The ex expat
After being denied her checkout chocolate, Kate Birch rails against a country that tells her what to eat and when to eat it
Kate Birch debates the merits of the nanny state.
Something annoying happened the other day. I finished my weekly grocery shop, reached the checkout, and discovered the chocolate display had disappeared. “The government made us move it from the checkouts,” said the cashier. “To stop people getting fat.”
Yes, the government has told supermarkets to remove confectionary from the checkouts after research found 83 per cent of parents have been pestered by children to buy sweets, with 75 per cent admitting they give in.
Well, you just say ‘no’ to your kids, right? I mean, that’s how they learn.
Not according to the British government, which believes it needs to protect us from ourselves by removing all temptation (and risk) from our lives. Not only do politicians believe us commoners have no willpower, but they also think we don’t possess the intellect to manage our own health or discipline our own children.
OK, I know the nation’s health is in crisis, or so the government keeps telling us, but actually, I’m all right, thank you very much, as are my family, friends, work colleagues and, well, most people I meet.
I am completely capable of saying ‘no’ to my children. In fact, I believe both temptation and risk are crucial, helping us to learn important lessons about self-moderation.
I would also quite like the option to impulse-buy a chocolate bar at the checkout if I so wish. Or, at the very least, gloat smugly while other people – you know, those obese ones everyone keeps talking about – snatch them up.
Well, I’m out of luck, because that tiny indulgence that made my weekly supermarket slog just a little bit brighter has been removed by our ‘nanny state’. Here in Britain, we have one of the most intrusive governments on the planet. Not only do they like to tell us how to run our lives but they spend time and taxpayers’ money putting in place ridiculous rules, to remove what they think are dangers.
I agree there need to be laws that protect us, and many are sensible: seatbelt security for kids in the Seventies and banning smoking in public places more recently.
Other rules though, like making it illegal to flirt with waitresses, are simply absurd. While sending officials to wake people up for job interviews is just wasting money and undermining personal responsibility.
The government seems determined to crack down on the ‘obesity epidemic’. There was talk last year of banning packed lunches for kids (parents have been deemed incapable of providing a balanced diet) and stopping the school run, with parents instead made to drop their kids off a quarter of a mile from school, so they walk.
If politicians are so concerned, why don’t they take serious measures that would improve the nation’s health? Why not kick out all of the fast-food chains, or ban the sale of cigarettes? Could it be because up to 88 per cent of the cost of a packet of cigs goes to the government in tax?
It’s not just our health, however, that the government wants to control, I mean, protect. It’s our enjoyment, too. Yes, fun, it seems, has had its day. In 2008, graduates at a London university were banned from throwing their mortar boards into the air in case one of the hats hit someone; while workers in some companies were stopped from putting up Christmas decorations, in case they got tangled in the tinsel.
Last year saw the end of bouncy castles for kids in Cornwall and kite flying for families on a beach in Yorkshire; while across the country footballs have been banished from school playgrounds.
It’s not just our safety worrying those up top. It’s also our feelings. Some schools have replaced red ink with green when marking papers, deeming red too ‘confrontational’; while others are preventing children from having BFFs, so as to spare other kids’ feelings.
If it’s not Britain’s ridiculous rules threatening to mollycoddle us to death, then it’s the silly ‘stating-the-obvious’ warnings that spew from those above.
Last summer my local train station provided half-hourly announcements reminding me to drink water. Yes, it was hot; yes, my body needed water, but I’m an adult. I know I need to hydrate. Just like I know I need to clean my teeth, wash my children’s clothes and look both ways when I cross the road.
So, as we Brits steamroller down the bubble-wrapped road towards a totalitarian regime, safe from chocolate bars, footballs and Christmas tinsel, and with our personal freedoms increasingly constricted, I remind myself that I am living in one of the world’s so-called greatest democracies.
Temptation and risk are crucial, helping us to learn important lessons about self-moderation