Why do we need all the no smoking signs? Is it because Caroline Flint was herself too dim to manage without signs everywhere, or is it just corrupt government spreading its patronage to buy votes?
New York is famously not short of signs and notices. I cannot put my finger on why, but they do not offend in the same way as they do over here. That may in part be that the context suits them better, but somehow they generally seem more useful. A high proportion of them actually convey information which people need.
New York has much the same laws about smoking in public places as we have. What it does not have is screaming notices to tell you about it. Those places which had such signs anyway – food shops for example – still have them, but there is no equivalent of the statutory obligation to display a sign in every doorway.
I did not, for example, see one no smoking sign in the subway – I don’t say there are are none, simply that I did not observe them and, indeed, noticed their absence in the places where we have them. Everyone knows you do not smoke on the subway.
Why does it have to be different here? Why did the act banning smoking in public places require everywhere, including cathedrals, to display a notice which reflects the widely-known general law?
One reason lies in the woman to promoted the bill, the dim Caroline Flint – two reasons in fact. It is part of her nature to tell people what to do – nagging people is a New Labour disease, but Flint has the bug stronger than most, and notices are part of the disease. I imagine also that she herself needs notices to tell her what to do – if your thinking machinery worked like Caroline Flint’s, you would need a big red sign every few feet to tell you how to behave.
I sat in Bloomsbury Square recently. It looks a bit like a museum now, its perfect symmetry destroyed by vast and naff pavement areas which used to be roads, but the thing which caught my eye was a large red no smoking notice pinned prominently to one of the beautiful front doors. All the style, all the work in renovating the buildings, all the planning and listed building protection, all the landlord’s care to preserve the integrity of the square, was undone by a crassly-placed notice.
Why is it all necessary? Did you know, for example, that all the old notices which simply said “No smoking” or whatever, have had to be thrown away and replaced by the new statutory wording – that’s tons of metal thrown away. The problem with New Labour is that one has come to suspect corruption and dishonesty everywhere. Someone is making a lot of money from all these unnecessary signs – making and selling them, putting them up, and policing their positioning – and this is a party whose members seem to think that honesty is for other people. This won’t be anything so unsubtle as a bribe to a minister or civil servant – not on this occasion – but you can’t help thinking that there are people with jobs which would not exist but for the signage requirements in the smoking act.
Home Information Packs and the music licensing requirements are other examples where legislation has created benefits for individuals whch outstrip any benefit to society. It all helps create a large group of people who owe their jobs to government, a patronage which makes the jobbery and corruption of C18 British politics look almost respectable.