not a bad idea in principle to keep people informed when they’re buying something.

  2. “I wonder if someday we’ll be forced to engrave some sort of ludicrous health warning on silver chalices”

    Given the trend it’s far more likely we’ll have our sexual organs tattooed at birth urging us not to use this equipment as it may cause overcrowding which increases stress and therefore leads to heart disease (etc).

    I’m completely liberal when it comes to drugs. Mainline Vim if you want; by all means do a line of horse tranquilizer, cocaine or paraquat if that’s what rows your boat. And, in the unfortunate event that you peg ten minutes later (and this is the point) IT IS ENTIRELY YOUR OWN AFFAIR.

    Of course the negative consequences of drug abuse should be penalised. Mug an old lady to support your habit and expect to be marched off to the cells; getting plastered at the local and beating up your wife will excite the severest displeasure of the law. However, get quietly pissed, stoned or coked up in the privacy of your own home and I cannot see what the hell it has to do with me or anyone else for that matter.

    I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs (any more) and I stopped (many years ago) simply because I realised I was generally happier without all that crap in my system. This, however, was my OWN PERSONAL CHOICE not something forced upon me by an organisation (our government) which demonstrates its own incompetence daily yet STILL has the temerity to advise me what’s good for me.

    It’s just more of the ‘perception game’. Pretend to care about the population’s well-being enough through superficial and specious posturing and a few poor suckers may conclude that you actually do.

    Load of old cobblers if you ask me.

  3. Labels on cars, that’s what I say. Also sticky cakes. Also hammers. And chisels – my god, they can be dangerous.

    How about stairs? There must be hundreds of people tripping themselves up every day. All we need is a little health warning sewn into every curve of the carpet.

    Or chairs. Leaning backwards can cause serious accident or injury.

    More safer, that’s what I say.

    Sigh. The cigarette warnings make absolute sense because cigarettes demonstrably damage the health of people around you. Alcohol causes enormous harm, but common sense can alleviate the effects. The actual alcohol you drink doesn’t hurt anyone else – it’s the misuse that damages people.

    It’s social education we need. Not directives.

  4. I know booze makes me drunk, that’s why I drink it. Surely people who don’t know this already won’t be capable of reading the label anyway?

  5. Carloline Flint is gorgeous , she was picked as Blair babe for this quality where she replaced an unbroken line of local male Union members in her Don valley constituency on the basis of being a woman with a degree in Social something or other . What an absolute cow she has turned out to be , did you notice here getting shirty recently at the appreciative growls emanating from Web cameron
    When are we going take a stand , don`t you see what’s happening . It was only in the late sixties that we paid for the government to persuade enough people top finally ban smoking in pubs . Guess what by the way in the period of steadily reducing smoking;”smoking related diseases” have gone up. Somebody has been lying . Congestion charges have not affected congestion as if they were ever intended to and speed camera have not reduced accidents , again were they really ever intended to , I doubt it .
    The Government has announced its intention to make drinking as socially unacceptable as smoking. You cannot take each infringement in isolation they are starting down the road that goes to banning drinking in pubs

    Why not ; there is a perfectly safety and social reason ? Why not ban running in the corridor , why not Ban adulthood entirely and then the souls sucking Liberals will finally be happy with the placid ruminants quietly grazing while they wait to die at 150 still a child .

    I am not a number , I am a human being

    ( I`d still give Flint a good seeing to if I got the chance though)

  6. You mean it ain’t going to say ‘Absolute Plonk, Avoid If Possible’, ‘Good Gear, Get It Down Yer Gullet’, ‘One Glass Will Leave You Legless’ and such like? Those are the kind of government warnings that might be of some use.

    I agree with you Newmania, they’re all ways of raising revenue, whilst creating PR, rather than dealing with the problems.

    As well as being somewhat tasty, Caroline is the only one in the department of health who seems to have the slightest idea what she is talking about. It’s a bit of a shame this has come from her. If they wanted to tackle juvenile binge drinking, some action against the promotion of alcho-pop might be a place to start, as might more draconian punishments of those that breach the law and supply.

    I’m less than convinced by the aesthetic argument though, or were the bottles in question designed by Pissedcasso?

  7. A shame, really, for someone who has been voted Britain’s sexiest MP (sorry, Boris). Suddenly the allure evaporates.

    Like that pain-in-the-neck David Miliband, she has never had a proper job – unless you include a spell as a local government officer. From the UEA (University of East Anglia, aka University of Easy Access) she took a desk as a council jobsworth then went on to work at Renewal journal. On reading her bio, I thought for a moment this might have been a half-real job – writing perhaps on a town planning magazine. No, it turns out to be a Labour publication for the “progressive left”.

    After that, it’s all Parliamentary jobs, including PPS to John Reid.

    She is also one of the prime movers behind the socially-destructive smoking ban due on July 1.

    What do these people know about real life, moving as they do in the virtual world of debating chambers, textbooks and sycophants, permanently shielded from the rigours of the wealth-generating sector on which they ultimately rely?

    I was musing the other day what would happen if the whole lot of them disappeared along with their labelling schemes, smoking bans, millennium domes, “every child matters” slogans and ASBOs. Probably nothing. In fact things may well get better, for all they’re actually doing is trying, ineffectively, to patch up the mess left by a decade of state intervention policies that have stripped people of their own sense of social responsibility and self-control.

  8. I like your site Boris, but I think you is wrong to dis this idea not just cause that Flint bird is tasty.

    Like when we go down Kingston our mate Dave he is always on the Bacardi Breezer. We keep trying to tell him that its a well soft drink and he should drink something proper like Diamond White but he says Breezer are just as hard cause he gets it in this bigger bottle. None of us could do percents at school so we cant show him he is being a plonker (we call him summat else but we cant say it here). Its not like when your on pints and everyone can just go for the biggest number. Everyone knows Fosters is well soft even if they put it in that well cool glass.

    We arnt all well clever like you and your mate Dave who can work out the sums on what the best way to get mashed on a twenty. Like when you were at uni and went down that club and your mate Dave said had a whole bottle of Bollinger and you had been on the brandy and ports youd know who had been the hardest…right?

    I dont know what the fuss is about anyway…like that 24 unit thing for men…even my mate Dave can do that on a saturday night. Its dead easy to get enough in
    – its not like trying to get through 5 tins of veg a day like your ment to. These lables will make it lots easier to add it up tho so everyone knows whos hardest.

  9. “…the mess left by a decade of state intervention policies that have stripped people of their own sense of social responsibility and self-control.

    Dead right!!

