The Neo-Croms (short for Neo-Cromwellians) are, according to market researchers at least, a fast-growing group who support the curtailing of consumption, be that of alcohol, cigarettes, rich foods or pollutant technology. They don’t patronise SUVs, and avoid any sort of mass tourism that might negatively impact our delicate environment.
If someone put a gun to your child’s head, how far would you go to stop them from pulling the trigger? As far as is humanly possible, no doubt. But what if it were some other child’s head? A cigarette to their mouth and not a barrel to the temple? And what if someone told you that your long-haul holiday would, in 100 years’ time, help to raise the world’s temperature by almost six degrees C?
These are questions the Neo-Croms would like you to consider.
If you do, they hope you’ll come down on their environmentally friendly, socially conscious side; but if you don’t, they’ll do their best to make sure you have no choice but to play it their way.
Another year, another culture-categorising catchphrase: the Neo-Croms (short for Neo-Cromwellians) are, according to market researchers at least, a fast-growing group who support the curtailing of consumption, be that of alcohol, cigarettes, rich foods or pollutant technology. They don’t patronise SUVs, and avoid any sort of mass tourism that might negatively impact our delicate environment.
It doesn’t end there. The Future Foundation (FF), which has uncovered this new puritanism, claims that Neo-Croms don’t stop at the personal. It’s not enough to limit their own indulgences, they are on a mission to block the actions of others which could in some way detriment the lives of us all. It’s not about being socially conscious, but being socially critical.
In a poll of 1,000 UK adults, the FF found that 80 per cent now agree that alcohol should be banned in places of work. Forty-five per cent support the removal of vending machines in schools and a quarter now believe only a limited number of tourists should be allowed to visit areas of natural beauty, such as the Lake District, every year. Most dramatically, 30 per cent agree that pregnant smokers should be subject to a police caution on grounds that they’re endangering their unborn child.
Unsurprisingly, the movement is not without its critics. Healthily restricting your own consumption is one thing, but the Neo-Croms, with their advocating of restricting the pleasure of others, have not received a wholly warm welcome. In a culture where “extreme” automatically – and erroneously – stands for “excessive”, concerns over nanny states abound. Enough civil liberties are under question that a move to curtail the more frivolous will not go down well.
Jim Murphy is one of the co-authors of the Future Foundation study, who is still examining the implications this trend could have for political policy and mass media. He believes it is borne of two recent societal shifts.
“The last ten years have been characterised by two apparently unrelated factors: the merging of political ideologies, and an increasing number of lifestyle restrictions – inhibitions to consume or inhibitions to convenience, which may result from anxieties about children’s health or concerns about the environment.
“Making the link between those two things, we’ve been able to test the UK appetite for restricting what we’ve called pleasure, but we mean that in its roundest sense – convenience in the form of family-friendly jeeps, or giving a sweet to a child – many things that a generation ago people wouldn’t have thought twice about.”
This appetite for inhibition is growing, and it’s not just a British shift. Across western Europe, the FF have found what Murphy terms, “the death of libertarianism”. Italy – a place which might ordinarily be thought of as a freedom-based society – was the third country after Ireland and Norway to introduce a smoking ban, and Scotland will follow next March. And in France, the same goes for booze.
“France is the crispest example we have in terms of alcohol,” says Murphy. “At the moment, the anti-alcohol lobby is at its most virulent, and anyone who has been there recently will know that if you buy a bottle of sprits, there is a warning label much like we currently have on cigarette packets, advising people not to overindulge.
“The perversity is that in wealthy societies, there is a tendency for alcoholic consumption to fall anyway. As incomes rise, we spend less on drinking, and as you’d expect, their consumption has fallen by 40 per cent since the time of General de Gaulle, from 20 litres per person per year in the 1960s to 11 litres today. Self-discipline is doing the job regardless.
“And what makes this a concern is the incremental nature of our tendency to control. A prime example is that in Germany, there is an MP campaigning to ban smoking in cars, on the grounds that it is dangerous.” Their timing is ironic. A look at the websites of oil giants or beverage companies attests to the fact that big business already knows that unless they take on board the public’s interest in preserving our health and environment, they will suffer. Log on to www.bp.com and you’ll be hit with discussion of global warming, what it means for the planet and what we can do to stop it. It’s Greenpeace by any other name.
So if we already have our recycling bins and gym memberships, is there anything to support the need, and therefore existence of the Neo-Croms?
Sympathisers would say so. You could argue they are simply taking social responsibility to its natural and sensible limit, and you’d be hard pushed to dispute the claim that if an unborn child cannot assert its right to clean air, a passing stranger who sees a smoking mother-to-be, should. Similarly, if Machu Picchu in Peru is getting destroyed by excessive numbers of tourists, we should take steps now to preserve it for the interested generations to come.
But somewhere in this consciousness of the collective good, a line is crossed. After a 20th century that was defined in many ways by the establishment and protection of individual rights, the Neo-Croms argue for the defence of the social. Female emancipation, racial equality and religious tolerance were and remain indisputable standards of a civilised society which recognises as equal the interests of all its people. Countering the individual nature of recent social movements may well be a line worth crossing, but, if carried through, it is a step taken with the burden of what yesterday we called “progress”.