Daily Archives: 3 March 2008

Fat people unite! You have nothing to lose but your shoelaces!

I wrote the following letter to Lib Dem News last week but they saw fit not to print it. Fair enough, but here it is anyhoo:

Just what point is Sandra Gidley trying to make by prancing about in a comedy fat suit (People, 22nd February)? As someone who is at least as fat as she was when she ‘fatted up’, I can assure her that if her experience involved feeling exhausted all the time and being unable to tie her own shoelaces it wasn’t an authentic one. I’m not convinced her suit simulated diabetes for her either, one of the conditions highlighted in the article.

There is a creeping nastiness about the anti-obesity bandwagon that has been rolling on in recent years, employing both the patronising language about handicap that it is now thankfully regarded as insulting to disabled people with sinister innuendo about the cost of it all. It is clear that Sandra buys into at least some of the government’s rhetoric about fat being a ‘bigger threat than global warming’. You wouldn’t spot an MP getting out the boot polish to understand the ‘black experience’ nor would you hear them talking about geriatric care crippling the health service.

What’s worse is that this stunt is actually about promoting diet company and soup manufacturer LighterLife – this venture turns out to be about making diet industry Fat Cats fatter not the wellbeing of fat people.

Nobody likes a tourist, Sandra. If you want to understand what it’s like to be fat, talk to a fat person, not someone trying to make money out of them.

If you didn’t see the Lib Dem News article in question, it is basically lifted directly from Sandra’s press release, although the reference to LighterLife is conspicuous by its absence in the LDN version. See also the Southern Daily Echo.

LighterLife have been in the news recently as the main funders behind The Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust (TOAST), which has rather rapidly taken down its website in the past week or so. They currently have a tube carriage advertising campaign which was annoying me even before I became aware of the TOAST controversy. Their programme is based around crash dieting for the first 14 weeks (during which you can only eat their official soups, shakes and bars).

I sincerely question what an MP is doing endorsing any commercial weight loss programme, let alone this one. The fat suit stunt fits in well with their general publicity material which is all about presenting fat people as miserable and desperate. This isn’t about empowering people; it is about making them feel bad and then taking money from them when they are at their lowest.

Deconstructing the Lib Dem EU poll and other things to annoy the front bench

The Lib Dems have unveiled the results of a recently commissioned MORI Poll today with great flourish, insisting it confirms that their position for an in-out referendum is supported by twice as many people as a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

That’s fair enough, but there are two caveats. First of all, the questions are incredibly leading, being (in order):

  • Do you think there should be a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, or not?
  • As you may know, the Lisbon Treaty, currently going through Parliament, makes changes to the way the European Union is run. If there were to be a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe, would you prefer it to be a referendum ONLY on the Lisbon Treaty, or a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union altogether?

On a subconscious level this translates as:

  • A referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – what a good idea, eh?
  • A referendum on just the Lisbon Treaty? Poor show. A referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – what a good idea, eh?

Secondly, what it suggests more than anything else is that the electorate hasn’t really been thinking very hard about this issue. 19% answered Don’t Know in Q1; 26% answered Don’t Know in Q2. 56% of people said they wanted an in/out referendum in Q1. 46% of people said they wanted either an in/out referendum or both an in/out and a Lisbon Treaty referendum in Q2. What happened to the other 10%? What this poll, more than anything else, tells us about the electorate is that it is all over the place on this issue. That shouldn’t be much comfort to anyone in this debate; no one is making an impact.

In fact the best thing I can say about this poll is that at least it is less desperate and contrived than IWAR’s silly “referendum” claiming that 88% of the public want one on Lisbon.

Back to the fall out over last week’s Ed Davey interview, I have to say I find it amusing to be accused of both “following the party line” and “going easy” on Davey and “tearing Ed Davey into pieces” at the same time. I happen to think neither is accurate: the first half of the interview was glowing with praise, the second half was critical but hardly ad hominem, but there you go. I do reject one criticism I’ve received which is that I shouldn’t have written it as it will be useful for William Hague to quote from in interventions this week. That ain’t my problem and the day it becomes my problem is the day I have to stop this blog.

In terms of the debate over the European Parliament’s role in appointing the President of the Commission, one other factor has come to my attention. A group of Europhiles have set up a new website calling for just one President of the EU. They are arguing that under Lisbon it would be both legal and desirable to combine the Council and Commission Presidents into one.

Personally I’m not convinced. The answer to the quoted question posed by Henry Kissinger “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” is surely Javier Solana. Combining two of the most senior posts in the EU into one without another treaty sounds dodgy as hell (“In general the provisions do not directly restrict the unification of the two posts. Only the new article 245 does not allow the Commission President to engage in any ‘other occupation’. But chairing a meeting of the European Council is not an occupation. We are confident that the legal services of the institutions and member states will be able to interpret this in the way they intend (as they so often do in other matters of political Kompetenzstreit).” – Davey’s description of a “bizarre interpretation” would seem rather more apt here IMHO!). And how would you hold the post to account? Could the office holder be sacked from one post while holding onto the other? What if the Council sacked him/her as their President but Parliament wanted him/her to stay at the Commission? I seem to spend my life calling for separation of powers; why would anyone want combination of powers? (another quote: “in the UK most ministers (=executive) are also members of parliament (=legislative). In Britain judges (=judiciary) can be members of parliament” – yeah and isn’t that a peachy system?)

But what this website does show is that far from giving the Parliament a more central role in electing the Commission President being a controversial “interpretation” of the Lisbon Treaty, many pro-Europeans have already moved on and are arguing to go much further. It is pointless to pretend otherwise and to insist that talking about it will only help the eurosceptics’ cause.

According to the website’s facebook group, that includes Jeremy Hargreaves, the Vice Chair of the Lib Dems’ Federal Policy Committee. Zany euro-fanatic though I may be, it is comforting to discover that there are zanier fanatics than me out there holding much more senior positions within the party!