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

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

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

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.