We’re watching you Boris


11:53 pm - May 5th 2008

by Sunny Hundal    


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This piece of news is too delicious not to write about. Bruce Anderson says Boris is a libertarian. And yet the Sun says London’s new mayor is planning to ban consuming alcohol on the tube.


Though, it seems the Sun has changed its story since. Hmmm….

No surprise to find the Tories backing this wholeheartedly without any mention of the phrase ‘nanny state’. Iain Dale says:

However, is it liberal to allow tube users to be abused by drunken louts? No, definitely not. I think this policy will be welcomed by many as long as it is policed properly.

… which is the line of argument that many lefties use when we talk about negotiating rights between different parties. Why should those who smoke have their rights chosen above those forced to deal with its negative side-effects?

Boris, remember, is against the smoking ban. I’d love to see how he jumps through these hoops and how the Tories spin it.

As BorisWatchers points out:

As with most things Boris related it’s not quite clear yet what this ban means – “alcohol will be made illegal on the Tube”. Is it a blanket ban? Can you not carry along bottles of wine or beer that you are taking to a party? What about booze in your shopping bag? It will be interesting to find out.

Boris may have won the mayoral election but all this isn’t over yet.

With London’s only paid paper slavishly in love with the person it helped elect, it is left to us bloggers to watch Boris Johnson and see if he lives up to his promises. And the technology is on our side.

As I said in an article for the Media Guardian, published today:

The mayoral election was a turning point for the convergence of new media and politics. For the first time bloggers were inundated with videos uploaded to the internet, attacking the Tory candidate. These weren’t just clips of London’s new mayor being asked 13 times by Jeremy Paxman about the cost of his new buses, or embarrassing segments from Have I Got News for You. In fact, many were new attack ads that brought together a whole litany of incidents Boris would rather forget, while others poked fun in the form of songs.

But while there is little restriction on political advertising in the States – the candidates have already spent over $232m on their presidential bids – British political parties are limited by the number of candidates they put forward. Slowly but surely they are experimenting with new media to reach potential voters, as Barack Obama has done with extensive social networking tools on his website. Starting Facebook groups, taking part in webchats, messaging on Twitter and using the websites to sign up volunteers are only a small part of what is about to come. Political videos – whether made by passionate supporters, passionate haters or directly by the campaigns themselves – is where the real difference can be made.

And through blogs of course. So here is a list of recently launched Boris blogs:

Boris Watchers
BorisWatch.co.uk
BozzaWatch
boriswatch.blogspot.com
If you have any more, list them below please.

[Update: A Boris Watch Facebook page already has over 2,000 fans. Sweet!]

Meantime, Guido Fawkes explaining why he backed Boris:

Boris has admirable libertarian-conservative instincts and is a refreshingly direct politician who speaks his mind.

I look forward to seeing what the libertarians now say about the proposed alcohol ban. I was trying to think of a joke involving Paul Staines and alcohol but its escaped me for now.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Debates ,Libertarians ,Mayor election ,Westminster

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Reader comments


I’m not sure that this is quite so cut and dried an issue as you make out. The liberal (or libertarian, if you prefer) case is surely that the property owner should decide what gets consumed. As a provincial, I’m not close to these things but I think the Tube comes under the remit of the mayor, so he should indeed be in a position to say whether alcohol is allowed or not. Obviously, as a libertarian, I’d prefer to see the Tube in private hands, but I can’t see a problem with the state saying whether alcohol can be consumed on state-owned property.

I think the point here is that it’s targeted on the wrong people – obviously anyone acting boorishly or unpleasantly on the Tube to the detriment of other passengers should be stopped, whether drunk or sober and whether the alcohol they’re carrying is external or internal. Carrying, as I occasionally do, a four-pack of Fullers to my mate’s across town shouldn’t be stopped, and if I feel that I’m going to be risking police harassment by engaging in a normally legal activity that inconveniences no one I’ll drive (assuming I’m staying over). What’s the bigger problem, people drinking or people being drunk?

The important subtext in Boris-watching terms is that the Mayor is engaging in New Labour-style tabloid bansturbation, and Dale and Staines are *backing* him, which is a departure from their usual position, to say the least.

