Six times Boris Johnson criticised the nanny state

Six times Boris Johnson criticised the nanny state
Picture by Andrew Parsons / No. 10 Downing Street
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Who would have thought a Prime Minister that once railed against the ‘continuing creep of the nanny state’ would be the one to launch a war on fat? Boris Johnson spent much of his journalistic life before No. 10 criticising the paternalistic instincts of policymakers. Yet now he is promising new laws to help 'reduce the temptations that lure us away from doing the right thing'. Here are six examples of Johnson's libertarian rebukes: 

1. It's your own fault you're fat

On the issue of obesity that has prompted his Damascene conversion, Johnson authored a Telegraph column in 2004 entitled ‘Face it: it's all your own fat fault’ in which he argued that obesity was a choice and that ‘the more the state tries to take responsibility for the problem, the less soluble the problem will become’. Words for him to live by in 2020 perhaps.

2. Getting rid of Jamie Oliver

Johnson reiterated his defence of the dumpy in 2006 when he criticised Jamie Oliver's attempts to make school meals more nutritious. In a pointed dig at then-leader David Cameron and his praise of Oliver, Boris was reported to have said ‘if I was in charge I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they like'. Another broken promise.

3. The 'crack-brained' plan to make child booster seats compulsory

Only two weeks before starting his Jamie Oliver row, Johnson used his Telegraph column to demonstrate his libertarian credentials on another crucial issue: child booster seats. Excoriating a proposal by the European Commission to mandate booster seats for children up to the age of 12, Johnson claimed it was no business of the state to be ‘poking their noses into the back seats of our cars?’ Time will tell if Brexit removes this bit of EU-mandated nanny state interference.

4. The Port of London's restrictions on swimming in the Thames

Decrying the Port of London’s decision to ban swimming in the Thames without a permit, Johnson claimed ‘this river-swimming ban is of a piece with the namby-pamby, risk-averse, mollycoddled airbagged approach that is doing so much economic damage to Britain’. He had no power to overrule this decision as Mayor of London back in 2012, as it was under the purview of the Transport Secretary. Grant Shapps has yet to review this decision, perhaps Boris will instruct him to use his Spanish quarantine to look into the proposal? 

5. The attempted ban on smoking in parks

One ‘namby-pamby’ nanny state measure Johnson did have the power to overrule as London Mayor was the 2014 recommendation of health advisors that smoking in parks should be banned. Johnson rejected this overreach as ‘bossy and nannying’.

6. George Osborne's sin tax on sugary milkshakes

Just last year, during his 2019 leadership campaign, Boris Johnson made waves by promising to review sugar taxes implemented by George Osborne and their extension onto milkshakes. Johnson pledged as Prime Minister to combat the ‘continuing creep of the nanny state’ and specifically pilloried sin taxes as instruments which ‘clobber those who can least afford it’.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to

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