    When virtually everything has something written on it about how harmful or good for you it is, what happens to personal decisions? Should spades carry a warning like “Should not be used to remonstrate with next door neighbour for not returning garden shears”? Do we really need an instruction on a soldering iron advising us “Not to insert in anus when powered on.” Why don’t stickers on kitchen knives exhort us not to “fling at wife when she burns the gravy”?

    At what point are we allowed to make a decision for ourselves? My wife has a book of the most stupid labels ever put on retail goods. One, which always makes me laugh, is allegedly from a Superman costume that informed: “Wearing this costume does not give the wearer the ability to fly!” Well, it would take a Nobel prize winner to work that one out wouldn’t it?

    Emulating the contemporary, and ridiculous, US legal bullsh*t around tort law simply allows dimwits to sue primarily on the basis of their own stupidity. There are numerous examples of the latter: For instance, the woman who circumvented three fences at a zoo in order to feed a grape to a polar bear thereby getting her arm bitten off and consequently suing the zoo because they were negligent in preventing her from being able to get up to the cage. Perhaps they should introduce landmines into their next security budget. Do we need chicken-wire around the nacelles on passenger planes to stop people climbing into the engines? Do industrial shredders REALLY need signs like ‘Please do not insert fingers’? What about noses or genitals? “It didn’t say anything about not putting the cat in on the label your honour!” Would we, as consumers, really be better served if sticks of dynamite had labels like ‘Do not use to light barbecues’ or ‘Do not hold in hands when igniting’?

    How can it be a defense in court that “It didn’t say I shouldn’t do that on the label”? But that is what commonly occurs now, delictual claims arising from mindless stupidity which are passed onto manufacturers because the Labour government has bred common sense out of the British public. Naturally these manufacturers will simply direct the additional costs of probable court actions to the public (us) as price hikes. So, the upshot of all this crap is that Labour haven’t made anything safer (because people dim enough to do the sort of things they are advised not to probably can’t read either) just more expensive.

    Personal judgment is critical in all aspects of modern life and Tony Blair and his pompous, autocratic cohorts are doing their level best to eradicate it.

  10. This is another example of the Labour government churning out mad ideas just so they look like they are doing something, when doing nothing would be far more beneficial for us all. Michael Portillo summed it up best a few weeks ago in brilliant column in the Sunday Times:

    The reason ministers behave so stupidly is that Blair made clear to them that their survival prospects hinged on looking busy. There had to be a constant flow of initiatives to create an illusion of dynamic modernisation and to hog the headlines. Bad policies were better than no policies, even when inaction (another word for stability) would have been preferable and much cheaper.

    An expensive intruding and pointless piece of nonsense – and not the last, I fear.

  11. Of course the negative consequences of drug abuse should be penalised. Mug an old lady to support your habit and expect to be marched off to the cells; getting plastered at the local and beating up your wife will excite the severest displeasure of the law. However, get quietly pissed, stoned or coked up in the privacy of your own home and I cannot see what the hell it has to do with me or anyone else for that matter.

    And taking cocaine has nothing to do with the Colombian peasants forced off their land by FARC to grow your nose candy? Hmmn. Seems to me that this attitude is one which literally cannot see beyond the end of its nose.
    Until you can buy fair trade cocaine, there’s no argument for taking the stuff that isn’t wildly hypocritical.

  12. < ‘I reached for another lunchtime glass of Mazis-Chambertin 2000, to fortify myself for the rigours of composing my column’ (Boris)<

    What I coincidence, I write a lot of my comments when I’m drunk too. In fact I just cracked open a can of Bavaria before I started writing this.

    < ‘… we could be in the absurd position of having to go to Brussels to protect us against the nannying and bullying of the Labour Government’ (Boris)<

    I’m sure the French and the Germans would challenge it. Labour would defend their move on public safety grounds, citing various statistics about the drinking habits of the British.

    France/Germany/Spain would say something along the lines of ‘But EU law already insists on quantity declarations and alcohol content to be included clearly on the label, further health warnings are not necessary and an illegal restriction on cross-border trade. Alcohol is an old enough product for people to know the risks and dangers.’

    To which we would reply something like ‘We understand that might be the case in your lovely cultured, civilised nations, but the British are a bunch of drunken hooligans that don’t know what’s good for them, look we have the figures to prove it.

    Of course the Flint camp will be fighting this with my taxes. So if she has her way, I’m going to end up paying for her to go and slag me off to the French huh? Take a hike Caroline!

    < ‘We arnt all well clever like you and your mate Dave who can work out the sums on what the best way to get mashed on a twenty.’ (Duane)<

    A very funny post! Working out the best way to get plastered is exactly what people use alcohol content labelling for. Just a few hours ago in Morrisons I worked out that eight 440ml cans of ‘Bavaria’ lager for a fiver was exactly the same as eight 440ml cans of ‘Carlsberg’ for four quid, these drinks being 5% and 4% ABV respectively. Buying the Carlsberg would have entailed walking to Lidl, so I got the Bavaria.

    Flint doesn’t want to educate us into being able to make our own decisions, she wants to brainwash us, she wants us to begin to think of getting drunk as ‘anti-social’. She wants to control our thoughts.

    If she really finds Britain and our culture so offensive she should leave. Thanks to the EU there’s plenty of other countries, with drinking cultures you approve of, you can go and live in Caroline.

  13. I say fight, fight, fight. Fight against these insulting, ugly and otiose labels. (Boris)

    Really???? And did you fight, fight, and fight, against the insulting, ugly, and otiose labels on tobacco products, Boris?? We smokers have had them for years. And now we’re all pretty much social pariahs. Next month, you’ve probably forgotten, smokers are all to be evicted from the pubs in which they have been happily and contentedly smoking for over four centuries.

    Nope. I hope Flint manages to deface every bottle of wine and every can of beer with her obnoxious black and white warnings: e.g. Drinking can cause a slow and painful death. And I hope also that any number of rigged, dishonest epidemiological studies are wheeled out by po-faced doctors to show that fizzy droplets of champagne can kill children dead at 100 feet. And I hope that you have TV attack ads broadcast daily that depict wine and beer drinkers as hollering, brawling, drunken louts who climb into their cars and run over children. And finally I hope that it is made illegal to drink wine and beer and spirits in pubs.

    I hope for this, not because I believe wine and beer and spirits merit such treatment any more than tobacco, but because it might at last ram it home very hard into very many more people’s thick skulls that they are losing – nay, have already lost – precious freedoms for which our forebears once had to fight.

