Am I alone in not wanting to download the Covid app?

As I begin, I’m tortured by the doo-do-doo-do of The Twilight Zone’s theme music. I’ve hurtled back in time. Suddenly I’m a wise-ass, liberty-loving journalist who’s had it up to my eyeballs with intrusive, ineffectual top-down nanny-ism, and I’m pooping on yet another pitiful feint at ‘doing something’ by the lumbering big state. OK, check. This feels dead familiar. But I went to a poncier school, my hair is way weirder, and it seems that my name is Boris Johnson. Consider this, then, an act of either plagiarism or ventriloquism. If with a tad more alliteration (I’m keener on assonance myself), Boris of a few years back would have written

A salt and sugar tax doesn’t make much sense

What is the point of the National Food Strategy? When Henry Dimbleby was hired as Britain’s ‘food tsar’ several years ago, the idea was to develop some blue sky thinking and to have someone look at the issue with a fresh pair of eyes, but when he produced his first report last year, it contained the same generic, flat-pack, bone-headed, nanny-state recommendations that every other voice of the establishment had been calling for. So predictable were his conclusions that the government had already committed itself to implementing most of them by the time it was published and he resorted to moaning about Percy Pigs to give himself an angle. The

Covid-19 and the problem with Britain’s weight

How strong is the link between obesity and the danger of dying from Covid? Yesterday, the World Obesity Federation published a report containing a widely-quoted statistic that 2.2 million out of 2.5 million Covid deaths globally have occurred in countries where more than half the population is overweight. The figure is stark, although also highly unsatisfactory. Obesity tends to be more prevalent in wealthy countries – which also happen to have more aged populations, another strong risk factor in Covid deaths. Yet the report also collates a substantial body of evidence linking obesity more directly with Covid deaths. Among the findings reported around the world is a British study finding

Covid has killed off our civil liberties

It started with smoking. The 1960s and 1970s saw little popular objection to legislation restricting advertisements by private companies purveying a legal product. Little objection was raised thereafter when these same companies were banned from promoting their wares at all. Broadly shamed, even smokers have mutely accepted confiscatory taxes on cigarettes. As laws to protect the public from passive smoking have extended parts of the US to beaches, parks and even one’s own apartment balcony — locations where the danger to others is virtually nonexistent — few have cried overreach. It’s a truism: tobacco companies are evil (and so are smokers). The suppression of smoking is widely regarded as a

What we can learn from Sweden

It is a particular pleasure to be returning to the columns of The Spectator, more than half a century after I became editor. The paper has been part of my life for a very long time. When I was at school, more than 70 years ago, we were all told to read Harold Nicolson’s column every week, to learn the art of essay-writing. I like to think that it was still a good paper in my time, but it is a much better one now. Fraser Nelson and his team are doing an excellent job. Our lives remain dominated by the plague, aka Covid-19. The government’s handling of it —

Barometer | 8 August 2019

Dams, lives and statistics The town of Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, was evacuated after heavy rainfall caused the partial collapse of a reservoir slipway. No one has been killed in a dam collapse in Britain since 1925, but the worst incidents up to that date were: — Dale Dyke, Sheffield, 1864. Puddle clay core of dam fractured while the reservoir behind it was being filled for the first time. 244 were killed. —Biberry Dam, Holmfirth, W. Yorkshire, 1852. Dam had settled since construction 17 years earlier. Water overtopped the dam during a storm, causing collapse. 81 died. — Whinhill Dam, Greenock, 1835. Embankment had been undermined by burrowing rats and moles. 31

Mixed messages about body weight are nothing new

Tackling obesity is the latest government initiative, universally condemned as nannying. Ask a Spartan. From an early age, Spartan children were taught not to be fussy: to eat up their food, and not to fear the dark or being left alone. At the age of seven, boys were taken from their homes and lived together in ‘herds’, exercising bare-footed and often naked, keeping fit and learning obedience. Food was sparse, because ‘overeating produces a broad, squat frame, and laboured breathing’. Lean features ‘defined the body’s true shape’, unlike obese ones. Competitive games were fostered, winners encouraged and a proud mental resilience developed. Now that’s nannying: the full Rees-Mogg. Other Greeks

Letters: How to slim down the nation

Peer review Sir: A neat solution to the levels of inactivity of some members of the House of Lords (‘Peer pressure’, 1 August) might be annual self-assessment against national minimum standards: record of attendance (including duration), contributions to debates, questions asked, involvement in legislative procedure, notable achievements, charitable works. Any peer falling short should be shown the ornate door, as should any caught popping in just to claim their £300.David EdwardsNorton sub Hamdon, Somerset Matrix of success Sir: It is agreed that the purpose of the Upper House is to employ its wisdom and experience to improve draft bills emanating from the Commons. The present occupants of the Lords hardly

Rod Liddle

We are living in a post-truth society

Activists wish to change the name of a school in north London because it is named after a road which was named after a dairy farmer who had the same name as someone the activists dislike. This is the Rhodes Avenue primary school in Wood Green, named after Thomas Rhodes, a great-uncle of Cecil Rhodes who died when Cecil was three. According to the activists, Thomas cannot be ‘disentangled’ from Cecil despite the fact that they are totally different people separated by two generations. These genii would like the school to be renamed Oliver Tambo school, after the popular South African murderer and politician. It would not hugely surprise me

Fat-shaming didn’t do me any harm

One of the genuine pleasures I always take in arriving back in the north-east after being in London is that I am suddenly transformed from being an aged fat pig with bad teeth into a youthful, lissome creature with teeth no different to anybody else. It is not the clean air or the glorious countryside which has this effect; it’s just that everything is comparative. Giles Coren once observed that for every 50 miles you travel away from our capital, you go back in time about ten years. If this is true — and I suspect it is — then up here on Teesside we’re in the middle of that

