The Sketch: Can Andrew Lansley make us healthy? Pass the port and let's see

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The Independent Online

Not to complain, but the chocolate doughnuts in the press gallery bar are the damned newfangled slim-line, low-calorie, no-grease public-health doughnuts.

In my day, they were full-fat creations, as big as a baby's arm, and clotted cream billowed out of the middle when you bit into them. They're illegal now, like ecstasy pills. We know that political correctness has had mental health issues but the sadness is no less poignant for that.

Andrew Lansley's public health White Paper was enough to give all of us two-pudding, three-bottle people the blues. He inveighed against what he called obesity, and said it cost the NHS £4.2bn a year.

Whether that included the fuller figures on the Labour front bench wasn't explored. But having "morbidly obese" politicians (it's a technical term) campaigning against morbid obesity – it's like Labour MPs sending their children to private school!

Their definition of obesity, remember, includes some Olympic athletes, and anyone who drinks a big glass of wine a night is an alcoholic. Lansley said he was moving away from nannying and into nudging. David Blunkett said it was "more fudge than nudge". Well, at least he was there.

Lansley's going to spend £540m on "sustainable transport". That's walking to school. There was a Labour member a decade ago who devoted his career to a National Walking Strategy. They're always at it, they never stop. Rust never sleeps. Nudging means it's all going to be voluntary; they're going to give us the support we need to make our own choices. Until it's clear we choose Capstan full-strength and a brandy after lunch, and then he'll pass laws to make voluntary restraint compulsory.

And it's going to be run by, yes, a quango, Public Health England, even though public health is going to be the responsibility of local authorities. There will also be local statutory health and well-being boards working with the Health Inclusion Unit in the department. It's all having an effect on my blood pressure already.

John Healey was wearing a magnificent First World War moustache: it's part of a promotion to show his concern for prostate cancer. None of his junior ministers seems to care as much as he does. Shame on you, ladies!

Healey wanted to know how public health would be improved by sacking 300,000 public-service workers and axing the "schools partnership" which had more children playing more sport, or less sport, depending what side you're on.

Other tendentious claims included the assertion that a 50p minimum price for alcohol will save 2,000 lives a year. And that income is the most important determinant of health so everyone should be given "an adequate income". Also, much seems to depend on the labelling on alcohol bottles.

It's all big work, but will it work? With the NHS being turned upside down at the same time? With Andrew Lansley in charge of it? With tightening budgets and a truculent public? Pass the port, and let's watch through a pleasant and anaesthetising haze.

simonsketch@twitter.com

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