Just before Christmas Public Health England (PHE), in carrying out its duty to help the nation improve its health, issued a warning about portion size, and asked those of us eating at home and owners of restaurants to reduce the amounts put on our plates.
There was a suggestion of calorie caps in restaurants and in ready-made meals. Given the evidence of the number of extra calories we put on our plates over Christmas this seemed to be simply a useful warning to watch how much we eat. Apparently we are likely to eat more than 5000 calories on Christmas Day and, I expect, we don’t move around much either.
But actually it created a small political storm that I think is a warning to us all about the way in which politics is working in Great Britain at the moment. The story was the splash on the front page of the Daily Telegraph on Boxing Day. A Christmas story like this – especially given the new Mary Poppins film running in cinemas – made it almost inevitable that someone would complain about the nanny state trying to tell us how to live our lives.
And you would have thought that would be it. Statement from PHE – counter statement about the nanny state – and literally, end of story.
But no, current politics have made this a much bigger issue. The lobby group, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), said “These demands are worthy of Nero or Caligula”.
Now I know it’s difficult to get a quote into the papers so to get it in there you tend to blow things up a bit, but dredging through my knowledge of Roman History I can’t quite see the link. Nero was famous for fiddling while Rome burned – and it seems to me that PHE are precisely not doing that about the problem of obesity. They are drawing it to the public’s attention and trying to do something about it. What the IEA is complaining about is that they are doing something and precisely that they are not fiddling while Rome burns.
As for Caligula, his main claim to fame was that he made his horse a Senator – so I’m not sure what’s going on here in terms of an analogy.
What the IEA is grasping for is an analogy for an overbearing government, so we sort of get what they mean but as a lobby group they could do better.
The story is supplemented and given additional weight by the views of the first Secretary of the Treasury Liz Truss,
And this is where it gets a lot more political and bit less knockabout.
The IEA say that the funding of PHE should be looked into. There is a spending review coming up in 2019 where the non-NHS direct spending for Health Education England and public health will be worked out – and one of the main people making the decision about the budget for PHE will be, yes you guessed it, – First Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss.
This is what I mean by politics never sleeps. Some people have a politics which believe that our Government is too big and should have less money spent on it. Whilst some may believe that this politics reached the high spot of its influence a few years ago – don’t you believe it!
A considerable group involved in arguing for Brexit see the opportunity of leaving the EU as providing them with an opportunity to deregulate much more of our society. This includes deregulating public health and reducing the influence of Government over our health.
So whilst some people may think that the next step in politics will be to build more Government intervention never forget that others are mobilising politics to reduce that influence. This will be a big political battle.
But I was intrigued by the IEA saying that PHE should have its budget looked at as I remembered that the IEA IS having its own budget “looked at”.
Legally the IEA is a charity which gained that status through claiming to provide education for us all through its think-tank activities. The eagle-eyed amongst readers will note that I refer to them as a “lobby group” because that is what I think they are. I am not alone in this view. Complaints have been made to the Charity Commissioners concerning whether the IEA can be said to really be a charity. Losing charitable status would mean they would have less money.
Have a look at the IEA website – see if it’s your idea of a charity. If it isn’t, tell the Charity Commissioners.
As they said, someone needs to look at the funding of PHE. Well someone is also looking at the funding of the IEA. Why not join them?
#Boxing day eh? Always remember – real politics never sleeps.