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Taking the fight to the enemy

Some time in June I was contacted by the production company responsible for making a radio programme called ‘Straw Poll’ for BBC Radio 4. They asked me to join the panel for a forthcoming debate on the proposition that ‘We Should Not Legislate Against Obesity’.

I agreed.

The format of the show is a panel which consists of four speakers, two of whom are in favour of the proposition and two of whom are against. The debate is thrashed out for about 30 minutes or so before the studio audience is given a chance to put questions to the panellists. The studio audience then vote on the proposition.

The programme was recorded last July 19th at a Central London location. My opponents were two doctors representing Orwellian-sounding NGO’s whose names I have not forgotten because I never bothered committing them to memory in the first place. On my side was a very polished and very professional PR spokesman for the food industry. Prior to the recording we were all asked to prepare 90-second opening statements. This was mine:

Having presumably grown bored with their crusades again tobacco and alcohol, the health fascists and professional busybodies have now turned their attentions to food in what is clearly an attempt to conquer new worlds.

As with previous and similar campaigns, the case against so-called ‘fatty’ foods is being advanced by means of a toxic mixture of junk statistics, unsubstantiated claims, gross generalisations and manipulative attempts to tug the national heartstrings by claiming that it is all to ‘save our children’.

But even if their ludicrous claims had a basis in fact (which I very much doubt) that would still be no excuse for them to browbeat our politicians into passing more laws and regulations. Protecting us from ourselves is not a legitimate function of government and we should all be at liberty to eat, drink and consume whatever takes our fancy and as much of it as we jolly well like without interference from self-appointed guardians no matter how ‘caring’ they claim to be.

This attempt to hobble the advertising industry is just the first stage in what is sure to prove a long campaign aimed at getting us all to accept government control over our diets. This is a very bad idea but only a part of a general trend towards every greater micro-management of the individual by the various organs of the state. But the more decisions that are made on our behalf the less inclined and empowered we are to make decisions for ourselves.

Unless this creeping tendency is reversed, it is going to result in a nation of infantilised and dependent people who have been stripped of both the will and the capacity to take responsibility for their own lives.

Nothing is unhealthier than that.

I started as I meant to go on. I am rarely minded to compromise and, before the show had even commenced, I had switched myself fully over to attack-dog mode.

I think it fair to say that I gave the producers their money’s worth. They had set me up in the role of Resident Heartless Monster and I set about my assigned task with aplomb and enthusiasm. While the doctor-types dutifully trotted out their stock scary statistics (“Junk food is killing 46.8 innocent children every nanosecond”) and my PR ally produced his own data to prove that his industry was already doing enough to encourage healthy eating, I tore into everyone like a Tasmanian Devil, denouncing the food fascist careerists and their manipulative agenda-advancing lies.

I truly, madly and deeply enjoyed myself.

However, the studio audience did not enjoy me. In fact, they clearly despised me. I was advised beforehand that they were drawn from the same database that is used to fill the studio for BBC’s ‘Question Time’ and, hence, our British readers will need no further explanation as to why. By the time we were 10 minutes into the debate I could already hear the hisses and boos emanating from the back of the room. It only spurred me on to even greater heights of ‘insensitivity’.

I informed my PR debating ally beforehand that we would lose the vote and lose we did. Crushingly. I think he was not best pleased as, in common with most people in his position, he was hoping to make an impression as a model of compromise and co-operation. Instead I rather think he was peeved about being tainted by my ‘extremism’.

But I went home a happy man. The vote is a matter of complete indifference to me. What matters is getting the message out and, as far as I am concerned, the victory was mine because of three members of the studio audience who came forward after the show to express their agreement with me. I gave them all Samizdata.net cards and thanked them for their support. Little by little we roll back the tide.

And the message will be going out again tomorrow evening (August 6th) to a far larger audience when the show is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 20.00 hours UK time (and again on Saturday afternoon at 13.15 hrs UK time). Again, the proposition will be a put to a vote (this time by phone-in) and, again, the result of the vote is of no consequence to me. What matters is that more people will hear what I had to say and, though I will not be on hand to give out cards this time, some of them will at least learn that they are not alone.

