The sheer absurdity of the government’s anti-obesity crusade



“You don’t wanna do that!” hectored Mr. Don’t Want To Do That, Harry Enfield’s insufferably busy-bodying character in his popular sketch show. It would make the ideal slogan for the government’s new anti-obesity drive.

Fancy a pint? You don’t want to do that! Cheese on your burger? Don’t do that! Packet of sweets? What are you thinking?! Throw in compulsory calorie counts and advertising bans and – voila! – you have Nanny’s dream, and a free marketeer’s nightmare. 

If this were Theresa May’s government – or New Labour – perhaps this new initiative wouldn’t be so much of a surprise. Shilling for the blob was her métier. But, in the great, existential battle between Doughnut and Goliath, Boris, we all assumed, was on the side of doughnuts. 

It’s all very disappointing. Setting aside the Coronacrisis, an ‘act of God’, and the Brexit negotiations, which under David Frost’s incisive stewardship are going well, the Prime Minister in office does not feel like the Prime Minister we elected – with an 80 seat majority – just seven months ago.

Brexit was, all the way through, an expression of the kind of bloody-minded, very British libertarianism (markedly different to the United States’ romantic, pseudo-mythological Guns ’n’ God Goldwaterism) which has kept our country free. It was a branch of libertarianism Boris seemed to understand so well. The philosophy which endeared him to millions. The philosophy which carried him into Downing Street.

One can only imagine what Boris the Jester Journo would make of Boris the Pusillanimous Prime Minister’s conspicuous volte-face. 

Of course, it is absurd. The least suitable person to lead a “back to basics” lifestyle revolution is a politician who built his following on a larger-than-life, bacchanalian, public image. Most people do not follow politics as closely as readers of this site, and the new iteration of the Prime Minister has not seeped in. Many will regret the transformation. 

We should believe Boris when he says this mission is personal. Catastrophic events change individuals, and they change leaders. But the British people are not here to provide a psychological crutch for the Prime Minister. His trip to ICU was horrifying and, like many, I was genuinely worried about him, and delighted that he pulled through. But, as we try to recover our national self-confidence, it’s the Boris of old – the Boris that told The Spectator he enjoyed cold spaghetti and leftover chops for breakfast; the Boris that drank too much; the Boris that got stuck on a zip-wire waving union flags — that we need now.

The new fat-bustin’ measures are fatally misconceived. For one, they won’t work – the science suggests (and, after all, we must “follow the science”) high fat diets, with no carbs, offer a much better way to lose weight.

The initiatives will penalise struggling businesses. They will penalise the poor. And, worst of all, they treat adults like children. 

As Conservatives, we should expect people to be able to make choices for themselves. We should treat them as adults, with free choice and free will. We should respect their agency – and encourage personal responsibility. We should not be in the business of infantilising people.

A lot of Tories, horrified in private, seem frightened of speaking out. But this new initiative is foolish, wrong, and ridiculous. As we move out of this phase of the lockdown, things are going to get very tough. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; a stick of cucumber does not.

In a time of great change and huge challenges, making people’s lives any more difficult and constricted than they absolutely have to be? Boris, you really, really don’t want to do that. 

Tim Dawson is a writer and journalist and the Editor of Free Market Conservatives. Follow him on twitter: @tim_r_dawson