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News Reviews from 2016

Healthy Living and Dry January

Healthy Living and Dry January

by Simon Belt

 

Christmas and New Year is a great time for most people to relax away from work, let your hair down with friends and family, and eat drink and be merry. Well it used to be until the wannabe Victorian patricians thought of a new party game - prod and poke the proles.

 

There has been something of a revival of patronising and prohibitionist trends in recent years, well against working class people at least. This does make me wonder if the class focused target of the campaign is more what it's about, rather than any of the specific issues of concern.

 

Take for example the consumption of alcohol which has been bubbling out of the mouths of today's champagne socialists. Nicola Sturgeon's SNP campaign to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol managed to enact legislation in Scotland in 2012, setting a minimum price of a unit of alcohol at 50p. In response to the European Court of Justice suggesting that this breached their rules on open and fair competition, Nicola said "We believe minimum unit pricing would save hundreds of lives in coming years and we will continue to vigorously make the case for this policy." By we, she didn't mean the consumers, but herself and other patricians of the people.

 

I understand that out of every 100,000 men who died in Scotland in 2013, the less than 30 who died of alcohol-related diseases may be profoundly disturbing for Nicola and her patricians friends, but it doesn't amount to very many in truth and there are clearly bigger fish to fry if preventing deaths is such a concern. Did I just mention fried food? I'll come back to food shortly. As the UK average for deaths due to alcohol related diseases is just 19 per thousand per year, there's surely something dubious about such interest.

 

Clearly there will be less severe medical conditions adversely affected by the consumption of alcohol, but it's hardly the only activity that adversely affects people's health so why single this out for such high profile, indeed overwhelming, interest and intervention? The campaign for the minimum pricing of alcohol does seem to give away the unwritten rules game. After all most of the campaigners wouldn't dream of spending so little on their vintages or favourite tipple - the consumers targetted for the prohibitive measures are the ones who deliver the finer wines, not the ones drinking them.

 

Manchester: New Year's EveAn image used to help big-up the 'epidemic' of alcohol abuse, just ahead of the campaign propaganda for having a Dry January was the one of Manchester on New Year's Eve, taken by Joel Goodman. Straight after stories of revelry and over indulgence, comes the moral message of encouraging your friends to give up alcohol with you completely for the whole of January. The funny thing about it was the way in which doctors, previously held with unimpeachable high regard, self consciously ask you to get your friends to help you abstain - presumably because their increasingly extensive official finger wagging is diminishing their standing in society.

 

Although the NHS are driving the Dry January campaign, the government's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has recommended abstaining from alcohol for at least two days a week - after a review she launched a review by the Department for Health in 2013. Although the advice seems a little more relaxed with a headline of 2 days off per week, along with the Dry January campaign, there is a clear drive to socially criminalise alcohol use by our patrician betters.

 

Trailed to great affect on Radio 4 before Christmas, Dame Sally usefully presented the increasingly political and meddling role the government has helped push the medical establishment into. She said “Obesity has to be a national priority. Action is required across all of society to prevent obesity and its associated problems from shortening women’s lives and affecting their quality of life. We need to address the educational and environmental factors that cause obesity and empower women and their families to live healthier lives.”

 

There are a couple of very interesting components of Dame Sally's line of attack here - on the intake of food and alcohol, and centering the vulnerability of women to the consequences of consuming too much. This may be disarming when presented in the women friendly tone of Dame Sally on Women's Hour, but the degrading aspect is most dutifully embodied in the use of the phrase 'empower women and their families'. This is the pernicious and patrician politics of deciding for others what's best for them because they can't decide for themselves, that attempts to circumvent winning an argument with them as equals.

 

Dame Sally reiterated her view that a ‘sugar tax’ could be needed, “I think it is a runner. I think if you look at smoking it took 20 years for the public to believe it was needed,” she said. “I think we are at a tipping point. If industry doesn’t deliver then we are going to have to look at a sugar tax. I would prefer to persuade, to nudge." Persuade and nudging though are two quite different things, and we should expect the politics of nudge by those who know best on behalf of the rest of us to be rampant in 2016.

 

I guess the thing that gives the finger pointers such confidence these days is the decline of a confident citizenry, mindful of their own collective power. Challenging the party poopers of the middle class just so eager to spoil everyone else's fun need to be put back in the insecure therapy session, and the best way to do it would be to go out for a meal with all the friends and family we didn't get chance to socialise with this Christmas - and lift a glass to celebrate the fun we've had and will continue to. I'll drink to that!

 
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