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44 comments to Taking the fight to the enemy

  • GCooper

    My admiration knows no bounds – and, for once, I mean that with absolutely no irony. I shall make a point of listening.

    My curiosity is piqued, though, by mention of this database. It has long been apparent that BBC audiences are very carefully selected to represent a Leftist/statist bias.

    Presumably, even under the ‘new’ ‘enlightened’ complaints procedure, there is no way we can challenge these grossly unrepresentative representations of the man on the Clapham omnibus?

    Ok. I thought so.

    All the same, I shall look forward to Mr Carr’s snarling performance!

    Next Yuletide, it’ll be the Demon King in panto, I hope?

  • Julian Morrison

    At what point is Joe Average going to stop thinking of doctors as nice profesional people who cure him, and start seeing them as just another pressure group?

    I’d say that point’s pretty close. Doctors never nowadays “recommend”, they “call for” – and what they are “calling for” is always a government intrusion.

  • ernest young

    Good stuff, I thought that I was alone in despising any kind of authority.

    The remark on State controlled diets, jogged my memory, I have ‘been there, seen that, and done that’, during the war, with rationing and ration books , (I still have mine, somewhere).

    Do you think they may use a similar system? In retospect, the quantities allowed were miniscule, something like two ounces of ‘marg’, four ounces of spam, etc. etc. per WEEK, per person. Two eggs, and twelve ounces of bread each, and no chocolate or sweets…. ah! those were the good ‘ole days……:-) that must have been when we learned to go ‘tongue in cheek’ to stave of the hunger…

  • ernest young

    A veritable latter day Gilbert Harding….

  • ernest young

    And Blair and Brown are the ‘Flower Pot Men’ reincarnate… who would make a good ‘Weed”, – Mandleson?…

  • Jake

    Wow

    You deserve a medal for bravery.

  • Dan

    Atta boy.

    Having been in marketing and sales, you don’t get new customers by saying “oh, look, we’re nice.” You launch a new product by boldly striking a strong image and a strong statement.

    The Macintosh, the second Volkswagon Beetle, and now, Liberty.

  • Any and every attempt by Government to interfere in or influence our lives must be resisted. It is a clear indication of just how invasive their strategies are, that an audience drawn from any database can be so gullible and naive. Sadly, the years of brainwashing by officialdom is having its effect.
    Shock and awe tactics such as yours are the best way to fight back. We need to wake up the drones.

  • anglosphere

    Doctors are indeed just a pressure group and one of the most dangerous. Along with lawyers (hi David!) they are organised enough that they have a professional association recognised by law. They have managed to make medicine a closed shop that artificially restricts the supply of health professionals and increases the price of health. Of all potential interferences in the market, this is probably one of the most evil: almost certainly leading to shorter lifespans and poorer health.

    Not content to get fat from a government granted monopoly, Doctors preach further govenment regulation into every aspect of the population’s lives. As a group. these jumped-up bone technicians are one of the greatest threats to the nation’s liberty. They must be put firmly back in their place.

  • David Duff

    Reminds me of the late, great Auberon Waugh who urged us all to eat, drink and engage in as much un-safe sex as possible on the grounds that it was our duty to pop our clogs early so as not to be a burden to the young. I’m not sure which of the three he indulged, but the poor chap died early himself, a very rare case of a philosopher living (and dying) by his own lights.

  • René

    When will we be able to hear it online?

  • Sounds absolutely marvellous. (I think you lot have turned me into a libertarian leaning Tory over the years).

    My alarm clock radio will be getting used for something other than the disagreeable duty of waking me up in the mornings tonight.

  • mishu

    Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevera was a doctor. Mengele was a doctor. Who else?

  • A_t

    🙂 well done! I’ll check it out at the time of broadcast if I remember, & on the website if not.

    To René etc., it should be up on the beeb site shortly after broadcast.

  • Anointiata Delenda Est

    Would love to hear the transcript. All iconoclasts must be supported.

    anglosphere, I think you’ve got it right. But this is all about balance – to be determined by the voters. If people overeat, they WILL cause health problems. That means you’ll have to pay for their health care as they die.

