Friday, 10 April 2009


Ok, I'm back.

I found out about 10 days ago that someone to whom I am closely related is seriously ill. There are various other factors which make the situation rather complicated. I don't intend to say anymore about it on here, other than to offer it up as an explanation as to why I wasn't in such a tolerant mood as usual. I didn't see why I should offer myself up in the absence of higher-profile politicians on the blogosphere as a sacrificial lamb to receive the torrent of abuse for which some pseudonymous bloggers were no doubt sharpening their green-ink-stained quills in preparation. (And thanks for the delightful comments left in my absence, none of which have made it past moderation).

If this was SATC, we would now cut to a shot of me sitting at my ancient typewriter, with a voiceover saying: This made me think... "Are we human, or are we politician?" Cue theme of this week's episode.

For those of us who are public figures, even in a fairly modest way, and can't hide behind pseudonyms, blogging presents something of a dilemma. What to put into the public domain, and what to keep under wraps? (I'd suggest Nadine Dorries' online anecdote about dropping her underwear in the gym car park probably falls into the latter category).

On the one hand, people want to see their politicians as human. On the other, we're entitled to a private life. And yes, I know, some from the 'I'm paying your wages' school would dispute that.

My family and upbringing were undoubtedly the biggest single formative influence on my politics. All of human life is there, as they say. (It's a big family!) And sometimes it's difficult to explain where you're coming from as a politician without reference to your background, either to convey a particular empathy or to defend yourself when people make certain assumptions. There are shorthand methods some MPs adopt: 'I'm still the only person in my family to have had a university education' is always useful. Or 'I'm from Luton'. (There are no posh people in Luton).

There are almost certainly MPs in this current parliament who have been raped, had abortions and miscarriages, been the victims of domestic violence, or were sexually abused as children. Mo Mowlam was famously the daughter of an alcoholic parent, and talked about it her later years as a politician. There are some with family members who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, or have died from drug abuse (Ian McCartney's son, for example), or have mental health issues. There will be some who have survived serious illnesses, or have children with serious disabilities.

Each politician should be entitled to make their own decision as to how much of this they choose to reveal, or conceal. Personal anecdote can be very powerful; I still remember a speech Dari Taylor made in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill debate, where she talked about her own infertility and the hope that this legislation offered to other women in her situation.

The dangers of revealing details of one's personal life are, however, manifold. Firstly, once a label is publicly-attached, it can be difficult to remove it. Neil Tennant always say that the reason he didn't choose to out himself in the music press was because he didn't want to be pigeon-holed in the press as 'gay pop star Neil Tennant'. True enough, as soon as he did choose to tell people he was gay, that's exactly what happened.

Secondly, there's the creaking sound of floodgates being opened... once you've allowed yourself to be pictured in the pages of Hello magazine boasting about your wonderful marriage, you're fair game for the paparazzi when it all goes horribly wrong and you're seen walking through the streets with a 'blotchy face' ((c) Daily Mail) and slept-in clothes. So it's best to keep off the topic altogether.

Thirdly, there's the risk of being seen to exploit the issue for personal gain, as we've seen with accusations levelled at David Cameron and others in the past. David Davis' single parent childhood formed an integral part of his pitch for the Tory leadership. Alan Johnson wouldn't be Alan Johnson if we didn't know what we know of his background. But where do you draw the line?

And finally, it's not just about you. (Some of the more ego-driven politicians may find this a hard concept to grasp, mentioning no names.) If you start talking about your family, you are putting the spotlight on people who may well not want to be subjected to its glare. Maybe a politician feels quite comfortable talking about his feckless, philandering father when discussing the issue of men taking equal responsibility for raising their children... but how does his mother feel about it? Sometimes it's easy to forget that you've got an audience, or that what you say is being recorded for posterity. It's important to keep this in mind.

I tend to operate on the basis of no names, no pack drill. I've got enough sisters (five) and enough nieces and nephews (thirteen, plus a few 'step' ones) to be able to tell the occasional anecdote without embarrassing anyone. Sometimes I will use phrases such as 'a young woman I know' or ' a friend of mine'. On more serious issues, if I did decide to 'go public' I'd probably ask the most reticent member of my family first, and they'd almost certainly say no. And that would be the end of that.


bevanite said...

Brilliant blog. I think this recent real demonisation of politicians in the media will have consequences that short sighted editors at the moment possibly can't see. This bear bating of MPs (I understand expenses need reform...)will do nothing but sell a few papers and provide a vent for people's understandable anger at a time like this. Long term consequences however may be dire- we are shortchanging the future.

If only people with a dull and whiter than white previous life enter politics, and those with tough, perhaps controversial experiences and the consequent resolve to make great changes are scared off then it is only us that will suffer. The vast majority of politicians enter the arena to make change and with honest intentions - Labour, Tory, Lib Dem, whichever they all believe this country should cater better for the people they represent.

So whilst to many it may feel fulfilling to see MPs humiliated and offered up in the media at the moment. I think we'll regret it in the future.

Anonymous said...

Quite right Kerry - all humans are corruptible but remain human and the sin must be hated not the sinner...

Labour, tory and worst of all Lib dems however brought it upon themselves with the expenses - and heads will roll - I hope only literally!

Old Holborn said...

Oh dear, is the chalice poisoned?

Are all the privileges of representing us getting too much?

The reason 60,000,000 of us have had enough of politicians and are angry has everything to do with what just 646 people have done to us.

You chose to be one of those 646 because it gave you power to change lives. You craved it. The power to change lives. That's a huge resonsibility. Don't come bleating back to us when it goes pear shaped. YOU made it pear shaped, not us. If you find the greasy pole studded with razor blades as well as diamonds, don't cry foul to us, because you Kerry, oh especially you, are desperately scrabbling to get more of what you "volunteered" for.


