The Corner


Nanny Boris Johnson, Censor and Food Policeman

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London, March 4, 2020. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

I would call British prime minister Boris Johnson a disappointment, but that seems rather harsh on the word “disappointment.” He’s botched Brexit, he’s botched COVID, and with his uncosted and unworkable fantasy of transforming the U.K. into a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, he will make it even more difficult for the U.K. to recover from the losses created by his earlier blunders.

But he has managed, with a little help from Rubio-style Tories, the Left, ancient obiter dicta, and an entertainingly disreputable past to preserve the idea that he is some sort of libertarian, no small achievement for someone who hymns FDR, is apparently excited to work with Biden on climate change, has crushed civil liberties in the name of his (failed) COVID policy, and is planning to impose a draconian censorship regime on social media.

But sometimes it’s the smaller things that give a politician away. I may have voted for Mike Bloomberg for mayor of New York City (or, more accurately, against his opponents), but his policing (or attempted policing) of what or where people ate, drank, or smoke revealed him to be someone with no proper sense of where the state should stop interfering in people’s private decisions, big or small. Nothing I have seen in Bloomberg’s subsequent career has made me rethink that view.

And so it is with Johnson.

This summer it was announced that his government wanted to:

restrict the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar, such as ‘buy one get one free’ offers. There will also be a ban on these items being placed in prominent locations in stores, such as at checkouts and entrances, and online.

[ban] unhealthy food adverts – new laws will ban the advertising of food high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) on television and online before 9pm when children are most likely to see them.

The latter censorship proposals are, of course, “for the children,” a classic excuse by the sort of politician who regards the adult population as incapable of taking decisions for themselves.

Needless to say (never let a crisis go to waste and all that), Johnson attempted to use COVID-19 as an excuse for this power grab:

If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS.

Like far too many British politicians, Johnson uses the National Health Service (NHS) as an additional justification for the intrusion of the state into what should be an entirely private matter.

And like far too much of what Johnson proposes, his plans had not been properly thought through.

Christopher Snowdon takes up the story:

The government has published its consultation on banning online advertising for so-called ‘junk food’. Once again, civil servants have been put in the position of having to turn a simplistic idea from the ‘public health’ lobby into a workable policy. It’s an impossible job. The idea was sold to politicians as a way of reducing children’s ‘exposure’ to KFC and McDonald’s adverts, but there is no way of clamping down on food that snobs don’t like without impacting food that most people consider normal, even healthy…

Instead of including all HFSS (high in fat, sugar or salt) food, it now intends to include all foods that are classified as HFSS and are part of Public Health England’s food reformulation programmes. This excludes a few products that cannot possibly be reformulated, such as olive oil and raisins, but not many.

The sugar reduction programme includes pretty much anything with added sugar in it: cakes, biscuits, jam, pastries, ice cream, yoghurts, cereals, desserts, etc. while the calorie reduction programme includes:

  • bread with additions (eg olives, cheese etc.)
  • crisps [potato chips] and savoury snacks
  • savoury biscuits, crackers and crispbreads
  • potato products (eg chips, croquettes, mashed potato etc.)
  • sausages (raw and cooked) and sausage meat products, frankfurters and hotdogs, burgers
  • meat, fish and vegetarian pastry pies and other pastry products
  • cooking sauces and pastes
  • table sauces and dressings
  • pasta/rice/noodles with added ingredients and flavours
  • ready meals with carbohydrate accompaniment (potato, rice, noodles, pasta, etc.) – fish, meat and meat alternatives
  • meal centres without carbohydrate accompaniment (potato, rice, noodles, pasta, etc.) – fish, meat and meat alternatives
  • prepared dips and composite salads as meal accompaniments (eg. coleslaw, potato salad, guacamole, salsa etc.)
  • pizza
  • egg products/dishes (eg quiche)
  • food to go eg sandwiches, boxed main meal salads etc

Quite extensive, then.

The government originally planned to ban the promotion of these products online before 9pm, but it has now decided to ban it entirely. So if you make sausages, pies, jam or cakes for a living, how do you market your wares on the primary advertising medium of the 21st century?

You won’t be able to, basically. The ad ban being proposed is more extensive than anything tried elsewhere in the world. It covers all social media, all commercial websites and even your own website, emails and text messages.

It gets even worse, but you’ll have to read the full post to see the full intrusiveness and utter stupidity of what Johnson is proposing.

Johnson saw off Jeremy Corbyn and (before making a mess of it) delivered Brexit. For the former he deserves great thanks and, for the latter, qualified thanks. In 2020, however, he has demonstrated that he is not only not up to the job of prime minister, but, as this grubby little initiative shows, that he is as destructive in (relatively) small things as in large. He should go.

This post should not in any way be read as an endorsement of Michael Gove, who remains, perhaps, the best argument for keeping Johnson in No. 10.


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