The British government’s regulation of what we can buy, sell, eat, drink and smoke is out of control. According to the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Nanny State Index, Britain is the third worst country in Europe when it comes to nannying and nudging the public into government-approved lifestyle choices. Our capacity and autonomy to live our lives as we see fit is under threat.
So, last Thursday, European Students For Liberty, in collaboration with the Consumer Choice Center, decided to take action. We opened Britain’s first-ever nanny-state-inspired store, in Shoreditch, London. It was a dystopian vision of what every corner shop in the country would look like if our finger-wagging public-health tsars and policy wonks had their way.
We stocked beer, chocolate, crisps and other goodies facing government regulatory pressure – all covered in uninviting black-and-white plain packaging and replete with the alarmist health warnings we’re all tired of hearing from the public-health lobby. ‘Warning! Seriously increases your risk of intoxication!’ read the labels on the beer. This may sound outlandish, an obvious satire. But then, so did the idea of plain packaging for cigarettes just a few years ago.
The author, left, with his fellow shopkeepers.
The store was intended as a send-up of an issue that’s quickly becoming no laughing matter. After pioneering those grim and ineffective shock health warnings on cigarette packets in 2008, the government is now embroiled in a legal battle with tobacco companies over plain packaging: one that it seems increasingly likely to win. The new levy on sugary drinks will add 24p to the price of a litre of drinks like Coke and Sprite. And the state of alcohol regulation is depressing. We have the highest tax on wine in the EU, and our beer taxes are three times the EU average (13 times those of Germany, Europe’s largest beer producer). Tax and regulation are now responsible for 99p of a £3 pint – hiking up prices and exacerbating the decline of the pub industry.