We haven't seen prigs like this since Cromwell

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The Independent Online
Whenever I buy cheese, I try to find the sort that has been made with unpasteurised milk. Sainsbury's, if you are interested, does at least two brands of Camembert, one of them its own, which are both so described. It also sells unpasteurised butter. Marks & Spencer do not offer such a selection. Indeed, I have discovered only one such cheese at its stores, the Canadian Cheddar.

There are several reasons why I follow this policy. One is that unpasteurised cheese on the whole tastes better. Another is that it is suppose to be bad for you or, if not exactly bad, dangerous, because of listeria. Governments disapprove of it. Accordingly I buy it as a libertarian - or an ordinary liberal - gesture. I am too old to become pregnant and am anyway of the wrong sex. But I am not so old that I am at risk of being dispatched to a better place by a piece of mouldy cheese. In any case, it is a risk which grown-ups in a free society should be allowed to assess for themselves.

My next reason is connected with the last. It can only be a matter of time before the manufacture and sale of such cheese is prohibited, whether by the Government acting off its own bat or under some European directive or other. We know what will happen in the latter situation. We can all write the script. The British will comply willingly, even enthusiastically. Our civil service still looks back wistfully to its days of power in the last war and immediately afterwards during the Attlee Terror. The Germans will find ways of getting round the regulations. While the French will take not the slightest notice and carry on making their cheese as they always have done.

But we may be sure of this: from this country we shall not hear the argument that in a civilised society there are certain matters which adults must be allowed to decide for themselves. We shall certainly not hear it from Mr Tony Blair. We might have heard it from Dr Jack Cunningham in former times. But he has thrown in his lot with New Labour, which is providing the most prim, priggish and paternalist government of this country since Oliver Cromwell.

Not merely has Dr Cunningham thrown in his lot with the Meddlesome Matties who are now conducting our affairs. He has abased himself before them in accepting a post at Agriculture which is not commensurate with his abilities or with his service to the party. It is Mr Frank Dobson who is usually pointed out as a surviving example of Old Labour, as if he were the clergyman at a remote church who insisted on conducting his services according to Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer. Now I come to think of it, the simile is not so far fetched, for Mr Dobson's hero is William Tyndale, who first translated the Bible into English, fell out with the Blairites of the day led by Cardinal Wolsey and was burned at the stake.

Dr Cunningham is a better - a more extreme - example. He is like a priest who stays faithful to the old Latin Mass, though he does so in private and keeps quiet about it. No one could be older Labour than Dr Cunningham. His roots lie deep in the corrupt soil of the North East which was briefly turned over in the aftermath of the Poulson affair. Dr Cunningham is personally unimpeach- able. But several of his acquaintances and relations were not.

That section of Old Labour from which Dr Cunningham sprang might have been bad in parts. It nevertheless possessed a rough kind of sense. It was neither libertarian nor liberal but certainly not priggish. The old Labour Party was based on an alliance between the working classes and the middle classes, between what came to be called in shorthand workers and intellectuals. Many of the workers had not done a hand's turn since their early twenties, having become trade union organisers instead; while even more of the intellectuals had never had a coherent thought in their lives.

No matter. In a rough-and-ready way, the alliance worked. It was based on a compact, a bargain. The unions said to the intellectuals: we will allow you to carry out various social reforms which, for some reason, are close to your hearts, if in return you will provide us with high wages, decent housing and, above all, a welfare state.

This contract has now broken down. In lawyers' language, it has been frustrated: not by Mr Blair but by social and technological changes. Labour politicians such as Hugh Gaitskell, Douglas Jay and, most of all, Anthony Crosland perceived and predicted these changes 40 years ago. Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Neil Kinnock and, in his way, even John Smith thought the pantomime horse could still somehow be kept in the show - though it was Smith and not Blair who carried out that democratisation of the party from which the Prime Minister was to benefit in 1994.

But Mr Blair has not followed the revisionist path which was first plotted by Crosland. This is not surprising because Crosland has been proved wrong in several respects, notably in his assumption that there was no economic problem. We could, he believed, assume both economic growth and the efficacy of Keynesian remedies in most circumstances. His world came to an end with Wilson's 1966 measures and, finally, with the oil crisis of 1973.

It is true that Mr Blair retains something of the old Crosland philosophy. In privately commending Mr Gordon Brown's scheme to fund his new savings arrangements by cheating the present holders of TESSAs and PEPs, he uttered the word "redistribution". This is almost as reprehensible as talking about equality. When that famous egalitarian Lord Hattersley used the word during the 1992 election he was rebuked by Ms Patricia Hewitt, who duly informed him that the preferred term was "fairness".

In default of any desire to change society or even to maintain a welfare state, Mr Blair is reduced to what Harold Lever used to call frolicking on the margins. Most of these games have two characteristics. They originate or would be welcomed in the United States presided over by Mr Bill Clinton, who has influenced Mr Blair and his advisers so comprehensively. And they cause pointless inconvenience to millions of normally law abiding citizens.

A recent illustration is Mr Nick Raynsford's proposed order to builders to abolish doorsteps. Mr Raynsford is called the Minister for London and Construction, a title which itself could have come straight out of "Beachcomber". His proposal is almost worthy of the great Dr Strabismus of Utrecht (whom God preserve). Even if the proportion of the population confined to wheelchairs were higher than it is, this would still not justify the use of the coercive power of the state to redisign private houses.

As for Dr Cunningham, last Wednesday saw a case of premature ejaculation on his part. Even the Prig Press which would normally have supported him seems to agree about this. Quite apart from liberal notions which one would not expect ministers to hold (any more than the last lot did), they do not seem to have thought the matter out. In particular, they do not appear to have given any attention to gelatine, which is made out of bones and is omnipresent not only in foodstuffs but in medecines as well. The requisite bossyboots Order will not come into force until 16 December. In the meantime, on my shopping list I am adding oxtail to the unpasteurised cheese.