    So we are faced with two choices: stop them overeating (futile, imho), or let them die without too much support. My preference is the latter, but perhaps that is too much reality in the debate.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    What I find so irritating is that it’s treated as axiomatic that the government health types are caring and doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, when in fact they have just as much of a vested interest to protect as it’s claimed the food companies do.

    I remember when the Atkins “autopsy” was relased earlier this year (and nobody’s been able to explain why that wasn’t a violation of the HIPAA regulations), all the news organizations claimed that the Atkins family didn’t want the details released because the Atkins Diet is a multi-million dollar business. It never gets pointed out that if the Atkins Diet is proved to be reasonably valid, the government health nannies will lose a lot of their power base. So of course they have a vested interest in attacking Atkins or anybody else who has the audacity to challenge them.

  • steve shackleton

    I know you are not worried about the vote but would you mind if I listened and voted anyway.

    These people who know best have got to be stopped

  • Richard Easbey

    I would love to be able to listen to this online…

    God Bless you, Mr. Carr. We must always resist these incessant efforts to micromanage our lives by people who DON’T know what’s best.

  • John Harrison

    The BBC may well be institutionally leftist but individual researchers and journalists are not all statists and whatever their political opinions they all have a personal interest in finding good stories. Bad news is news. Good news is rarely newsworthy.
    Conflict makes a good story so David will hopefully get invited to star in more programmes on the strength of being ‘controversial’. Well done, by the way and I look forward to tuning in later tonight.

  • Mark V.

    Look at the bright side, here in the U.S. taxpayer dollars (in the form of Medicare) will soon be used to pay for liposuctions, stomach-staplings, and diet drugs. (They don’t do this there in the U.K., do they?)

    Although there’s something to be said for the pleasure of getting all that junk food in our mouths in the first place before the taxpayers get shagged.

  • Excellent performance David. 25% on our side isn’t too bad at all considering that it was probably a typical BBC audience.

  • John Harrison

    An excellent showing considering BBC audiences are self selecting. I notice the BBC has its phone numbers for the vote the wrong way round on http://www.bbb.co.uk/radio4 because they state the motion in the positive, not the negative. Any phone – in vote will be completely meaningless.

  • Pete_London

    Mark – Don’t be soooo hasty. The taxpayer is forced to fund all kinds of things via the NHS today. In fact I’d go so far as to say you can recieve anything you like except decent healthcare.

  • Tim

    anglosphere wrote:

    “Doctors are indeed just a pressure group and one of the most dangerous. Along with lawyers (hi David!) they are organised enough that they have a professional association recognised by law. They have managed to make medicine a closed shop that artificially restricts the supply of health professionals and increases the price of health. Of all potential interferences in the market, this is probably one of the most evil: almost certainly leading to shorter lifespans and poorer health.”

    As an NHS doctor, I agree wholeheartedly. I’m not a member of the British Medical Association, which is a union in many respects but at least isn’t a closed shop (I’m left to ply my trade with impunity). When friends and colleagues mention some recent BMA utterance and I tell them, ‘Sorry, I haven’t read it; I’m not a member,’ the response is almost always one of incredulous silence. When I tell them the reason – I don’t agree with the BMA’s politics – the silence turns awkward. Usually I can’t be bothered to expand on this if anyone asks, so I just mention the Association’s racist policy of asking its members to pigeonhole themselves in a racial category. This normally confounds said friends and colleagues, not because they’ve suddenly seen the light, but because this is one issue on which they can’t seem to come up with an immediate, prepackaged response.

    BTW, David Duff, Auberon Waugh died at 60 because of his unfortunate genes. Several of his family members died relatively young, including his illustrious father.

  • GCooper

    First, congratulations to David Carr for making such an excellent fist of presenting a point of view which some members of the audience clearly had never even encountered before.

    You couldn’t have done a better job if you’d addressed them in fluent Martian.

    Who knows? A spark or two may have struck?

    But I must also respond to John Harrison who says:

    “The BBC may well be institutionally leftist but individual researchers and journalists are not all statists and whatever their political opinions they all have a personal interest in finding good stories.”

    This has not been my experience, nor that of friends who have worked inside the BBC. The fact that the corporation is institutionally Leftist makes the climate for libertarian or Right-leaning journalists almost impossible to operate in – certainly to prosper.