Portrait of the week: Second wave fears, cash for cyclists and a cat catches Covid

Home At a few hours’ notice, the government removed Spain from the list of countries from which it was possible to enter Britain without spending two weeks in quarantine. Among those caught by the regulations was Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, whose department regulates so-called ‘travel corridors’. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, said: ‘In Europe, amongst some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic.’ Oldham followed neighbouring Rochdale in imposing stricter regulations, prohibiting social visits to houses. A Siamese in southern England was found to be the first cat in Britain to have been

It’s time we were honest about obesity and Covid-19

Difficult facts can be conveyed in a sensitive, non-judgemental and compassionate manner; indeed, this describes the daily practise of medicine. When obesity rears its head, however, a significant number of my colleagues in the health professions display a cognitive dissonance and determination to deprive patients of the unvarnished facts that they would not dare hide with conditions such as cancer. Prioritising their own “feelings”, they patronise the obese by taking offence on their behalf, preferring to virtue-signal, accusing those “ insensitive “ enough to want to state the facts of “fat shaming” or victim-blaming. Then, in an apparent coup de grace, they triumphantly declare that obesity is complex and multifactorial,

Writer’s Notebook

Just back from a few days in Rome — the perfect small metropolis for ‘street-haunting’, as Cyril Connolly described his love of strolling through cities. I first went to Rome in 1976, aiming to interview — for my university magazine — three of the writers who lived there or thereabouts at the time. I duly wrote to Anthony Burgess, Gore Vidal and Muriel Spark. All of them politely turned me down but I went anyway and have revisited the city many times. In fact, in the way life sometimes arranges these things, I later met all three writers and even came to know Burgess and Vidal a bit. As reading

Diary – 13 December 2018

The nice French doctor looked beadily at the screen. There were the results of my tests, in irrefutable detail. They had taken my blood; they had beeped in my ears; they had covered me in painful hair-pulling electrodes, and now there was no use bluffing. I tried to draw her attention to what I conceived was my Hulk-like strength, the blast furnace super bellows of my lung capacity. She wasn’t having any of it. There was the key piece of data — blinking like a Geiger counter. I have really known it, or suspected it, for decades. In the past few months I have had the joy of being back

Shrinking pizzas and pies isn’t the way to tackle obesity

From 30 March next year, of course, we will no longer be subject to all those silly EU laws on bent bananas (which was genuine, not a myth), toasters, balloons and all the rest. Instead we will be able to concentrate on passing our own good old British silly laws. Even the European Commission never came up with the idea of limiting pies to 695 calories. So bravo, then, to Public Health England for having the imagination to out-Brussels Brussels. Today, the quango unveils its latest strategy in fighting obesity: regulating portion sizes. As well as regulating pies, the proposed rules include a maximum calorie count for pizzas of 928

The big fat truth

Sofie Hagen is a young Danish comic I admire. I didn’t see her most recent show, Dead Baby Frog, but I saw her win the best newcomer award at Edinburgh in 2015 and I was happy for her. I liked her sweet face and her fury. The audience treated her as a benign oddity. Because Sofie is fat. I say this with no judgment, for I am fat myself, but I am not as upset about it as she is. I make no attempt to spin my fat into a matter for universal sympathy and something to be admired. It is, as the adult self says, what it is. Even

Letters | 14 September 2017

Fat responsibility Sir: Prue Leith is right to note that the state picks up the bill for our national obesity problem (‘Our big fat problem’, 9 September). But the kind of large and expensive scheme she proposes only deepens the mindset that the government is responsible for our choices. Manufacturers should be forced to display hard-hitting facts about obesity on the labels of the unhealthiest food, in the vein of cigarette packets. This would leave people in no doubt about the consequences to their health, while avoiding extra cost to the state or punitive taxes which also hit those who exercise moderation. Theo White Chelmsford, Essex Bring back smoking Sir:

The fat tax fallacy

James Cracknell, the athlete turned anti-obesity campaigner, was the subject of sniggering and derision in April when he said that North Korea and Cuba had got a ‘handle on obesity’. With impressive understatement, he attributed this to both countries being ‘quite controlling on behavioural trends’. It was a bad point poorly made, but in a roundabout way he drew attention to the major obstacles faced by those who want to reduce obesity rates in the rest of the world: freedom and affluence. Only Venezuela was missing from his list. Its people lost an average of 19 pounds last year as its basket-case economy unravelled, but this only serves to underline

Tom Goodenough

The Spectator Podcast: Fat Britannia

On this week’s Spectator Podcast, we discuss Britain’s obesity crisis, the upcoming German election and the England team’s footballing woes. First up, Britain’s obesity problem is worsening, says Prue Leith in her Spectator cover piece. The UK is the sixth fattest nation on earth and more than a quarter of the population is obese. Yet despite this worrying epidemic, precious little is being done. So how can we fix this crisis? Spectator Health’s Christopher Snowdon, Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of Action on Sugar, and Professor Francesco Rubino, from Kings College London, have some answers. In her cover piece, Prue Leith writes: Part of the UK’s problem is that we see

Our big fat problem

The good news is that Theresa May has dropped the threat to withdraw universal free school meals. Thank God (and the PM) for that. School lunches are the biggest weapon we have to fight obesity. The UK is sixth in the supersize race of OECD countries, with a quarter of the population obese. The fact that six of the fattest nations (the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and the UK) are English-speaking should tell us something about our food culture. But sadly even Japan and South Korea, the slimmest nations, are fattening up fast on burgers and chips. What is to be done? No country is going to have