May I also courteously remind you which Government is vehemently obsessed with knowing every detail of OUR lives. Where we are, what we are saying, what we are eating, what we re doing, where we are travelling, how fast we are driving, what Internet sites we visit, what we write in our emails or on our blogs, what our biometrics and dna look like.

It is the Government that YOU wanted and are part of.

Physician, heal thyself.

Kerry said...

I've only allowed that comment through to demonstrate what a thoroughly despicable individual you are. But that's it. I've had enough.

Cato said...

I can't see why you got upset at Old Holborn's post. He didn't swear at you or call you nasty names. He merely told the truth.

As to your private life, I could care less what you do and how you do it but if you don't want comment thereon, don't bring it into the public arena.

bevanite said...

OH - I really hope Kerry doesn't stand for it anymore, what you write is poisonous tripe. Something must have really gone wrong for you, but to read that post and comment like that, shows just how troubled you are. Go and get some help.

Remember Remember said...

Yet you want to be entitled to pry into anyone's life as a matter of law. Now you know how we feel.

Kerry said...

Are we inhuman? Or are we libertarian?

Anonymous said...

If Old Holborn's comments have upset you so much then might I respectfully suggest that the life of an MP is not for you.
Surely, dealing weith opposing viewpoints is what politics is all about? Although to judge by recent trends and events it would appear that opposing viewpoints are being stealthily suppressed.

Kerry said...

You have a very warped notion of what constitutes healthy political debate.

Rab C. Nesbitt said...

'I've had enough'. What does that mean Kerry? Are you about to unleash the Liebore Hounds on OH? I bet Mr Holborn would love it.

Cato said...

And what, may one asks, entitles you to foist your opinion of what constitutes a healthy political debate on anyone?

Your party has criminalised many people in this country, for example, those who failed to close a dustbin lid properly. It seeks to spy on innocent people by tracking their internet voyages. It seeks to know where I've gone on my holidays. It seeks to retain DNA samples although this has been ruled illegal...I could go on..

And you think that someone taking you to task is poisonous. Methinks the boot should be clearly on the other foot.

As I said previously, if you don't want comment on your private life, then don't start the comments rolling.

Martin said...

Lord, the content of this thread is enough to make me finally declare myself an anarcho-capitalist.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Kerry: Healthy political debate should go like this. You take away our civil liberties, we don't like it so we tell you.

You ignore our concerns as Labour do routinely (not exclusively Labour, I'll admit, but you're worse than the others), and we get even more angry.

When are Labour going to realise that we aren't all happy with being moulded into drones in the image of your choosing?

You make the point that there are issues in everyone's lives that should remain personal and I'd agree ... if it weren't for the fact that your party are pushing for every aspect of our lives to be accessible by government, and that includes personal lifestyle choices.

If you give us a chance to be ourselves without constant state interference, I'm sure you'd find that politicians might be given a bit more slack too.

As someone further up said, "what's good for the goose ..." etc.

Devil's Kitchen said...


Much as I hate to say it, OH is right: your government -- using laws that you voted for -- wishes to track our every movement, to pry into every aspect of our lives, to remove our privacy.

I have no sympathy for a single one of you, Kerry; you cannot vote through laws that remove our privacy and expect to retains yours.


Kerry said...

Why are you all (nearly all) so comprehensively missing the point?

Cato said...

And your point is?

Remember Remember said...

The one who has remained manically oblivious to the point is YOU, Kerry.
Sh1t happens in everyone's lives. The laws you vote for create more of it. If you don't have the integrity to stand up to thug whips on matters of major consequence, then you do not deserve respect, or privacy.

the man who fell back to bed said...

what point is it we're missing exactly then? becuase as far as I can see OH, DP, DK, Cato and steve make entirely reasonable points in a perfectly polite manner, without any name calling or unpleasantness.

or are you made so uncomfortable by the points they make and the questions they raise? it's called free speech - something even you and your colleagues havent yet managed to completely suppress, thankfully.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

There you go again, Kerry - all transmit, and no receive.

timbone said...

I do not have as high a public profile as yours, but I am known among those with whom I have things in common, both in my professional sphere as a musician, and those with whom I share a deep sense of injustice. You know that I disagree with some of your philosophy about life and how we should live it, and being part of a political machine which habitually engineers social control, with mock public consultations to appear democratic.

This is why what I say next is difficult. Not difficult because I think badly of you. Difficult because there are those who will think badly of me for saying it. I enjoyed your blog.

Just because somebody has been involved in making aspects of my life uncomfortable, this does not mean that I think they are totally evil, dangerous or hateful, (although there are some that come pretty close). I visit this blog to see what Kerry McCarthy has to say, not necessarily Kerry McCarthy MP. There are times when you say things which I disagree with, and yes, I was 'sharpening my green-ink-stained quill in preparation' for a blog which alas, never came. I am under no illusion that my comments in areas of disagreement would influence you in any way, but at least you allow diversity and opposition.

I have been compromised more than once when involved discussing you in other blogs which your eagle internet eye will no doubt have seen. My argument has always been that I do not come here to attack you, even though there are times when your blog means that I would appear to be visiting the enemy camp. I come here because I want to see what you have to say, which can sometimes be amusing trivia, or something thoughtful like this particular blog.

I enjoyed reading a blog which revealed something about the writer. Thanks.

CllrTim said...

That'll be our fault too. We probably didn't invest in education.

The complaints come from people who don't have a take it or leave it election for their livelyhood every 4-5 years, don't have their home. family, salary, health details published in the media routinely etc. The civil liberties under threat (and i happen to agree we have gone way too far) are a poor argument against a politician who lives under greater scrutiny than any individual, criminal or subject in the country.