    The selectivity of news material is, in fact, one of the BBC’s more notorious sins. Stories are not selected on their merits, but far too frequently on which political current they support.

    Anyone who doubts this can easily test it for her/himself. Simply buy the Telegraph for a week or two and check for yourself the number of occasions on which a fairly major story that makes the paper doesn’t even figure on Today, Newsnight, or the BBC News Online website.

    This week’s best example has been the proof that Gordon Brown was lying when he promised to cut civil service numbers. A good story – one the BBC should have picked up but studiously ignored.

  • I just listened, David, and I thought you did a fine job. You were right to be uncompromising, as there isn’t – as one questioner requested – really any middle ground. Either people can advertise the merits of their food or they can’t. If you’re going to accept the Nanny state, you may as well get her making a difference, so making a principled stand was the way to go. Government in the fridge is a fundamentally bad idea, and needs to be seen in the light of the serious infringement of liberty that it really is, not simply given a cost-benefit analysis that takes no account of deeper principles.

    If you think you came across as over-aggressive, I can only say that the smug liberal type you were debating with really didn’t do herself any favours just scoffing away every argument you made in favour of people making their own minds up. I could almost see her giving opponents a simpering look, rolling her eyes and throwing her head back at each point. Her waffle about how the government would in fact be freeing people to make the choices that they are currently unequipped to make was so patronising, especially when she was actually arguing for the removal of choice and of the fair playing field in advertising that would allow companies to set out the merits of the various foods they had to offer.

  • René

    Direct link from the beeb (I hope) in real, nice sound quality.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/ram/fri2002.ram

    I have heard up to 24 min. and I would love even more agresiveness 🙂

  • René

    After the 24th minute I certainly heard more aggressiveness, could not help my self laughing when a lady suggested that ticking a box in an application as a solution to anything.

    Nice work!

  • Verity

    G Cooper writes, quoting someone else,: “The BBC may well be institutionally leftist but individual researchers and journalists are not all statists and whatever their political opinions they all have a personal interest in finding good stories.”

    Uh-huh. And are we all agreed that those ‘good stories’ would get airtime? The (BBC) world may be alive with leftie sociology/media studies “graduates” who are losing out in job interviews to rightish candidates, but we have no evidence that this has happened once in the history of humankind.

    Since the BBC was created, it has prevailed.

    The only way to kill it off is to starve it of its “licence” fee.

  • You have Samizdata.net cards?

  • ” Little by little we roll back the tide.”

    Bravo, David. Convince or reassure one, and he will do the same to two or three others… and soon you get critical mass.

    To quote some old halfbreed Brit/Yank: “Never give up. Never, never, never, never…”

  • John Harrison

    GCooper says,
    The fact that the corporation is institutionally Leftist makes the climate for libertarian or Right-leaning journalists almost impossible to operate in – certainly to prosper.

    I certainly accept that point and I also agree with Verity that it is well overdue that someone took an axe to Auntie Beeb. I have just had my license fee demand through so I feel particularly strongly about that right now.
    Having said that, I do know a number of libertarian or right-leaning people who have worked for the BBC. Perhaps they are more scrupulous in trying to preserve the ‘impartiality’ of the BBC than their leftist colleagues. In effect this just leads to an overall left wing bias.
    The trouble with the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ is that they seem to think a balanced report is one where a statist lobby group calls for a ban on something and in response a government spokesman offers a voluntary code of conduct backed by threats of a new law if the code is not kept.
    The main point I was making, though, was that David was right to be uncompromising and controversial because that provides a more interesting debate and even the BBC has one eye on the ratings. Sometimes it is even possible to get an alternative point of view onto the BBC, as David ably demonstrated.
    I had no intention of trying to claim that the BBC was anything but biased. That would have been ridiculous.

  • Good job, David. I think it will help a lot that you were the most memorable person on the show – the others just rolling out the usual dull statistics.

    Best one liner: “Are you the only intelligent man?” — David to the chap who suggested that it was all the fault of advertisers but nonetheless claimed he was too intelligent to buy anything just because it was advertised.

