Amid the daily cacophony of screaming headlines and squeaking soundbites, there are few, if any, that stir much interest, let alone cause the heart to leap and the spirits to soar. News of that kind exists only in the imagination.
Just think, what bloodshot eye trapped between temples whose frantic throbbing began sometime between the shout of last orders and the arrival of rosy-fingered dawn, could fail to sparkle anew at the headline swimming into focus in the morning rag, SPICE GIRLS LYNCHED BY ANGRY MOB? Who could not sing that God was in His heaven and all was for the best in the best of possible worlds were the streets to echo to the newsvendor’s cry: “Zero Turnout in Election Poll – Nation Snubs Politicians”? Or better still, ” Tory Landslide – Pollsters Buried”?
Every now and then, with about the frequency that we are visited by the comet Hale-Bopp, a headline on the real page rather than in the mind’s eye has the power to exhilarate, to make the reader skip and shout and clap, and, assuming he has one, throw his hat in the air.
One of these rare and precious gems surfaced last week. It was: “Burgeoning Britons Ignore 210m Worth of Healthy Eating Advice.” My hat is up there in the branches where the crow nests.
The lyrical promise of the headline was amply fulfilled by the report beneath. It told of a nation still eating, drinking and smoking far in excess of the limits prescribed by the politicians. And if that’s not a cause for rejoicing, there’s no telling what is.
It takes a patrician Government bloated with the arrogance of office to assume that it has any business meddling in the eating and drinking habits of those from whom its power derives. A nation that defies the impertinence of its elected representatives is healthy, regardless of how much it eats and how little it exercises.
Even so, a great wrong is done when the state takes money from the people and spends it at the rate of 210m a year on telling those same people how to conduct their lives. That the money turns out to be wasted is good only in so far as it proves that it ought not to have been spent at all. In all other respects, it is criminal profligacy. That is not a message the politicians will accept. Their instinct, like that of a drunken gambler, will be to spend still more. Fortunate is the drunk who gambles with other people’s money.
What are the facts? According to the Department of Health, 16 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men are officially classed as obese. (Could there be any better measure of the relentless march of officialdom than that the pen-pushers have by degrees moved from the classification of paper clips to the classification of adipose tissue?)
The British, says the hand-wringing report of the Public Accounts Committee, are currently among the most overweight in Europe.
But, contrary to what the MPs think, our scale-tipping achievements are a sign not of failure, but success. Obesity is a disease of affluence, the surest indication that we are a nation of plenty. Our coveted position at the head of the European fat league bears out the Government’s oft-repeated assertion that the UK economy is outperforming that of every other member of the wretched union.
If our political masters wish us to be lean and hungry, as we were in the Thirties and Forties, the answer is not to blow millions on propaganda but to usher in a new age of austerity.
True, our membership of the ERM came close to achieving that goal, but the financial speculator Mr George Soros was too much of a bon vivant to allow his fellow citizens to be ushered into the slimming regime of a second Great Depression, and so he put a stop to the venture.
The Public Accounts Committee laments the rise in women drinkers, girl smokers, and something called “sunshine peril”. (There could be no better indication of the essentially wowserish nature of the health propagandists than to see evil in a sunbeam. Still, it chimes in perfectly with the menace in a cream cake, the certain death in a cigarette, and the kind of mind that calls a drink a unit.)
If the former Health Secretary Mrs Bottomley were not indeed dead from the neck up, as the beastly member for Welwyn North so unkindly said of her, she would have realised the Health of the Nation strategy was anexercise in futility the moment she set eyes on it.
One item among the 27 “health targets” is sufficient to prove the point: it is Government policy that by the year 2,000, 4.8 in every 1,000 girls aged 13 to 15 should be pregnant.
Of course, Mrs Bottomley and her successors would prefer a world in which no teenage girls were impregnated, nor any cigarettes smoked, nor any surplus inches accrued, but, that being a state of perfection, one has to settle for something less, and 4.8 was what she chose. Splendid. Not as good as 4.3 and nothing like as good as 2.7, but much better than 7.9.
What in fact we have is 8.3 and rising, and a few more million quid down the Swanee. Never mind, there’s plenty more where that came from. How about 6.2 and 250m?