Friday 29 May 2015

An open letter to the new government

This is a guest post by Paul Chase which I endorse.

The aftermath of a general election provides the opportunity for a bit of special pleading. So here are my 10 pieces of advice to the Secretaries of State and civil servants of all those government departments whose remit impacts on the licensed retail sector (Treasury, Home Office, Health and BIS at least):

Dear Minister/Sir Humphrey

When considering policy proposals, please bear in mind the distinction between real ‘public health’ (scientific medicine, sewage disposal, refuse collection, clean drinking water, hygienically produced food and the like) and the ideology of ‘healthism’ (puritanism, nanny-statism, coercive lifestyle regulation, enforced product reformulation, sin taxes and a general tendency towards world domination).

When so-called ‘evidence-based’ alcohol and food policy proposals are put to you, don’t confuse ‘evidence’ with ‘eminence’. The two words sound the same, but they don’t mean the same.

‘Evidence’ is real science from which policy recommendations flow. ‘Eminence’ is cited in support of junk science for a pre-determined policy proposal - to which a spurious authority is lent because it’s publicised by someone who says “Don’t you know who the bloody hell I am?” Minimum pricing and Professor Sir Ian Gilmore comes to mind.

When considering ‘research evidence’ in relation to the alcohol we drink, don’t confuse ‘causation’ with ‘correlation’ or ‘association’. Example: smoking tobacco causes lung cancer. It is also highly correlated with drinking beer because a lot of people who like a fag, like a pint. Therefore beer drinking is ‘associated’ with lung cancer. The deliberate conflation of causation with correlation is what enables healthists to make exaggerated claims about alcohol-related health-harms.

Please recognise that healthists can and do pluck facts and figures out of thin air. The ‘sensible drinking’ limits and the BMI cut-off points for ‘normal weight’, ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ are salient examples. And if you are a civil servant, please try and persuade ministers not to say “Alcohol abuse costs the taxpayer/NHS/society £21 billion a year and leads to 1.2 million hospital admissions” because neither of these numbers are true, and anyway the minister quoting them doesn’t have a clue where they come from.

Please bear in mind that it isn’t the availability of alcohol that makes people drink it. So healthist policy proposals that seek to reduce availability (close pubs) will not impact on harmful consumption. If there is a high-density of licensed premises in a given area, that’s because there are lots of people who like a drink living in, or resorting to, the area concerned. Demand begets supply, not the other way round.

Please understand, that with the exception of new product launches, advertising beverage alcohol products (or any product), does not drive primary demand, it facilitates brand or category switching. So, please recognise that proposals to restrict the advertising of alcohol are about de-normalising drinking, not “protecting children”.

As a matter of priority you should stop the public funding of anti-alcohol political lobby groups, such as Alcohol Concern, by government departments and quangos like Public Health England - who recently gave AC half a million pounds to fund its latest failed campaign - otherwise known as ‘Dry January’.

Recognise that claims such as “the binge-drinking epidemic, and the obesity time-bomb” will “bankrupt the NHS” if not tackled immediately by sin taxes, are bollocks.

And in conjunction with the point above, please recognise that the notion that sin taxes will make people more virtuous is a fundamentally improbable proposition. Actually, all sin taxes do is distort markets and disproportionately impact upon the poor. So, no sugar or fat taxes please!

Recognise that ‘healthism’ is the ideology of ‘the health of the nation’; it is dogmatic and totalitarian. If you’re unsure if a policy proposal is healthist or not, just ask yourself whether Andy Burnham or Dianne Abbot would be likely to support it, and if they would – don’t do it!

I make the special pleadings above more in hope than anticipation, because the healthist fifth column has infiltrated not just our healthcare system, but our medical research establishment and the socialist World Healthist Organisation – sorry ‘World Health Organisation’.  “Health in every policy” is an iniquitous credo that seeks to assert that populations must be governed in a way that subordinates all other considerations, such as jobs and investment, to a narrow, dogmatic, coercive notion of public health that nobody has voted for.

Paul Chase

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