There is no cure for either the common cold or the hangover. Or so I thought until the other day, when my eyes, still bearing the insupportable weight of the previous night’s benediction by the blessed Abbot of Greene King, fell with a painful thud upon a news item in the morning paper.
Instantly, the light shone in, the cobwebs parted, the heart leapt, and a brain that just a moment before had been benumbed was filled with joyous song. And what had wrought this medical miracle, this sudden transformation from melancholy suffering to blissful elation? Why, the news that the Health Education Authority (HEA) is to close and its staff cast into the outer darkness, where there is no hope other than gainful employment.
For years this abominable organisation pursued its grisly task of lecturing the entire population on everything from diet to personal hygiene, and much more besides. Daily, its ghastly minions bent with eager will to produce a ceaseless torrent of posters, pamphlets, leaflets, advertisements, broadcasts, and all manner of other propaganda, urging us to eat fruit and vegetables, keep out of the sun, wear condoms, restrict our drinking to a prescribed number of “units” and, above all, avoid the accursed tobacco.
As time past, the HEA became ever more intrusive and nannying, even offering advice on how to make a healthy sandwich and how “friends can be good for your health”.
Now, at long last, the whole rag-bag of bossy busybodies are to be chucked out, victims of a belated Government awareness that the public is heartily sick of being nagged about matters which are their business alone. Sadly that is not entirely what is to happen. Only 120 of the 250 creatures on the staff of the HEA are to go. The remainder are to be redeployed in a streamlined Health Development Agency (HDA), whose mission will include “correcting inequalities such as the provision of fresh fruit and vegetables in shops around the country”.
So, if anything, the HDA will be more otiose than the unlamented HEA, taking upon itself the role of apportioning apples and pears in socially desirable quantities across the land. How it will make us eat them has not, as yet, been revealed. Past experience suggests Government ministers will seek to set an example. Health Minister Tessa Jowell, who memorably showed us how to wash our hands, will perhaps extend the lesson to showing us how to wash an apple, and then how to bite into it.
Should that fail, Government inspectors may be empowered to stand over us at meal-times and issue instructions. That is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Teachers are already obliged to open and check children’s lunchboxes to ensure they contain items which meet with ministerial approval. And this government makes no distinction between children and adults, hence the sign in the Dome which reads: “Smoking is not big, it is not clever, and it is not allowed.” No wonder the wretched thing is empty. Things are so bad that the Prime Minister has instructed his senior henchman Alastair Campbell to lead a charm offensive on behalf of the Dome, which, in terms of matching talent to task, is not unlike sending Claire Rayner on a limbo dancing offensive.
Never mind that we are still to be nannied by a reincarnated version of the blighted old authority. Let us savour the moment and rejoice in the discomfiture of our enemies who describe their redundancies as “blood letting” rather than the boil-lancing which it so obviously is. And they claim they are “demoralised and worried”. Let them take counselling, say I.
We should not weep for them, since they will almost certainly be found work elsewhere. They are, for example, admirably suited by temperament and training to join the ranks of Government inspectors who are popping up at street markets across the country warning traders that they must not shout out the weight of fruit and vegetables in pounds and ounces. Under the new order, though fresh produce must be distributed evenly over the socio-economic groupings of this blessed plot, it may only be lawfully sold in kilos and grams.
Whatever happened to Mo Mowlam? It is weeks since she was issued with a pith helmet and machete and ordered to hack away at the red tape choking British business, and all we have heard from her is that she once inhaled an exotic substance.
Meanwhile, the different kinds of Government inspections carrying a right of entry to businesses has risen to more than 300. There are 24,000 people associated with inspecting businesses, and almost 500,000 inspections are carried out every year. And, in addition to those employed by Government departments, agencies and local authorities, a whole new army of inspectors is being created by the European Union.
Seeing this monstrous army, has Mo, in her khaki boxer shorts – like stout Cortez when, with eagle eyes, he stared at the Pacific – been overwhelmed by wild surmise? Or has she simply given up on the job, yearning fondly for the soft billet in Northern Ireland that once was her lot? Be firm, Mo, be resolute, strike hard at the Gordian Knot, and fill the land with redundant inspectors and joyful entrepreneurs. Or, failing that, show us the politically correct way to eat a banana.