blood in the water to the shoal of public health sharks. Needless to say, the egregious mockney twat Jamie Oliver was seen to be celebrating.
And they didn’t waste any time. Only four days after the Budget, Alex Renton came up with an article in the Guardian entitled The sugar tax is a great idea. Why not go after processed foods too? which recycles virtually every popular health fascist trope. It happily diverts on to the topic of alcohol, and pointedly says “The story of tobacco shows that this is just the first step on a very long road.” All you silly people who pooh-poohed “first they came for the smokers”, where do you stand now? Slippery slope? More like slippery precipice!
There’s a huge raft of arguments against this. The first is that it simply won’t work. It’s well-established that taxes intended to change behaviour will only be effective if they’re set at a pretty punitive level, and if there’s an obvious alternative with a lower tax rate. If people like eating crisps and biscuits, they’ll simply pay a bit more and continue to do so. There’s also plenty of scope for switching to lower-priced products – in any of these categories, there’s a huge gap between the value and premium brands. And it will have a disproportionate effect on the poor – even if they spend no more on “unhealthy” foods than the better-off, it’s still a much bigger chunk of their income.
The whole thing is also incredibly snobbish, as coruscatingly pointed out by Brendan O’Neill a few years ago. It’s basically denigrating the food choices of the less well off as compared with those of the comfortable middle classes:
People who eat junk food tend to be looked upon as "junk people". They are judged as lazy for buying microwaveable meals, and as bad parents for feeding their children "shit". Their expanding waistlines are considered a physical manifestation of their moral turpitude, evidence that they are heretics in an era of healthy living. That is why "concern" for their diet can so quickly turn into hateful comments about their child-rearing techniques or class background: because food has become the one issue through which it is acceptable to vomit bile on to the allegedly slovenly sections of society.Setting aside any questions of practicality or class bias, the whole idea is just profoundly wrong on a moral and philosophical basis. Going back three hundred years or more, the Enlightenment promoted the concept that adult human beings were intelligent, self-aware creatures, with a responsibility for their own destiny. As the great philosopher John Locke said, “Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”
Later on, the growth of Labour parties stemmed from the view that working people were worthy of respect and should be treated as capable of being responsible for making their own decisions. To quote Brendan O’Neill again:
Labourite parties emerged a hundred-odd years ago to represent the interests and ideas of working people. These parties were built on a conviction that "ordinary people" were also political players, were sussed, intelligent, autonomous beings whose worldview and needs deserved a political outlet. Now, in an eye-swivelling turnaround, Labour views the little people, not as political creatures worthy of representation, but as corruptible creatures in need of protection – from adverts, from alcohol, from chips, from chocolate.It is fundamentally patronising to take the view that working people can’t be trusted to make their own decisions and have to be told what to do by the State, but sadly this seems to be the view of the modern-day Labour Party. In my experience, working-class people tend to have a pretty good idea of what makes sense for them, especially as they’re not motivated by politically correct prejudices.
Yes, we do have issues in society with obesity and poor nutrition, although they are often exaggerated. As far as I can see, the oft-threatened “obesity timebomb” has signally failed to explode. I’m just a mischievous middle-aged twat who writes a blog about pubs and beer, and I don’t regard it as my responsibility to come up with solutions to all the problems of the world. But I strongly hold to the principle that adults should be treated as being responsible for their own lives, and that whole population solutions to limited problems are invariably counter-productive.