    On the mantelpiece beside me is a photo of my Spitfire pilot uncle. He’s not holding a glass of Mazis-Chambertin 2000. Nor even a pint of beer. He’s holding a cigarette. And probably one of the last he smoked before he died, in what was then a free country.

  14. You can’t argue with what idlex just said Boris. When you started your higher education forum you said you wanted to thrash it out and get to the bottom of it, or used some such words. After over a thousand comments in your smoking forum I think that’s exactly what has happened and idlex has summerised it beautifully.

    Before the ban was announced I wanted to give up fags and move onto occasional cigars, I’ve smoked since I was 13 and only really enjoy it with a drink now. When the ban was announced I wanted to smoke back ast them, so to speak. Thrashing it out has helped me get back to where I was. It seems to have helped idlex get his thoughts in order and mount a scathing attack on what is happening in the upper echlons of power now, and as such to our nation.

    Incidently, having had the pleasure of once visiting the sort of members club that serves such luxuries as ‘Mazis-Chambertin 2000’ (which I believe goes for over £200 a bottle at auction) I’m not convinced that they will actually ban smoking. Local Authority inspectors probably haven’t got your little havens on their hit list Boris. I doubt Westminster Council’s Smoking Enforcement Officers will be banging on the door of Harry’s Bar, flashing their warrants and demanding entry. They’ll be down the working mens club though, sniffing around like hawks for people, people who like a quiet drink and a smoke, just the same as many of your friends and aquaitences do.

  15. Why, thank you, Steven!

    Sigh. The cigarette warnings make absolute sense because cigarettes demonstrably damage the health of people around you. (Mark Gamon)

    Bollocks. It has never been ‘demonstrated’. Give me the names of three people who have died from passive smoking! And read one of the largest studies – the 38-year Enstrom and Kabat study – which found little or no danger from environmental tobacco smoke.

  16. I dislike going out, only to return smelling of fag smoke, so welcome smoke free areas. As long as the tab addicts have their little ghettoes where they can go without making us normal people pong, I don’t think anyone would be too offended. A blanket ban is too draconian for my tastes. And what business does HMG have deciding what goes on in private members clubs?
    Since crap food seems to do asignificant harm, without paying bushels of cash into the NHS in compensation, can we now see a health warning on canned beverages (Caution, Contains Glucose/Fructose syrup, which will make you fat, moody, diabetic and ultimately dead)

    Give me the Rothmans any day.

  17. “Nope. I hope Flint manages to deface every bottle of wine and every can of beer with her obnoxious black and white warnings: e.g. Drinking can cause a slow and painful death.”

    It can indeed. I cite my brother (age 58) who has knocked back at least a litre of vodka every day for the last eight years. Apart from being barely intelligible by lunchtime, he can hardly walk unaided (even when largely sober), has developed some sort of Parkinsons-like disorder (as the direct result of pickling his brain) and looks older than my father who is 89 (and who has smoked two packets of Benson’s a day for the last 75 years).

    My mother, who died of cancer, didn’t look very much different from how my brother looks now when she finally succumbed and, if forced to choose between the two disorders, chronic, acute alcoholism or cancer of the liver, I’m not sure I wouldn’t opt for cancer; it seems to be quicker and less distressing. At least one pegs with a modicum of dignity having contracted a dose of the big C. I can state with complete confidence that alcohol melts decorum with the same enthusiasm it dissolves your liver.

    However, regardless of the fact that he’s destroying his life (‘slowly and painfully’), it is entirely his own decision. And, although I may think that he’s a complete idiot for doing this to himself he’s not hurting anyone else so why shouldn’t he? One thing I can say, with complete and utter confidence, is that he would in no way have been diverted from his present suicide run by a glob of didactic twaddle on a vodka bottle any more than my Dad would ever pay the slightest attention to the dire warnings on fag packets.

    Anyway, if Flint wants to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed by young adult males all she has to do is put “Drinking makes you gay” on the bottles and national consumption would halve overnight.

    At least until they worked out that she was talking bollocks.

  18. I don’t have a major issue with this as a general ‘information’ or ‘educational’ policy, but I do fear that it is a waste of money and no one who has an alcohol problem will a) look at it b) take note of it.

    However, the mumblings of people like Professor Ian Gilmore who believes that putting the price of wine up will solve the problem of a supposed class/group of middle aged people who drink excessively(?) at home does. I would like to see some hard figures on these people… How many are there? What, exactly, do they cost the NHS? Is there substance to this supposed problem, or is this more spin to squeeze yet another drop of blood from the wage earner and make Prof G look important?

    The Nanny State really gets up my nose. Gilmour should see a proctologist. I think his brain has slipped.

  19. In a few strokes of his mighty pen, Idlex has nailed the whole rotten business.

    There will always be people who whose lives have been affected by alcoholism, or who don’t like tobacco smoke, dog poo, hunting or other people’s perfume. Anyone who uses these aversions as justification for government interference is missing the point.

    What we are witnessing is a spiteful assault by self-promoting, manipulative pigmies like Flint, Coaker and Miliband on the British way of life which has, on balance, served us extremely well for hundreds of years.

    Throughout that time the world looked to us as an example of tolerance, fairness, ingenuity, compromise, fortitude and, of course, democracy. Now we are close to becoming a laughing stock – a global landfill site from which good people are fleeing. A totalitarian state run by an ambitious clique of political theorists who do not even have a majority mandate to govern.

    Their addiction is worse than any they are trying to cure; they are hooked on power and control over others. And like many addicts they will use every means at their disposal – dishonesty, duplicity, even vote-rigging – to satisfy their craving.

    To the Flints and Coakers we are each numbers on a Sudoku grid to be changed and rearranged until we fit their perfect plan. They fail to understand that this particular puzzle can never be solved, and that by far the best way to achieve stability is to harness those qualities, not destroy them by constant meddling.

    As for Boris, at least he has stood up for these principles, though perhaps not with the ferocity we would have liked. It’s not his style. The greater tragedy is that millions upon millions of people feel passionately the same way, yet the government takes no notice of them. Instead, it continues to rearrange we human digits until we fall neatly into place on their masterplan. Which, of course, we never will.

  20. Sorry all, I must still be suffering some post-chemo ‘brain fog’, I’m mixing up my junior ministers from the department of death. It’s Rosie Winterton who seems to have some idea what she’s talking about, Caroline Flint is a total waste of space. I presume it was looks that got her the job in the first place, it can’t have been ability.

