Comment - CBC - If You Ask Me ... - The Changing Role of Government?
The role of the state in individuals' lives is a debate that is dominating political life in the US and here in the UK at the moment, whether it be health reform or sweeping changes to the welfare system.
In the UK, a left of centre Labour government - accused by many of having run and expanded a 'nanny-state' - has been replaced by a coalition on the centre-right, between the Conservatives and Liberals. The common ground between two parties, who have long been at odds with one another, is a huge suspicion of 'Big Government'.
The sovereign debt crisis and the prospect of years of austerity within the public finances has only heightened the rhetoric and accelerated the agenda of those working towards shrinking the power of the state.
It is not just the big issues of the health services or welfare benefits, this is a debate of every facet of how the government interacts with the individual.
The food and beverage industries will not remain unaffected.
In fact, a speech at the British Medical Association conference earlier this week from the new health secretary, Andrew Lansley, gave some indication of what the drinks industry can expect.
While Lansley was speaking on the issue of school meals, what he said has wider implications. In particular, he talked about his belief that individuals take responsibility for what they eat and drink and a need for the state to stop lecturing people on their consumption choices. The TV chef Jamie Oliver, who has been on a campaign to boost the healthiness of school meals, was singled out as an exponent of an overbearing approach Lansley was against.
"If we are constantly lecturing people and trying to tell them what to do, we will actually find that we undermine and are counterproductive in the results that we achieve," said the health secretary.
He then said that the TV chef's approach to school food had not had the desired effect – with the number of children eating school meals down instead of up.
There may be an economic slant to this, as the price of better school meals is costly. However, it is also ideologically motivated and points to a government more interested in freedom of choice and less interested in lecturing about food and drink. What is more important, however, is the assumption we can take that it will also be an administration less interested in legislating against the industry.
Or will it? Like many parties in the west on the right of the political divide, the Conservatives, who are the senior partner in the coalition, are a conflicting mix of principles, in my opinion. Although they espouse a smaller state and greater freedom for the individual, this is often contradicted by an innate social conservatism on issues such as law and order, or the family.
As I wrote a piece for our sister site just-food, on the role of the state in determining what people should eat, I got to wondering how this would affect the drinks industry.
Based largely on the comments by Langley, my gut feeling is that we may see a polarisation of the pressure put upon the industry depending on whether companies operate in the soft drinks realm (where the target is obesity) and the alcohol sector (where health issues are joined by the social disorder of drunkeness).
As I argued on just-food, it is possible we may see a more laissez-faire attitude to soft drinks (which are closely associated with the food industry) as the Conservative's libertarian principles come to the fore.
But, the alcohol sector, which is facing a government review later in the year, may find itself facing the more authoritarian side of Conservative politics, lending itself to being an easy target to raise cash for the coffers through taxation and an easy media win through tougher legislation aimed at curbing public drunkeness.
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