I assume (hope) it will be the consumption which will be banned.
Though how will it be policed?
As Tom says, it is the bad behaviour which needs to be stopped, whatever its cause.
But if the result is more police on the system then that would clearly be a good thing.

Does Bruce Anderson adduce any evidence of Boris’s supposed libertarianism?

Don’t forget, as many others have pointed out including Iain Dale, that Boris fired Anderson from the Spectator, so there is no love lost there.

So far so good, anyway.

For Boris, Ray Lewis.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/may/06/boris.race

For Ken, Lee Jasper.

5. Rob Knight

Obviously, as a libertarian, I’d prefer to see the Tube in private hands, but I can’t see a problem with the state saying whether alcohol can be consumed on state-owned property.

The problem isn’t that it is in any way illegal or illegitimate for Boris to do this. He’s just been democratically empowered to make precisely these kinds of decisions. What Sunny is arguing is that it would be a very bad idea for him to do this, and would contradict his earlier public statements and the general notion of ‘liberal’ conservatism.

If the conservatives want to persist with the notion that they are in any way a ‘liberal’ party, they can’t go around using their power as controllers of the state in this way.

It doesn’t seem reasonable to attack Boris Johnson over things other people have claimed… …are you really so desperate for ammunition?

Why not wait and see how he plays out? If he is really so incompetent as you seem to think, you will undoubtedly have lots of material by the end of today!

Rob

I don’t think it would contradict his earlier public statements since he said he wanted to do this prior to the election. That aside, it’s not clear to me why you think it is illiberal. I’m not flat out disagreeing with you. I’ve tried to lay down a rationale for why it might be considered reasonable for a liberal to ban alcohol consumption on the Tube. As I said earlier, I don’t think it’s cut and dried. But you have made an assertion that it is illiberal without explaining your reasoning. So what is your reasoning?

The question here isn’t about who owns the tube and what they say about it. The question is how about how you negotiate rights – the person affected versus the person doing it.

With the smoking ban my view has always been that the rights of those affected by it should trump the right of those who want to smoke. But many Tories called that nanny-statish. And now, when the shoe is on the other foot, they’re arguing the same thing!

Sunny,

Please don’t confuse Boris with a Libertarian. Boris might be at the more libertarian end of the Tory spectrum, but he is, nonetheless, a Tory.

As it happens, I greeted this move with a weary despair at the beginning of April.

DK

Yeah,

But Sunny is right in that Boris never shuts up about the “nanny state”.

And it was Anderson that framed him as a Libertarian.

The problem, I find, with Libertarians, is that they’re constantly claiming other so-called libertarians aren’t libertarians!

Guys what we REALLY need , in the interests of democracy and fair play are websites watching the Boris Watchers! Suggested titles for these could be “WATCHING THE WATCHERS WATCING BORIS”, “WATCHING THE BORIS WATCHERS” or simply WATCHING ANYONE WATCHING BORIS.”

It sounds like a sort of obsessives convention (joke). Has the style for this been set by Gordon Brown? You know that speech when he said “I never stop thinking about it….. I wake up thinking about it……. I think about it all the time”.

I THINK he was talking about the economy, but it did sound like a crazy stalker…..

Sunny

You say that you think the people involved in the decision-making process are those affected and the person doing it. I disagree, but you haven’t actually addressed my alternative perspective (that the property owner should decide) apart from saying “it’s not a question of …” which is an assertion rather than an argument.

I guess that, like so many things, it comes down to world view. You see “rights” and I see liberties. You think that because you have a “right” not to inhale tobacco smoke, you can prevent me from (hypothetically) smoking in my (hypothetical) pub. I think it’s my pub, where I am sovereign, and if you don’t like my tobacco smoke, you can take a running jump.

Equally, I suppose, you might believe that your right not to inhale tobacco smoke might enable you to prevent me from smoking in my home, were you there. To you, I suppose, your “right” is absolute, so I will just have to accept your requirements with good grace.

You see a one-size-fits-all, top-down solution, where someone up on high defines the rights and decides the answer for everyone. I see a world where the property owner decides, and different answers are reached in different places and at different times. This is why, IMHO, I’m a liberal and you’re not.