This is not a 'pity poor me' piece. It's a warning about what kind of Politico you will get if they can't be 'normal' and get away with it.

Kerry said...

Right [with a heavy sigh...], it wasn't a plea for the media or public or whoever to respect politicians' need for privacy, it was about the extent to which politicians draw on personal experience and to what extent they - the politicians - could or should make this public, especially where it involves exposing their family to publicity too.

But seeing as you have wandered down the 'right to privacy' path... If you're really suggesting that it would be OK for the press to reveal that an MP was abused as a child, or whatever, just because they're in the public eye, then I think you're totally and utterly wrong.

And finally, a message for those of you who posted snide and abusive comments over the past week saying I was obviously 'lying low' because I had 'something to hide' about expenses, and making threats to 'get me' and 'hunt me down', and talking about porn films and the like... Can I just say for the record how totally unsurprised I am that not one of you has had the decency to express some regret for doing so once you'd discovered the real reason for my absence?

seebag said...

Aw bless her, she sounds almost fed up enough to resign her seat. Rearrange the following words Kerry - the heat stand if kitchen can't the get of you out

Kerry said...

So by the same token, Cameron should have come to the Commons as usual for PMQs the day his son died and Gordon would have been perfectly entitled to go for him hammer and tongs?

Shirking From Home said...

My privacy is invaded every time I walk down the street, visit a web site, send an e-mail, make a phone call and go for a drink.

You are a Labour MP, the party who voted for and introduced such measures. I have no sympathy for the predicament you find yourself in.

Get used to it, I have had to for quite a while.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

So by the same token, Cameron should have come to the Commons as usual for PMQs the day his son died and Gordon would have been perfectly entitled to go for him hammer and tongs?


Roger Thornhill said...

CllrTim: "The complaints come from people who don't have a take it or leave it election for their livelyhood every 4-5 years"

"livelihood"? The role of Councillor or MP os NOT A LIVELIHOOD! It is SERVICE, it is being employed for for the purpose of being delegated to, having authority LOANED for a fixed period with NO guarantee at the end of it. THAT IS THE DEAL.

I don't have a guarantee of employment and nor does ANYONE in that strange world out there - you know, the private sector, the one you clearly have little or know real cognition of.

Well done, CllrTim, for you have in a nutshell encapsulated what is so wrong with so many people in government at all levels.

You totally fail to realise that we, the electorate, you know, real human beings who have to pay and suffer all this nonsense, have to ENDURE the "take it or leave it every 4-5 years" of so-called "democracy" that is in truth rule by the Tyranny of the Majority by Authoritarian and their useful idiots.

The more the State does the greater the Tyranny. The less the State does, the greater each person can "vote" with their feet or wallet to decide what they want to see/have done/employ/donate.

Each time the State grabs more power, takes taxes to fund "charities" or provide "services" the more democracy and freedom is abused and weakened.

As to Kerry, well, can you not realise that all this monitoring is asserting, in effect, that we are guilty until proven innocent?

And to your statement "If you're really suggesting that it would be OK for the press to reveal that an MP was abused as a child, or whatever, just because they're in the public eye, then I think you're totally and utterly wrong."

Don't you realise that the massive database state your party is pushing for will almost certainly result in such things being exposed - for small price, natch - about any little person who, btw, does not have access to a political machine? How easy to silence and discredit a whisleblower by having all manner of detals leak out, like a close relative being mentally ill, for example?

There is a phrase I have for you, Kerry:

"Those who live by the database, die by the database"

It will be Labour's undoing. Better to pull the plug on it now. This government, its MPs, ministers and QANGOs appear incapable of realising that it must do ONLY what it should, NOT anything that it can.

DaveA said...

Kerry I hope you are well. I hope your relative makes a speedy recovery. In these difficult tmes we can all comfort ourselves that there is someone worse off than us.

On a less serious note I met someone the other day who worked with you quite closely at the Labour Party. Taking a neutral stance, ie I was looking for a spin free answer, he was really quite complementary. As we have long suspected you are extremely hard working and a sincere and pleasant person to work with.

Kerry, if I maybe so bold to say on MPs expenses, you maybe a little too sensitive. An outraged electorate is not playing the man, they are playing the ball. It is not Kerry McCarthy they resent/despise it is Parliament, the system and the Labour Party that allows it.

Remember Remember said...

What you don't seem to be grasping is that from last week, if YOU or anyone examines sites on sensitive subjects like say, "cervical cancer help", alcoholics anonymous, lesbian clubs, suicidal thoughts, pile cream, etc.etc.etc., those records are kept and can be accessed not only by your stasi but anyone intent on doing so, like rogue ISP employees.
Has the sheer monumental scale of the privacy intrusion you advocated dawned on you at all?

bevanite said...

For Christ sake people, do none of you have an ounce of humanity? This woman who offers you after all, a forum on which you incessantly attack her, has offered a personal difficult reason as to why she's been away & not one of you has a line of sympathy or regret? shame.

This has made me angrier than any of your previous attacks and to be quite frank made me rather depressed. You all complain about the inhumanity of politicians, I can see clearly now how well you'd know.

Henry North London said...

Do as you would be done by Kerry

If you have cheated, lied and been nasty in any way shape or form, and not been transparent or have tried to say one thing when another is patently clear then Im afraid what comes around goes around

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction Its the basic law of the universe.

This Labour government has put through more than 3000 new laws

Most of us dont even know what they are and we fall foul of them because our representatives at Parliament dont bother telling us why wherefore and the reasons behind it. Our politicians dont speak the truth, they dont explain and help us the public who voted them in

I am a psychiatrist, If you think you can be nasty to someone and they will still respect your privacy and your rights you are quite frankly deluded.

