December 21st, 2009
The latest health fatwa is aimed at the wrong target, as usual, says James Delingpole.
This weekend I shall sit down to Sunday lunch with my children, splash their glasses with a drop of claret, and drink a hearty toast to the departure of the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. My children are nine and 11, so I know Sir Liam would disapprove – indeed, he told us as much in his latest fatwa. “Children under 15 should not drink alcohol at all,” declared his new health guidelines on children’s drinking. “Those between 15 and 17 should be supervised by their parents if they are drinking and should limit alcohol intake to one day a week.”
The cheek of it! Was there ever a hectoring, busybodying government directive better guaranteed to have the opposite effect of the one intended? That was certainly its impact upon me. Normally at Sunday lunch, my children only have half a finger’s worth of wine in their glasses – just to give the water a bit of colour, and make them feel grown-up. But after Sir Liam’s nannying strictures, I’m tempted to treat the little darlings to a magnum each.
What’s even more galling about strictures like this is that they’re directed at the wrong target. We all know where Britain’s most serious child-drinking problems lie: on sink estates and among broken homes where rudderless urchins are routinely downing alcopops and cans of super-strong lager before they’ve reached their teens.
But even if these problem kids or their absent parents were capable of reading a newspaper, they wouldn’t give a stuff. So instead, flailing desperately for attention, Sir Liam has to have his peevish dig at the very people who deserve his attention least: the soft-target middle classes.
Now you might think, and I might think, that it is quite a good idea to borrow the French habit of gently introducing children to the convivial pleasures of the grape. But not according to sourpuss Sir Liam. This, he declares, is a “middle-class obsession”. There is, he insists, no evidence to suggest that “weaning” children on to alcohol makes them sensible drinkers: “Alcohol has a ruinous effect on the foundations of adult life. Too often childhood is robbed of its clear-eyed innocence and replaced with the befuddled futility that comes with the consumption of dirt-cheap alcohol.”
Scary, fire-and-brimstone stuff. But perhaps his argument might have carried a little more weight if Sir Liam didn’t have such a long history of crying wolf. This, remember, is the same doom-monger (“Private Frazer”, as The Spectator‘s Rod Liddle has nicknamed him) who cheerfully assured us that between 50,000 and 750,000 of us were likely to die of avian flu (actual death toll: zero) and that perhaps 60,000 of us would be finished off by swine flu (deaths in England so far: 178). Earlier this year, he put satirists out of business by inventing the concept of “passive drinking”. This, he explained, was a bit like “passive smoking” – only with booze instead of fags – and resulted in precisely 3,393 deaths every year.
If this was about just one scaremongering killjoy we could all rest easy: he is, after all, retiring next year to enjoy a £2.2 million pension pot (funded, presumably, by us pie-eyed middle-class lushes). But unfortunately, Sir Liam is all too representative of an administration whose primary goal seems to be to micromanage every last detail of our private lives, from how and where and what we smoke, eat and drink to the kind of jokes we are permitted to tell.
Since coming into power 12 years ago, the New Labour Government has created more than 3,000 new offences, of which 1,472 can carry a prison sentence (including smoking in a public place, disobeying a health and safety inspector or selling a grey squirrel – yes, really).
One might have hoped that this plethora of rules and regulations would have ushered in a golden era of low-crime tranquillity. Instead, we feel less safe and more oppressed.
Why? One reason, surely, is the Government’s obsession with finding new ways of persecuting the law-abiding majority over social problems which, all too often, were made in Whitehall. The failure of our education system is a good example: rather than remedying it with rigour and discipline, Ed Balls’s brilliant proposed solution is to imprison parents who lie about their address when applying for school places.
Similarly absurd is the Government’s order that all children must be taught why it is wrong for husbands to beat up their wives. The only reason this has become an issue is because of Labour’s pussyfootingly lax stance on wife-beating (and worse) among certain minorities. Rather than confront the problem head on, it has to waste everyone’s time and money by presenting it as a pan-cultural phenomenon.
It all reminds me of those days back in school when one child had done something wrong and, by way of punishment, the whole class was forced into detention. My response to this kind of injustice is the same now as it was when I was a boy. I want to rebel. I want to put bullying “Sir” in his place. That’s why, this Sunday, my children and I will be raising a glass to the final days of Sir Liam.
(to read more, click here)
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