    Most ridiculous statement (paraphrased from memory): “What we need is a box to tick in a planning application that says that excercise has been considered.” — some woman.

  • Simon Lawrence

    Every time I hear or watch or read some sort of political discussion, I always desperately want certain points to be made – you made them, thank you.

    The best point was that if labelling is lucrative then companies could make a killing on labelling. Thank you very much.

  • Verity

    Well, John Harrison, perhaps the libertarian and right leaning people you know who work for the BBC adopted protective colouration in order to get hired and in order to burrow in and keep their jobs. I cannot think of a single editor or a single on-air commentator who is not a mindless, slavvering leftie.

    Of course, David was right to adopt an uncompromising tone! We wouldn’t expect any less of him!

  • Simon Lawrence

    As well all know anorexia is sweeping the nation, you could catch it next. So let’s have some state subsidy of fatty food adverts and tempt, and nanny those poor and dying people into eating!

  • Simon Lawrence

    As we all know anorexia is sweeping the nation, you could catch it next. So let’s have some state subsidy of fatty food adverts to tempt, and nanny, those poor, poor children into eating! Imagine how many more would die if we stopped the flow of adverts now, ‘5 hundred trillion, Ministry of Truth’.

  • Richard Buckley

    I greatly enjoyed the debate this afternoon but it has to be said that the day was saved by the PR man from the food industry who was unanswerable. As much as I agreed with David Carr I’m afraid he came over as a headbanger.

    There is clearly a problem with the BBC’s database if the audience was meant to be a cross section of public opinion. Or is there? As on Question Time, the audience appeared to be overwhelmingly sympathetic to Government intervention (I didn’t stay on and listen for the result so I may be wrong on this particular one). But I’m afraid that most people in this country, even quite sensible people, seem to believe that ‘the Government should do something about it’ whatever ‘it’ happens to be, so inured are we to the Nanny state.

    There is another problem, as I know from my days as a Conservative activist in the Peoples Republic of Brent. We used to get bags of invitations to these shows but found it difficult to get people to turn up (a) because they had better things to do, and (b) because they had done so in the past and had been stitched up and couldn’t be bothered to do it again. Therefore, the liberal left tended to be in a majority on these audiences by default.

  • David Hall

    David Carr, I must congratulate you. The bit where the gentleman in the audience says he is “diametrically opposed to everything” you said just made me laugh out loud. I wish however that your line of questioning was allowed to run its course rather than being cut off in a rather patronising way by the BBC presenter.

  • David Hall

    David Carr, I must congratulate you. The bit where the gentleman in the audience says he is “diametrically opposed to everything” you said just made me laugh out loud. I wish however that your line of questioning was allowed to run its course rather than being cut off in a rather patronising way by the BBC presenter.

    It’s been a while since I’ve listened to any radio programme I found myself caring about the outcome to.

  • I cannot think of a single editor or a single on-air commentator who is not a mindless, slavvering leftie.

    If you had made that statement a few months ago, I would have suggested Alistair Cooke in response, but, alas, he is no longer with us.

    Or, how about Andrew Neil?

  • Verity

    Andy Wood – Yes, Andrew Neil. You’re quite right. But – forgive me; I honestly don’t know – is he an employee of the BBC? Or is he just on some times? But either way, you have a fair point.

    Alastair Cooke? Well, he may not have stooped to slavvering, but he was definitely a leftie. He came from The Manchester Guardian. He did sometimes criticise leftwing politicians, but never in a way that did any damage. Just light intellectual teasing. Self-consciously civilised and distanced. No thank you.

  • But – forgive me; I honestly don’t know – is he an employee of the BBC? Or is he just on some times?

    I don’t know what sort of contract he has, but he does host This Week on Thursday nights during the political season. I think he might also host something else during the day when I can’t watch TV.

    [Alastair Cooke] was definitely a leftie.

    Really? Not the impression I had. Most ‘lefties’ I know who listened to him thought he was very right wing. He was consistently in favour of free trade, sceptical of Roosevelt’s New Deal, supported the war with Iraq, generally sympathetic to Bush.

    Mind you, I’m not aware of any definition of ‘left’ and ‘right’ which everyone agrees on, so your mileage may vary.