    This idea of an absolute ban on alcohol does make sense though, I bet Patsy Hewitt has read it here on Boris’s blog and will soon suggest it to Gordon. It costs more to police alcohol related crime than the revenue produced by the total sales of alcohol in the UK, and that’s before the medical and social costs are considered. With savings like that just figure out the tax reductions that would be possible, and think how much the ban would damage and annoy the French vinyards, that alone should be cause enough to adopt it as a policy, provided it doesn’t apply to me.

  21. It costs more to police alcohol related crime than the revenue produced by the total sales of alcohol in the UK -AP

    Where on earth did you get that from? Sounds like a Department of Guesswork job, just the kind of “statistic” trotted out by Patsies to justify yet another ban or initiative.

    What is meant by “alcohol related crime”? I suppose if you count the total cost of policing town centres on a Friday/Saturday night it would be a vast sum. But so is the amount spent on booze, most of which doesn’t have to be policed. And isn’t that what police should be doing anyway – patrolling town centres?

    It costs more to police traffic than the total cost of petrol (hypothetically). Solution: Ban traffic.

  22. If only it was as easy as that. Binge drinker reads label, decides not to drink. All is well. However, this does not address the real issues behind binge drinking and the fact that we need to educate more. A friend of mine died of alcoholic poisoning at the beginning of the year, I’ve seen how terrible it is. But it is so difficult to control unless the underlying problems can be solved. I would like to see more education on this subject too, and I don’t mean which year produced the best claret, but a serious warning about the long term health implications.

    Boris, I am studying for a PR postgraduate diploma and have chosen to write a research paper on MPs blogging. I would be very grateful if you would complete a survey I will be issuing shortly, would that be ok?

  23. I keep mentioning that photo of my uncle, his cap askew, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a cigarette, a grin on his face. Well, here is that photo of Pilot Officer Francis Bernard “Bertie” Bassett, probably taken a month or two before he was posted missing, aged 22, after his Spitfire caught fire and ditched en route to North Africa.

    His name is on the recently unveiled and rather fine Battle of Britain Monument, just across the Thames from the London Eye. It’s delightful to be able to provide a face to go with one of the many names upon that monument.

  24. It is clear that this is the beggining of the end for drink. It began this way with tobacco and there is if anything a better medical case for booze. It may take twenty years but they will finish it in the end .

  25. Agreed.
    Can’t believe we are wasting the air that we breath debating this.
    It didn’t work for ciggerettes it won’t work for alcohol and is totally missing the point.
    I’m a recovered alcoholic and fully beleive in your right to drink alcohol if you so choose to do so, alcohol serves a purpose in our society as Boris so accurately describes.
    It is not alcohol that is the problem, it is the lies people tell themselves in order to continue to drink too much. Problem drinkers drink too much in order to deal with their feelings because they haven’t developed any emotional intelligence, they have no idea how to manage emotions or that they have an inner world. They’re drinking to cope and their focus is entirely on the exterior world and there are no solutions there.
    I should know, this was my expereince, it wasn’t the booze or the drugs that nearly destroyed me, it was living the lie.
    The governmnet should spend their money on teaching the population Emotional Intellegence 101 as ALL human behaviour stems from how we feel and clearly by how we behave with alcohol as a culture we are not dealing very well with them.
    Perhaps they should start in Parliment, a politician with emotional intelligence, now that would be intresting…………..

  26. You are rightly proud of your uncle, Idlex. One doesn’t have to have lived through the war (which was over long before I was born) to make the unfortunate comparison with so many of today’s selfish, arrogant, gob-spitting 22-years-olds who know nothing of the sacrifice your uncle and those like him made to ensure their freedom. But I do not blame them; they are to a large extent the product of a society which has turned on its head the values cherished by Uncle Bertie.

    And smoking a cigarette in uniform? We know what would happen if the photo was published today.

  27. Hey PaulD, I like your idea of banning motors too, we could all go back to horses. It might cause greenhouse problems with the ’emissions’, but we’d grow some great roses.

    And think of all that mafiosa growth from a booze ban, that’s enterprise.

    Weird if they have to deliver it all by horse and cart, they’d never haul it in those little G-wotzit? bubbles the non-riding populace will have to put up with until hydrogen systems are pefected, all under the watchful eye of the Gordstapo.

    In terms of public perception it’s more likely the binge drinking culture and the violence, vandalism, and anti-social behaviour associated that most warrant attention. The spread of underage drinking would be best dealt with, various tactics probably need to be used.

    But then the tribes always drank to excess, maybe that’s part of being British. Do you think they want everyone to get rat***** when they have this British Booze-Up Day, or whatever it is they’re thinking of calling it?

  28. And smoking a cigarette in uniform? We know what would happen if the photo was published today. (PaulD)

    In fact, if you look carefully at the photo, he’s breaking three rules. First having his cap at a jaunty angle. Second is having hands in pockets. And third is the cigarette, which is held in a slightly concealed position. The only thing missing is the top jacket button undone.

    Clearly he liked breaking rules. And he also was an independent spirit. He decided on his own, aged 18, without consulting his parents, to join the RAF some six months before the war broke out – so was a fairly experienced pilot when it came. Which probably helped him survive for three years – although several severe injuries kept him in hospital for months. New WWI pilots had a life expectancy of about two months. And he almost certainly knew that.

    And yes, I’m proud of him. But also a bit mystified. He was one of ‘The Few’. And yet he wasn’t that brave: my mother used to have to hold his hand to take him to school.

    At least one pegs with a modicum of dignity wrote Ed W, of death by cancer. But I wonder whether there was any dignity in drowning, injured and fire-burned, aged 22, alone in the Mediterranean sea. Perhaps they should have put helpful health warnings on the sides of the planes: Flying Spitfires can cause a slow and painful death.

  29. Same good interesting comments on this blog, Idlex is up there on top in my opinion, particularly his rebuke of Boris for his, fight fight fight rant,that endangers his bottles of Moet, or whatever it is he quaffs, but totaly invisible over the smoking ban, at the risk of boring you all I commented here some time back about passive smoking, my Dad smoked heavily all his life, I and two older siblings are still here to tell the tale in our seventies and eighties, “wot passive smoking”.
    Where is his fight fight fight, against the insult to England being governed by a “no mandate” Scotsman, elected to Westminster on the votes of a small obscure Scottish constituency, not one English vote in sight, to add insult to injury his dictatorial bunch of fellow NuLabourites lost the English election by some ten thousand votes! as observed by PaulD.
    Boris old chap, get your priorities right.

  30. You are so right, Boris. All of these ‘elf and safety’ idiots who’s over paid Mickey Mouse jobs involve dreaming up absurd schemes like this to torment the rest of us should be unmasked and publicly shamed.

