Traditionally opposition parties promise to sweep away regulations, calling them burdensome on businesses and claiming, rather tenuously, that deregulation always improves economic growth.
Deregulation is definitely a traditionally Conservative approach, believing as it does in the power of the market and individual enterprise.
And regulations are linked in the political mind with a more Socialist approach, the command and control model of economics.
Yet the public are, for all they claim to dislike regulation, always calling for more regulations. The banks failed, so we need to review the regulations. Hospital doctors and nurses killed 1,200 people in Staffordshire, so we need to look at how the NHS is regulated. Horsemeat is discovered in an increasing number of processed frozen foods. Regulations will no doubt be reviewed.
There is no way that the Tory party will go into the next election promising more regulation. They will try to claim what they are promising is better regulation. Almost always this will mean less regulation.
In yesterday’s Ipswich Star column, Labour’s David Ellesmere rightly links the failure of regulation in food with the failure of regulation in the banking industry. He points out that whilst Ed Balls apologised for Labour’s faults in deregulating the banking industry back in 2011, when he became Shadow Chancellor, nobody in the Government has even acknowledged that they spent the years up to 2008 calling for even more deregulation.
The public likes regulations. They like rules. But there has to be a balance struck. Much more powerful than regulations are cultural changes. All the regulations in the world won’t prevent a drunk getting behind the wheel of a car and driving. But the social pressure on people not to drink and drive is far more powerful.
The regulations on processed food will no doubt be reviewed and tightened. Yet the real change is already occuring. Polling shows that a third of the population has already stopped eating processed meat. Whilst that won’t last, it will be hurting the bottom lines of the companies involved. You can tell from the queue outside most local butchers that people are changing their shopping habits.
Education is much better than regulation. Changing cultural and social attitudes to the way we produce our food will lead to better diets and lower levels of obesity. We need, for instance, to reduce the fructose we consume, which is one of the highest factors in obesity. It is surely much better to work to change cultural and social attitudes to fruit juice, rather than taxing sugar.
Are regulations a bad thing? Absolutely not. They are vital. And the next Government should definitely seek to improve our regulations rather than reduce them.