'Rishi Sunak is turning into Tony Blair with his ban bonanza,' says Nigel Nelson

Rishi Sunak

'Rishi Sunak is turning into Tony Blair with his ban bonanza,' says Nigel Nelson

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Nigel Nelson

By Nigel Nelson


Published: 27/09/2023

- 12:29

'He got so carried away he started banning things which didn’t exist'

When last in government the Labour Party was awfully keen on trying to ban stuff. Tony Blair wanted to stop the wearing of hoodies and baseball caps in shopping malls and to lock under-16s inside after 9pm.

He banned free university education in 1998 and trebled the cost of it in 2004. Blair’s Home Secretary Jack Straw suggested Muslim women should stop wearing veils while his successor David Blunkett thought British Asians should give up speaking foreign languages in their own homes.


Most hereditary peers were banned from the House of Lords and smoking indoors went out the window. I remember the former Public Health minister Caroline Flint complaining bitterly when, forced outside, Commons smokers puffed near her window.

Blair borrowed a lot from the Conservatives but freedom of choice was not one of them. Now it seems Rishi Sunak has caught the banning bug, apparently oblivious to criticism it is a very unconservative thing to do.

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A Levels, single-use vapes and HS2’s Manchester leg may go, and tobacco eradicated entirely. It’s as if the PM woke up one morning, took another look at the dire opinion polls showing him up the creek without a paddle and decided some new oars with which to beat us were needed.

He got so carried away with this he started banning things which didn’t exist - meat taxes, compulsory car shares, seven bins, a holiday tax - which gave social media wags a field day.

I particularly liked the tweet from The Critic’s sketchwriter Rob Hutton showing Mr Sunak telling an elderly lady on a bus: “The plan to make you kill your cat with your bare hands and then eat it raw? Scrapped.”

Mr Sunak might as well have said: “Resurrecting the Invisible Man? Scrapped. Tax on your toenails? Scrapped. The King Herod memorial scheme to end childcare? Scrapped.”

Sunak

'But it was the smoking ban which caught my eye,' writes Nigel Nelson

PA

But it was the smoking ban which caught my eye because if Mr Sunak pushes it through it says something about what this PM stands for.

The proposal to copy New Zealand by increasing the legal age for buying tobacco by one year every year until no one is able to smoke at all was first raised in a report by former Barnardo’s charity boss Dr Javed Khan.

It was commissioned by the then Health Secretary Sajid Javid who was looking for ways to meet the Tory 2019 manifesto commitment to increase average life expectancy by five years by 2035.

That meant making Britain smoke free - which is defined as cutting the proportion of smokers from 13 per cent of the population now to five per cent.

Dr Khan said unless his plan was implemented the Government would miss its smoke free target by seven years. He was backed by campaigners Action on Smoking and Health and respected health think tank the King’s Fund.

Dr Khan added: “We need to make it as hard as possible to smoke and as easy as possible to quit. There can be no short cuts, no quick fixes, no excuses.”

I should declare an interest here. I’m a habitual smoker - and an equally habitual quitter - but I see a lot of merit in this plan. It won’t help my grown-up children but then none of them smoke anyway, and this is more aimed at my grandchildren.

Anything which reduces the 75,000 premature deaths in England a year caused by smoking, and the £2.4billion cost to the NHS as a result, should be welcomed.

Which was why I could not understand ministers being so vague over whether they would introduce this or not. So I decided to investigate. This led me to someone very senior in the Department of Health.

Turned out the plan had been binned on ideological grounds. The Tories are a pro-choice party, I was told, which believes in individuals taking responsibility for themselves with the freedom to make their own decisions. This would go against that ethos.

Uh-huh. Which begs the question as Tories scurry off to Manchester this weekend for their annual conference: is their leader really one of them?

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