    Another lunatic idea of the nulab ‘elf & safety Taliban’ is a demand for psychometric testing of learner drivers to identify people with the ‘wrong attitude’ to the road. The executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), a Mr Gifford, wants risk-takers identified using such tests – as the risk taking personality ‘is one that’s more likely to break the speed limit or jump a red light’.

    A psychometric assessment, Gifford says, would help identify such faults and instructors and examiners would then be able to modify the person’s behaviour.

    Oh really, with what, electric shocks? I bet nulab would just love that. How long before nulab forces us all to take these tests? And with instructions to the examiners to use them to filter out middle Englanders to cut down the number of us on the road?

    One small issue that doesn’t appear to have occurred to Gifford is that entrepreneurs, those with large and small businesses, for most of whom the ability to drive is essential, tend to be risk takers. Do Gifford and the government – who appear to be interested in this daft scheme – wish to kill off England’s entrepreneurs?

    Somehow that wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

  31. Tony Blair (remember him?) as a French speaker, had this misguided notion that extending opening hours of alcoholic beverage retailing would create a European wine culture in UK. The unintended but predictable result was to exacerbate alcohol abuse problems, hence the move to control consumption through warning labels. As most wine is imported are they going to have “little men” armed with warning labels at the ports of entry? Probably, “Yes”. The middle class consuming wine in their own homes should be the least of Labour’s social engineering problems. But forget wine: Out here in the Japan Alps I can trickle into my local hardware store for a bottle of Beefeater or Gordon’s at £4.00 for a 70cl bottle. White Horse 12-year and Cutty Sark comes in at around £5.00. Pro-rata for those gentlemen that prefer their whisky to be the same age as their latest girl friend. Only those terminally stupid enough to hold a moving chainsaw by the chain end would fail realise that alcoholic beverage consumption in sufficient quantities can result in intoxication. As no living person in my area falls into this category, there are no warning labels on the bottles. What’s next? “Front” on vests? “This side down” on CDs? Shoes marked “left” and “right”? It is written; treating people like fools is the quickest way of turning them into fools.

  32. Shoes marked “left” and “right”?

    People might misunderstand this.

    Best to have them marked “Communist” and “Capitalist” instead.

  33. Shoes marked “left” and “right”?

    People might misunderstand this.

    Indeed, what if they’re also trying to put them on back to front? Then left is right and right is left and they’ll end up with a nasty stubbed toe!

  34. Can I just briefly go off-topic: I don’t give a monkey’s whether or not Boris Johnson smoked ganj or not at Oxford, however someone just drew my attention to this monumental misjudgement: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/02/14/noxford14.xml

    which includes Boris, Cameron and some other public-schoolboys looking like they’re about to thrash a fag or something: Boris, would it not be better if you publicly disowned this rather shameful past?

  35. bronzestatue said:

    Boris, would it not be better if you publicly disowned this rather shameful past?

    As a bronze statue, you were presumably never young and never made a youthful mistake and were never driven by warring hormones to behave badly or idiotically?

    Let me tell you a secret. It’s not like for humans, we, all of us, make countless mistakes.

    For goodness sake, that’s how we learn, by getting it wrong not by getting it right. That’s how great thinkers made their greatest discoveries. Remember Einstein’s 99% perspiration – he meant that most of the time he sweated his way through one cock up after another.

    Boris’s colourful past and present and his admirable honesty about this is what makes him Boris. It is what makes him so human, so loved and so greatly respected by so many of us.

    There really is nothing as powerfully persuasive as the truth and Boris has it in buckets. He really doesn’t need anything else.

  36. Boris, would it not be better if you publicly disowned this rather shameful past?

    Something to be proud of, not ashamed. We need rebels rather badly these days.

    Perhaps the Bullingdon club could extend its franchise, including free plant pots (or was it pot plants?) to throw through windows.

    And is it really necessary to wear that expensive rig? Wouldn’t Bullingdon jeans and T-shirts be just as good?

  37. Banning drinking indoors will be next. Some activistic militant anti-alcohol campaigners will ingratiate themselves with some ministerial wet nannying Blair babe or other and say we need to ban indoor drinking because people might fall over the furniture or choke on an ice cube. The Guardian and the BBC will back it all the way and the government will cheaply capitalise on people’s unfounded fears. It is the precedent that’s been set by the dopey smoking ban and the push towards compulsory plastic cups.

    http://www.newwelshright.blogspot.com

  38. I went to see Boris speak the other day at a school in Berkshire. Brilliant as ever – very entertaining. The main topic of conversation was about libertarianism and the ridiculous levels things have got to in this country with regard government telling us what to do. It worries me that there simply aren’t enough MPs left who are willing to let us be risk takers any more. I understand that the government probably does think it is doing right by getting involved, but the truth we are becoming risk averse and ultimately losing the very essence of living.

    It was great talk by Boris – even his if choice of favourite politician of all time was a surprise! I have written up the evening on the Picking Losers blog if you are interested… http://www.pickinglosers.co.uk/blog_entry/jg/20070608/evening_boris

  39. Banning drinking indoors will be next. (Adam Johns)

    Non-smokers have two recurring complaints. 1. “I hate coming out of the pub smelling like an ash tray”. 2. “Secondhand smoke is a killer”.

    Can we nail these quickly, please?

    A sensible mix of ventilation, separation and market choice would put an end to No 1.

    Two of the most extensive studies into secondhand smoke – one published and subsequently buried by the World Health Organisation – conclude that the health risks are virtually non-existent. Point No 2 covered.

    If any doubt remains, it must be balanced against the catastrophic social damage caused by this Orwellian law, which treats a quarter of the population as filth and leaves many more holding British “democracy” in deep contempt.

    And you, my non-smoking friends, need to watch your backs. Enjoy your trip to the pub while it lasts. Alcohol is next on the New Puritans’ hit-list, followed by government-enforced “family friendly” policies. You will be banished to a shelter with your glass of wine at £20 a shot while children run riot in the bar, feasting on health drinks and lentil nuggets.

    When it happens – as I guarantee it will without forceful resistance – perhaps you will look back with guilt at the way you glibly dismissed the smokers’ cause.

  40. Liberty: “As a bronze statue, you were presumably never young and never made a youthful mistake”

    No I don’t think I made any youthful mistakes on the monumental level of joining the Bullingdon club rather than mixing in a normal manner with my fellow human-beings regardless of their backgrounds. And certainly by the age of 18 I had sorted out my beliefs to a degree where such a mistake would have been unthinkable. Unless Boris disowns the Bullingdon the suspicion remains that he thinks that sort of elitism is perfectly acceptable: just a ripping jape.

