Yorkshire Post (Business): Nanny state should step back and let us judge how we want to lead our lives

Whether it’s food, drink or smoking, all nanny statism comes from the same place. Next on the chopping block is gambling, with the Gambling Act Review due soon.

Whether it’s food, drink or smoking, all nanny statism comes from the same place. Next on the chopping block is gambling, with the Gambling Act Review due soon.

I wrote for the Yorkshire Post’s Business section:

Yorkshire Post: Why Yorkshire solar farms are false economy when nuclear power can solve energy security crisis

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post.

SOLAR farms are all the rage. Recent years have seen a major uptick in the number of planning applications submitted to local councils to cover perfectly usable farmland in solar panels.

While climate change is a real and pressing issue, this is a clumsy way of tackling it which will cause a great deal of collateral damage, especially when it comes to food security.

Food prices are rising. Nearly 60 per cent of the British public will feel the pinch and find it significantly more difficult to put food on the table, according to Sue Davies, head of consumer rights and food policy at Which?

More than ever, we must be able to rely on our farming sector to produce as much of the food we need as possible. The more of our farming land we cover with solar panels, the harder that becomes.

As well as the national consequences, this is an issue which affects Yorkshire directly. For example, Harrogate Council has approved a plan for an enormous new 50-hectare solar farm near South Stainley. Its supporters claim it will be able to power up to 15,000 homes.

That might sound like a lot, but when you take the costs into account, its productivity is far too low. At that rate, in order to power all 29 million homes in the UK, we would need to build another 2,000 huge solar farms like the one in Harrogate, covering a total of 100,000 hectares.

This is simply not a viable way to meet Britain’s energy needs.

Too often, local authorities’ desires to get as close as possible to their ambitious net-zero targets results in important concerns not getting the attention they deserve.

As Tim Read put it at a parish meeting about the Harrogate plan: “This development is in the wrong place, of an inappropriate scale and form, and can not comfortably be incorporated into the existing or even enhanced landscape that the applicant has proposed.”

The South Stainley project, run by Elgin Energy, is one of countless similar solar farms at various stages in the planning application process.

At least 17,991 acres of greenfield sites around the country are set to be filled with solar panels under schemes currently in the works.

That is according to the Solar Campaign Alliance, which has emerged from small opposition groups that have popped up across England to oppose solar farms in their local areas. Solar Media, another group, estimates there are around 910 possible solar farm projects in the works in the UK.

The true figure is likely to be higher than the campaigners estimate because not all project details are publicly available. Hampshire alone has seen applications at 28 different sites covering a whopping 3,500 acres since the start of 2020.

One proposed 200-acre solar farm by Enso Energy covers six fields, an area equivalent in size to some 140 football pitches. If planning permission is 
granted for the scheme, it would become the fifth largest solar farm in England, and the largest in England on agricultural land.

Yet, 200 acres is entirely typical of the size of new solar farm planning applications. We are on a slippery slope, propelled by our honourable wish to save the planet but pursuing a misguided path.

Before long, you won’t be able to turn a corner in what used to be the English countryside without seeing an ugly, industrialised solar farm.

Unavoidably, Britain cannot sustain itself on renewable energy and won’t be able to do so for a very long time, no matter how much farmland is taken over by solar panels.

If we want to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, especially Russian oil and gas, we would be much better off investing more in nuclear. The Rolls-Royce mini nuclear reactor is a good start, but it’s nowhere near enough.

Crucially, changing our approach to energy must not come at the cost of the British farming sector. Ukraine and Russia are two of Europe’s biggest crop exporters – the war in Ukraine will only cause food prices to rise even faster. The cost-of-living crisis will worsen, and food insecurity will become an even more critical issue.

Against that backdrop, giving up our farmland to make way for thousands upon thousands of solar panels seems ludicrous. We can still save the planet without punishing British farmers.

Jason Reed is the UK lead at Young Voices and a political commentator. Follow him on Twitter via @JasonReed624.

Yorkshire Post: Nanny state obesity policies are making cost of living crisis worse for Yorkshire’s families

Eighty per cent of people in Yorkshire have already seen their energy bills increase and 96 per cent say they are worried about their finances in the months to come.

This article was published in the Yorkshire Post.

THE cost-of-living crisis is hitting Yorkshire hard as the UK inflation rate rises to 5.5 per cent – a 30-year high.

