Obese? Need help from a nanny? Don’t be fooled by conservatives, confused by today’s world | Nick cohen

VSConservatives today look like eccentrics, not because of the personal failings of this or that politician, but because they cannot cope with the crises of the modern world. It’s not that they don’t have answers – right-wing thinkers spit them out faster than a machine gun fires bullets. It’s just that their answers are irrelevant and, even in conservative terms, doomed to fail.

All viable responses to global warming, vaccination, job losses that artificial intelligence will bring and failing public health strengthen the role of the state. It must provide jobs and benefits for the losers in society, protect their health, and radically reconfigure markets to support the planet. The small states that allow sovereign individuals and corporations to decide for themselves now feel as antiquated as Margaret Thatcher’s purse and pearls.

At best, the Conservatives will have the end but not the means, as the Johnson government is doing with the climate crisis and the protection of the NHS from the Covid pandemic. At worst, they retreat from modernity into denial and conspiratorial gibberish.

I know of no better example of the law’s inability to confront the world before its eyes than the collapse of public health, which will become more and more visible as 2022 wears on.

Inflation and tax increases push a large part of the population into poverty or into a nearby location. In a way that would astonish our ancestors, poverty will produce obesity. Anyone in government who cared about studying the crisis knows that the cheapest meals are no longer vegetables and rice, potatoes or bread, the traditional diet of the poor. Now it’s ultra-processed, industrial foods, whose manufacturers use the cheapest, least nutritious ingredients and economies of scale to keep the price as low as possible and whiskers of fat, sugar or salt to keep the price down. make their grime palatable. The government knows it, but will do next to nothing about it.

Tim Lang, the author of Feeding Britainrefers me to studies showing that the UK had the worst diet in Europe, with half of all food purchased processed to the nth degree. The result is that hundreds of thousands of people suffer preventable deaths or painful, cramped years of life as they grapple with the chronic diseases that fat brings: cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia. and, of course, Covid.

The moral argument for preventing unnecessary pain is overwhelming. Meanwhile, even the most hardened Conservatives should want to limit escalating health care costs, if only to conserve their money. The NHS spends £ 18 billion a year treating obesity-related conditions, a figure that is bound to rise. Horrible diets mean higher taxes.

They cannot bring themselves to act, just as they cannot bring themselves to tell Novak Djokovices from the UK that there is a price to be paid for refusing to get the vaccine or putting yourself on the same level as the public. on the revolutionary changes of national life a serious attempt to cope with the climate change will bring.

The best the Conservatives could do was task Henry Dimbleby with producing a national food strategy. Last summer, he recommended that the government intervene to produce a long-term change in eating habits, that sugar and salt be considered modern versions of tobacco and taxed accordingly, and that the government protect them. food standards in trade agreements.

The report has been criticized for treating food poverty as a separate condition. Our own Jay Rayner, the Robespierre of radical restaurant critics, yelled that there is no food poverty, there is only poverty. The best way to deal with the current declining standard of living is to listen to Marcus Rashford and restore the cuts to universal credit.

Dimbleby is indeed a classic establishment figure: fathered by David, educated by Eton. But that’s what makes it interesting. He offered the Conservatives the opportunity to change rather than reverse their beliefs. Throughout its history, the Conservative Party has survived by making concessions to changing times to better ensure that it remains in control of change. “Conservative men, Whig measures,” as Disraeli put it.

Now he can neither adapt nor give in. Ministers sat on the Dimbleby report for months. In cabinet, all the familiar arguments are heard against, in that revealing upper-class phrase, the “nanny state” interfering with free markets and freedom of choice. Officials mutter that better health labeling on food products does not matter to their political masters.

Readers may laugh at curators for talking about nannies. But there is a long tradition of leftists worried that the middle classes are telling the working classes what to do.

“Ordinary human beings would starve rather than live on brown bread and raw carrots,” wrote George Orwell in 1936. “When you are malnourished, harassed, bored and miserable, you don’t want to eat healthy food. and dull. You want something a little ‘tasty’. In other words, it is not that the concerns are not justified. It’s just that they don’t provide any solution.

History is not a test. No teacher rewards students who answer questions correctly. Perhaps conservative politicians can prosper by overcoming the backlash against the costs of the net zero push. Donald Trump has already shown them the way.

But whatever electoral success they continue to enjoy, Conservatives can see the world created by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan crumble. They fear a primitive and restricted future when the state clamps down on business, tells you what to eat, how often you can fly, when to get vaccinated, how you should heat your house, and what type of car you can drive. , if applicable. But then, when the current wave of conservatism began in the 1980s, critics on the left saw how it would lead to a corrupt and divided future. If Thatcher wins, said Neil Kinnock in 1983, “I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to get sick, I warn you not to grow old.” His speech and his foresight did no good for the Labor Party because the left no longer seemed to have credible solutions.

Now it is the Conservatives who cannot react to change. The 21st century baffles them. They don’t know what to do about it. This is why, despite their apparent self-confidence, so many speeches by conservative politicians and articles by conservative thinkers seem more than a little unbalanced.

Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

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