I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent here, is there? Smoking isn’t allowed on the tube either, and wasn’t for years before it was banned. It’s not as if Boris Johnson is saying that people should smoke on the tube but not drink on it. People pretty much have to use public transport unless they can afford/are inclined to drive everywhere, so they shouldn’t have to put up with drunken louts or second hand smoke on it. On the other hand, they don’t have to go into smoky pubs, clubs and bars if they don’t want to.

Surely people have a right to indulge their vices whatever they are, as long as they don’t inflict them on other people? especially if they will affect other peoples’ health.

I would say that people have a right to have sex, but not to have sex on the Tube. They are not harming anyone. Would you argue that they should be able to indulge themselves? Me, I stick to my argument that the property owner gets to decide.

Obviously not to have sex on the sex, because there are laws about public decency.

@15 BH

> I stick to my argument that the property owner gets to decide

So, on the smoking ban, what if that property is the *licence* to sell beers, wines and spirits? No one’s stopping anyone from smoking in the building; merely from licensing the property if people choose to smoke there.

I guess that, like so many things, it comes down to world view. You see “rights” and I see liberties. You think that because you have a “right” not to inhale tobacco smoke, you can prevent me from (hypothetically) smoking in my (hypothetical) pub. I think it’s my pub, where I am sovereign, and if you don’t like my tobacco smoke, you can take a running jump.

I’m not sure it works exactly like that. Pubs also have to have licenses, as Donald points out above. So in effect their behaviour is regulated by the state.

On the other hand, they don’t have to go into smoky pubs, clubs and bars if they don’t want to.

Yes but the problem was that if you did go into a relatively smoke-free place, occasionally people lit up next to you and that messed things up again. It is also a health issue rather than ownership issue. Hence why most people approve of the smoking ban. Surprise surprise!

This begs the question, why should a pub have to obtain a licence?

@19

> This begs the question,

No it doesn’t, any more than anything at all I write might beg the question “what is existence?” or “why am I here?”

The fact is this: if the libertarian argument is that the property owner gets to decide, and the property in question is a licence to sell beers, and the property owner puts conditions on the sale of that licence, the there’s no libertarian objection to the smoking ban.

If, however, the libertarian contention is that we should be free to do what we like as long as we don’t harm others, then there’s an equivalent objection to the smoking ban and Boris’s drinking ban. You can’t have it *both* ways.

“People pretty much have to use public transport unless they can afford/are inclined to drive everywhere, so they shouldn’t have to put up with drunken louts or second hand smoke on it”

But banning drinking != banning drunken louts.

It will ban people who aren’t louts but fancy a beer from having one, while doing absolutely nothing to prevent louts who are drunk from causing a nuisance (even if it were actually enforced against groups of rowdy chavs, which it won’t be).

The fact is this: if the libertarian argument is that the property owner gets to decide, and the property in question is a licence to sell beers, and the property owner puts conditions on the sale of that licence, the there’s no libertarian objection to the smoking ban.

Um no, in this context a property is a pub (or other premises). A licence is a document that allows the holder to do something. Your argument holds no beer.

23. Matt Munro

“Yes but the problem was that if you did go into a relatively smoke-free place, occasionally people lit up next to you and that messed things up again. It is also a health issue rather than ownership issue. Hence why most people approve of the smoking ban. Surprise surprise!”

But most people don’t go to pubs, and most of the ones that did, smoked. Hence thousands of pubs closing and beer sales down by 24%, not even one year into the ban. On a personal note, my local, like all other locals is now full of families during the day, and middle aged couples having dinner in the evening, to me that is not a pub, it’s a restuarant/coffee bar. No problem with that but there were already plenty of them, so why impose your choices on me ?? Why must everywhere be suitable for everybody ?

Nothwithstanding the argument about ownership/sovreignty (and I disagree that a licence from the state equals state control, a pub is a private business). The flawed logic behind the smoking ban was the assumption that all sections of society use pubs equally when they plainly didn’t, smokers were “overrepresented” among regular pub goers. Now they aren’t, but no -one has replaced them, hence we don’t have pubs anymore, we have resturants with bars.

Donald

I assume you are pointing out what you see as a flaw in my argument rather than arguing for the state being able to attach any conditions it sees fit to a transaction in which it is (presumably legitimately) involved. This seems to me to be the start of a slippery slope. If the state demands that one has an ID card in order to be eligible for the NHS, presumably you could argue that there can be no libertarian objection to that either. Or perhaps all children should be RFID tagged before they are allowed in to enroll for school? As I say, I don’t think you’re actually arguing this, but it’s worth making the point.

