The (creaky) rise of the Grandpa State

We may have got rid of Nanny, but someone’s clearly still doing the babysitting

This time three years ago, a two-word phrase seemed to be gaining unprecedented coverage in New Zealand: Nanny State.

As many political commentators have observed since, the overthrow of Labour and the rise of the Key Government was the expression of nine years’ familiarity breeding contempt. Contempt, that is, which found its outlet in our dislike of being told what was in our best interests, by dear old NannyState.

Nanny wasn’t cruel or despotic, she just couldn’t help meddling, whether it be insisting we smoke outside, or stopping the kids from buying mince pies at school.

So we got rid of Nanny, and elected a government firmly committed to liberty and personal responsibility, rather than banning stuff because we can’t be trusted. Right?


The Government’s micromanagement of the Auckland’s waterfront during The Global Sports Tournament That Cannot Be Named (2011), is just the latest strong hint that while Nanny has been given the boot, all we've done is recruit another babysitter to decide what’s best for us.

Unlike Nanny, though, this one likes his lunch at midday on the dot, and shows signs of being deaf. We could very well be three years into the era of Grandpa State.

Think about it: Grandfathers everywhere* love little kids, sport and fellow old people, and can’t abide inconsiderate drivers, spontaneous fun or teenagers.

Among this Government’s crowning achievements this term has been to get rid of the ban on unhealthy food in schools, overseeing every last detail of the World Cup and, despite some gum-gnashing to the contrary, finding room in its shrinking budget to ensure pensioners from Gore can still ride the Waiheke Island ferry for free.

On the other hand, it has introduced a ban on ‘cruising’ (that is, driving around and around, as though looking for a park, but done in a louder, lower car), threatened to crsuh the cars of the misbehaving, banned teenagers from using the dole to by perfectly legal cigarettes and alcohol, and decided to put the ‘Central’ into Party Central (leaving the word ‘Government’ looming outside like a homicidal bouncer).

However, this fervour for organised fun has not extended to party pills, and the list of synthetic highs no longer on sale to our bored and adventurous partier is longer than a New Year’s Eve rave. Grandpa takes a dim view of that.

Similarly, cellphones may no longer be clutched to ears while driving, cold remedies may no longer include pseudoephedrine; the list goes on and on.

In fact, the only part of this extended analogy that doesn’t work is Grandpa State’s naked contempt for TV One, quite possibly including Coronation Street.

Meanwhile, some of the biggest sticks used to beat poor old Nanny – the smacking and smoking bans – remain as liberty-squashing as they were three years ago. All of which begs the question, why did we change government again?

Let me be completely clear: this is not an attack on National’s policies or a defence of Labour’s.

The cellphone-while-driving ban was evidence-based policy aimed at saving lives, while Labour’s attempt to prevent dog attacks through compulsory micro-chipping may be the stupidest new law of the last decade. There are other examples of the worthy and inane on both sides of political divide.

Rather, this is a futile plea for consistency. If you’re going to campaign on personal responsibility, then let us make our own stuff-ups. If, on the other hand, you plan on running things for us, then stop pretending you gave Nanny State the biff.

Sadly, Grandpa appears to be nodding off again…


*This generalisation is based on my own grandfather, actual data may vary. While he is surly, deaf and flatulent, one of my grandfather’s undoubted attributes is a lack of internet access.