Alarm and fear are now so prevalent in daily news that they no longer serve to distract us; we are inured to dire warnings.
Government is walking a fine line with its current interest in the population's well- being. Politicians are clear about the problems: we are overweight; smoke and drink too much; do not do enough exercise; drive too fast; and if heart disease/cancer do not get us then terrorists might. Then again, we pay the Exchequer a fortune in tax on cigarettes, alcohol and fuel and I would guess that, despite the cost to the NHS of our ill-health, it is still up on the deal; it is also easier to reform us than the NHS.
The inner cities present a mass of contradictions and the question for government departments is how to spread fear and alarm in a way that is productive - for them. The police say they will struggle with the longer licensing hours that are still seen as good for regeneration (think Barcelona/Prague and stag/hen parties). Legalised cannabis could be an earner - but class A drugs are always going to be impossible to control and expensive to police.The legalise and tax option is out.
It is also clear that the public now recognises this tactic of fear and alarm; indeed we now use it to our own ends. GM foods, trumpeted as a cure-all, have been steadfastly resisted across the nation; no one believed that the alternative was imminent starvation and the end of rural England. Anyway, we already knew that the government had no interest in the shires;
fox-hunting and rural life was to be banned to satisfy the whims of ignorant urbanites, and the countryside was to become a themed leisure resource for the cities. We had already been sold that idea after BSE. The Blair family's public consumption of GM foods could not swing it (why should it? ), so the tax on this agro-chemical, business-sponsored product was lost.
The people of London are continually exposed to official bullying. There is the 2012 Olympic bid, where the fear is twofold. Lose and we will be shown to be a sporting backwater, we will miss the regeneration benefits - marshes and floodplains will remain - and we will be perceived as a nation unable to deliver big infrastructure. Win and we will have to deliver on promises (courtesy of London council tax payers) and embark on a huge infrastructure project, yet people may not like living in marshes and we may still be shown to be a nation of sporting failures. So it is fear and alarm all round.
Still, let's not worry about 2012 just yet. The recent focus was on the possibility of a major terrorist attack on London:
playing on the mind of Londoners as they travelled below ground in a failing transport system; reading of arrests, the discovery of terrorist cells with caches of fertiliser and secret briefings of ministers.Things took a new turn when it was revealed that the government was making contingency plans to evacuate survivors in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
At present we cannot even get across London without encountering delays; breakdown, malpractice, engineering works and 'closure for safety reasons'.Yet the 'authorities' reassure that they will get us all out with a few buses, private cars and the odd functioning train. Alarm swiftly turned into amazement and finally amusement at this latest threat. As H L Mencken observed: 'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.' This time they have gone too far.