The Prime Minister isnât recommending that sickness benefit should be cut. Rather, heâs asked Dame Carol Black, the Chair of the Nuffield Trust, to assess a range of different strategies for reducing the level of obesity, drug addiction and alcoholism, including withholding benefits from those who refuse to seek treatment.
The economic case for tackling these problems is overwhelming. A recent study by McKinsey and Company estimates that obesity and its related medical conditions costs the British economy ÂŁ47 billion a year, while the government puts the cost of alcoholism at ÂŁ21 billion. Much of that cost is borne by the NHS, so reducing the scale of these preventable diseases will create some much-needed savings.
Then thereâs the human case. (To read more, click here.)
Is this my Groucho Marx moment? Harriet Harman said earlier today that my application to become a âregistered supporterâ of the Labour Party had been turned down. I was âbogusâ and had been âweeded outâ [http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/28/harriet-harman-we-are-weeding-out-bogus-labour-leadership-voters?CMP=twt_gu]. Looks like I wonât be able to vote for Jeremy Corbyn after all [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/politics-blog/11680016/Why-Tories-should-join-Labour-and-back-Jeremy-Corbyn.html]. This is a club that doesnât want me as a member.
Harmanâs comment was in response to the news that up to 140,000 people have signed up to vote in Labourâs forthcoming leadership election [http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/07/ed-milibands-legacy-140k-new-hard-left-members-sign-up-to-back-corbyn/]. She said the party would be employing a battery of tests to check the bona fides of these new members and supporters, including listening to two-thirds of the recorded phone calls that union members are required to make in order to register to vote. âWe are policing the integrity of this process,â she said. âThe system is designed to give people that are supporters of the party, but not necessarily a member, a say in choosing the leader of the Labour Party.â
Harmanâs in a tricky spot here. (To read more, click here.)
Is the #ToriesForCorbyn campaign politics at its most infantile? As one of the few conservative commentators willing to defend it in the media, Iâve been doing my best to rebut that charge.
The most frequent line of attack is that thereâs something dishonest about it. The Labour leadership election isnât an open primary. Itâs restricted to members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters. Okay, you can become a registered supporter for ÂŁ3 â one of the changes brought in by Ed Miliband to reduce union influence â but only by pretending to be a Labour sympathiser. And thatâs just wrong.
The short answer to this is that no such pretence is necessary â at least, it wasnât when I signed up via the Partyâs website. In response to the question âWhy did you sign up?â, I wrote âTo consign Labour to electoral oblivionâ. Nothing fraudulent about that. (To read more, click here.)
Forget about the countryside. When is the government going to do something about the vulpine creatures wreaking havoc in Central London? The situation is now so out of control, itâs time the Prime Minister convened a meeting of COBRA to discuss the ginger menace.
Iâm talking, of course, about the horde of SNP MPs whoâve invaded Westminster. Actually, Iâm not, but I couldnât resist that gag. No, foxes are the problem. I donât actually keep a chicken coop in my back garden in Acton â and, for that reason, Iâm spared the site of my beloved poultry lying in a pool of blood with their heads bitten off. But I still have a long list of complaints.
First, thereâs the appalling sound they make, particularly during the mating season. When I first heard one of these vile beasts at full cry, I ran upstairs in a panic, convinced that an intruder had broken into my house and was now torturing one of my children. The noise of a howling fox is uncannily like that of a human child in pain. Itâs guaranteed to produce a momentary spasm of reflexive alarm even when youâve heard the same bloodcurdling shriek every night for the past 10 years.
Then thereâs the threat they pose to domestic animals. (To read more, click here.)
I wonder how many Scots who voted âYesâ in last yearâs referendum are watching events unfold in Greece and having second thoughts? Itâs not quite a âthere, but for the grace of Godâ moment, but itâs not far off.
This analogy depends upon two big assumptions, both of which will be disputed by the nationalists.
The first is that Scotland would not have automatically been allowed to remain in the EU following a âYesâ vote, but, as a new state, would have had to apply for membership and, as a condition of joining, would have been forced to join the euro.
How questionable is this assumption? (To read more, click here.)
I took my three boys for a cycle ride in Richmond Park on Sunday. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a good way to relax, but I had to be back home in Acton by 2.15pm for my daughterâs 12th birthday party. Given that we didnât leave the house until 11am and were relying on public transport we were slightly up against it.