  41. Two of the most extensive studies into secondhand smoke – one published and subsequently buried by the World Health Organisation – conclude that the health risks are virtually non-existent. Point No 2 covered. (PaulD)

    It is available online, although not at the WHO.

    “I hate coming out of the pub smelling like an ash tray”.

    One could equally well say that one hates come out of a French restaurant reeking of garlic, or of a bathroom reeking of aftershave or perfume, or of a garden reeking of roses.

    And there are people who want perfume banned. The use of perfume was banned in Halifax, Canada, a few years ago.

    The best thing such people could do, if their noses are so so sensitive, is to simply cut them off. If they detest smell so much, surely this would be the simplest expedient? Then they would never smell anything horrible again. After all, it seems that everything does smell horrible to them.

  42. No I don’t think I made any youthful mistakes (bronzestatue)

    Then you never learned anything, either small or monumental.

  43. As someone who has a problem with binge drinking I do worry about the British attitude to booze. Recently I watched (I can’t remember his name) but he was the surgeon who gave George Best his liver transplant – and he said that even six units of alcohol can do damage to the liver. That’s about two large glasses of wine.I won’t tell you how I drink at the weekend – but it’s a lot more than that.

    I think anything that promotes safer drinking is a step in the right direction. Our cities are a mess at the weekend with people binge drinking. The emergency services are stretched. Police opfficers should be solving crimes, not picking drunks up off the streets.

    It’s all to pot.

  44. No I don’t think I made any youthful mistakes (bronzestatue)

    idlex: “Then you never learned anything, either small or monumental.”

    remember to put 3 dots if you quote someone but cut the quote off mid-sentence idlex. Basic stuff.

  45. The best thing such people could do, if their noses are so so sensitive, is to simply cut them off.

    Idlex, I never cease to admire your uncompromising stance but politics, as they say, is the art of the possible, the attainable (“they” being Otto Von Bismarck).

    It would not be possible to ignore totally the political climate on smoking. Even Holland, that last bastion of common sense, is making some adjustments.

    However, I believe the public would accept the compromise outlined in my simple case above. It would satisfy almost everyone and stabilise the situation for years to come.

    Of equal importance, it would show the world that Britain is still capable of taking sensible decisions instead of acting as a showcase for the totalitarianism tendency that’s about to destroy western democracy.

  46. ‘Ere, if it’s “All gone to pot”, is it super skunk that’s going to carry the health warning? ‘SMOKING THIS STUFF CAN DRIVE YOU CRAZY’.

    Yep, we learn it all by trial and error, just look at the effort an infant puts in to learning how to walk and not fall over. Then that infant grows a bit, drinks a bit, and forgets everything they’ve ever learnt.

    ‘Totalitarianism’? … really? I don’t like a lot of it, but isn’t that something of an exaggeration? If not, send me a ‘wish you were here’ postcard from the gulag.

  47. < ‘Of equal importance, it would show the world that Britain is still capable of taking sensible decisions instead of acting as a showcase for the totalitarianism tendency that’s about to destroy western democracy. (PaulD)<

    Change ‘democracy’ for ‘civilisation as we know it’ (you see I did learn something from Boris’s Rome book after all) and I’m all with you.

    Individuality, creativity and other such things drive our civilisation forward more than cabinet government ever will. I’m not in the camp that decares Blair the worst PM in history, I don’t denounce Gordon Brown as a ‘Stalinist’ either, but enough is enough. We’ve just been dragged much too far in one direction and need a refreshing change.

    Our government has stagnated and seems preoccupied with hanging onto power at all costs, re-inventing ‘civilisation as we know it’ to suit their selfish purposes included.

  48. ‘Totalitarianism’? … really? I don’t like a lot of it, but isn’t that something of an exaggeration? (AP)

    Wikipedia definition, edited for key points…

    Totalitarianism is a term employed by political scientists… to describe modern regimes in which the state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior.

    Common to all definitions is the attempt to mobilize entire populations in support of the official state ideology, and the intolerance of activities which are not directed towards the goals of the state…

    Totalitarian regimes or movements maintain themselves in political power by means of secret police, propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, personality cult… the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror tactics.

    Familar ring? And in case you’re wondering about terror tactics, let’s start with global warming, five portions a day, smoking, health & safety, avian flu, 45 minute warning…

  49. Idlex, I never cease to admire your uncompromising stance PaulD

    Ellipses willfully and vandalistically omitted, Bullingdon-style.

    the totalitarianism tendency that’s about to destroy western democracy.

    How can there be any compromise with such totalitarianism?

  50. And to think that my Concise Oxford merely refers to ‘a polity that permits no rival loyalties or parties’; you really demonstrate the advantage of an on-line Yank dominated catch-all composed by the self-elected, don’t you? Says a lot in favour of labotomy by computer too. “Mass surveillance” … I take it that includes the USA and UK? “Personality Cult” … does that include Jesus? But perhaps the entry was written by George Dubya for those nice Wikedpaedophilia people.

    ‘Terror tactics’? Have a nice holiday in Gaza, or would you prefer Baghdad? It’ll give you a chance to relax after all this ‘terror’.

    There’s no dispute that global warming is happening, the dispute is over whether human agency is the cause. Since most politicians and most relevant scientists seem to consider that humans are to blame, it could hardly be considered ‘totalitarian’, even if we have our doubts. On the other hand, if we’re wrong and do nothing, am I correct in assuming that you would regard someone whose island has been swamped taking physical revenge on you as morally justified?

    I think you’ll find that ‘five portions a day’ is advised, not enforced. The lads round here tend to smoke it, rather than eat it. And of course, obesity in children is no problem, so you won’t mind the tax increases to enable the NHS to deal with it. Any more than you’ll find the fact that one third of UK children live in poverty offensive. Since the bulk (if you’ll forgive the term) of the problem is caused by additives, I suppose you think that manufacturing companies should be free to use whatever ingredients they like, and that this is why Kellogs use more sugar in this country than in the States? Hope you like the opium in your cigarettes, it’ll keep you coming back to this brand, and it’ll be nice to have the cocaine back in the Coca-Cola.

    ‘Smoking’? Personally I don’t give a damn, but the NHS argument holds, and like we said in the 60s ‘Sir Walter Raleigh got rolled. It was the old Brixton switcheroo’. However, you seem to be motivated purely by self-interest, yet you obviously wish to try and occupy the moral high-ground. Give up, then preach what you preach.

