Thursday 19 December 2019 6:03 am

Dear Santa, for this Christmas I want the nanny state to get lost

Emma Revell is head of public affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs

What is the best thing about Christmas? Presents are nice. Spending time with friends and family is obviously a highlight. But for many of us what truly makes the season is the food. 

Mince pies, pigs in blankets, Christmas pudding, a snifter of sherry — the festive period is all about indulging. But will we truly be able to relax and enjoy our seasonal treats? 

This year saw the EAT-Lancet Commission outline a dietary prescription for the world: a roadmap for how we can eat healthily and save the planet. Say goodbye to the goose-fat roasties, apparently we should be eating no more than one quarter of a potato per day. And the recommended seven grams per day of pork won’t stretch to a napkin, never mind enough blanket to wrap up a pig or two. 

The Commission was slightly more generous with white meat, but 29 grams of turkey isn’t going to make anyone’s eyes light up over the festive dinner table. 

But that was just the tip of the iceberg. 2019 has been a bumper year for the nanny state: Wimbledon’s iconic strawberries and cream fell foul of a Transport for London ban on “junk food” advertising; the government announced plans to ban the sale of energy drinks to under-16s; Public Health England pushed ahead with an incomprehensible number of food reformulation targets; and the IPPR think tank suggested that plain packaging be extended to “unhealthy” foods. 

There was a change at the top as Dame Sally Davies — the self-proclaimed “nanny in chief” — stepped aside as the UK’s chief medical officer, but not before endorsing a final report which suggested banning eating on public transport, in case a child is tempted into a life of obesity by seeing someone tucking into a sandwich on the Central line. 

It seems that Christmas is a time of year that kicks the nannying into overdrive. It isn’t just the killjoy public health organisations putting out the same press release year after year telling us that festive overindulgence isn’t good for us — as if the need to go for a three-hour nap after tucking into a second helping of figgy pudding wasn’t enough of a clue — but you also always seem to find a local council or two which has banned the Coca-Cola truck from visiting its area because, of course, sugar is bad.

Yet as we approach the new year, is there a chance that we could see a little less nannying in 2020? There have been promising signs.

During the summer’s Conservative leadership campaign, Boris Johnson announced that he would carry out a wide-ranging review of existing stealth sin taxes and place a hold on any new ones coming into force. 

Meanwhile, consumers fought back against manufacturers which bowed to Public Health England’s reformulation targets, brandishing new Coco Pops “stale” and causing AG Barr to issue a profit warning after its “healthier” Irn-Bru failed to sell as well as expected.

With a sceptic public and an open-minded Prime Minister, it is possible that 2020 might bring us some respite from nanny — or maybe not, with sin tax fan Matt Hancock still running the Department for Health. 

It’s impossible to predict the future, so enjoy Christmas in the traditional manner — eat, drink, and be merry. Just don’t tell nanny.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.