Sarah Wollaston: supersizing state intervention in our lives
The newly elected chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, Sarah Wollaston, has quickly made a name for herself since being elected to parliament as a Conservative MP in 2010 – as the most high-profile proponent of every fashionable lifestyle intervention by the state. A GP before she turned to politics, Wollaston has been at the forefront of calls for minimum pricing of alcohol, even accusing her own party leader – the prime minister, David Cameron – of caving in to pressure from his electoral guru, Lynton Crosby, over the issue when it seemed the idea had been shelved. (In fact, regulations on introducing a ‘floor price’ for different kinds of alcohol were introduced earlier this year.)
But for Wollaston, the government has a ‘duty to intervene’ in the name of health at every turn. She has called for primary-school children to be weighed every year so that any sign of obesity can be nipped in the bud. She also believes cigarettes should come in grotesque standardised packaging to discourage children from taking up the habit.
So it’s no surprise that she also thinks that Something Must Be Done about food – specifically, portion sizes. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph published on Friday, Wollaston argues that ‘supersize’ portions should be banned and manufacturers encouraged to make the default size of their naughty treats smaller. ‘I think we can put in place proportionate tough measures, just as we’ve seen with seatbelt legislation and with stopping people smoking indoors. They can be controversial at first but who now would want to go back to having people smoking in restaurants? In the same way, would we really miss being able to buy monster sizes of carbonated drinks?’
Underpinning all of these proposals is an attitude that Dr Wollaston and the ‘experts’ know what’s best for us and the state should step in to protect us from ourselves and from the evils of big business. Now it seems we cannot even be trusted to decide how much food we want to buy. No doubt, an independent-minded MP like Wollaston would also complain about how parliament has been weakened by the lack of engagement with voters. But it is Wollaston and her ilk who have done more than anyone to diminish citizens in recent years – and in her new job, Wollaston will have an even bigger pulpit to preach from.
Rob Lyons is a columnist for spiked and author of Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)