If you have pissed someone off or not listened to them, and you cannot be considerate and give them the time of day to be listened to and acted upon and you act in a very different way to your speeches and what you have actually said to someone well you know the old saying you can fool some of the people some of the time but not all the time.

I dont know you I have never read this blog before and I as such do not know what you have done to elicit such oppobrium but believe me. You only get poison if you give it out.

Yes I admit to being human and I admit to failings and I have made mistakes, Im fully prepared to admit them Im standing for parliament because I am sick to the back teeth of not being informed by my MP, about important EU laws that are passed without even making the mainstream media and that affect our lives in such a way as to render us very upset.

We think why has someone done this without asking us if we wanted it Why are we living in a so called democratic state?

You should take a good hard long look and see where you have lied and cheated and misrepresented things in order to avoid any kind of tongue lashing, because that is your checks and balances,

You cannot get away with things if you are in the public eye.

Not unless you exclude the outside world

You know Ive known for some time that all phone calls are tapped

I always say Hello GCHQ if I am dealing with sensitive subjects on the phone because I know the call has been logged.

You dont seem to get it do you?

Put all the things that if you were a moral person with upstanding principles and mores you could not do and see how much you actually have done and then see why you are being subjected to such rage and anger.

You have quite frankly brought it upon yourself I know that you will not publish this so I will copy and paste it as an open letter to you on my blog

You need to gain insight in to how you have been operating

Have you broken the law
Have you broken the moral code of a high society english gentleman

HAve you been improprietous have you cursed at people have you disregarded your constituents feelings because the party whip told you that if you didnt you would lose your seat the next time the election came round?

Think about it You seem to think that we should be conscientious to you well its a two way street and you cant shovel shit over people for too long

You know what I do I never claim for petrol when I work somewhere

Im being paid so much I think why bother Im not petty and greedy

See how many of the seven deadly sins you have committed and then think Could you actually have done this without anyone finding out about it?

You seem to think that because you're an MP you can get away with it. Well no you are answerable to your constituents.

They are the ones who voted you in to employment in the first place It is their unquestionable right to sack you and to ramonstrate about your behaviour as their representative.

Never forget that you are where you are because someone put a cross next to your name and put it in a secret ballot box.

You have to prove your worth If you cant handle the heat then for god sakes resign and have a by-election called, and apologise and recover what dignity you might have left.

Here endeth the lesson

bofl said...

oh dear- you will listen but if we disagree with you then you won't?

i agree that a lot of the details about private lives that are published are not really needed. i don't care about someones sexuality or infidelity etc.

But- you chose to become an mp.
we didn't force you.

The Govt. are often quick to speak of 'role models'. Yet they lie,cheat,spy,steal and pass the buck all the time.

By being in the h.o.c cabal then i assume that you condone these things?

I think it is you that have missed the point-open your eyes-the vast majority of people in the uk hate what Labour have done over the last 12 years.

ps i am not o tory voter-or bnp.

James Burr said...

Kerry, firstly I'd like to say how sorry I am to hear about your relative - I hope they get better soon.

But to get to the point of your post I think Labour have made a rod for their own backs here.

Prior to Labour I think many (with the exception of "Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells" and a few Daily Mail readers) would have agreed with you. I think most people don't care what their politicians do in their private life as long as 1) It doesn't affect their job, and 2) it isn't hypocritical.

I don't care if an MP has been a drug fiend or if they still like the occasional bit of herb. If anything, I'd prefer it - it shows they're human and that they've lived a bit rather than just being some humourless, joyless "graduated-from-student-politics" drone. But if they are clearly stoned at meetings or are advocating smoking bans on healthist reasons while shovelling cocaine up their nose, then yes - I want to know.

However, Cato, OH, DK et al DO have a point. It's interesting that you disparage Libertarianism. If we lived in a world where Libertarian values held sway (rather than the snooping, intolerant, judgmental, interfering values of Labour) the public could simply pay their taxes and not break the law and drink, smoke and say what they like. In return, MPs could say - "Yes, I do this and I do that but it's done using MY money, doesn't affect my job and isn't hypocritical. Now go away and let me do my job!"

However, with the climate that Labour have themselves created, of monitoring my email messages, barging into my house (how many agencies can do that now?), telling me what I can do and where and basically infantalising me, then yes - expect the same in return.

Libertarianism somehow sounds better now, doesn't it?

Kerry said...

I give up. I really do.

pagar said...

Please. Don't give up.

Having read your blog for a while it seems to me that you have a big heart and that your obvious humanity informs your politics. That should be cherished as there is little enough of it demonstrated by many of your peers.

But please understand that good intentions do not always translate into intelligent policy and many people are fed up that their lives are being ever more controlled and their freedoms constrained. That is why they exhibit anger and frustration. Take this on board and you could be a real force for the betterment of society.

I hope and trust that your personal crisis, whatever its nature, is swiftly and favourably resolved.

John Buckingham said...

James - so Labour's 'intolerant, judgemental' and anti-liberty? Perhaps you'd feel differently if you were gay and now able to marry the person you loved. Or if you were a child no longer living in poverty, or a pensioner now able to afford to heat your home and able to swim and get the bus for free, or a father able to take paternity leave, or a worker getting the minimum wage. You see, freedom's not just about civil liberties - it's about the practical ability to live your life without having to jump over hurdles at every turn because you are poor, excluded or despised.

In my experience, those who think we're living in some fascist Zimbabwe are people who don't really care about these other liberties and are looking for a way in which they too can feel 'oppressed'. Well, you're not, this isn't a totalitarian state, and real freedom has expanded hugely under Labour. Keep up the good work Kerry, and hope all goes well with your relative.

