BOGOF, Nanny

“The proposed sugar tax and a prospective ban on BOGOFs — supermarket buy-one, get-one-free offers — are perfect examples of how muddled thinking leads to the busybody interference of the Nanny State”

Counterpoints

What is more dangerous, a cheese-crust pizza, a bucket-sized serving of Seven-Up or a semi-automatic rifle? Sometimes, looking at the Government’s heavy-handed approach to regulation, you’d be hard pressed to tell.

The proposed sugar tax and a prospective ban on BOGOFs — supermarket buy-one, get-one-free offers — are perfect examples of how muddled thinking leads to the busybody interference of the Nanny State.

JS Mill hit the nail on the head in On Liberty, arguing in his Harm Principle that the only reason a civilised country should exert control over its citizens against their will was to prevent harm to others.

Take gun laws, for example. We have strict regulations in the UK because firearms pose a danger to the public. Product safety and vaccination laws are also in this bracket. They do curtail individual liberty, but this is outweighed by the benefit to society. But the proposed sugar tax and mooted limits on the calorific content of restaurant meals are pure Nanny State — and Britain, according to a recent survey, has the second largest Nanny State in Europe thanks to swingeing ‘sin taxes’ on alcohol, tobacco and food.

Like gun laws, these taxes interfere in an individual’s personal choice, but the key issue overlooked by the quangocrats is that of harm. It’s no business of Government if someone doesn’t behave as the State wants them to. People smoke, drink, eat fatty foods and guzzle gallons of fizzy drink in full knowledge that they may get fat, suffer tooth decay or worse. The objections of the Nanny Statists, of course, is that the costs incurred aren’t private, but public due to the NHS. This is true. But the argument “two wrongs don’t make a right” springs to mind, particularly when the jury is still out on whether these policies even lead to weight loss. How could you possibly prove that forcing people to pay the same price for a miniature restaurant pizza will make the nation healthier?

Many of these initiatives were dreamed up by Public Health England, a quango run by people intoxicated by their own alleged expertise. They’ve smartly endorsed e-cigarettes following a cost-benefit analysis approach, however their policy about nutrition is clearly driven by dogma. These do-gooders and their cheerleaders assume the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the poor. But by failing to ask them what they actually want, they exhibit moral and intellectual snobbery.

The Conservatives should end this dalliance with subjective paternalism. They already have a branding issue of being perceived as dull elitists and this does nothing to help. Perhaps, in this age of austerity, the Government should reassess the frivolity with which it spends money — particularly by taking the reins of PHE, a £4.5 billion a year organisation that makes the Mares of Diomedes look tame. Let’s aim for Public Wellbeing, not Public Health.