Garth George: Time to give nanny an early shower

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I don't know whether it's because she's spent all her adult life either in the ivory towers of academia and the rarefied atmosphere of Parliament and the Beehive, or whether she simply lacks any capacity for self-analysis, but Helen Clark seems to have lost touch with reality.

In an interview published on Saturday, she was asked: "How do you respond to people who complain about 'nanny state' and that they are 'sick of Labour telling them how to run their lives'?"

To which she replied: "I can't relate to the criticism at all. It just doesn't square to me with anything we have done. I stand for the maximum possible freedom of people ... I am someone personally who likes to be left free to live my life."

Well, you could have fooled me. What the Prime Minister is saying, in effect, is that all the hundreds of thousands of people who are thoroughly brassed off with the interference of the state under Labour in personal and family life are imagining things.

Of them she said on the website version of the interview: "I think the people who scream 'nanny state' are usually the ones who want to be the most prescriptive about the way people live their lives."

She has a point. There are numerous bluestocking lobby groups always jumping up and down about various things and insisting we turn the clock back. But those are moral issues and are not what angers people about the nanny state.

What gets up our noses is interference in how we live our lives day by day and is no better illustrated than by the latest insane idea of restricting everyone to showers delivering six litres a minute.

Coming hard on the heels of the decision to force us to use ugly and inefficient light bulbs - I have a gross of incandescent bulbs on order - the shower idea was a step too far, particularly in an election year.

So it's not surprising that Building and Construction Minister Shane Jones, who on Friday praised the plan for saving hot water energy by 20 per cent, changed his tune.

On TV One's Close Up on Monday night he denied that the idea was anything more than a recommendation, and categorically averred that it would never become mandatory.

And that put him and his Dear Leader between a rock and a hard place, having to balance the public outcry against pissing off the Greens, who are indispensable to any Labour-led Government.

All the more reason, then, to ensure that we give National sufficient votes next month to neutralise the Greens. If we don't, you can bet the shower idea will be revived next year.

Anyway, we need to get rid of the mindset that insists the state knows best how we should spend (or save) our money, what we should eat, what cars we should drive, how we should discipline our children and so on.

But what really bothers me about all this interference in how we live in, equip and use our private property, is that over the past decade or so the powers that be have turned everything back to front.

Once upon a time services provided to citizens - electricity, water, health, education, law and order and so on - were tailored to meet the citizens' needs. If demand grew, then supply was increased to meet it.

But these days the state tries to tailor the need to the supply. It is constantly endeavouring to alter people's habits, behaviour and activities to avoid having to supply the needs.

Instead of building new hospitals to meet the health needs of the populace, we spend millions on "preventive" measures and trying to change people's habits.

Instead of building new power stations, the state tries to lower demand, all the while creaming off exorbitant profits.

Instead of building more roads, the state insists on wasting untold millions on promoting and subsidising public transport, building cycleways and suchlike.

And it never works. Human nature, being what it is, is pretty much impervious to such blandishments. We are a selfish lot. We will do what we want when we want.

Helen Clark's insistence that she embraces a philosophy of "live and let live" is about as credible as her picture on Labour's campaign billboards - and the one of me that graces the byline on this column today and for the duration of the election campaign.

- NZ Herald

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