Maybe its the heady whiff of fast approaching ministerial Jaguar seat leather gone to their heads, but the Tories seem to have decided to spend the summer reminding the serfs just how unpleasant, yet faintly ridiculous, their rhetoric can be.
Cameron started it all off earlier this summer with a catchy ‘no excuses for being poor, no excuses for being fat’ refrain – <cynic> which seemed to be largely timed to minimise the Tory vote in Glasgow East to help the SNP</cynic>. Then the Witney Wonder headed off for Cornwall Georgia Turkey, leaving Andrew Lansley to fill in the detail in a wonderfully titled speech No Excuses, No Nannyingwhich he will deliver to the Reform think tank today. The Animal does feel that at least when medical man Dr Liam Fox held Lansley’s position, he might not have allowed a headline (‘No excuses for being fat’) that flies so clearly in the face of accepted medical opinion to be put out by the central office wonks.
Apart from the medical contradictions and the ‘bash the poor’ subtext, what emerges most strongly from the tantalising previews of the speech in this morning’s press is a heady cocktail of intellectual bankruptcy and basic hypocrisy. Because, put simply, when the Labour government introduces policy measures to tackle obesity, it is engaging in nannying. When a prospective Tory government proposes the same measures, it is a ‘responsibility deal’, ’empowerment’ and ‘not about telling people what to do’. So, let’s take a quick look at Mr Lansley’s proposals, courtesy of The Guardian:
“…supporting EU-wide proposals for mandatory front-of-pack food labelling” – not just nannying, but international, regulatory nannying.
“asking the food industry to reduce portion sizes” – getting the private sector to do your nannying for you.
“a clampdown on food advertising” – now I’m all for this, but doesn’t effectively censoring what people can see advertised amount to ‘nannying’ in Tory world? Some of Mr Lansley’s colleagues who opposed Mary Creagh MP’s eminently sensible Children’s Food Bill in 2005 certainly seem to think so.
“using role models and positive peer pressure to promote healthy living” – now we’re going to get David Beckham to do the nannying for us. Presumably Mr Lansley doesn’t see the Mayor of London as a role model.
“local campaigns to promote sport, exercise and healthy lifestyles” – and local government can get in on the nannying act as well.
“He will float the idea of incentives for small businesses to improve the health of employees.” – Less nannying, more tough love. I think this translates as ‘get thin or get sacked’.
So, let’s just rehearse that new orthodoxy one more time shall we? Labour tells you to eat 5 fruit and veg a day = nannying; Tories get your boss or a ‘hip’ celebrity to tll you to eat 5 a day = empowerment. For once, I almost agree with the CBI, who have responded to Lansley’s proposals thus:
“There is a risk that responsibility deals would confuse this issue, by being almost a form of regulation by proxy, and would lack credibility.”
For me, that’s right on the money. Cameron’s Conservatives are intelligent enough to realise that a degree of regulation and intervention is going to be necessary to tackle Britain’s social ills. Labour already knows this – after all, in terms of health outcomes, the smoking ban (opposed by the Tories as being ‘nannying’) could well prove to be this government’s greatest legacy. But the Tories can’t be seen to do regulation, even when its so desperately needed. So let’s get someone else to do it for us – despite the fact that the history of ‘voluntary regulation’ is littered with fine words and intentions that when it came down to it, buttered no parsnips.
Very sorry, Mr Lansley, I now realise that suggesting buttering parsnips was setting a very bad example to my peer group. If I promise to be good, can I still be a role model?
PS – courtesy of the Evening Standard (that may be the last time I say this), we now learn that:
“Mr Lansley unveiled a new working group – headed by Unilever chairman Dave Lewis – to draft the party’s public health proposals”
I think this might be quite a good intimation of the level of hubris that the Tories are now operating at. Now what will the chair of Unilever want to concentrate on in his policy proposals? Promoting the health-giving properties of Slimline products (prop. Unilever), or not talking toomuch about the nutritional values of Hellmans Mayonnaise (prop. Unilever), Walls’ Ice cream (prop…oh you get the idea), Lipton ice tea or Knorr soups. Sorry, there I go, nannying again.
Oh, and Baroness Buscombe, Chief Executive of the Advertising Association will be on the board as well. We’ll see some hard hitting proposals from her on advertising regulation, no doubt.