Devil's Kitchen said...

John Buckingham,

"Perhaps you'd feel differently if you were gay and now able to marry the person you loved. Or if you were a child no longer living in poverty, or a pensioner now able to afford to heat your home and able to swim and get the bus for free, or a father able to take paternity leave, or a worker getting the minimum wage."

And where has the money come from to do this? It has been stolen -- by force -- from those who might not necessarily wish to give it. That's freedom, is it?

You might feel that all of these things that you cite are worthy things, but that is only your personal opinion -- your personal morality.

How dare you force me pay for your moral sensibilities? Seriously, how dare you?


bevanite said...

that your "personal" morality does not include heating pensioners' homes, lifting children out of poverty and preventing exploitation of our workforce, says it all really doesn't it.

John Buckingham said...

DevilsKitchen - Love the self-important outrage. Further to bevanite, no-one has forced anyone to do anything, (least of all me, as I wasn't an MP last time I checked). The British people voted for Labour MPs, so we got Labour governments who were not obliged to have referendums on issues such as these which were included in their manifestos. And are you seriously equating all taxation with theft? Despite the fact that tax policy is decided by democratically elected governments?

The fact is that, when tested in an election, people preferred OUR moral sensibilities (doing as you'd be done by - all the world's religions agree, so who are we to argue?) to yours. Get used to it. If your morality can't win elections, that's your problem - maybe it's not that moral?

Kerry said...

DK lives in a parallel universe where he doesn't use the roads or public transport or need street lighting or his bins emptied or in any way benefit (directly or indirectly) from a state education system or scientific/ medical research or environmental protection or a police force or the armed forces or any other publicly funded services you care to name, and will never need to use the NHS or live in social housing or have his home adapated for a disabled child, spouse or parent (or even himself) or claim a state pension or incapacity benefit or tax credits -and therefore he should be exempt from paying taxes. That's right, isn't it, DK?

James Burr said...

I agree - the changes to gay marriage were well overdue.

So what? That was a Libertarian measure! What business does the State have in saying what is, or isn't a "proper" partnership?

And the idea that Labour is responsible for "lifting children out of poverty" by doling out pocket money like tax credits whilst simultaneously presiding over a boom and bust that has led to a Depression AND driving the country into historic levels of debt is simply laughable.

@ John Buckingham:

"You see, freedom's not just about civil liberties - it's about the practical ability to live your life without having to jump over hurdles at every turn because you are poor, excluded or despised."

Well, apart from the fact that Civil Liberties are ALL about living your life without having to jump over State-created hurdles, I know exactly how living like that is. You see I am a driver and a smoker. I have a Government that has said in official documents that I am to be "denormalised" (their actual word). I am defined by one aspect of my being - not my character, not my profession, not my deeds. But by the fact I smoke. I have seen former colleagues lose their job because they smoke, yet they have no legal redress or support from Unions as they are not an "accepted" group that can be discriminated against. I have seen smokers refused the right to foster despite the obvious need for loving homes by desperate children. I have seen junk science produced to prove that I "emit toxins" (quote from actual "research") and should be herded into a designated smoking area. There is serious discussion in medical circles that despite my massive tax contributions I should be denied NHS medical care, and I have seen hospitals that have signs that say "NO SMOKERS BEYOND THIS POINT!" (Not smokING, SmokERS) - clearly the "No Dogs, Blacs or Irish" signs were taken.

In addition I have 9 points on my license (for none of the "offences" was I doing over 33 mph in a 30 zone) so now face possible banning and the loss of my income and home if "caught" again.

So yes - I know all about jumping through hoops and not being allowed to live my life. I just want to work, pay my taxes, drive my 1 litre car and relax with friends. Yet at every turn this Government has DELIBERATELY stuck its oar in - even deliberately tried to make me seem "abnormal."

And as for:

"This isn't a totalitarian state, and real freedom has expanded hugely under Labour."

Now I give up. You don't seriously believe this, do you? Really?

James Burr said...

I can't speak for DK, but the State does have certain responsibilities - namely to do those things that I can not do for myself.

It should protect our borders from hostile incursions;

It should provide a good infrastructure so private enterprise and wealth creation can be encouraged;

It should enforce law and order so that crimes against the person and property can be discouraged and punished;

And yes (and I suspect DK my disagree with me here, but I don't know) it should provide a safety net so that those who are incapable of work such as the elderly, disabled or those unfortunate enough to be out of work have food in their bellies and a roof over their heads.

And that is it! I'll decide if my lifestyle is "acceptable" or not. If I eat too much, I'll get fat. If I drink too much I'll get a hangover. If I REALLY drink too much I'll lose my family and job. I'll phone or email who I like about what I like - it's none of the State's business.

I don't think that's too much to ask. Apparently it is.

Kerry said...

And who picks up the tab for your health problems, or supports you when you lose your job? Presumably you'd be happy for us to say 'you're on your own mate'?

And by the way, I'm glad to see you believe the state should 'enforce law and order' - apart from when it comes to you breaking the speed limit...

bevanite said...

@James Burr

the state "should provide a safety net so that...those unfortunate enough to be out of work have food in their bellies and a roof over their heads."

yet "If I REALLY drink too much I'll lose my family and job. "

so when you lose your job because of what could be uninformed choices (as the state has no evident role in educating it's citizens according to you) should the state pick up the pieces of your "personal" choice and fill your belly and provide your roof?

warped logic I think.

What has caused this economic crisis? A relaxing of regulation by the State. What will protect those who cannot afford to be hit by the downturn? The State.

