Editor-At-Large: Murder, germ-infested wards, illiteracy... but hey, Fit Town is sexy

Alan Johnson's new big idea for his eco-communities is just another Labour distraction from the basics they can't get right
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The Independent Online

Imagine a life where you are regularly weighed and your body mass is calculated, where you have to walk or cycle along designated routes, and eat specially selected food on a strictly monitored diet. No, this is not a new kind of open prison, but the ghastly Orwellian fate in store for our kids as part of the Government's latest "big idea" – a "fit town".

Health Secretary Alan Johnson thinks that the biggest problems facing our society are climate change and obesity. Hardly controversial, but planning to build new communities that not only conform to strict environmental standards, but also include a whole load of things to get us off our backsides and striding healthily into the future sounds just too dictatorial for words.

We are already the most photographed and monitored citizens in the EU – and a fat lot of good it does. Rhys Jones was shot in Liverpool, but no one has been arrested. Day in, day out, young people are cut down, and time and time again the police fail to identify a suspect, in spite of all those speed cameras, CCTV systems and community officers.

At what point does this government get on with sorting out a few basic problems that rank far higher up my to-do list than weighing kids every day and building bloody cycle lanes and toilets with the correct kind of flush?

Before we build one eco/fit town, and concrete over one square inch of Britain in the process, could we just do a health check on some other, more fundamental problems than the size of our girth?

Can our leaders guarantee that 10 out of 10 people who enter an NHS hospital will not leave it in a coffin after contracting a bug? Can they promise that every child will leave primary school able to read and write and literacy will be a little bit higher than it was half a century ago? And if our police force mysteriously shoot a completely innocent man in broad daylight on the Underground, why is it ridiculous to expect someone in charge to resign and accept responsibility?

Why I loathe Fat Towns, Fit Towns, or whatever Mr Johnson wants to call them, is that they are a diversion. Like a lot of New Labour ideas, it's a wheeze to distract us from the fact that they are not very good at the boring basics of life, like delivering on their promise of same-sex hospital wards. They just won't face the realities of life.

Hazel Blears was on the radio the other day wittering on about immigration – and she came up with the expression, "there are plenty of places in Britain that are not full up". Yes, Hazel, like the Highlands, Dartmoor and all our national parks. But I think you'll find that our cities, and the places where people actually have to find work, are pretty packed, and local authorities are struggling to cope with the thousands of new arrivals.

Another government diversionary tactic was to set up a quasi-quango to deal with waste: Wrap, as it is wittily titled, tells us it is very worried about the 6.7 million tons of food we are chucking away every year, which produces a huge amount of polluting gases. Now we are bombarded with government-approved recipes telling us how to turn old cod and chips into tasty fishcakes. It seems very laudable, until you know that up to 500,000 lambs in Wales and Scotland will be culled over the next few weeks.

The Scottish and Welsh assemblies are paying farmers £15 a lamb for them to be slaughtered; the animals have been trapped on hillsides because of foot and mouth restrictions and there is not enough food to survive the winter. They could have given every pensioner in Britain a free carcass for Christmas. They could have frozen the lot and turned it into healthy school meals for a year, saving millions. Instead, to keep meat prices artificially high, these lambs are being destroyed and none will be eaten. Burning healthy lamb sends out a clear message – farming is doomed. Incineration also pollutes the environment.

But don't expect joined-up thinking from politicians. Fit towns sound sexier, don't they?

Players muddy the image of tennis

Last week wasn't a great one for tennis. World No 4, the Russian Nikolay Davydenko, was reprimanded by the umpire during the Paris Masters after serving 10 double faults to lose 6-2, 6-2. The previous week he was fined £1,000 for making no effort during a tournament in St Petersburg and is under investigation after a match in Poland in August which attracted a suspicious amount of betting – he retired, claiming a foot injury. An online bookmaker refused to pay out £3m to punters.

Now, Martina Hingis, who at 16 became the youngest female professional to win Wimbledon, has announced she is retiring after testing positive for cocaine following defeat in the third round this year. Not known for her tact, Hingis slagged off Steffi Graf in 1998 saying "she is old now. Her time has passed". And when Venus and Serena Williams complained about discrimination in 2001, Hingis said, "Being black only helps them. Many times they get sponsors because they are black." Hingis claims she has never taken cocaine, but can't be bothered to hire a lawyer to fight a ban, which could take years. An odd decision, even though at 27 she might not have a career left in professional tennis. Wouldn't she rather clear her name instead of leaving the game under a cloud?

And a British former tennis player is starting a prison sentence after being found guilty of having sex with a 13-year-old girl she was coaching. Not a great bunch of role models for the young people tennis needs to attract.

Let Judy be your role model, Heather

The sight of Heather Mills in meltdown on almost every television channel was embarrassing. No matter how strongly she might feel about the press, and no matter how difficult it might be to arrive at a divorce settlement she finds to her liking, blubbing and ranting in public achieves nothing except to remind us all just how horrible women look when they lose their temper. I have kept my big mouth shut for the past few days after seeing Heather in action.

She could learn a few lessons from another woman in the public eye – the wonderful Judy Finnegan, whose daytime chat show will come to an end next year after losing ratings to the ever-popular Paul O'Grady.

Judy has weathered the great phone-in scandal: the 2.9 million viewers who phoned her quiz show You Say, We Pay who stood no chance of winning. There was the time Judy's bra was exposed during an awards ceremony, and the weirdly prickly relationship she's always had on screen with her youthful husband.

But how much do we love Judy? Heaps.

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