In 2007, Sao Paulo’s Clean City Law outlawed billboard advertising and blitzed the electronic ads, shop signs and street banners that once littered a beautiful, edgy and complicated city. Eight thousand hoardings have been done away with so far, with more to go. Those who disobey the law can be fined more than £3,500 per offending site and in its first year, the law brought to the city nearly £15m in fines. In Brazil, the law has been hailed by writer Roberto Pompeu de Toledo as ‘a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash, and for once, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost’.

Indeed, closer to home, it is evident that what underpins the invisible hand of the market is the grasping, poisonous tentacles of advertising: gaudy, sprawling billboards splattered indiscriminately across our finest British towns and cities; The Apprentice-style, hard-sell marketing techniques puncturing and deflating a rich, bustling, modern British culture at every other turn - from our football stadiums to our mobile phones; and perhaps most distastefully of all, piercing, all-consuming junk-food adverts, jingles and hooks being pummelled directly into British children (one in three children is now obese or overweight and Government studies now predict that the majority of children will be overweight or obese by 2050). The money and effort spent on warning about the dangers of alcohol abuse is undercut by £800 million a year spent by drinks companies on alcohol advertising, much of which is aimed knowingly and directly at British youths.

Reading about the Clean City Law got me thinking about David Lammy MP's absorbing article on youth crime and culture in the New Statesman towards the end of 2008, which struck a chord with many people, one way or another. Some of the issues he laid bare should be explored further by Labour on a much larger and more detailed scale.

At the heart of Lammy’s thesis was the notion of a ‘culture of instant gratification’ contributing to a crisis amongst British youths and, in particular, younger, British males - reflected by statistics on school grades, suicide rates and the percentage of men who make up those people in custody. Whilst much of Lammy’s approach was notable, this notion of a ‘culture of instant gratification’ had a particularly enduring resonance:

"And, in this post-Thatcherite generation more than any other, young men struggle to control their own emotions. An inability to delay gratification - whether with food, alcohol, money or sex - is becoming a hallmark of our age, reinforced by advertising and media (by the age of ten, the average British child recognises nearly 400 brand names)."

Lammy subsequently suggested the UK is failing miserably to provide Britain's teenage boys with meaningful occupations, worthy role models or hope for the future. Although Labour is leading the fight against crime, with overall crime – including violent crime – down by almost 40 per cent since 1997, he pinpointed a ‘bling culture’ that encourages young British males to pursue crime as a desperate short cut to wealth in the face of a rapidly changing economy which no longer places a premium on manual jobs - old images and expressions of masculinity are disappearing from society and the relationship between men and their work has undergone a revolution.

With climate change threatening to spiral out of control and with Britain looking to recover from a long, deep recession – an aching hangover from a sickly culture driven by reckless consumer spending, financial extravagance and personal debt – the spotlight must now be placed on our ‘culture of instant gratification’, and our failure, regardless of age or social strata, to live within our means.

Reclaiming the British civic space is an area where Labour must lead the way. It should not be left to other parts of the world, like Sao Paulo, to take a lead on cleansing social spheres and spaces for the better: Looking ahead, one thing is certain - the shrunken, miniature state, two-faced, Thatcherite ideology and airbrushed reality being pushed by ‘Cast Iron’ Dave means that he is powerless to lend a hand.

First posted here

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