My Space, Your Space and the State's Space

Not even the most power-crazed author of a British manifesto would entertain the idea of introducing measures to make sure we get to bed on time.

But the South Korean Government is pushing forward with plans to stop young people playing online games between midnight and 8am.

Gamers would face a blackout during these hours and could find that their network connection slows to a grinding pace if they have been connected for a long period of time.

A further proposal guaranteed to send shivers down the spines of young men who receive no thanks from society for their efforts to slay digital beasts is that their parents could be informed each time they step into a virtual universe.

It is hard to imagine South Korean-style direct intervention happening in the UK.

Regardless of whether it is a good idea to get young gamers to put down their joysticks and get under their duvets, this is an area of life which is considered the responsibility of a parent.

But, as we watch globalisation grip, it is increasingly clear that different cultures have radically varying notions of where the state has the right to tread and the private space where it cannot intrude.

This week an extreme example was provided when it was reported that Islamic insurgents in Somalia had successfully stopped most radio stations playing music. Films and football have been banned in the past.

Through Western eyes, this displays an extraordinary arrogance. They may feel that pop songs corrupt and trigger base instincts, but rather than appeal to people to abstain from such alleged vices the insurgents have opted to cut off the supply.

A hallmark of European liberalism is that we should be left free to make our own mistakes, providing we do not endanger our neighbours. The Government can tax alcohol and cigarettes and ban smoking in public places and drinking and driving but there is no push for Al Capone-era prohibition.

However, there is anguish over how to clamp down on obesity. If a teacher sees that parents are feeding their children a diet of sugar and fat, what can they do to intervene? To suggest that a parent does not know how to feed their child does imply, in many cases correctly, an employee of the state knows best.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s 2008 ban on junk food in hospital vending machines was an attempt to nudge people towards a healthier lifestyle by taking away the temptation of a sugar rush.

Differing views of the role of Government have already become a hallmark of this election campaign, but the fight over where the state should and should not go is just beginning.

Originally, a Thursday column