It is one of the areas where people will suffer most as bills and inflation climb. According to ONS data, Yorkshire and the Humber holds just 6.9 per cent of the total gross disposable household income in the UK, despite accommodating 8.2 per cent of the population. Poverty is over-represented in Yorkshire.

Nanny state sugar taxes won’t defeat obesity – Jason Reed

This year, making ends meet will become tougher than ever for families. Eighty per cent of people in Yorkshire have already seen their energy bills increase and 96 per cent say they are worried about their finances in the months to come.

The cost-of-living crisis will disproportionately affect those who struggle to pay their bills anyway. Struggling households are badly in need of government support – the last thing they need is new unavoidable expenditure to worry about.

But the Government has its priorities all wrong. Incredibly, despite this ongoing crisis, it is more concerned with food being healthy than affordable.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who visited Doncaster Royal Infirmary on Tuesday, has reaffirmed his commitment to the Health and Care Bill, which contains a raft of new interventionist policies such as cracking down on promotional offers like ‘buy one get one free’ on unhealthy foods in shops.

The nanny state won’t help Brits slim down, but it will make the cost-of-living crisis worse. Researchers at the Food and Drink Federation predict the new regulations could add an extra £160 to families’ annual shopping bills (on top of inflation, higher energy bills and various other costs.) Once again, the poorest households will suffer most of all because they more often rely on promotions like ‘three for two’ when they shop to make ends meet.

The Government ought not to concern itself with our dietary choices at all, especially when it is led by a man who stood for the leadership of his party on a proud platform of rolling back “the continuing creep of the nanny state”.

But if the state must take action on obesity, it could do so in a way that does not involve bringing in new taxes and regulations which will make our lives more difficult and expensive, especially as we stand on the brink of a cost-of-living crisis.

As attention on obesity rates has gradually risen, so the free market has provided. There has been a flood of exciting and pioneering innovations in this area. For instance, the NHS recently approved the use of semaglutide, a weight loss drug which saw patients’ weight fall by 12 per cent after a year of weekly injections.

“I have spent the last 20 years doing obesity research,” said UCL professor Rachel Batterham, one of the scientists involved in the study which confirmed the benefits of semaglutide. “Up until now, we’ve not had an effective treatment for obesity apart from bariatric surgery.”

As well as medical steps forward, there are a whole host of nudge-style policies we could try before resorting to the last-ditch tax-and-ban course of action. For instance, a change as simple as supermarkets voluntarily removing sweets from the tills to stop last-minute impulse buys has been shown to reduce chocolate and crisp sales by a fifth.

Other more creative initiatives can make a big difference too. In a study in the US, researchers were able to increase sales of fruits and vegetables in a selection of stores by 100 per cent by simply adding a line of yellow tape down the middle of the shopping trolleys along with labels instructing customers to place fruit and veg in one section of the trolley and everything else in the other.

An Icelandic supermarket once launched a joint campaign with LazyTown, a children’s TV programme which stars a fitness-obsessed superhero and refers to fruit and veg as ‘sports candy’. Merely by marketing directly to children and rebranding its own healthy products as ‘sports candy’, the supermarket was able to increase sales of those items by 22 per cent. In the years since, Iceland is one of the only countries in the world which has seen a sustained drop in childhood obesity rates.

There are a thousand better ways to go about addressing obesity than blanket bans on advertising and special offers, especially when those policies will worsen an already catastrophic cost-of-living crisis.

For the sake of Yorkshire, and indeed the rest of the country, the Government must reconsider their anti-obesity measures. The nanny state is not the answer to our public health issues.

Yorkshire Post: Why Priti Patel is ‘sensible choice’ to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and true Brexiteer

Priti Patel is a true-blue Conservative, and after Boris Johnson’s libertarianism went out the window, we need a leader with principles. Her Brexit credentials are rock-solid. She has the Thatcherite steel needed to lead us out of the pandemic and bolster Britain’s place on the world stage.

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post.

BORIS Johnson’s political life expectancy fluctuates more than Bitcoin’s market value.

One day it looks like he will last at least until May’s local elections, and the next he seems on the verge of being ousted within hours as the Prime Minister – and country – await senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street’s gatherings during lockdown.

Either way, MPs, the Tory party and the country are gearing up for a Conservative leadership contest in 2022.

But who is the best choice?

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was for a time the runaway favourite to succeed Johnson in polls of Tory members but of the countless looming fatal flaws with a Truss premiership, perhaps the biggest is that she was an ardent Remainer.

