Thursday, October 16, 2008

Justifying our existence

Politicians have always tried to influence the behaviour of the electorate, whether by carrot or stick. I rarely like the stick approach and I can appreciate some efforts to attempt to nudge people in a certain direction, for example walking rather than driving, health prevention rather than cure etc. However, the 'ban' on smoking near playgrounds seems a typically worthy but pointless exercise that is endemic in local government.

I don't smoke but I would have voted against the ban on smoking in enclosed areas as I am instinctively against banning things, believing people should be able to exercise choice. I get fed up with politicians treating people like idiots in one breath and then, should they be wanting something from them like a vote, feting them as having the collective wisdom of Solomon. Similarly, local Liberals cannot decide whether they want to do what their party name says on the tin or give in to an authoritarian craving - the second half of their moniker, 'Democrat' went by the wayside a long time ago.

The Liberal-dominated Beddington & Wallington Local Committee has agreed to spend £3200 putting up signs politely requesting people not to smoke in playgrounds within their area. There was considerable debate as to what the wording should be as it was felt that the familiar No Smoking sign was inappropriate because the ban had no legal backing. I humbly put forward my own suggested wording in the picture above.

Of course I'm not in favour of people blowing smoke in children's faces whilst they play on the swings. However, the signs would have to be far bigger and much more wordy if they were to list all inappropriate behaviour by adults in a children's playground. This smacks of politicians scratching around for something to do. Last year, a pot of 'Public Realm' money was introduced in Sutton where local committees could direct some spending in their areas. The total budget was £2m divided between the six areas. I fear that this is an attempt to be seen to be doing something rather than considering whether that £3200 could be better spent elsewhere. Councillors were surprised to hear that each sign would cost £300. They were told that there were four playgrounds and it would be best to put two signs in each. No-one challenged the chairman, who is an accountant by day, when she announced just before voting on the issue that the total spending was £3200. Remember that when you get next year's council tax bill.


Anonymous said...

"I humbly put forward my own suggested wording in the picture above."

Most commendable.

In the 1980s, many local authorities, like the old and subsequently defunct LCC, took to putting up road signs - at some £400 or so a time - announcing the locality was a "Nuclear Free Zone".

Of course, this was the completely wrong location and alignment.

The messages should have been displayed on roof tops to be read by satellite imaging.

John M Ward said...

That's a very good idea noways, putting area designation signs on rooftops (flat roofs, anyway).

At present, despite the range of facilities within Google Earth, I cannot discern which are anything-free zones, and it would be useful to be able to do so, I feel sure somehow...

Anonymous said...

Choice is vital in any democracy, responsibility goes with that right to choose. Aren't we lucky not to have that responsibility anymore, it saves us all having to think and decide for ourselves! Who makes these things up? I reckon Mary Poppins is on the payroll somewhere!

Anonymous said...

"I cannot discern which are anything-free zones"

I think we can be fairly confident that free markets probably prevail in the the middle of the Amazon jungle and the Sahara desert and, perhaps, in Somalia, where anarchy prevails. Everywhere else, markets are apt to be regulated and often fortunately so.

We generally look to infrastructures of national laws, enforcement agencies and the courts to define and protect property rights and facilitate transactions. The intelligent discussion is about what systems of laws and regulations are the more conducive to better performance of national economies - when we have resolved issues such as to how we measure "better" in the context.

There's no shortage of agreement now on the principle that financial institutions need new regulatory frameworks to prevent repeats of the present crisis downstream but the devil is in the detail.

Adrian Short said...

I think the extra £800 will be going towards updating all the council's dictionaries to redefine "ban" to be synonymous with "polite request".

There's some interesting discussion over on my blog, but I have to say I'm still at least half in the dark on this whole matter.