Domestic elections in this country are usually devoted to two subjects: schools and hospitals. Yes both are important but there’s another reason why MPs stick so tightly to the script – particularly when surveys show other topics mean more to the voting public.
It’s simple. Schools and hospitals are two of the few areas which have traditionally been free from EU involvement. But the European Court of Justice is now set to rule over whether obesity should be classified as a disability, potentially opening the floodgates for new social security claims and official red tape.
At the heart of this ruling is the question of how responsible we are for our own actions. In the case of obesity some people may justifiably be able to claim they cannot help it: for example, those with eating disorders. But their disability doesn’t come about from their size but the fact that they have a mental health condition which takes over from rational behaviour towards food. In a similar vein, many people who are limited in their mobility may put on excessive amounts of weight as a result of being limited in what exercise they can undertake.
But such cases are few among this country’s overweight population. Most people just eat too much and do too little exercise. A huge industry has built up around healthy lifestyle and dieting in the UK – and yet we are the most overweight country in Europe. You’d never be able to tell from glancing at glossy magazines and snide articles in lower-quality newspapers, but there are actually more obese men than women. It’s just that women tend to be more concerned about their weight and feel the need to conform to the minuscule frame so beloved by fashion designers.
Does that mean that an estimated 25 per cent of men in this country are disabled? That they need priority parking bays – with added space to accommodate a protuberant bottom emerging from the door of a vehicle? Perhaps the state should step in and put a tax on sugary snacks if people can’t be trusted to stick to 1,500 calories a day and take regular exercise? But to suggest that people, particularly ones who don’t fit the ideal model of what a person should look like, are in need of state help is not only patronising but dangerous. Take a look at the other end of the scale: Ben Parkinson and The Pilgrim Bandits charity are just back from their latest adventure, retracing the steps of the Cockleshell Heroes – who raided Nazi-occupied Bordeaux in 1942. Parkinson is a double amputee who also suffered terrible brain damage and was told – at best – he might one day “sit up in bed.”
Perhaps, if left to the state, this is maximum he would have achieved – but because Ben and his parents set their aim higher, he and others with similarly horrific injuries are achieving what many able-bodied people couldn’t do. It’s thanks largely to the private sector and charities that these people can break out of the “one-size-fits-all” mould.
It mollycoddles fat people to suggest that they aren’t in control, that they do need help from the state, and that the health problems they have cannot be cured by controlling their food intake and going for a jog.
People with motor neurone disease have terminal illness and can’t expect to get better. The majority of fat people can “cure” themselves by saying no to that second helping of pie.
Are we really going to be forced by the EU to class people who have actual disabilities with people who can’t say no to a piece of cake? Or will this just push the country further towards Euroscepticism as they see more of their money going on policies which are far removed from common sense?
Politics has ignored the Purple Van Man
I am going to the victory party in Essex tonight to celebrate our great results in the European and local elections. It’s the part of the country that was inspired by Thatcher to vote Tory – then turned its back and voted Labour when the Tories reverted to type.
Political commentators will have you thinking that, come the general election next year, these key constituencies will once again see a fight between Red and Blue. But they have completely underestimated the power of the Purple Van Man.
And I’m happy for them to keep on doing so, although I suspect that candidates fighting for the Thurrock seat are well aware of their Ukip rival, Tim Aker MEP.
I want the voters in these communities to watch our work at local and national level; our competitors can write us off as much as they like – but it’s not them who will decide matters, in 2015.