“Giving money and power to the government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys,” quipped PJ O’Rourke. Anyone familiar with the work of the Public Accounts Committee and the wasted billions it has unearthed must be inclined to think there is a direct relationship between the size and scope of government and its general incompetence and profligacy.
That, however, will never deter the advocates of more government intervention in our daily lives, particularly when it comes to what we eat and drink. Sue Davies, for example, (‘A failure in Responsibility, 17 March, p27) obviously wants to deprive our daily diets of everything that makes food enjoyable. Dismissing the current voluntary agreement as ineffective, she urges ministers to show “real leadership” - presumably through regulation.
The previous week, pride of place in this journal went to the imposition of a minimum pricing regime on alcohol, something Downing Street is said to favour, despite the lack of evidence that it will reduce binge drinking and its obvious incompatibility with competition law.
It therefore came as a pleasant surprise to hear that George Osborne is planning to relax the restrictions on Sunday trading for the duration of the Olympics, with a possible extension. Naturally, the same gang who lobbied against liberalisation in the early 1990s immediately proclaimed the end of family life as we know it, the demise of small shops etc - all familiar stuff.
What’s happened since? Widespread acceptance that Sunday shopping, whether on high streets or out of town, is convenient and enjoyable. In some locations, it’s the busiest day of the week. Far from being strangled by larger rivals, many small shops don’t even bother to open. Nor is there any shortage of takers for Sunday employment.
I suspect the doomsayers will be wrong. Once the Olympics are over, most stores beyond a handful of prime tourist locations will probably add a couple of hours to the current six, or simply adjust their hours to suit local shopping habits. The Scots seem to live well enough with a discretionary regime so why shouldn’t we? Go on George, get on with it.