All in all, it can’t be much fun being an MP. True, there are subsidised meals and drinks and every now and then you get the opportunity to catcall and boo across the chamber and wave your order paper in the air, rather like an elderly Tom Jones fan flapping her knickers at one of the old boy’s concerts. But apart from that, it’s drudgery all the way.
I mean, who wants to be sucked up to by dreary constituency party members and feel obliged in return to offer a smile forced between mouthfuls of salmonella-laced canapes? And who but a servile wretch would endure answering the call of the division bell and trotting obediently through the lobby like one of Pavlov’s salivating dogs?
For a handful of MPs, though, there is a mighty compensation; they are the chosen few who sit on select committees and are therefore granted an atom of power. And what is the greatest pleasure of power, however tiny the quantity with which one is allocated? Why, it is of course to frighten people. Just as the mad tyrant with absolute power will terrify absolutely, so the MP with a smidgen of the same heady substance will scare moderately, even if the effect is no more impressive than someone bursting a paper bag in a bus queue.
Imagine, then, the thrill that must have run through the 11 members of the Commons Health Select Committee last week when it released its report on obesity. For this was a grand scare, a stupendous howitzer of a scare out of all proportion to the power of those letting it off. From an atom of power came the nuclear fission of a report calculated to have us sticking vinegar-soaked brown paper to the windows and cowering beneath our beds.
Having listened open-mouthed to the expert testimony of various doctors and nutritionists, and having swallowed whole the statistics presented to them, the committee members got their heads together and, rather like a commune of mediaeval artists working on a tapestry depicting the terrible fate of sinners, created a vision of hell on earth peopled by grotesque, deformed creatures who on closer inspection are – awful to tell – our own children.
Ideally, the report should have been delivered by a disembodied voice echoing through the dank catacombs beneath the House of the Damned, but the tabloids did their best to make up for the lack of special effects by eagerly falling on each dreadful prophecy and screaming until they were sick.
So we must steel ourselves as best we can for the prospect of children choking on their own fat, kept alive only with the help of oxygen tanks because they are too overweight to sleep normally; of hordes of huge, mis-shapen people disfigured and blinded by weight-related diseases; of amputees hobbling down the streets in ever-greater numbers; of an NHS collapsing under the weight of all this massed human blubber.
The MPs did not shrink from apportioning blame for the crisis about to engulf us all in its clammy, oleaginous embrace. They named the culprits. They were, in no particular order, the food manufacturers, the advertising industry, the retailers, the school caterers, the fast food outlets, the Government (for not delivering a national walking strategy, something that every administration since Walpole has failed to achieve) everyone, in fact, apart from the people who swallow all the fatty, sugar-laden, salt-impregnated stuff that makes them fat. Or, in the case of children, the parents who stand back and watch.
Interesting that when the ten men and one woman who comprise the Health Select Committee (four of them bearded, let it be noted: draw your own conclusions) sat down together they dismissed from their minds the notion of free will.
So widely accepted is the belief in passive victimhood that it is taken as axiomatic. Well, the committee was wrong. With very few exceptions, fat people are their own creations, and the answer lies in their own hands, or rather in their own appetites, stomachs and propensity to take exercise.
And, for all the pretensions of the committee, obesity is not a problem for government. It is no business of our elected representatives – our servants, let it be remembered – to tell us what and what not to eat. We have become so used to government arrogating to itself functions that we ought to perform for ourselves that we seldom question its right to do so. But in this kind of passivity lies enslavement.
If 15 per cent of children are chronically obese – and, in common with all government statistics that should be taken with a pinch of salt: only a pinch, mind you – it is the responsibility of parents to take action. Given the distasteful choice between a nation of feckless, irresponsible parents and an interfering government, I should opt for freedom every time. Which is more chilling: mothers and fathers who bumble along in their own, often deficient way, or the state becoming parent of all our children?
Advertising bans, compulsory food labelling, national walking strategies, all are unwonted intrusions on our right to eat ourselves to death if we so wish, and, in the process, make way for our leaner, healthier counterparts whom Darwinian selection will favour.
However, I should willingly exchange all of these libertarian qualms for a ban on eating in public places.