Down with the lifestyle prefects

Banning snacking on public transport is the maddest nanny-state idea yet.

Geoff Norcott

Topics Politics UK

I talk about politics on my current tour, but not as much as usual. Partly because we are – bar a few changes of personalities – still in the same democratic headlock we’ve been in for three-and-a-half years, but also because one day Brexit will get resolved. Nanny statism, however, is here to stay.

That was made clear by today’s news, in which Dame Sally Davies, the outgoing chief medical officer, made a number of draconian recommendations to control obesity, among them banning snacking on public transport.

We’ve had a steady stream of lifestyle prefects calling for bans and taxes over the past few years, but I can’t remember one as likely to rile the British public as this. Public transport is already overpriced and overcrowded. The one thing you can do to alleviate the misery is dick about on your phone or eat the pain away. Now that could one day land you in hot water. You might get fined for eating Maoams on a Megabus or do time for a Double Decker on the District line. The only thing that would make public transport worse would be making eye contact compulsory.

So many of these ideas are from the ‘punish the whole class’ style of patrician thinking. We all remember collective punishments from our school days. It didn’t change anything, the naughty kid still stabbed you with a compass, but then everybody had to miss the first 15 minutes of Grange Hill.

Essentially, when teachers fail miserably in their role as educators to the message-resistant, they opt for heavy-handed group reprisals. Similarly, the government adverts to control obesity have been as weak as a supply teacher with a stupid surname. They’ve centred on a bizarre plasticine family plodding around to the sound of gentle calorific advice. They look like a ‘No carbs before Marbs’ episode of Morph.

The truth is that governments are caught between wanting to fire out a strong message on obesity while simultaneously being terrified of causing offence. But if you are going to do public-information campaigns they have to be ominous. Remember the advert for AIDS? It was so powerful that I asked my mum if I needed to get tested. I was 11. I started wearing condoms just to go swimming. I don’t care for authoritarian state control, but there’s something more honest about scaring the shit out of people rather than spaffing public money on forgettable messages.

I’ve also wondered this week about the visceral reaction to Extinction Rebellion. I’m one of those who can’t resist a light-hearted dig here and there, while grudgingly respecting their willingness to be arrested (at least it exceeds the limp commitment of most modern liberal protest).

Maybe the annoyance runs deeper. After all, it’s yet another group of people telling you what to do – in this case, to stop flying and stop eating meat. It might be that this lot have some reasonable points, but the manner of the protests and the unerring white noise of other organisations telling you what to say, eat and where to travel all blends into one. The only defence is either to get angry or take the piss.

And maybe it runs deeper still. Extinction Rebellion, Greta, Dame Sally, Meghan Markle – all of these people have caché and influence without a specific mandate. The biggest ever political mandate this country ever delivered is still stymied, maybe one day to be squashed entirely. Meanwhile, the police tiptoe around sleeping protesters at Smithfield. They even made sure their ‘kettling’ technique was solar-powered.

One day a mainstream political party may cotton on to the fact that many British people hate being told what to do and want as few layers of government as possible. Crazy idea, but – beyond the ‘Allo ‘Allo!-style rantings of Leave.EU – it might have been a big part of the Brexit vote.

There are so many people with a natural libertarian streak. It’s frankly bizarre this audience isn’t served. If I did ever get into politics I’d start my own movement, the Stay Out of My Fucking Business Party. Who’s with me?

Geoff Norcott is a stand-up comedian. He is touring Taking Liberties until November this year. Get tickets here. Follow him on Twitter: @GeoffNorcott

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Ven Oods

17th October 2019 at 11:59 am

I’d have thought that the main reason for not eating on public trasport would be that the vehicles must be absolutely bogging with germs and bacteria. Be like eating a sarnie that had been retrieved from the bottom of one of those Dyson Airblades.

Ven Oods

17th October 2019 at 11:43 am

“So many of these ideas are from the ‘punish the whole class’ style of patrician thinking.”
I once worked at an international engineering company where a manager bollocked an entire floor of workers because one individual had been overheard rustling a newspaper while inside a toilet cubicle. You can probably guess which way productivity went after the innocent had been flogged for not committing the crime.
I believe that Meghan etc possess cachet as well as caché, so they’re doubly-blessed!

A Game

14th October 2019 at 8:01 pm

Its one thing to enforce a “no eating” on the train, like “no smoking”. Its this pretence that its about obesity that is so hideously duplicitous. The hot food eaters are squeezing a meal in in their crappy, working stiff lives. Nothing to do with over eating. Inoffensive snack foods… eat it on the train, eat it walking away from the train… still going home to 6 slices of toast before dinner.
I like the crack about misery eating on public transport. Exactly.

You always have to go to the people. You see a photo of this dictator… what are you looking at? That she can’t but help take a nasty swipe at the population, one last hit of power, before retiring.
And I want to know why people get their peerage, before they have finished and the word is in on whether they earnt it or not. What is that about? Dame Cressida Dick. But what if, when she’s finished her tour of duty… the record reads that she was crap? Does she have it taken off her?