Nobody wants to reignite the Groundhog Day debates over Europe of 2016-19, but we need a Prime Minister who is whole-heartedly signed up to the Brexit vision to oversee the realisation of Global Britain.

While Truss performed well in her previous trade role, following Lord Frost’s resignation she inherited the poisoned chalice of EU negotiations.

Before long, it will swallow her up, along with any leadership ambitions.

Rishi Sunak’s newfound popularity is fleeting. He has been the Covid Chancellor. Any Chancellor could win the hearts of the nation by dishing out furlough cash and boosting government spending to record levels.

But Sunak has been in Cabinet for five minutes, was subservient to Dominic Cummings (whereas Sajid Javid resigned rather than give in) and has shown a worrying willingness to increase taxes. Plus, when he inevitably plunges into post-Covid austerity measures, his polling numbers will tumble.

The other candidates are either inexperienced or uninspiring (or both).

Those who have run for the leadership before – Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and the aforementioned Javid – will struggle to energise the Conservative base, let alone the nation.

In an election fight against Sir Keir Starmer, the dreariest man in the world, the Boris-loving Red Wall will want a charismatic leader.

Other Tory fan favourites – Penny Mordaunt, Tobias Ellwood, Tom Tugendhat and countless others – are far too inexperienced for the top job.

They might enjoy a brief Rory Stewart-esque moment in the sun, but none have the staying power to make it to the final members’ ballot of the top two candidates.

That leaves only one serious contender – Priti Patel.

Her critics often point to her alleged breaking of the ministerial code after accusations of bullying – but the Prime Minister came down on her side at the time, and his decision was upheld by the High Court after a challenge from a trade union.

The details of Patel’s case remain a little murky, but she’s in the clear. Given the lack of alternative credible candidates, it’s no reason to interrupt her premiership before it has begun.

The other common criticism laid at Patel’s feet is her alleged failure to tackle the migrant crisis – but it’s hard to see what more she could have done.

With a make-or-break election 
coming up in a few months’ time, President Macron resorted to the 
oldest trick in the book – antagonising the British – to bolster domestic 
support, with tragic consequences as a dinghy full of refugees sank in the Channel.

She proposed countless solutions to the issue of illegal Channel crossings, from the obvious – British-French patrols along the French coastline – to the outlandish – wave machines to push the boats back onto French shores – but was met with an obstructive palm-in-the-face responses every time.

That crisis is entirely the fault of the French government, and Patel should not be held responsible.

Despite occupying one of the great offices of state as Home Secretary, Patel has not dirtied her hands in the Covid restrictions rows – unlike most of her Cabinet colleagues.

She is a true-blue Conservative, and after Boris Johnson’s libertarianism went out the window, we need a leader with principles.

Her Brexit credentials are rock-solid. She has the Thatcherite steel needed to lead us out of the pandemic and bolster Britain’s place on the world stage.

She is the only sensible choice.

Yorkshire Post: Gordon Brown role exposes world health failure over pandemic

The World Health Organisation, which knows a thing or two about wasting people’s money, has appointed Gordon Brown as an “ambassador for global health financing”. It beggars belief. What next?

This article was published in the Yorkshire Post.

THE World Health Organisation (WHO), which knows a thing or two about wasting people’s money, has appointed Gordon Brown, the man who single-handedly broke UK plc in 2008, as an “ambassador for global health financing”. It beggars belief. What next?

The WHO should be focusing its attention on fighting communicable diseases and preparing for future pandemics. Its failures in responding to Covid have been all too apparent. While it was busy cosying up to the Chinese Communist Party, a novel virus was raging around the world and governments were having to resort to draconian lockdowns and the appalling, unprecedented violation of civil liberties in a desperate attempt to contain it.

What is the point in having a body called the World Health Organisation when a once-in-a-generation health disaster leaves it gormless and useless?

Once upon a time, the WHO used to be good at this sort of thing. In the 20th century, it was effectively responsible for eradicating smallpox. Nowadays, though, its politicisation and mission creep have become so all-consuming that it finds itself far too busy playing politics to devote any time or resources to the public health issues wreaking havoc all over the world.

Instead of fighting malaria or meningitis, the WHO is preoccupied with bullying governments around the world into enlarging their nanny states in an impressive variety of ways. Its so-called ‘Tobacco Free Initiative’ pushes not only for much harsher restrictions on cigarette sales, but also cracks down on healthier alternatives to smoking which help people quit, such as vaping.

