With the degree of patronising assurance only managed by Labour ministers and minor novelists, Andy Burnham has decided to lead a righteous crusade against the forces of Mr. Kellogg’s and Nestle who have been accused of damaging the nation’s sweet bundles of joy.
Yes, sweets are BAD, and that requires capitalisation just to express the fury Mr. Burnham and his cabal (who conspire to become a populist faction ranged against something which people associate with a problem in Britain today) believe. He cannot, for the life of him, understand why people eat sugar. It keeps him awake at night, tossing and turning; desperately trying to possibly imagine why people consume the foul white powder. It does taste nice, but don’t they know that it ISN’T GOOD for them!
Is it sincere? Probably not, he is Shadow Health Secretary, after all; one of the grimmest, most thankless jobs in the country. His press releases are steeped in the inanity of individual cases, and his job involves trying vainly to chip away at the solid marble edifice of governmental health policy with a moist toothpick.
Because he knows full well that there is little to say in this area. Health is not a key battleground, with all major parties supporting the continued existence of the NHS, there is little for either side to say. While Tony Blair promised to introduce targets for NHS performance, and all parties talk about improving the current system, there is little dynamic movement outside trying to make the NHS more efficient and better at doing what it does.
All parties promise this and say that previous governments have not done the sort of things they constantly talk about well enough. The gulf between plain words and the intentions of politicians is so strong that it has negative repercussions; especially when so few people who politically run the NHS are trained medical professionals.
The sad truth is that unless they are like the unfortunate Mr. Lansley (who had something truly radical to propose) they are relegated to sniping and tinkering with a largely unchanged Health Service.
This is a common affliction, and one that can be diagnosed as ‘Health Minister’s Proposal’. Symptoms include desperately trying to make something out of nothing, also known as an attempt to do something (usually bold and ‘outside the box’) to escape the prison of his job, which is one of the government roles which is guaranteed to be unpopular. As a mere Shadow of the proper Health Secretary, all he can do is to moan and whinge, with the occasional proposal (which need not even be sensible or potentially become policy) simply to demonstrate that he is still working.
It is a poisoned chalice, with no real Health Secretary in the 60 years of the NHS being deemed to be popular and successful in their running of the service. It is a poor posting; with little hope of success or promotion. This is presumably why a blatant careerist, such as Burnham, would want to go for the ‘nuclear option’, of a dramatic pronouncement, which just might get him out of there, thus saving his future political energies for climbing Mr. Disraeli’s ‘greasy pole’.
The whole dynamic of the health question is pathetic, there seems to be a cross party consensus on not changing the current make-up of the NHS dramatically, but every time a new proposal is mooted it is shouted down; Labour has cornered the market in telling eager supporters what they want to hear, that the Tories are ‘privatising the NHS’, and getting a huge, populist cheer in the process. Debate is silenced when this is mentioned; it is the equivalent of comparing your opponent to the Nazis and then strutting away, assuming you’ve won.
While this is fundamentally dishonest, it allows the two political superpowers to pretend there is an ideological difference between them, maintaining the facade of a genuine political choice. The Tories can also pander to their supporters and the middle-market press by trying to ‘clear up NHS bureaucracy’, a term which is regularly thrown around, yet is seemingly never explained in much detail, save the odd reference to an IT system costing a certain number of billion pounds to the taxpayer.
But his impotence to do what he sets out to accomplish is not the only issue at stake here, with the ideas of personal freedom and responsibility coming up against the forces of the nanny-state and the position that it is as if individual choice has nothing to do with health issues. The Shadow Health Secretary appears to think that the reason people are fat is down to corporations shoving their unhealthy products down the throats of those who are powerless to resist the onslaught of the fast-food joint or the sugar consortium. This, while laughably fallacious, also sets out a depressing relegation of any personal input to obesity and the gaining of weight.
It seems that (according to an inference we can make from the nature of these proposals) it is not the fault of those who are fat in the first place, and this new slant on the issue will have remarkable effects on the way we see them as well as their own self-image. If it is not their fault, why do they need to put any effort into fixing their health problems? There is already a disturbing cult of personal victimhood among the fat, who see it as a right for the government to give them disability benefit when their eating (and lack of exercise) has rendered them unable to work, and the government has to also work to (and pay for) them, in order to provide them with gastric bands if they choose to attempt to quit their habits.
These proposals not only represent a depreciation in the right of people to chose what they eat, it also gives those who prove to be a drain on society even more leverage to demand more support from big government. This is in marked contrast to the proposals of Westminster council to cut the benefits of obese people who do not find jobs or try to lose weight. This idea (although already under fire from doctors and others who self-indulgently demand the right to be the only profession which deals with obesity) is a good one and would be seriously undermined by these ideas.
It is also saying that the responsibility for a fat child (which is the one example he mentions) is not possibly the responsibility of the child who keeps eating and not running around, but also that the parents have no constructive input too. That they are forced to buy whatever is on the shelves, regardless of what it contains, for the child to helplessly consume. This is as incorrect as it is insulting, with evidence which does not show a causal link between sugary cereals and obesity. After all, the French, whose children are much less enormous than our own, have a lightly regulated food market. There can be an inference, and that is that perhaps that people in this country need education on these issues, and while a blanket kids cereal cap is an inefficient way of properly making the children of this country less fat, it doesn’t deal with other sugary treats and other foodstuffs can be just as fatty and unhealthy. Where would he go next? Capping crisps? Chips? Burgers? Sweets? It is all not only restrictive also but idiotic, designed to look like activity when none is needed, an attempt to show credentials rather than a solution: the ultimate empty gesture.