For many parents, today's world can seem incredibly hostile. There are times when each shopping trip, advert break, magazine, film, TV programme or music video seems to conspire against you. If it's not enticing your children with the latest toy, it's introducing youngsters to sex, violence and adult emotional dilemmas at an incredibly early age.
So we - government, parents and society - have got to stand together and demand that all our businesses accept the influence they have over children and behave accordingly. I believe social pressure, not regulation, is the best way to do this.
All apart from the last sentence, a non sequitur that leaps from simple observation and common concern to ideological insistence. That lacuna dooms the whole enterprise. He goes on:
So yes, I will keep criticising irresponsible marketing for instance that gauntlet you have to run at the checkout with endless pushing of chocolate and sweets so parents cannot help but be pestered by their children when they're queuing. And I will speak out against any other commercial pressures that make life difficult for parents.
Cameron is sometimes said to be a 1980s free-market fundamentalist in sheep’s clothing. He isn’t: he truly believes, I’m sure, that there should be more restraints on the activities of business. But his deep-seated dislike of the state means that he wants this restraint to be voluntary: moral rather than legal. I really can’t see that working, though.
I suppose you could make an analogy with the public pressure on multinationals to observe better labour standards in developing countries than they strictly need to. Maybe. But that’s a case of giving these companies another relatively cheap way to sell themselves to their Western customers (‘look – we’re ethical! And if you wear our clothes, people will know you are too!’). It’s also had limited success.
But for the things Cameron’s talking about, I think there’s even less scope for voluntary, reputation-based change. The reason is that what he wants restrained is not the way products are produced but they way they’re sold; breaking the nexus between company and consumer in this way will mean fewer sales and nothing else – what business will go for that?
Cultural change would definitely be good to have here; I think children are too commercialised. But it’s not enough, and I doubt Government can drive it by exhortation, and without restricting what business and particularly the media can do, it just won’t happen.
[A while ago, Cassilis criticised those who claim that the changes under Cameron have been purely superficial. He’s right, and I keep meaning to respond (this isn’t a response, just an aside). I think the Tories have changed more than just their PR, but – if this makes much sense – the change is more in terms of how the party thinks of itself than it is an upheaval in policies. Yes, they talk more compassionately than ten or even five years ago, but I think they also feel, in themselves, more compassionate about social issues (or at least some of them do). This has led to policy change in some cases – although these are often at least as much a matter of expediently accepting the Labour agenda, as with the minimum wage and NHS spending – but the bigger effect is that often-familiar right-wing policies now get justified in different ways. Thus biasing the tax and benefit system towards marriage is a way to help families out of poverty, not a way to stop irresponsible single mothers sponging off the state. Or, in this case, a refusal to regulate business isn’t about slashing red tape but part of a desire to encourage “responsibility” by focusing on persuasion and cultural change. Just a thought.]