While the Prime Minister has been lecturing Europe about our proud island race, his ministers have been telling a rather different, and sadder, story.
Anna Soubry, the minister for public health, has identified the cause of childhood obesity, a ballooning problem in Britain. It is poverty. Her colleague Hugh Robertson, faced with another poverty-related sickness, that of addictive gambling, has delivered a similarly brilliant analysis. This was “one of those quite tricky areas”.
The message is consistent. Exploitation of the poor by big business? Sorry, nothing to do with us. The fear among politicians that they might be accused of nannyist interfering is now so deep-seated that none has the courage to point out the obvious. Problems need solutions. It is what governments are for.
The situation in both cases is clear enough. On one side of our society, there are rapacious business interests who have the brainwashing power of the new technology to help market their wares. On the other, there are millions whose only escape from the despair of their lives is to consume and to gamble.
Anna Soubry made her cheap, class-based comment in a speech to the Food and Drink Federation. The children of the poor used to be “skinny runts”, she mused nostalgically. Now they are likely to be unhealthily fat. Being a good Conservative, she knew exactly who to blame. It was not the greedy food companies and supermarkets at fault, but parents who failed to cook nicely and eat family meals together. Why, some of them did not even have a dining-room table! “They will sit in front of telly and eat.”
Here is the true, fat-bottomed apathy of a government which prefers to make snobbish remarks about people eating while watching TV (and who doesn’t, by the way?) rather than controlling the excesses of big business. Money matters in the Britain of 2013. The few areas of the economy which are expanding now are fast food – McDonald’s announced 2,500 new jobs this year – and gambling, both of which profit where there is least money. The minister responsible for gaming and bookies, Hugh Robertson, has taken the same position as his colleague in the Department of Health. The problem lies with the weakness of individuals.
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling may have shown that addictive gambling is worst in areas of high unemployment – Rochdale, for example, with sky-high unemployment pours £340 per head of population into the gambling machines of its betting shops every year – but all the government need do is to commission an “investigation” from the Responsible Gambling Trust. It seems that bookies and casinos, like fast food merchants, have loyal friends in Government – and to hell with the human consequences.