Banning smoking in cars to demonise the poor? Not really, no

Writing in today's Guardian, Zoe Williams has interpreted the ban as yet another way of demonising poor parents.

On Monday MPs voted to ban smoking in cars in England and Wales when children are passengers. MPs voted in favour of the amendment by a majority of 269.

Not everyone is happy about it, though.

Aside from the predictable howls of derision from those who see this as a further encroachment of the ‘nanny state’ on personal freedom, some on the left are uncomfortable with the vote.

Writing in today’s Guardian, Zoe Williams has interpreted the ban as yet another way of demonising poor parents.

“In reality, this is not about child protection or civil liberties…They [politicians] are trapped time and again, by the apparently innocuous language of risk management, into positions that, designed to demonise behaviour, actually demonise a class.”

In short then, the banning of smoking in cars with children present has more to do with class hatred than it does with the protection of children.

Now this is quite an alluring argument. There is no shortage of class hatred swilling about at present, whether in portrayals of a fictional ‘Benefits Street’ or attempts to paint sociopaths like Mick Philpot as representative of an entire class.

But it’s also a bad argument as applied to this case, for there is very little evidence to suggest that the ban on smoking in cars with children present has anything whatsoever to do with demonising the poor.

Firstly because most people who are poor tend not to drive cars.

Running a car is prohibitively expensive unless you have a reasonable income (I recently had to get rid of my own car as I could no longer afford to insure it). If you do have enough money to put petrol in a car, insure it, tax it and pay for repairs then you probably aren’t all that hard up. Zoe Williams would do well to look into how the poor actually live, because it mainly involves buses, bicycles and lifts, not cars.

Secondly, the ban on smoking in cars was a Labour-supported amendment. Most of those who voted against it were Tories. As far as I am aware Labour has not moved so far to the right that it is seeking to demonise the poor while in opposition.

Were the motion really about class hatred, one might also assume that John Redwood, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dr Liam Fox and Chris Grayling would not have joined Damian Green, David Nuttall and Douglas Carswell in voting against it.

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