The Conservative party is a broad church but is it really broad enough to accommodate Dr Sarah Wollaston? The honourable member for the British Medical Association is at it again in today’s newspapers, demanding people pay more for their food. ‘It is a staggering fact’, she said, ‘that around 40 per cent of what we spend on consumption of food and drink at home comes from price promotions’. This clearly displeases her. Having gone from a well paid job in medicine to a well paid job in politics, she can afford to be displeased.
Wollaston wants the government to ‘tackle’ the alleged problem of cheap food. She also wants to tell shopkeepers where to position their goods, explaining her reasons in words so pathetic it almost makes me weep:
‘Do I want to have a kilogram of chocolate for almost nothing when I buy my newspaper? Of course I do but please don’t offer it to me, please don’t make me pass the chicanes of sugar at the checkout while queuing to pay for petrol.’
Younger readers may not know this, but at one time the Conservatives were reputed to be the party of free markets and personal responsibility. In 2016, however, it is a party for people – grown, adult human beings, mind – begging to have sweets put out of their reach on other people’s property and pleading with petrol station attendants to put wine gums on the top shelf.
Wollaston does not tell us what the government should do about this first world problem. Being both a politician and a doctor, she presumably wants a ban. Perhaps a new criminal offence could be created to stop BP placing ‘chicanes of sugar’ (ie, confectionery shelves) within sight of innocent motorists. A new Act of Parliament could be drawn up to make it illegal to offer a bar of chocolate to someone without their prior consent.
It is not a novel observation to suggest that Sarah Wollaston joined the wrong party. A scarier thought is that she joined exactly the right party. No one ever struggled to tell the difference between Gordon Brown and a laissez-faire libertarian, but nor did anyone believe he would seriously consider a tax on fizzy pop. He rejected minimum pricing for alcohol because it would have clobbered the poor and would, I am sure, have rejected a sugar tax for the same reason.
David Cameron, by contrast, was personally in favour of minimum pricing and has said that a sugar tax is still on the table. Today, there is a letter in the Guardian (where else?) from the usual ‘public health’ groups demanding a sugar tax. It is all part of a well organised and incessant campaign that has been running for the last two years. There was no talk of a sugar tax under Blair or Brown. There would have been no point. Under Cameron, however, the nanny statists are more hopeful. Why wouldn’t they be? He has capitulated on everything from the plastic bag tax to plain packaging.
If this is the modern Conservative party, you can keep it.
Christopher Snowdon will be speaking at the Spectator’s annual health debate at IET London, Savoy Place, on Tuesday February 9
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9 February 2016 | 7 p.m. | IET London