We've emerged from a period which shows what economic liberalism or libertarianism can do when left unchecked. We're heading into a period where that won't wash. We're in this together, with the State. Get used to it.

John Buckingham said...

Jesus, is that the best you can do? And are you really equating a choice-based behaviour (smoking) to things like poverty, homosexuality and race which are explicitly not a choice? Don't make me laugh. If a semantic error in a hospital is the worst example you can find of yourself being oppressed then I think you'd better take a look at some other countries in the world and then feel thoroughly ashamed for daring to believe you're somehow marginalised or discriminated against. Labour's social policies have made more people free; if the Tories get in, we'll see more kids living in crap housing, fewer pensioners able to afford to travel to see friends, and fewer people getting the NHS treatment the need - ergo, fewer people being free to do what they want, to fulfil their potential and live comfortable lives.

The trouble with freedoms is that they collide: your freedom to smoke, in some circumstances (and of course laws can't provide for all eventualities) infringes others' freedoms. But you're more than free to smoke at home, and I'm more than happy to pick up the tab. Why? Because most smokers couldn't afford treatment on their own, but they still deserve it. I would agree much smoking advertising goes too far - e.g. the throat cancer pictures on packs - but it's not wrong for government to promote healthy behaviours. Just as its not wrong for the state to promote social, as opposed to antisocial behaviour: ASB is bad for the individuals themselves and for their communities. I suppose you'd oppose compulsory vaccinations too, on the basis that it should be up to the individual to assess their own risk and act accordingly?

James Burr said...

Yes, and the near-impending punishment for my doing the grossly irresponsible speed of 33mph of losing my license and thus my job and home is of course deeply proportionate!

Especially when the technology involved was shown by Watchdog to be capable of picking up brick walls doing 8mph.

And to answer your question as to who pays for my unemployment benefits - well, the taxpayers would - just as they would for the Military, Police force and road builders. But a state that simply did what I outlined before would cost a fraction of what it does now. I don't think any Libertarian argues for the abolition of the State or the abolition of tax. But if the State was simply responsible for certain limited, functions of national infrastructure rather than employing hordes of non-job lifestyle "managers" the cost would be a fraction of what we pay now.

I briefly worked for a Local Council and was stunned that just in my division there were 8 layers of management above me, all on salaries many times the average wage. Often, up to a third of them would be ill for months on end with no discernible change in the functioning of the Department - indeed, when they were ill things often ran smoother as the mindless diktats they spouted to justify their positions ceased, as did the need for the lower levels of management to pass the buck for decisions they were afraid to make themselves, up the chain. This was one department in one Council, but the whole Public Sector is full of these posts.

No sane person would argue that the NHS doesn't need cleaners, nurses, Doctors, radiographers, pharmacists.... Often, what they get is 5 a Day Managers, Patient Experience Officers and Community Liaison Consultants.

If our tax money was not wasted on such positions not only would we get Public Services that were efficient, the endless haranguing and personal intrusion would also stop. When people use a Library they want personal service from someone in the Library; they don't want a team of people, each on £60,000, revising the "Community Information Vision Statement" every 12 months. When people go to a hospital they want their illness diagnosed and treated; they don't need to be given a leaflet for an "Alcohol Awareness" workshop and a session with an "Healthy Lifestyle Facilitator" to be told that the glass of wine they have every other night is killing them.

I'm not against the State. I'm just against a bloated, over funded State that uses my tax money to scare and "denormalise" me.

DaveA said...

Firstly here is the provenance for James' denormalisation of smokers, it as quoted in the Guardian 24th une 2007, said by Sir Liam Donaldson.

Infortunately taxes are compulsory in this country, but I am sure if there was minimal tax in this country people could provide for their own unemployment and health insurance. It would be a lot more efficient handled by a private enterprise insurance company.

This is the point, you have made us dependent on the state and many people want something for nothing.

Kerry said...

No-one loses their licence for a one-off offence of driving at 33mph. Even if you don't approve of speed limits (and if not, I'd like to know why - or is it just that you don't think they should apply to you?), I would have thought common sense would have suggested that it would be a good idea to drive a tad more slowly for a while. You can't blame anyone else for your situation.

Kerry said...

Dave - you've obviously made a careful study of the US health system then?

DaveA said...

John, Kerry is going to have a blue baby at, pardon the pun, reigniting the smoking debate.

I am the socialists nemisis, I am a working class Tory. However I try to remain objective. I was for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and I am not going to be a hypocrite in criticising them. Last year I was unemployed for 3 months and expect the same to happen to me again in the near future. Again I largely do not blame Labour for it.

However the smoking ban is something I am reminded at least 3 times a week when I visit a pub how my civil rights have been trampled on. Pubs are private property and while I support your rights not to have smell smoke, I cannot see why I cannot have a smoking pub or a smoking room.

On costs to the NHS smokers cost the taxpayer £1.7 billion and pay in taxes £9.8 billion. Also because smokers die earlier a Dutch study stated that lifetime costs work out at £45,000 per smoker. Approximately 150,000 smokers die each year = a saving in pensions and NHS treatment of £6,750,000,000 a year.

We pay our way and get our rights takn away from us.

John Buckingham said...

James - your point about waste/management is of course correct - but hardly novel. The Unions and Labour left have been saying the same for years.

The thing is, we both believe in expanding freedom - the difference being that you equate it to being left alone, whereas we see that acquiring freedom requires a leg up. Let me give an example. You've got a child growing up in a dilapidated council house which is utterly filthy with a smell that knocks you back as you open the door; the single mother has never worked, is an addict and previously a victim of domestic abuse.

