Wednesday, February 15, 2006

From a smoke filled room

That's right - yours truly is "fuming", constantly literally and frequently metaphorically. If parliament has its way here in the UK, this room will probably be the only place I can continue to do so.

It is a big week here for the British parliament, with umpteen bills for future legislation under debate. Votes on Monday and yesterday have already gone through with regard to ID cards and smoking in public places. Both have implications for individual rights and both give rise to conflict in the mind of this author.

When, way back last century, the idea of "smart-cards" came to the fore I was a supporter. The convenience of a picee of plastic which would replace beaurocracy and countless paperwork was appealing, but that was before isometrics and the extreme miniturisation of transportable microchip technologies. I still long for a portable identity in the same way I like mobile organisers and such, but not if the price to be paid infringes upon my privacy and civil rights. The information held on these cards and its inter-connectivity will be an insult to the notion of freedom.

I don't have a current passport, so if I want to leave the UK again I will need a new one. One of the crucial aspects of Monday's vote is that not only will that passport now be a high-tech version but that I will also be immediately be issued with an ID card at the same time. The expression "voluntary" becomes dubious indeed. Maybe I won't be "required" to use it - at least not yet! But how long before it becomes an indispensible accessory for negotiating dealings with all state authorities? Compulsion will come through the back door when citizens effectively can't survive without one.

Tuesday's vote was on government legislation designed to curb cigarette smoking, not only in the workplace but most other indoor venues. There were to have been exceptions but, presented as an open vote to parliament, it took on a life of its own and the ban has gone through without limitations at all. It was passed with such an astonishing majority that one wonders if the MPs had bothered to address the concerns of their constituents at all. The effect on business in the social and entertainment sectors will be profound as people resort to staying within their own homes where they can still smoke freely for now. Unless, of course, they choose to smoke non-approved products!

There is one interesting exception to the ban. Smoking will still be permitted in the Houses of Parliament! Hypocrisy or what? In the midst of endless propaganda about passive smoking, little attention is paid to the harm done to our lungs by the inhaling of motor vehicle fumes and industrial emissions - largely invisible pollutants that are killing us all slowly and the planet to boot. Nothing is being done to ban those! More hypocrisy.

When I was young, smoking was actually encouraged. Forty years on I admit I am an "addict" and rather wish I wasn't. The moves to discourage smoking are welcome, but draconian measures to reverse some people's habit of a lifetime are not. Taxes on the product itself are currently more than enough to counter-balance the healthcare costs, although ironically the government will be deprived of this extra income if the strategy to "outlaw" smoking is achieved.

Today's Independent has an insightful article on the way Blair has used the politics of fear to manipulate other recent legislation and policy in this country. I said it was a busy week, as I write we are awaiting yet another vote - this time on whether there will be a new offence for "glorification" of terrorism. Although the "religious hatred" bill was defeated recently, this one is limited to the advocation of methodology - I suspect that its interpretation, if passed, will remain a vague point for many and lead to even more contentious prosecutions.

In Amerika, all the headlines remain obsessed with Cheney's attitude to the gun and therein the parallel with the state of play practised throughout the world by the Imperial Court itself. See here for comment. Good news is that some republicans are starting to defect to the democrats, but most progressives seem to think the real future now lies in a new party born outside of the corporate payrolls altogether. Others want to help the Bush administration self-destruct of its own accord.


1 comment:

Gert said...

Bad week in Westminster. I'm opposed to ID cards (more the NIR dadabase aspect of it, really) and that looks set to go ahead.

As regards the smoking ban, this is just ridiculous. I'm 100% for better protection of non-smokers against passive smoking, I'm in favour of a ban in reataurants and food serving places but must ALL social venues be taken away from smokers? Would a non-smoker have any obligation to enter our few smoking dens?