The PM’s obesity crusade must not abandon Conservative principles

In the clash of national sensibilities, Boris Johnson’s leanings have always seemed obvious. Our PM is every inch a Cavalier, a consummate Merrie Englander and sworn foe of hand-wringing puritans. His evident unease at announcing full lockdown measures seemed an appropriate response to dismantling our ancient liberties.

Not anymore. The PM’s brush with death has reportedly sparked a Damascene conversion. Weighing 17.5 stone when he fell ill, the PM is convinced this extra upholstery exacerbated his life-threatening reaction to Covid-19, and now plans a more muscular anti-obesity drive. Despite little concrete detail so far, expanding Britain’s ‘sin taxes’ could play a central role. Former Chancellor George Osborne certainly welcomed the shift: “Good to see that the sugar tax I introduced in my 2016 Budget continues to win over those who opposed it”.

What’s the problem? Though age remains the overwhelming risk factor, Britain’s high obesity levels will naturally spark calls for “something to be done”. Yet sin taxes have a patchy international record. Politicians, especially conservatives, should beware policies that disproportionately harm the poor, while scarcely affecting obesity rates. The focus should be on tackling the current pandemic.

Granting themselves extra powers risks emboldening a bureaucracy in dire need of change. Public Health England, the body overseeing our response, has had a terrible war; doling out catastrophic advice on care homes, and failing to collaborate with private sector firms on testing.

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