Previous health secretaries have often ended up being accused of nannying the nation. Mr Hunt always finishes the five fruit a day that are left on his desk, prefers muesli to fry-ups and jogs every morning, but he’s not going to impose his health regime on anyone else. “I don’t want a fat tax, I also like my Coca-Cola and crisps.”
Sounds promising, but let's remember what previous health ministers have said...
Andrew Lansley on minimum pricing, December 2011:
The Scottish government backs the idea of a minimum charge per unit of alcohol, which could see a bottle of wine cost at least £4.50 and a pint of beer around 90p. Experts believe thousands of lives would be saved if "pocket-money prices" were outlawed.
But the Health Secretary says there are "big problems" with the idea, which would penalise the poor, fall foul of EU competition laws, and do little to tackle the kind of dangerous drinking seen in town and city centres on Friday and Saturday nights.
Mr Lansley told The Independent on Sunday: "Are we really saying that because a bottle of vodka isn't £8 but £12.50 they are not going to preload with a bottle of vodka for a night out when they are in clubs where they pay £5 for a drink? That is absurd. They are still going to do this binge drinking because that is a behaviour issue. We have got to do much more to focus on what this means."
...The Health Secretary conceded that higher prices for drink can reduce consumption but added: "It is more likely to have a bigger proportionate impact on responsible drinkers who happen to be low-income households."
Caroline Flint on the smoking ban, June 2005:
Reports suggesting the government would opt for an outright ban on smoking in public places were dismissed by health minister Caroline Flint this morning.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Ms Flint was asked about newspaper stories over the weekend suggesting the government might go for a total ban.
She replied: "Those stories were false, speculation, anonymous briefings. We are having this consultation based on the proposals in the white paper [ie. with exemptions for many pubs and clubs—CJS]. I don't know where the stories came from."
Good luck to Mr Hunt if he intends to fight against the fat tax, but this will mean fighting the people in his own department who wield the real power. People like Andrew Black, for example, who appears to be judge, jury and executioner on tobacco policy. Or DoH-funded groups like Balance North East, who present themselves as a civil society pressure group while actively lobbying the government for temperance legislation. Or the countless state-funded bodies that "provide the responses to consultations that the Government is looking for"—as Lansley said when his party was still in opposition.
At the Department of Health, it doesn't matter whether or not an elected politician "wants" something. The unelected make sure it happens anyway.