Ven Oods

17th October 2019 at 11:46 am

I’d point out that the likes of Kinnock and Archer got their peerages long after the word was out that they were crap. And they still have them.

steve moxon

11th October 2019 at 12:34 pm

Hang on Geoff, have you ever been on a bus when somebody gets out their hot food? It’s pretty unpleasant in such a confined space. There are notices specifically about not eating hot food for the very reason it’s unpleasant to other passengers. The notices are sometimes ignored, and it’d be harder to ignore if all eating was dissuaded.

Major Bonkers

11th October 2019 at 11:02 am

Possibly the stupidest recent political nannying is that from Zac Goldsmith, who is a junior minister in the current government. He doesn’t like the idea of trophy hunters bringing stuffed animals back to Britain, so he proposes to ban it.

Ah yes, the politicians favourite exercise: a public display of their virtue, by banning all of us from some footling minority interest. And thus freedom is slowly constricted, as, by a thousand cuts, it becomes ever more restrained.

The second best political exercise is actively forcing people to do something. You don’t like your 4-year old being taught about poofters and trannies? Tough shit, matey. Only this morning, James Brokenshire, the education minister, was suggesting on the Today programme that schools should have a 100 yard exclusion zone around them to prevent demonstrators being able to object.

Yes, you have a right to object, but only where nobody can see or hear you.

And this is a Conservative government. God knows what things will come to if weird grandpa, Dianne Abbott, and Harriet Harman ever get in.

Ven Oods

17th October 2019 at 11:50 am

“He doesn’t like the idea of trophy hunters bringing stuffed animals back to Britain, so he proposes to ban it.”
I’d argue that your example is a long way from being the stupidest, Major. Apologies if you’re a big-game-hunter yourself.

john larkin

11th October 2019 at 12:49 am

When Prince Harry comes round to sort out my mental health, will he bring Jamie Oliver to put me on a diet? I hope their visit doesn’t clash with Greta Thunberg’s hectoring tour of our council estate…

Major Bonkers

11th October 2019 at 11:04 am

You forgot Lily Allen and Garry Lineker.

They are our conscience.

Michael Lynch

10th October 2019 at 11:11 pm

There was an XR chap on the radio over here today trying to tell Irish farmers that they’ll have to get out of the cattle industry because the bulldozer of green economics is on its way! I though good luck with that one mate and had a quiet chuckle all the way home.

PP Garb

10th October 2019 at 9:53 pm

Oh come on, Geoff. You can’t go scaring the shit out of folks, not while they’re’ in their safe places.

Martin Bishop

10th October 2019 at 8:13 pm

You’re framing this all wrong. You’re meant to say that it’s an infantile attempt by the misanthropic middle class to attack the working class who have to eat their breakfast whilst travelling on the bus and depriving the hard working class snack seller of income needed to support making more babies to solve the world underpopulation problem.

Francis Lonergan

10th October 2019 at 7:50 pm

Of course everyone should be allowed to munch through their curry with accompanying dog on next seat, bag in the aisle, while having a 50db phone conversation with Tracey about nothing in particular and resting their feet on the opposite seats.

Ven Oods

17th October 2019 at 11:53 am

I’m afraid that a 50dBA conversation on a moving vehicle would merge into the background noise, but otherwise your point is taken.

Ian Wilson

10th October 2019 at 7:02 pm

It’s just hilarious, competely unenforceable, and nobody will care. Just shows that brains does not mean common sense…

William Murphy

10th October 2019 at 10:47 pm

it reminds me of that 1980s parliamentary proposal to ban the long term retention of video recordings. I suspect it was an MP in the pay of the media industries. The piss takers had a field day, with speculation about evil video recorder owners being charged with retaining a copy of Whitney Houston on Top of the Pops beyond the 90 day limit. Soon we will have evil consumers of Kit Kats on the 172 route cluttering up the courts…..

James Knight

10th October 2019 at 5:48 pm

I must have missed the vote for the UK to become a police state. When did that happen?

William Murphy

10th October 2019 at 10:48 pm

That’s the whole point of a police state – no votes allowed.

Andrew Best

10th October 2019 at 5:15 pm

I will stand as an MP in my local ward against Keir starmer
He is definitely a do what I say not what I do politician and needs to be removed
Smoke crack in the streets, fight, stab and be a scum bag, ok
But eat a bag of crisps on a bus, bang them up and throw away the key

Ven Oods

17th October 2019 at 11:56 am

I did wonder how they’d justify prosecuting someone with a 50-bags-a-day crisp habit. One rule for certain addictions and another for the rest?

Jim Lawrie

10th October 2019 at 5:15 pm

Surely exceptions will be made for vegans, my Halal pal, and the odd Kosher nosher.

Warren Alexander

10th October 2019 at 4:59 pm

I’ll sign up!

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