The WHO wants new taxes on sugar and salt and new advertising restrictions for what it deems to be ‘unhealthy’ foods. It believes women of childbearing age should not consume any alcohol whatsoever. In other words, it is hell-bent on eliminating even the smallest pleasures from our lives, in pursuit of some dystopian, indulgence-free, miserable world in which every aspect of our lives is policed intensely and we all eat grey sludge.

Rather than policing our lifestyles, the WHO should return to its core purpose. In the aftermath of a pandemic, the work of the WHO is more vital than ever. But its mission creep into myopic and misguided efforts to change the everyday consumption choices we make is distracting from plans for future outbreaks, not to mention spawning countless new threats to public health and civil liberties.

The WHO needs to get its act together. Hiring Gordon Brown as an “ambassador for global health financing” won’t help.

The problem is a quite fundamental one. The WHO is wielding a huge amount of power to affect policy decisions all over the world, acting like a supra-state – but without any accountability or democratic checks and balances. It is nothing more than a closed-door coterie of like-minded elites from all four corners of the globe who conspire to come up with creative new ways to accumulate more and more political bargaining power.

And yet, countless governments – including our own – seem content to maintain this charade by forking out for its funding (to the tune of billions of pounds per year) and lending it unconditional credibility by treating its utterances with undeserved respect when they are politically convenient.

That does not change the reality of the situation. The WHO has no right to make decisions about our politics and our lifestyles on our behalf. It has no mandate and no authority. It is nothing more than a handful of individuals from only one side of the debate taking decisions for everyone else on the planet. It claims to represent ‘parties’ but, in reality, it is a dangerous echo chamber.

How can we expect a balanced, evidence-led debate on any area of public health policy when so many stakeholders, including law enforcement, the media, the relevant industries, and even the general public – you and I – are so brazenly excluded from the dialogue?

But the awful situation at the WHO is unlikely to change any time soon because Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the incumbent head of the WHO, looks set to win a second term at the helm unopposed.

Tedros, it seems, will be granted a mandate by the WHO’s inner cabal to continue his disastrous leadership of the organisation, meaning that when the next pandemic rears its ugly head, we will not be any better prepared.

Yorkshire Post: Nanny state sugar taxes won’t defeat obesity

Taxing sugar and salt will make the poor poorer and have no effect on obesity.

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post.

ON paper, making Britain healthier is a noble ambition.

But at present, our public health policy is being outsourced to a lobby of nanny statists who are using obesity as a stalking horse to push through all kinds of punitive choice-restricting lifestyle regulations which they have been touting for decades.

The latest onslaught comes from the National Food Strategy, penned by Henry Dimbleby, the Government’s food tsar and the millionaire founder of posh fast food chain Leon. Dimbleby is calling for, among other things, a new tax on salt and sugar.

The thinking behind the policy is that it will force food manufacturers to reformulate their recipes to make them healthier.

In reality, if there was some miraculous way to make those foods taste just as good without using sugar or salt, those food producers would have been doing it for years of their own accord. They would be billionaires by now.

All this tax would do is raise the cost of living for those who can least afford it. The National Food Strategy itself conservatively estimates that the policy would add a whopping £3.4bn a year onto our shopping bills.

It is troubling to see this nanny-state thinking spread into more and more areas of government.

It is difficult to get away from the idea that the health nannies are trying their hardest to price the poor out of everyday pleasures using the tired old ‘tobacco playbook’.

It costs more to be poor.

The poverty premium is well-documented. Poorer people pay more for everything from energy to credit to insurance and face higher inflation rates. It’s a vicious cycle, too – being poor is expensive and having to spend extra money on essentials only drives people deeper into poverty.

The poor already spend a larger proportion of their disposable incomes on the non-essentials which make each day a little sweeter – a chocolate on your way home from work or a McDonald’s Happy Meal for the kids.

To an upper-middle-class observer like Henry Dimbleby, those small indulgences are disposable.

It is grossly unfair for a man like Henry Dimbleby, the son of David Dimbleby who embodies such a great deal of privilege, to look down on working people, accuse them of being ‘dependent’ on junk food and resort to punitive, regressive taxes aimed specifically at them in an effort to change their behaviour.

Dimbleby does not spare a thought for the working-class parents who are just trying to feed their children.