    ‘Health and Safety’ … “I tell you, them kids used to love it up them chimneys!” When it comes to ‘risk’ sport, I agree with Boris, but when it comes to employment I know that this country is still slack and that enforcement and legislation are required. No job should result in death, even high risk employment should have that risk minimised to the maximum.

    ‘Avian Flu’ … mainly hyped up by this ‘free’ press of ours. As someone who had a virus that can be treated and at which this country is the worst in the western world at diagnosis and treatment, I was particularly sensitive to the avian nonsense, however if it did trasmute and transfer a pandemic would certainly be devastating.

    ’45 minute warning’ … something of a falsification, though careful reading shows it refers to Cyprus. Not as serious, in my view, as the lies over yellow cake. It’s only intention to take us to war, sort of like Maggie pulling the ice-breaker out of the Falklands and ignoring the MI6 report from Argentina that was on her desk.

    “How can there be any compromise with such totalitarianism?” … uuuummmm, that sounds very much like the argument used by Adolf against the Soviets after he broke the pact with Stalin. Easy isn’t it, accuse opponents of ‘totalitarianism’ in an attempt to validate any actions by your own side?

    But Boris, what about this Bullingdon Club? Sounds like a posh version of the local lads again. Go out, get tanked-up, get into some vandalism and violence, then go for a kebab. But I suppose that you toffs have a servant to vomit for you, unlike our fine young men who have no option but to do it for themselves.

  51. Liberty: “As a bronze statue, you were presumably never young and never made a youthful mistake”

    But where’s the evidence that Johnson DOES think the Bullingdon club was a mistake? Has he ever said he regrets falling into the arms of a load of over-privileged schoolchums instead of broadening his horizons while at Oxford?

  52. There’s no dispute that global warming is happening, the dispute is over whether human agency is the cause. Since most politicians and most relevant scientists seem to consider that humans are to blame, it could hardly be considered ‘totalitarian’, even if we have our doubts. (AP)

    There is indeed dispute about whether global warming is happening. It really depends what time scale you use. If today the world is warmer than it was yesterday, then global warming is happening on that time scale. But if one looks back over the past 100 years, it seems that, very roughly, the world was warming through the 1920s and 30s, and then cooling through the 50s and 60s, and then warming again since then. And if one looks back over the last 1000 years, then it seems that temperatures were higher than now up until about 1500 (vineyards in Britain, trees and grass on Greenland), and then went through what’s called the Little Ice Age for the next 200 years (Thames regularly freezing over), before starting to rise again. The further you go back, the more you find temperatures going up and down. We emerged from an ice age only about 10,000 years ago (most of Britain buried under ice).

    And as for most politicians and most relevant scientists seeming to consider that humans are to blame, well, the politicians are as irrelevant as archbishops. And the ‘relevant scientists’ are mostly computer modellers who only have a hazy understanding, if any, of most of the physical processes they are modelling. There are plenty of climatologists – who don’t build such models – who are sceptical of anthropogenic global warming.

    The totalitarianism grows from the pretence that there are no sceptics, and their suppression, and the claim that “the debate is over”, and there is only one thing that sensible, right-minded people can think.

    I’ve listed a series of deeply sceptical essays on it here.

  53. Steve, that’s the ice-cap falling on your head.

    Thanks Idlex, but I am aware of geological periods, and of ice ages, despite being a modernist/social scientist. I too am something of a sceptic, but the rate of change would appear to be more rapid than has previously been the case (it is hard to be certain of this given the time scales, and ‘human activity’ certainly doesn’t explain the rise in Martian temperature). However, the consensus is hardly ‘totalitarian’, even though it may be difficult to subvert, and I have no more faith in computer models than you appear to, they’re only as good as the program. More and more scientists have joined the consensus, not just modellers, which makes it more and more difficult to put warming down to sun-spot activity, but I’ll certainly have a look at the essays you’ve posted. I never was taken in by Fukuyama, I think there are a great many debates that are far from over. But then, I wasn’t taken in by post-modernism either (and I did read it, but wouldn’t advise it).

    Boris … don’t worry about the Bullingdon Club, just invite us all to lunch … every day! And get a few crates of that wine in, whether it’s got warnings on it or not.

  54. OK then, by that logic, here’s my solution to global warming:

    We pump seawater back onto the North Pole, someone cleverer than me can work out how to stop it freezing in the way.

  55. However, the consensus is hardly ‘totalitarian’, even though it may be difficult to subvert, and I have no more faith in computer models than you appear to, they’re only as good as the program. More and more scientists have joined the consensus, not just modellers, which makes it more and more difficult to put warming down to sun-spot activity, but I’ll certainly have a look at the essays you’ve posted. (AP)

    If there’s a consensus, it’s no longer science. In real science, the debate is never over. In real science, it’s always possible for somebody to come along and show that everyone’s got it wrong.

    I didn’t feel very strongly about global warming one way or the other until January this year, when I watched John Snow on Channel 4 News declare: “The debate is over! Climate warming is happening! Humans are to blame!” As soon as he said, “The debate is over,” I became a complete sceptic in 10 seconds flat. For what he was really saying – if he had understood what he was saying (which he didn’t) – was that this was no longer science, but politics or something else.

    And to say that ‘the computer models are only as good as the program’ doesn’t really mean anything: a computer model is a program. I’ve written dozens and dozens of computer simulation models, mostly of physical processes far simpler than the entire global climatic system. And I was working with well-known, long-established laws of physics. And yet I could still get things badly wrong, just by changing a few parameters slightly. But these climate modellers don’t even know what the laws of physics are in respect of quite a few things that happen in the atmosphere. And so they make assumptions, or guesses. Or they just leave things out. But in simulation models, getting anything wrong can – and almost always does – lead to wildly inaccurate results.

    Back in about 1972, a bunch of scientists at the Club of Rome came out with a computer simulation model that showed the world running out of oil by 1990. It was published as The Limits to Growth. It caused a great storm. Pretty much everyone believed it. Myself included, because at that time I’d yet to write a simulation model. But a student friend of mine took the book, and duplicated the model, and showed how you could get completely different results just by changing the assumptions very slightly. I didn’t believe him: he wasn’t a big name scientist. But he was right, and they were wrong. He got a First at university for his efforts. And he deserved it thrice over.

    The truth of the matter, almost certainly, is that nobody really knows how the climate works. There a bunch of rival theories. But one thing we can know for sure is that we’re no longer dealing with real science, but with politics and big business and money.

    And those essays aren’t by me, but by a sceptical investigative journalist.

