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The New Puritans
a generation of younger, knowledgeable and blinkered people is determined to sidestep the consumerist hazards of contemporary life.
According to the Future Foundation, the trends forecaster that coined the term New Puritan, the model well-meaning citizen is, slowly replacing the guilt-free pleasure-seeker.

According to Jim Murphy, associate director of the Future Foundation, "In common with all important movements, this one has a silent march. Its under-noticed and under-observed." The principles vary. But a New Puritan does not binge drink, smoke, buy big brands, take cheap flights, eat junk food, have multiple sexual partners, waste money on designer clothes, grow beyond their optimum weight, subscribe to celebrity magazines or live to watch television. And the list is likely to grow longer: research by the Future Foundation has found that 80 per cent of people agreed that alcohol should not be allowed at work at all; 25 per cent said snack products should not be offered at business meetings; more than a third agreed that we should think twice before giving sweets and chocolates as gifts to family and friends, and a further 25 per cent thought that the government should start a campaign to discourage people from drinking alcohol on their own at home.

Ten years ago, many of these propositions would have been preposterous, says Murphy. "Not giving a child sweets was cruel. But by 2015," he ventures, "global tourism could be in decline, because taking a flight to Costa Rica would be a terribly irresponsible thing to do."

These are sobering thoughts for anyone connected to the pleasure market. But if you possess a shred of New Puritanical sensibility youre likely to think that the big brands (the junk-food peddlers, alcohol promoters, cigarette pushers and even the supermarkets) had it coming. That for too long these kinds of businesses reaped vast profits while riding roughshod over community spirit, public health and morality. The lack of a liberal backlash against increased policing of previously uncontroversial pleasures is significant, too. And its a trade-off the New Puritans are clearly willing to make: extra nannying for extra peace of mind.

But if New Puritans want to spread their good behaviour to the population at large then, it could be argued, they need a populist approach, which is where Jamie Oliver comes in. He might not be a fully-fledged NP, with the enormous bank balance and supermarket adverts, but his campaign to kick junk out of school dinners has had a knock-on effect. When education secretary Ruth Kelly announced a nationwide ban on junk food in canteens and school vending machines, the Jamie Oliver effect was very much in evidence.

So, with a few grand gestures and some high-profile converts New Puritanism offers a powerful escape route from our impulsive, reward-driven lifestyles. Consider the New Puritan philosophy from this point of view and it can look like a blueprint for a rather noble kind of empowerment. New Puritans become less like neurotic killjoys and more like early adopters, with an enhanced ability to recognise the pitfalls of contemporary life. A battle is shaping up between the New Puritans and the old guard libertarians, but at the moment its a vastly uneven one. The New Puritans might be a trend, but its still a small one, swimming against a seemingly inexorable consumerist river.
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Posted on : 5/11/2005
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