WARNING : This blog contains some swearing and the use of literary images which people of a nervous disposition may find upsetting.
As a time-served 1960s revolutionary whose CV includes Grosvenor Square and a couple of University sit-ins, my ears pricked up (OK my cochlear implant pricked up) the other day when, on the radio, I heard someone say "more than any other act this will empower the people". Intrigued to discover which edict could be the source of such revolutionary zeal I listened carefully to the rest of the discussion. The answer : the compulsory labelling of packaging with a traffic light system giving details of the fat, sugar and salt content of the food it contains.
Now you can call me old fashioned if you want, but .... You do not empower people by printing pretty pictographs on cardboard boxes : you empower people by providing food where previously they were starving. Likewise, you do not empower people by giving them a website where they can register their opposition against road pricing or road building : you empower them by putting decision-making in the hands of democratically elected representatives.
I presume that the idea of the empowering impact of food content traffic lights comes from the same stable as the proposal to put warning messages on chocolate wrappers ("more than anything else this will liberate children from the threat of obesity"). We seem to be increasingly surrounded by such behaviour these days. You cannot watch a decent film without dire warnings that "the following film contains infrequent mild references to sexuality" or sit down in front of the six-o-clock news without a seriously-faced announcer saying "the following report may contain scenes that might upset some people". I even now find warnings when I try to download music from Napster (the other day I discovered a "Parental Advisory" warning label on a Tommy Dorsey record from the 1940s - as it was a non-vocal track I assume the warning related the the fact that the tune might be catchy!)
What would really represent a brave step forward in the general direction of civilisation would be if we could ban all such nonsense, and - while we were at it - limit the use of the word "empower" to consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes after the watershed.