To him, the idea of having to budget your weekly shopping trip down to the penny is completely alien. What does he care if the price of Frosties goes up by 87p?

The few luxuries the poor still have access to are firmly in the sights of the nanny-state-obsessed public health authorities.

Whether it be through depriving people of choice, taxing things to make them unattainable or drowning them in red tape until they fade from the public eye (such as the ‘junk food’ advertising ban) the nannies will do whatever it takes to mould poorer people’s lifestyles into what they think they ought to be doing, even at the expense of their wallets and their welfare.

There is no thought given to the fact that people like their treats.

Life should not be a drudge, even if you’re poor.

Interventionist measures like these never work. Their health impact will be zero but their economic impact will be substantial.

Obesity is shaping up to be Britain’s next pandemic. If we are not careful, 
it could be even more damaging 
to our freedoms than the Covid pandemic.

Our public health authorities are asleep at the wheel – they have nothing new to contribute to this debate beyond the tired old ‘tobacco playbook’. It is high time for them to wake up.

Yorkshire Post: Nanny state won’t defeat an obesity epidemic that is also fuelling Covid

If Britain is going to embark on a nationwide weight-loss programme, the government should not be in charge of it.

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Post.

While lockdown restrictions are debated in the public forum in minute detail, the role of underlying risks to public health in accelerating those tragic numbers remains underappreciated.

Alongside age and pre-existing respiratory conditions like severe asthma, the most significant external factor which worsens coronavirus appears to be obesity. It is no coincidence that Britain, where the numbers of people dying from Covid are so much higher than other European countries, also has one of the highest rates of obesity in the continent.

According to data from the World Health Organisation, the UK has a higher obesity rate than any country in the EU except for Malta. In Britain, more than one in four adults has a body mass index of more than 30, classifying them as obese.

The problem is so serious that obesity is now directly responsible for more deaths in England and Scotland than smoking. That was the conclusion of a startling study from the University of Glasgow which found that deaths attributed to obesity and excess body fat increased from 17.9 to 23.1 per cent between 2003 and 2017. Clearly, obesity is a health epidemic in the UK, and there is a legitimate policy demand for the Government to do something about it. But it’s imperative that we avoid the temptation to adopt ill-thought-out policies in a knee-jerk reaction.

We are already heading in the wrong direction. The Government’s junk food advertising ban, for example, is projected to remove an average of around 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day – roughly the equivalent of half a Smartie. And that’s according to the Government’s own research into its policy.

It’s the same story with sin taxes. Ample evidence shows that all that is achieved by artificially bumping up the price tags of foods and drinks which are high in sugar or fat is making shopping trips more expensive unnecessarily for those who can least afford it, without any noteworthy impact on calorie consumption.

There is no reason for the Government to hamstring itself with these kinds of ineffectual, costly policies. Fascinating research in this area has produced plenty of innovative “nudge”-style policies.

In fact, last year, a plan to address impulse purchases of confectionery in supermarkets was reportedly being considered – until it was seemingly abandoned in favour of the much splashier advertising ban, at the behest 
of the fierce public health lobbying bodies.

The crux of the issue is the short-termism of government. We elect new representatives to Westminster every five years, so it is very difficult to hold ministers accountable for the long-term impacts of their decisions. Centralised policy is incapable of providing the tools we need to improve public health. All governments, by their very nature, can do is try to eliminate things they don’t like by slapping bans on them, drowning them in red tape or taxing them out of existence.

Each of those courses of action bears costs for consumers, lumps private enterprise with unnecessary burdens and constitutes a dramatically increased level of state interference in private affairs, all without actually resolving the issue at hand.

This contrast is even more pronounced at the present moment, when we are slowly edging towards a period of economic recovery. Now is not the time to be making life harder for businesses by fostering a much tougher regulatory environment, especially when those policy decisions don’t seem to have any notable public health benefits.

That’s why it is a much better idea for the state to intervene in these issues as infrequently as possible. When people are free to choose to change the way they live – perhaps with a little bit of nudging, but without any coercion – they are much more likely to keep those changes in place for good, to the benefit of the health of the nation.

That is in addition, of course, to the myriad other benefits of leaving these matters to the private sector and individual choice, such as the fact that any funds come from private pockets, rather than the coffers of the state. That way, Britain’s weight-loss programme can be voluntary and free, rather than obligatory and expensive.