Last week, Caroline Spelman apologised when her "big idea" to flog our much-loved forests got the thumbs down on all sides. The day before, Dave had trashed it publicly during Prime Minister's Questions. Perhaps now Mr Cameron is back in the driving seat, he can rein in cocky Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. He has told The Grocer he's not interested in "nannying" people about what they eat. His new deal with the fast food giants, to put calorie counts on menus, does not add up to much – not when he's cut back on public health advertising and said he wants to work "in partnership" with the food and drink industry. It's a bit like asking Jeremy Clarkson to come up with a new driving test or a modern version of the Highway Code.
The Government says it wants to empower us to take responsible decisions about how to run our lives. When it comes to alcohol, this is a David and Goliath battle. Last summer, they set up a committee to look at ways of educating us about the risks associated with alcohol. It was made up of health experts and drinks manufacturers. Now, the doctors and professors who gave their considerable expertise to this initiative are on the point of chucking in the towel – because of the all-pervasive influence of the booze lobby.
This article is bound to produce a stinging rebuttal from Diageo, our biggest drinks manufacturer, which spends millions on PR and consultants to push its point of view. It whinges every time anyone has the temerity to suggest that as a nation we drink too much and ought to be doing something about it. It funds all sorts of "research" into alcohol – which, in my opinion, makes the results open to charges of bias. It has the ear of government ministers and ready access to Whitehall.
Fact: liver disease in this country is soaring among the under 65s, which is almost entirely down to alcohol abuse. You can't feel or see liver disease, it just creeps up on you and often the only solution is a liver transplant. Fact: although drink-related deaths have fallen, half of all the people who are teetotal used to drink, which implies that they have given up for health reasons. Fact: the World Health Organisation says people in the UK drink more alcohol a year than the European average, and we are ranked in the top 20 countries for drinking in the world. If you remove the teetotallers from the calculations, we drink on average a whopping 15.6 litres of pure alcohol a year against the European average of 12.2 litres.
The WHO says one in 15 British men is an alcoholic. Although consumption overall has fallen for the past six years (which the drink lobby often trumpets), most health experts say that the people who do drink consume more, and the biggest increase is among the middle classes.
The Government seems unable or unwilling to impose a minimum price per unit that would have any impact, in spite of being begged to do so by the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence, the former chief medical officer, the British Medical Association, Alcohol Concern... the list is endless. It's been calculated that the much-trumpeted minimum price per unit is so feeble it will only affect about one product in 3,600 – hardly tackling the cost to the NHS of alcohol-related illness. The new group looking at booze was not allowed to discuss minimum pricing, and the Home Office only met one executive from an outside company – who just happened to work for Diageo. The minutes of what they discussed were "not available".
The booze lobby has triumphed – health information will appear on 80 per cent of labels from 2013, and there will be messages on beer mats. There will be no posters advertising booze within 100 metres of schools. Pathetic. The Government has refused to follow the French, who have banned ads on television and in the cinema and prohibited drinks companies from sponsoring sporting and cultural events. Meanwhile, Heineken has been chosen as one of the "official" beers for the 2012 Olympics. Shows you where our thinking lies.
Doctors have just surveyed their patients, asking how many know someone with a drink problem. More than half said they had close friends or relatives whose relationships had ended because of alcohol abuse. A third of 25- to 34-year-olds had injured themselves when drunk. How much longer is Mr Cameron going to put up with a Health spokesman who won't listen to doctors, surgeons, health experts and scientists because of powerful lobby groups?
Adrianne, Lynda, me... all wondrous in our way
More than thirty years after Lynda Carter hung up her star-spangled hotpants, we are finally getting a new Wonder Woman. After much competition from glamorous stars such as Christina Hendricks and Beyoncé Knowles, the role in the new television pilot has gone to a lesser known actress, Adrianne Palicki, who already sports a Supergirl tattoo and whose brother is a comic-book artist.
I once went to a fancy-dress party dressed as Wonder Woman. The outfit was fraught with danger as it consisted of very small tight blue pants, a corset, high-heeled red patent boots, a whip, a gold crown and two huge black wigs, one on top of the other. Getting out of the limo required assistance – it was a bit like unfurling the legs of a giraffe, and all the men I danced with seemed to have their faces at crotch level.
My picture ended up on the front pages – and I've got a cut-out of it in my garage. I think the whip, rather than my legs, was the main attraction.
Going to hell in a handbag
Hillary Clinton, one of the most powerful women in the world, has told Harper's Bazaar: "I do love a good handbag". She goes on to say that handbags fulfil a psychological need, "a desire to organise and contain that is so important... in your daily life". The first time I met Cherie Blair, she asked me, "Where did you get that great handbag?" It was a gift; I could never spend a fortune on a bag.
Hillary "loves" her shocking pink Ferragamo bag "because it makes me so happy". She spends a lot of time meeting leaders in the developing world, many of whose wives are dressed in couture, flaunting swanky bags while their subjects starve. Her bag sends the wrong message.
A bit of PR advice, Max: belt up
Max Clifford, publicist to the late Jade Goody, has been telling readers of The Times how he would save Silvio Berlusconi's career. You might think that a billionaire media magnate would have no shortage of outlets in which to express his point of view in the controversy over underage sex and "bunga bunga" parties. But according to Max, "he needs to stand up and say he has never done anything to let down his position as PM and stick to his guns.
Male opinion isn't a problem, it's the women he's got to win over ... he needs to get Sophia Loren to come out and say what a wonderful man he is." The idea that the half a million Italian women who marched in protest at Silvio's tawdry antics would be swayed by an ageing actress is risible. Almost as risible as Max advising a prime minister.Reuse content