  56. AP, you may not have noticed I called it a totalitarian tendency, not full-blown totalitarianism. I also freely admit to omitting some indicators given in the Wiki definition that would have shown we are not there yet. And of course I agree that some state controls are necessary to maintain civil order.

    My point is that our government, along with a number of western democracies, is showing ever increasing signs of slipping towards a system of control by central (and supernational) diktat. This is not democracy.

    To give you an example, a government-quoted poll showed that around 68 per cent of the population want smoking banned in pubs. Forgetting the lack of choice in this question (a very different picture emerges when people are offered a range of options), the democratic solution would be to make two-thirds of pubs smoke free. Instead, our control-by-diktat leaders have decreed that anyone caught lighting up anywhere indoors will be fined £50 and the owner £2,500.

    An even more preposterous situation – but very real nonetheless – is a tractor driver being prosecuted for having a roll-up in the middle of a field (his workplace/company vehicle), with the farmer also punished. This is neither good law nor democracy; no-one in their right mind would consider it to be either necessary or just.

    In the same way (this actually happened) a Scottish taxi driver at the end of his shift gave his daughter a lift from the station in his own cab in his own time, yet each was fined £50 for smoking a cigarette. Most people would agree that it goes against all natural justice. And whenever something like this happens, the democratic system loses another plank of credibility and we lurch another step towards total state control.

  57. “it’s always possible for somebody to come along and show that everyone’s got it wrong.”

    Not necessarily (according to Richard Milton et al). Senior scientists, these days, are allegedly more conservative (small c) than arch-bishops and seem to rely on dogma almost as much as parish priests. Also, if you can’t get a paper published in Nature magazine, the general view is that it must be too silly to publish.

    What this means is that the editorial board of Nature really define what is or isn’t a legitimate scientific theory or avenue of study (I think this board is made up of about five guys).

    If Einstein had proposed the theory of relativity in the current climate (no pun intended) he’d probably have been laughed out of the room. “Hahaha, you mean things get shorter when they go faster!?!! Get out of town.” (literally)

  58. I think we’ve now got to the hub of the problem, and it should be in the higher education section. In the SRHE (Society for Research into Higher Education)publication ‘Higher Education into the 90s’ (1989), Price states, “Higher Education becomes more politically manipulated and more authoritarian as industry becomes involved,” and Scott commented, “British universities are just beginning to discover the moral and intellectual problems associated with new and close relations with business and industry.” In ‘Begin Here’ (1993) Barzun states that the present concern with declining standards will continue as long as the fashion for application research does. Furthermore, learning dialogue is inhibited by commercial research funding. There’s nothing of the ‘universitas’ about any of this.

    Under present constraints we tend to have a conditioning to conformity via training institutes, rather than an educational system that inculcates cognitive development from critical analysis. Yes, Einstein probably would be laughed off campus and polymers most certainly would never have been developed under present funding and management.

    Could someone please remind me just which political party decided to abandon the German model that had served us so well since instigated by Prince Albert and to adopt this US style university structure? Perhaps Boris, as higher education spokesperson, could inform us all just what he intends to do to rectify it.

  59. francesca, why should one feel the need to apologise for one’s mistakes to people one has never met and will never meet? Perhaps he owes an apology to the state-educated people in whatever Oxford college he was at for joining an exclusive club with those buffoons, but not to us.

  60. “British universities are just beginning to discover the moral and intellectual problems associated with new and close relations with business and industry.” (AP)

    I was working in university in 1980 when I learned that universities would have to get in step with industry, and contribute to the economy, and generally shape up to meet the dynamic modern world. Shortly afterwards, entire departments started being closed down. I’m surprised that universities aren’t now part of the “education industry”. Perhaps they are. Everything else is an ‘industry’. But has it really taken 25 years for them to discover the moral and intellectual problems of this new relation with industry?

    If Einstein had proposed the theory of relativity in the current climate (no pun intended) he’d probably have been laughed out of the room. (Ed W)

    I’m sure you’re right. There would also be no place for the kind of professors who sat dreaming all day in their untidy, paper-strewn college rooms, fiddling around with prisms and obscure bits of mathematics, and barely ever giving any lectures.

    No. Isaac Newton would have to learn to shape up or ship out in our dynamic modern world. He’d have to learn to do something useful and profitable. Like open a dynamic, thrusting, new, heritage nail bar.

  61. And Socratese would never be allowed to teach today. He didn’t spout dogma as a ‘transmitter’ to ‘receivers’ (Frierer and others), but entered into a learning situation by constantly asking questions and thus making the student think.

    It would seem that serious researchers and quite a few academics realised the problem Idlex, the date on the publication is 1989 and some of these were presented in slightly different forms as conference papers prior to that date. There’s a fair bit to be said in favour of industrial involvement in certain quarters in higher education, but nothing in favour of its domination and control. But university managements have become authoritarian, which shatters the myth of ‘liberal education’, and governments, both Tory and NuLab, have pandered to commercial interests to the detriment of higher education.

    If I remember correctly J. S. Mill stated that there was every reason for the state to fund education, but no reason at all for it to have any say in curriculum. I suspect he would have been even more critical of our present funding situation.

  62. And Socratese would never be allowed to teach today. He didn’t spout dogma…

    No, it was far worse than that. He engaged in ‘dialogues’. Y’know, people talking to each other, putting different points of view. And what’s worse is that they’d amble around outside holding these ‘dialogues’. Worse still, I think they even drank wine.

    What that sort of pointless behaviour must’ve done for Athens’ GDP, I dare not imagine. Thankfully, they sentenced him to death in the end, for ‘corrupting the youth’. Quite right too. Hemlock was too good for him. Shoulda got a proper job, and made something of himself.

  63. “Worse still, I think they even drank wine.

    What that sort of pointless behaviour must’ve done for Athens’ GDP, I dare not imagine.” (idlex)

    In my entire professional career I’ve designed three things that have made a load of money (for other people, he added, bitterly) and in each case I came up with the concept when I was in the pub, three sheets to the wind.

    The defense rests.

  64. Well, with less than two weeks to go until the ban it seems that people have got confused between being anti-smoking and anti-government intervention. You may not be a smoker, but that does not mean that you should make an exception to your principles just on the smoking ban. You wouldn’t like it if the government came in to your house and started telling interfering with your private life and I do not see any difference here. This ban in “public” spaces is actually a ban in private property – work places, pubs, etc. If I own a property I should decide who smokes in it or not, not the government.

    Running a poll on the matter for those interested – http://www.pickinglosers.co.uk/

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