The Prime Minister’s Public Health Speech – Reaction by Daniel H Robinson

I always assumed that if I waited long enough, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, would, ultimately, discover something with which to impress me, and I believe that this speech relating to public health, and particularly obesity and smoking, has finally done it.

Notwithstanding the lack of originality regarding many of the ideas conveyed in this speech, it cannot be argued that these comments do not deserve a warm welcome, as the nation is certainly in dire need of such initiatives, considering that obesity levels, for example, are in danger of spiraling out of control.

Furthermore, it was nice to hear a speech from a politician regarding public health that did not promise increased, and likely ineffective, spending on the NHS, and an inevitable tax rise following it. Indeed, the prospect of a state that will seek to influence, rather than dominate, the lives of her people is likewise good to hear. It demonstrates a move away from quick fix solutions to major, long-term problems such as the smoking ban, which will never greatly decrease the number of smokers, in favour of lasting long term solutions, which, history has taught us, as the PM illustrates, can only be achieved through education.

Unfortunately, the speech is somewhat thin on actual methods of achieving a decrease in obesity levels, smoking levels, et cetera. In fact, despite the multitude of historical examples listed by the PM, including Bazalgette’s sewers, he fails to announce a single new policy, other than reminding us of the new school dinner regulations coming into force in 2008/9, which weren’t even his government’s idea in the first place, and other, previously announced, initiatives.

What is more, the vast majority of the speech is constructed of largely irrelevant historical examples, many of which are, to say the least, self glorifying, as the PM seems to regard himself as somewhat of a visionary, a modern great engineer, perhaps, despite the fact that the public health problems he references have been known of for some years. Much of it is also more than slightly hypocritical, particularly when the PM tries to distance himself from so called ‘nanny state’ politics, which appeared to be his bible for some years.

In conclusion, I can do nothing but commend the Prime Minister’s zealous furthering of this most important issue; however, it is unfortunate that he offers no truly insightful observations, or outlines radical new policies to tackle public health problems in our society, only a vague idea of ‘state empowerment’.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, a public health aware Prime Minister is no bad thing, despite the fact almost every elected leader in this country’s history has promised to deliver an increase in something similar, and often delivered little but higher taxes and more bureaucracy. It is likewise unfortunate (for him) that Mr. Blair will not be in office long enough to personally usher through these improvements, which, this week, at least, he no doubt fancies as his legacy.

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