Carla Carlisle: The Nanny State isn’t to be feared — it can fix pretty anything from the NHS to the Post Office

Put your worries aside and join Carla Carlisle on a journey in to common sense.

The Smoking Wars are burning in this household. I live with a man who smokes a cigar sitting in a canvas chair in the middle of a wheat field. He goes there in search of grey partridges, birdsong and solitude. If he lived with a more tolerant woman, he would smoke his cigar (Upmann Majestic from James J. Fox, origin Cuba, length 5½in, minimum smoking time 30 minutes and totalmente a mano — totally handmade) in the peace and freedom of his home.

Bold letters inside his box of cigars should drown out the song of the skylarks: Smoking can kill your unborn child, but, as this man is no Al Pacino (a new dad at 83), the warning is ignored as calmly as his family history. His father, a lifelong smoker, lost a lung to cancer (and continued smoking); his mother, a non-smoker, had a cancer associated with a long marriage of inhaling secondary smoke. The anti-smoking zealot he married (me) lost both her parents to ‘smoking-related’ diseases: heart disease and emphysema.

I see life differently. The letters emblazoned on the billboard of my mind are: Long live the Nanny State. I have my doubts that Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda plan will ever take off, but I celebrate the move to make cigarettes hard for young people to get hold of. I believe it is exactly what a government should do. My fervour may seem strange from someone born in the last state to repeal Prohibition. I grew up on dirt roads that led to bootleggers and I witnessed from an early age the criminal mayhem to which unenforceable laws lead.

My memory of those days is seen through the smoky haze of Camels, Lucky Strikes and Pall Malls, but I still can hear the soundtrack of Dean Martin, Peggy Lee and coughing: hacking, wracking, drumroll coughing. The only ‘no-smoking’ rules I recall from those days: no smoking in church and a lady never smoked on the street — a nostalgic taboo now that the sidewalk is the only place you can smoke.

I confess my ‘no-smoking’ furies hit a brief lull when I lived in France. I never lit a cigarette, but I loved the blue packaging of the Gauloises and Gitanes, I viewed the cigarette hanging from Jean-Paul Belmondo’s lips in every scene of the film A Bout de Souffle as vrai ‘French’, even as I saw the irony of the title in English: Breathless.

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“The postage stamp was once the sign of a proud and efficient nation, but we are now reduced to bland stickers with dreary bar codes at vastly increased cost”

Eventually, I found the cloudy aroma of Frenchness less seductive. I began to resent sitting in crowded cafés next to couples who smoked sans filtres throughout their meal. Years later, when I opened my own vineyard restaurant, it was the first ‘no smoking’ restaurant in England. I rejected a ‘smoking section’ on the grounds that sitting 6ft from a smoker is no healthier than sitting next to one. Reluctant to antagonise any customers, I said the policy was necessary to obtain insurance for our 400-year-old timber barn. This worked until the day an elegant woman blew a perfect smoke ring as she drawled: ‘I’m surprised they let you have a stove.’

I was relieved when ‘smoke-free’ laws arrived, but was astonished by the chorus of ‘the nanny state’. I murmured the old mantra, that it is the highest duty of the state to protect its citizen. That only the state can ensure that the drinking water is clean, the roads are safe, the air is breathable. Nowadays, I go further: the state should require every dog owner to invest in a licence for the dog — I bravely quote Yeats: ‘In dreams begins responsibility’ — and I buck and snort that drivers should have their driving licence with them every time they get behind the wheel.

In this increasingly computerised and transient world, the time has come for all citizens to have photo ID. It almost happened 10 years ago, but was scrapped by the coalition government (remember that?) as an ‘intrusion into people’s personal liberty’. I believe that argument bit the dust when made-in-China rubber dinghies proved capable of crossing the Channel.

A miniature, but potent symbol of the need for a Nanny State: the postage stamp. Once, it was the sign of a proud and efficient nation, but we are now reduced to bland stickers with dreary bar codes at vastly increased cost, a ‘like-it-or-lump-it’ warning that ‘three-day a week’ delivery looms, and, worst of all, the Horizon affair. The Prime Minister calls it the ‘greatest miscarriage of justice in British history’, but nothing has happened. A good Nanny, aware that Horizon had already screwed up on the earlier swipe-card pension project that cost taxpayers £700 million, would have stomped her foot at handing the same company the sub-post offices, the largest non-military IT contract in Europe.

Is it a ‘Nanny State’ to want safe roads? Is ‘Bring Back Hard Shoulders’ the cry of the Nanny State or good old common sense? I could go on (try and stop me). In a fully functioning and honourable Nanny State, no tracts of new houses would be built before the infrastructure promises made by the developers are completed. You know the sort: new surgery, a nursery next to the primary school, new shop, a roundabout, solar panels, new playground. So many unfulfilled promises. Nanny calls this ‘villainous’.

Once, the NHS was the glory of this country. Did people complain that having an NHS number was intrusive? Now, the complaints are about waiting lists, shortage of doctors, long hours spent in ER. In a sensible Nanny State, all fees for medical school — doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives — would be waived if the graduate commits to 10 years in the NHS. This isn’t beyond the wit of politicians and economists: part-time and full-time contracts can be designed to create an army of homegrown doctors and we could stop robbing poor countries of their medics.

My father lived for another 15 years after he kicked his pack-a-day habit. The damage was to his heart, not to his funny bone. If he was reading this plea for the Nanny State he would growl: ‘Scratch a utopianist, find a fascist.’ The man who smokes his cigar in the wheat field sides with Wilbur, the adorable pig in Charlotte’s Web, who opined: ‘An hour of freedom is worth a barrel of slops.’ Me? I admit I never wanted to have a nanny like Mary Poppins — I wanted to be Mary Poppins.