We got to the Park at Noon, which gave us about 75 minutes to complete a seven-mile circuit, allowing for an hour to get home. Just about doable, but only if all three boys went flat out and resisted the urge to get off and push when we were going uphill. The weakest link was seven-year-old Charlie who still has the same bike he had when he was five. No gears and tiny wheels, so he has to peddle twice as quickly to keep up. There was something both heart-warming and comical about him as he powered forward, his little legs pumping like pistons. From time to time, I would swoop up behind him on my bike, place my hand in the small of his back, and give him a âturbo boostâ.
He managed to keep going on some of the shallower inclines, but when we came to the really steep hill in the final stretch he slowed to a snailâs pace. By now it was 12.45pm and we only had 30 minutes to complete the circuit and get back to Richmond station. (To read more, click here.)
On the face of it, itâs difficult to feel a huge amount of sympathy for the striking tube workers, particularly if youâve had to walk to work this morning. The drivers, who have rejected a two per cent pay rise and a ÂŁ2,000 bonus for working on the all-night service, start their working life on a salary of ÂŁ49,673, which is more than some hospital doctors earn. They then see their wages increase to between ÂŁ50,000 and ÂŁ60,000 a year in the first five years. Doesnât appear to be an absolutely terrible deal. After all, doctors have to train for an average of 10 years, whereas you can become a tube driver having left school at 16 with just two GCSEs.
But as a conservative, I think there are plenty of reasons to support the strike. I know that sounds absurd, but bear with me.
1. Itâs an opportunity to remind people that Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT who died last year, lived in a council flat in a Labour borough in spite of being paid ÂŁ145,000 a year. That doesnât reflect well on the Labour Party and its allies in the trade union movement. The Chancellor put a stop to such abuses in yesterdayâs budget. From now on, those living in subsidised housing who earn more than ÂŁ40,000 in London (or ÂŁ30,000 outside London) will have to pay the full market rent. (To read more, click here.)
This weekend will see thousands of people flocking to the Henley Regatta, many of them resplendent in stripy blazers. If previous years are anything to go by, weâll also be treated to a barrage of complaints about Henleyâs archaic dress code. âJeans, shorts, denim or trainers are NOT acceptable,â says the official website. [Itals] No shorts?!? [itals] Many people think this is ridiculous stuffy in the 21st Century, particularly in weather as sweltering as this.
Iâm a great believer in dress codes. Not because I have a particular reverence for the sartorial traditions associated with the English social season, but because they provide a perfect excuse for a pastime that is even more quintessentially British than donning a cravat to watch a boat race â namely, whinging. Defenders of dress codes can mutter about falling standards each year, particularly at Ascot, while sceptics can condemn the âgolf club mentalityâ of the âpetty martinetsâ who see it as their job to enforce them. A true Brit is never happier than when complaining about something â and âHow to whingeâ should really be taught as one of the âBritish valuesâ that schools are now required to include on the curriculum. (To read more, click here.)
Two months ago, I set myself the target of losing 11 pounds in time for the Spectatorâs summer party on 1st July. To help achieve that, I swore off alcohol and, had I succeeded, my plan was to start drinking again at the party. Well, I managed the weight loss, but I didnât make it to the party because it clashed with a Board meeting of the educational charity I set up five years ago. The upshot is I havenât started drinking again and Iâm now debating whether to remain tea total for the rest of the year.
Temperance has its advantages. Iâve experienced almost no headaches or stomach aches since I gave up the booze, although that may also be connected with my diet. Iâve cut out bread, biscuits, crackers, potatoes, pasta, ice cream and chocolate and tried to limit myself to about 1,000 calories a day. Iâm permanently hungry and often gagging for a drink, but the upside is a sense of moral superiority when seeing my less abstemious friends, particularly when theyâre washing down carbohydrates with copious quantities of wine. In his autobiography, Keith Richards relates that one of the few compensations of giving up heroin was watching the different emotions flitting across the faces of his former drug buddies when he declined to partake. First they looked shocked, then angry, then hurt, as if he was passing judgment on them â which, of course, he was. I know what he means. (To read more, click here.)
Press regulator IPSO has thrown out a complaint brought against the Telegraph by an ex-editor of the Economist for publishing a review I wrote of his pro-EU propaganda film The Great European Disaster Movie. You can read the original article here and IPSO's judgement here.