Now, suppose a social worker decided that she would get this mother to help her clean the house. Would that be an unwarranted, infantilising, freedom-crushing state intervention, or would it actually enhance the freedom of the kids? I think the latter. Suppose the same social worker decided that it was worth funding some CBT to help the mother get over the domestic abuse, and to give her some skills training and substance abuse treatment to help her get a job; suppose a state welfare-to-work system was also in place to ensure she didn't languish on benefits to the detriment of her family's finances. Are these really infringements on freedom, or are they actually expanding freedom by helping people realise their potential?

You can argue all you like about people being infantilised by the welfare state, but the fact is that some people have pretty shitty lives, and they may not be able to cope without the state there to support them and help them get over their problems. I'm afraid you're not going to convince me that that is somehow totalitarian, a waste of money or morally wrong, because it is not. You can legitimately counter that it infringes your freedom to spend your money as you choose, but thankfully most right-thinking people would say that a child's right to grow up in a decent home trumps that every time - and thank God for that.

DaveA said...

Kerry, yes I used to live in New York and very good it was too. My prescription for health care would be NHS Accident and Emergency services and perhaps a role in primary health care, vaccinations etc, GP services even. All other health care, maybe even GP services people have the choice to opt out of state taxes and go private.

For those who cannot afford to pay, the state would pay their premiums. The NHS, except at doctor and nurse level, is a bloated bureaucratic mess. Why is the NHS the largest employer in Europe and the 3rd in the world after Indian Railways and The Chinese arwmy?

timbone said...

"This isn't a totalitarian state, and real freedom has expanded hugely under Labour."

Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals/pentecostals use a particular text regualarly - "The truth shall set you free". This is the truth as they percieve it to be, freedom being living according to their strict doctrines.

They even have a way of getting round things they don't like which are a problem because of absence of divine instruction or even instruction which appear contrary. For example, they are teetotal. Hang on, Jesus turned water into wine. Yes, but the Bible does not say that the wine was fermented. But St Paul tells Timothy to "take a little wine for the stomach". Yes, but that is medical.
One more example. The Bible does not tell you not to smoke. No, but "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit".

James Burr said...

@ bevanite

"so when you lose your job because of what could be uninformed choices (as the state has no evident role in educating it's citizens according to you) should the state pick up the pieces of your "personal" choice and fill your belly and provide your roof?"

To a point, yes, but that is where personal responsibility comes in. If I chose to continue to render myself unemployable by drinking too much, as I would be beholden to the State for my continued existence THEN and only then, would it be right or the State to interfere. I would still have the right to continue to drink - but I would not get State funding if I continued to do so.

Also, I have never said I am against Health Education. There is a world of difference between being told that "something is bad for you, continue to do it at your own risk" and the continued denormalising propaganda that this Government spews. The latest anti-smoking advertising campaign - it's what? The second campaign to be pulled by the Advertising Standards Authority, because it goes too far and is intended to scare rather than educate?

Millions are spent on this every year - does anyone REALLY claim ignorance as to the health dangers of booze, lack of exercise, fatty food etc. There is a world of difference between "education" and social engineering through advertising.

@ John Buckingham:

"Jesus, is that the best you can do? And are you really equating a choice-based behaviour (smoking) to things like poverty, homosexuality and race which are explicitly not a choice? Don't make me laugh."

No, but I'm equating it with other lifestyle choices like religious orientation or Hell, even obesity or liking Dungeons & Dragons. If you think it would be fine for people to be sacked or excluded from public areas or denied the right to foster children because they are too fat or have hobbies you don't approve of then I have nothing more to add. Presumably a sign in a public hospital that said, "No Moslems beyond this point" wouldn't fill you with disgust - after all, it's a lifestyle choice.

I also note that that you ignore the fact that the sign WASN'T the best I could find, but ignored the refusal of medical treatment to smokers, the Council-sanctioned prohibition of smokers in many areas to foster children and increasing cases of discrimination in the workplace, including a friend of mine whose shoddy treatment I saw first hand.

"If a semantic error in a hospital is the worst example you can find of yourself being oppressed then I think you'd better take a look at some other countries in the world and then feel thoroughly ashamed for daring to believe you're somehow marginalised or discriminated against."

I would prefer a tolerant, fair society to live in. Your argument is no better than saying that those who lived in East Germany should have been counting their lucky stars and saying, "Hey, we've got it bad but at least we're not in Cambodia!"

James Burr said...


In the original post I said I'd been done three times - and not once had I gone over 33mph (i.e 3 mph or walking pace) was the most I had ever gone over. Indeed, the Police's own guidelines recommend that 33mph be ignored. They must have been having a slow day.

In addition, I also got stopped for doing 30mph on the one stretch of road ( a week after my "offence") by the Police for driving too slowly. Seriously.

However, I don't want to sideline a thread by going into my motoring history or debating the accuracy of otherwise of speed cameras and car speedometers. But I am now in serious danger of losing my license (I have a year before the first offence gets wiped). But if you really think that 33 mph is "speeding" or "dangerous driving" that merits such a severe penalty then I don't know what to say. Hell, even the insurance company (hardly the most humanitarian group of people in the world) don't think I am a life-endangering speed-criminal. I pay about ten quid a year now I have 9 points than I did when I had a clean license.

But anyway. Apologies - we've gone off-topic.

MPs. Media intrusion. Private lives. Carry on! :)

(And thanks Kerry, for allowing such open discourse. Sorry to have taken it off-topic).

James Burr said...

@ John Buckingham:

I was going to leave - I've spent far too long on here today. But you raise an interesting point with your hypothetical situation, and yes, one that is difficult to answer.

I'll start with the last point first as that IS easy to answer.

"Suppose the same social worker decided that it was worth funding some CBT to help the mother get over the domestic abuse, and to give her some skills training and substance abuse treatment to help her get a job; suppose a state welfare-to-work system was also in place to ensure she didn't languish on benefits to the detriment of her family's finances."

