Before he came to power David Cameron promised “a bonfire of the quangos” – all those useless government advisory bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the General Social Care Council and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, invariably run by lefty apparatchiks from the Blair era, which cost taxpayers billions of pounds every year to no useful purpose whatsoever.
The bonfire never actually happened, of course. But had it done so, we now know for certain which – of all the numerous deserving candidates – should have been right at the top, sprinkled with petrol, and preferably with an enormous thunderflash up its backside to give it a proper send off.
Its name? Public Health England.
This week, Public Health England made a heroically impressive bid for the title “Most fatuously stupid and irritating exercise in outrageous Nanny State intrusion” ever launched by any government since at least Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
It did so with a two-pronged assault on our already-overstretched tolerance threshold.
First, by issuing an immensely patronising official warning during an alleged heatwave, when temperatures in parts of Britain may have crept terrifyingly towards the 80s.
Not only did Public Health England warn everyone to stay indoors between the hours of 11am and 3pm but some taxpayer-funded PHE apparatchik called Dr Paul Cosford also found space to flaunt his multicultural sensitivity by giving a special shout-out to the “Muslim community”.
‘Many members of the Muslim community may be fasting during the current period of Ramadan. During hot weather it’s important to balance food and fluid intake between fasts and especially to drink enough water.’
Cosford is apparently not aware that in those parts of the world whence most of this Muslim community originally hails they have a name for the period where temperatures rise to around 80 degrees F. They call it “winter”.
Later in the week, sensing that it simply hadn’t gone far enough in staking its claim to maddening superfluousness, Public Health England played its masterstroke. It proposed a measure whereby supermarket shoppers could be given bespoke health warnings on their till receipts.
Suppose you’ve just nipped down to Waitrose for your weekly shop of lard, pork scratchings, preserved goose, icing sugar, Pop Tartz, treacle and Frosties. Well in future – according to proposals from Public Health England’s chief executive Duncan Selbie – you would be issued with a prissy little note advising you how to improve your diet.
Mr Selbie said that Public Health England was considering giving supermarkets its algorithms or mathematical codes for working out sugar and fat content in people’s shopping baskets.
Mr Selbie said: “What if we gave Sainsbury’s the algorithms that they could personalise to their customer database, so they give their customer base advice about how they could improve their health?
Duncan Selbie’s starting salary when he got the job in 2012, it should be noted, was around £185,000. Among his previous bravura pronouncements is that living alone has the same health impacts as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And for his entire career – for he has never worked outside the public sector – we have been paying with our taxes for him to say this sort of stuff.
Welcome to David Cameron’s Britain. Is it any wonder so many of us are yearning for a revolution?