It seems to me that the question of what conditions the state can attach to a transaction is inseparable from the question of what transactions it should be getting involved in in the first place. By all means prosecute people for selling booze to kids, but there’s no need for prior licensing, precisely because of the danger of spurious conditions being attached. This is the great danger to a liberal society of government regulation.

Sunny

My views aside, you don’t seem to be defending your top-down approach to the issue at all. Do you still view a government driven approach as the best one, and do you think this is relevant to your claimed position as a liberal?

@ 22 uklib

Okay, we’re not going to agree. The *licence* is the important “property” here; no one, ever, prevents a pub owner from smoking on his/her *physical* property.

@23 Matt

> my local, like all other locals is now full of families during the day, and middle aged couples having dinner in the evening

I can only suggest you move somewhere else, then. My local(s) aren’t like that at all.

@ 24 BH

No, not a flaw in your argument. And I largely agree on state powers etc. Merely pointing out that you’re trying to use 2 arguments on smoking in pub / drinking on the tube.

> If the state demands that one has an ID card in order to be eligible for the NHS, presumably you could argue that there can be no libertarian objection to that either.

No, I’d object that the demand that we all carry barcodes was profoundly illiberal in itself – that to make demands on people who are causing no harm to others was grounds enough to call something illiberal. You *also* want to be able to say that a property owner can set its own rules, even when it’s the government (i.e. BoJo). It’s *your* line of argument that would justify the government putting any conditions it liked on NHS access, not mine. And, yes, knowing your views, I’m damned sure you wouldn’t support that either.

Okay, we’re not going to agree. The *licence* is the important “property” here; no one, ever, prevents a pub owner from smoking on his/her *physical* property.

They do if he wants to operate the property as a pub!

> They do if he wants to operate the property as a pub!

Yes, which is why it’s the licence that’s the important “property” here, not the premises. Anyway, we’re waaaaaaay off topic, I fear.

You’re mixing up licences and property. That is the problem. A licence is not property – it is not something I can own – it is something I ‘rent’ and then it allows me to do certain things. The libertarian would say that he should be required to obtain a licence in order to operate his property as a pub.

There is no conflict between being libertarian, anti the smoking ban and anti drinking on the tube. The common element here is that the property owner (a pub landlord or TFL) should be free to set whatever reasonable conditions they wish, and the government should keep its nose out of this private transaction between the property owner and his customers.

The libertarian would say that he should not be

My views aside, you don’t seem to be defending your top-down approach to the issue at all

Mmm…. I’m torn you see. On the one hand I’ve drunk alcohol on public transport and not been stupid about it. On the other hand I can see the argument about ‘drunken louts’.

But it won’t solve the issue. This is a cosmetic law…. because you can deal with drunken louts, and other crimes, by increasing the number of transport police and making it more difficult for people engaging in loutish behaviour. For example, if a bunch of footy fans get drunk and then come on the tube, they’d cause hassle but there would be no way to stop them!

Sunny

I agree. (Is this a first?) It seems wrong to allow the actions of the few to prevent the sensible majority from their simple pleasures. And you’re right that it’s a cosmetic law. I don’t suppose it’s the consumption on the Tube which is the problem so much as the drunkenness, or perhaps the drunk-and-disorderliness, which will best be dealt with by stiffer punishments, I would have thought.

Problems of this kind are knotty. This is why I prefer bottom-up approaches because it allows for the possibility of experimentation by different people. You are much more likely to get to the right answer or answers this way than by hoping that the man in Whitehall will define different people’s rights in such a way as to get to that best set of solutions in a top-down way.

32. Planeshift

An obvious solution: have bars on some carriages of the tube. The drinkers can go in those carriages, the tube gets money from selling drinks. Those who don’t like drunks go in the other carriages.

Planeshift.

Makes sense to me. The profit motive in action, I would say.

The other reason this is a cosmetic proposal is that there are already laws that can be used against people exhibiting the sort of behaviour we are talking about.

I have a Boris blog, if anyone’s interested:

http://werewatchingyouborissodontscrewthisup.wordpress.com/

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