From my point of view this is fine as long as she actually WANTED the help. She didn't abuse herself, after all, so as such is not responsible for her predicament. The State funding such interventions is no different to providing a decent infrastructure IMO.

However, if she chose to NOT accept that help then she would be within her rights to do so (and have to bear the responsibility for the consequences of that decision in that she would not then be allowed to languish on benefits (in the same way I wouldn't - in the previous post - if I decided to drink myself incapable).

"You've got a child growing up in a dilapidated council house which is utterly filthy with a smell that knocks you back as you open the door; the single mother has never worked, is an addict and previously a victim of domestic abuse.

Now, suppose a social worker decided that she would get this mother to help her clean the house. Would that be an unwarranted, infantilising, freedom-crushing state intervention, or would it actually enhance the freedom of the kids? I think the latter."

This may sound heartless but responsibilities and freedoms are intertwined. She should clean her own house. If, as you said earlier she has been the victim of abuse that has led to her abusing substances then she should be OFFERED help in dealing with it. She has the right to refuse but has to bear in mind the consequences of such a decision i.e. continuing to live in filth.

If these conditions result in her children being victims of "neglect" than, as a criminal offence, action should be taken to place the children in better surroundings.

Some people seems to think Libertarianism means a desire for no State, some kind of anarchy where people are murdering and raping and crying, "It's my choice to do this!"

No, it's not. Neglect would be as much a crime in such a world as murder and fraud and theft, and indeed, in the above circumstances the State would then have to intervene.

I'm not arguing for "survival of the fittest" State-free world. Just one where, you can do what you like as long as no-one else is being harmed.

An interesting scenario though.

But now I REALLY must go.

John Buckingham said...

No, I don't think people should be banned from fostering cos they smoke or are fat - and I don't believe that happens systematically. The sign was clearly an error, and meant 'people smoking' - I'd certainly have no objection to them saying 'no hijabs beyond this point' at a school or whatever. Equally, it's not wrong for workplaces to encourage healthy behaviour in their staff. But I agree, as I said earlier, that it's gone too far with smoking.

What I do not accept is that it has been done to infringe your rights - it has been done to protect others (though of course it may have been over-done in certain cases), just as a ban on hijabs in certain places would be done to help others communicate. That you feel put out is largely trivial collateral damage. Sometimes your rights are trumped by others', sometimes vice versa - that's life, get used to it. And you do live in a more tolerant, fair society than you used to - it's just a shame that you care more about fags than other people's wellbeing, so you can't see it.

bevanite said...

@ James Burr
"There is a world of difference between "education" and social engineering through advertising"

Please. 'Social engineering' - this is paranoia to an extreme which I have never seen before.

How about the government may like to see people make informed choices and in doing so reduce the cost to "the taxpayer" of that socialist phenomenon, bureaucratic maze and scourge of our society that is the NHS. To many these campaigns are the first introduction they've had to 'health education', and I can't be bothered to enter into the smoking ban v civil liberties debate, I favour the authoritarian ban and reserve my right to clean air in public spaces. Cue outrage.

CountingCats said...

I give up. I really do.

Good. One less to deal with.

Kerry, I understand why you get upset and frustrated, but there is a reason why people are so hostile to you.

We are being governed by what we have come to view as the most corrupt, dishonest, mendacious and totalitarian group of people to achieve power since the reform act, and you, freely and of your own will, choose to identify and stand with these vile individuals.

By your own choice you make clear that you are one of them, so why would you expect to be treated in any way differently? You have to understand, we hate them, I mean we really hate them, with every fibre of our being, and you choose to be one of the ‘them’ we hate.

If you find this unpleasant then there is a solution. Quit.

You don’t have to quit parliament, just that repulsive Labour Party thing. Express your outrage at the corruption, dishonesty and fascist tendencies of your party brothers and sisters, and move to the cross benches. Show some integrity and do the right thing, then you may get some respect. Until then, expect the loathing and contempt you demonstrate towards us to be reciprocated.

Sorry, but that is the reality. You made your choice, live with the consequences.

Kerry said...

I think you're being rather childish.

And for the record, I'm immensely proud of a great deal of what Labour has achieved in Government since 1997.

CountingCats said...

But are you proud of the corruption, dishonesty and fascist tendencies? Because that is what you will be remembered for.

Is that a legacy you want to be part of? The ongoing destruction of everything which made British Values worth defending? Turning Britain from a beacon of freedom to the world to one of the most repressive countries in Europe? Because that is what you are doing.

Tom Paine said...

For what it's worth, I agree entirely with your point of view on the private and family lives of public figures. I think the parts of your life the taxpayer doesn't finance (not much, in the case of many of your colleagues, but let's give you the benefit of the doubt here) are none of my business. Where we part company, as your voting record as an MP shows, is that you don't feel the same about my private life. Such hypocrisy.

Kerry said...

For what is almost certainly not the last time... this was not about MPs' privacy! And therefore I am not going to get led down that path. I don't suppose there's any chance you could just go away? No? Nothing better to do? Really?

Fred Trellis said...

Ms McCarthy, you are clearly human, and a nice open-hearted and caring one at that.

I would prefer to see you acknowledge that people are angry, rather than enter into this kind of non-productive dispute.

You are absolutely right in your opinions, and I think you are very tolerant of those commenters whose problems are not of your causing. I strongly suspect they would perform very badly, if faced with the issues that you handle so well.

People are angry. Seriously angry, and in very large numbers. Simply defending your position is not going to win them over.

But I wish you and all your near relatives the best of health, and speedy, sure recovery.