PMQs began with a question about obesity from Labour’s Kerry McCarthy. The crisis has reached breaking-point, she said. Our chubby 11-year-olds are now even chubbier than America’s chubby 11-year-olds. ‘The voluntary approach simply won’t work,’ she said.
Her colleagues, crushed and squeezed together, bore out the truth of this statement. ‘The voluntary approach,’ (or ‘turning down that extra Hobnob at teatime’), has certainly failed to stop Labour’s fat-cats from cramming their faces with yummie treats galore. The opposition party is obesity’s A-team. The over-achievers of over-eating. A casual glance across their heaving benches reveals prop-forward after prop-forward, and bouncy-castle after bouncy-castle. And the gods of chocolate do not discriminate between the sexes. Billy Bunter jostles with Miss Piggy. Hattie Jacques wheezes alongside the Michelin Man. This, of course, is not the members’ fault. Subsidised grub in parliament encourages them to bulk up on carbs. And the electoral system itself is anti-slimming. The average Labour MP has little reason to work up a sweat by pounding the streets, even at election time. He’s probably in a traditional working-class constituency where they don’t count the votes, they weigh the candidate.
Theresa May supports Labour’s Stasi approach to calories. Her eyes glistened with pride as she announced that Britain’s ‘sugar reduction targets’ are the toughest in the world. And it won’t stop there. She spoke warmly about ‘research into junk-food advertising’ and ‘a plan’ which, she ominously promised, is soon to be updated. Londoners like me know where all this is heading. I live in a high-obesity, low-pay area where bored nutritionists roam the streets measuring the distance between each school and its nearest kebabbery. The true purpose of the Great Fatso Crisis is to put more of these unproductive twerps on the state pay-roll.
Tom Pursglove’s solution was the ‘daily mile’ in all our schools. Nice idea. Girthsome children waddling around in circles every morning to reduce the size of their shadows. But is it possible to get the kids under starters’ orders without a vote in parliament, a change to the Human Rights Act and a new clause in the UN charter? Probably not. Pursglove called it a ‘daily mile initiative’ which suggests that Whitehall will insist on a new clip-board army to enforce the practice and punish defaulters.
The Grenfell inquiry was on everyone’s mind. Nigel Huddleston pointed out that Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report on building regulations had ‘not recommended a ban on inflammable cladding’. That’s right: ‘not’. So cladding that catches fire is still OK. May said mildly that she hoped that such a ban would be introduced. She added that it might extend to ‘all combustible materials on high-rise buildings.’
This was Alice in Wonderland territory. May had revealed that architects are still erecting ‘high-rise buildings’ using stuff that bursts into flames. What else haven’t they banned? Arsenic biscuits? Gunpowder cigarettes? Lego made from Semtex?
Lexicographers have their own theories about our muddled fire regulations. The language has succumbed to semantic overload. Or perhaps it’s a case of human error. English contains two words – ‘flammable’ and ‘inflammable’ – which look like antonyms but which both mean ‘combustible’. The average punter can easily see that these adjectives should be opposites, like ‘distinct’ and ‘indistinct’. Investigators need to get to the bottom of the mix-up. The person responsible deserves to be dragged before the Grenfell inquiry and stripped of their duties. Lessons must be learned so that this disaster never happens again.