Thursday, July 03, 2008

Should liberal democrats take up rights of smokers?

Mark Littlewood in the Daily Telegraph argues that the Liberal Democrats ought to be more consistently liberal, and argue against the smoking ban in pubs.

Now I think the point should be more direct - this is about private property rights. The right of a pub owner (or any business) to decide what legal activities should be carried out on that property. Sadly most of those fighting for "smokers rights" don't argue that point, but think they have a "right" to smoke wherever they want - they don't. That right can only exist in public places and on private property is up to the person in legal control of the property.

However there is a wider point here. The Liberal Democrats are by and large not liberal. They argue for taxes for environmental reasons, state subsidies and intervention in others, the Liberal Democrats are the new leftwing party of the UK, wanting more government, more state spending and being opposed to privatisation. It's about time the party either went back to liberal principles or admitted the change and became the Socialist Democrats.

1 comment:

Mark Littlewood said...

Some interesting points here. I do agree that the smoking ban is essentially a property rights issue – although the case for the ban was couched in terms of employment practices, almost as an adjunct to health and safety legislation. In the same way that you can’t leave dangerous electrical cables lying around in a work space, you can’t let people smoke in front of your staff either. Obviously, a purist libertarian position would be to repeal all health and safety legislation and leave issues of dangerous cabling, tobacco smoke etc. to the property owner. However, the more practical point I was trying to make is that the smoking ban represents an absurd analysis of risk. Even if one accepts the more extreme data on the impact of passive smoking, it doesn’t compare with the risks associated with other jobs, such as joining the military or working in a coal mine.

I think your characterisation of the LibDems as left-wing is now somewhat out-of-date. Under Ming Campbell, the party ditched its commitment to increase tax and spending and this position has been reinforced under Nick Clegg. Indeed, Nick has made noises (although not yet firm policy commitments) in the direction of the party majoring on lower taxation at the next election. I do wholly agree with you though that the party should rediscover its liberal roots and heritage rather than muddle through as a soggy, middle-of-the-road social democratic party.