David Taylor defends the right of the state to act on behalf of its population The term ‘nanny state’ is usually meant to be derogatory and tends to be employed by those who fear too much obstruction of personal freedom by government. Even those accused of creating such a state deliberately distance themselves from ‘nanny statism’, at least rhetorically. Government ministers frequently deny that they have any intention of creating such a state. However, it is rare that the phrase is properly defined or that critics suggest any viable alternative.Here is my definition of the phrase: a nanny state is one in which a government acts on behalf of its citizens in an attempt to prevent the development of serious health crises. It is very difficult to find someone who genuinely disagrees with this principle. Much as we like to believe that we have control of our own bodies and that our personal health is our responsibility, many of the things that most affect our health are completely out of our control. One example is the driving of motorists. When drink driving legislation was first proposed, it was decried as being part of a drive to create a ‘nanny state’. There are also those who have opposed vaccination programmes, motorcycle helmets and the ban on smoking on public transport. However, in each case the majority of citizens have realised the genuine health benefits of such regulation and the dissenters fade to a small hardcore who probably regard the existence of any government at all as an affront to their personal freedom. Another more recent example is that of the public smoking ban, which came into force on the 1st July 2007. There are those who regard this as a breach of civil liberties and as unnecessary. However, they should perhaps consider the freedom of those who have to work in public places that prior to the ban were smoke filled.A government must feel able to take action for its people which it believes will, in the future, be beneficial towards the majority of the population. Whilst some individuals within society may be unable to see the long-term benefits of new legislation, the government must be given the right to act on their behalf, in the hope that in the long run their actions will be recognised as sensible. Whilst our leaders must remain entirely accountable for any legislation they choose to introduce, they must also have the freedom to do the job we elected them to carry out. After all, if we elect a government only to constantly hold back any attempted improvements, then doesn’t that make it more or less redundant? Freddie Parton rebels aginst government control of our actions and our minds.The government is worse than a nanny. It has become like those teachers at school who in sickeningly sweet voices refuse to let you do things because they are too dangerous or difficult. The amount of ‘risk assessment’ forms that we have to fill in when organising any trip are ridiculous. It’s impossible to assess risks, because they are unpredictable by definition. How long is it going to take people to realise that life is full of dangers that cannot be neatly broken down into bullet points? By always worrying about what could go wrong, people kill all sense of adventure and spontaneity. If we accept that danger is out there, what’s wrong with facing it?The irony is that the government’s avid concern for public safety is actually putting people’s lives in more danger. Look at Jordon Lyon who drowned, trying to save his eight-year-old sister, whilst two community support officers just stood and watched on the grounds that they did not have sufficient training to save him. The government’s obsession with health and safety has destroyed the natural human reaction to help someone in distress, and has replaced it with a calculating spirit of selfishness. How can the emergency services be so concerned about their own personal safety, when danger and risk must be part of the job description? A new fire station in Plymouth has been built without a traditional ‘fireman’s pole’ after fears that the servicemen might hurt their ankles. How can we expect these ‘fire fighters’ to save us from burning buildings when they’re not fit enough to slide down a pole!It’s not just physical dangers that the government are trying to ‘protect’ us from. They are also concerned with the risks of overstretching our minds. You may remember the criticism that Nigella Lawson received from the government this summer that her cookery books were too difficult for people to understand because of their ‘complicated words’ and ‘long sentences’. How can they judge what is too difficult for the general public to understand? As Ron Liddle put it, Nigella’s ‘hardly Marcel Proust, is she?’ Why the government are trying to control our cook books I don’t know, but it is a good example of how their concern for the public’s welfare has gone too far. Things in life are always going to be tough and hard to understand. Surely we should try to face these difficulties rather than pretend they don’t exist.