|Ruled by the Czars,
Tyrants of Triviality
19 November 2003
Last week we were told that "sex czars" are to be appointed in an
attempt to improve Scotland's "sexual health record". I wonder how you
responded to the news. Did you say "that's precisely what we need" or
"what a brilliant idea" or "I can't think why we have taken so long to
get round to doing this'?
Well, did you? I doubt it. I would guess that the more likely response
was a groan or a sigh, an expression of scepticism or an outburst of
unprintable contempt. The proposal encapsulates two characteristics of
our political life : bossiness, and ineptitude. Our politicians love
telling us what to do... Susan Deacon, who used to be Minister for
Health and Community Care, has even been advocating the use of the law
to help -- force? -- us to change our eating habits.
"If change," she wrote in one magazine, "can be delivered on a voluntary
basis that is fine, but if this is not the case, the Executive may need
to consider whether to use the force of the law." Eat up your greens or
we'll force them down your throat.
Actually, we already have a food czar, one Gillian Kynoch, instructed to
make us change our eating habits. "Presumably Miss Kynoch is also
required to liaise with the "fat czar", Mary Allison, whose remit is to
get us jogging and working out in the gym.
What you eat and how you exercise were, till recently, matters which
were thought to be no concern of politicians.
This clearly is no longer the case. The state, in the shape of our
tinpot politicians on The Mound -- not all of whom are role models as far
as health and fitness goes -- has assumed the right to take over your
How long before health and fitness czars are carrying out spot cheeks at
supermarkets and instructing you to exchange the "unhealthy" foods in
your trolley for "healthy" ones. Why not, if the attempt to persuade us
voluntarily to reform our eating habits is not working?
As for exercise, readers of Orwell's 1984 will remember that the
unfortunate subjects of Big Brother were required to do physical jerks
every morning -- this being monitored by CCTV. There's a thought for our
fat czar : CCTV in the living room and the kitchen to make sure we are
eating and exercising properly.
By some counts our "sex czar" will be the 14th czar inflicted on us -- and
rewarded with a hefty salary -- since devolution was instituted and every
aspect of life accordingly politicised.
The sex czar and his or her czarlets will be expected to reduce the
number of teenage pregnancies and stem the rise in the number of cases.
of venereal disease. But how? Well, by giving more information about
contraceptives, and then, well... more and better sex education.
It all sounds futile. There is no shortage of information about
contraceptives, just as there is no difficulty in obtaining them. As for
sex education, the-so-called crisis that has led to the appointment of a
sex czar has developed in parallel with the ubiquity of sex education in
our schools. You don't have to be a cynic to conclude that more sex
education means more sexual activity.
As for reducing the number of teenage pregnancies, the evidence is quite
clear. Pregnant girls who don't want a baby choose to have an abortion;
20 per cent of pregnancies end that way. Those who don't choose
abortion mostly want to have a baby. Is the appointment of a sex czar
going to change that? Will the sun shine by night?
There's another piece of evidence worth pondering. On the whole, girls
who want to go on to higher education don't have babies when they are
teenagers. It's the girls who want to get out of school as fast as they
can who get pregnant and keep their baby while still of school age. A
sex czar won't change that. Better teaching -- but not teaching about sex
-- might have a chance of doing so.
Appointing a czar has become the response to any social problem. It
gives an impression of activity, but, really, it's an expression of
frustration. Politicians don't know how to deal with these problems but
think they should be seen to be doing something. Yet most of these
problems are ones which they are incompetent to address and some are no
business of theirs.
Individuals may often manage their lives badly. No one disputes that.
What is in dispute is whether their failure to manage their lives well
is any concern of politicians.
There's a curious paradox. Our society is in some respects less
judgmental than it used to be. Politicians shrink from laying down the
moral law. They would be horrified, for instance, by the suggestion that
adultery or fornication be made a crime, or that unmarried mothers be
brought before the courts.
But they are ever more eager to interfere in other areas of private
life, bullying and bossing us for what they think is our own, and
society's good This is deeply satisfying for them. Fortunately for us,
their activity is usually utterly ineffective. A recent poll suggested
that 91 per cent of Scottish children think junk food is bad for them.
But they won't be bullied -- they eat it just the same.
Good for them, I say, even if the stuff they eat won't do them any good.