16 September 2015

Jamie Oliver: the Socialist Chef

By Ben Judge

Socialism, as Thatcher told the 1976 Christian Democratic Union Conference, sees the “state take more in tax and leave less for the individual” and results in “decisions affecting people’s lives” being “taken from them, instead of being taken by them”.

Such socialist ideals have seemingly inspired Jamie Oliver’s declaration of war on sugar in his latest Channel 4 programme: Jamie’s Sugar Rush.

So begins the program’s promotional video:

Ultimately, I want you to sign right here, right now, today, to support a sugar drinks levy, or tax or call it what you want. It’s essentially 7 p on a can of sugary sweetened drink to potentially raise £1 billion to get invested in the NHS and schools and nursery groups around the country.

Ignoring the fact that the costings of this policy are overlooked, Oliver’s sugary drinks tax is ludicrous in three key respects. First-and-foremost, the proposed tax is an intrusive violation of personal freedom. Despite consumers having unprecedented access to an abundance of health and nutritional information, the Naked Chef thinks individuals are not to be trusted.

Instead, for Oliver, the state needs to control consumption habits. A recent Tweet reveals a central planner mentality:

Oliver claims that the levy will reduce sugar consumption by 15%. However, sugary drinks (e.g. Coca-Cola) boast consistently high demand and strongly inelastic consumption. This is due to their wide-scale availability and potent branding exercised through well established, high profile sponsorship and advertising. It follows, then, that the presently extensive consumption of sugary drinks would be resilient to a slight price hike.

Even in the unlikely event that consumption of sugary drinks significantly declined, aggregate sugar consumption would arguably not decrease. Consumption would shift towards sugary drinks exempt from the tax. For example, fruit juice has no added sugar per se but a very high quantity of natural sugar. Thus, no significant change in sugar consumption is likely.

Finally, Jamie Oliver’s proposal exudes a distinct air of hypocrisy. Whilst a visit to one of forty-one Jamie’s Italian restaurants exposes the diner to a “self-imposed” levy of “10 p on all non-alcoholic soft drinks with added sugar”, multiple recipes in his own cookery books and on his website and restaurant chain menu, are packed with teaspoon after teaspoon of sugar. Christopher Snowdon’s recent analysis in The Spectator points out the reality of the situation; the likes of the chef’s Chocolate Love Cake, Date Shake and the Tasty Sundae recipes each feature in excess of a dozen spoonfuls of sugar. As such, the chef’s commercial activities – the restaurant chain achieved revenue of £101.8m in 2014 and book sales surpassed £126,400,000 in 2012 – represent a considerable market stake in which a sugar reformation could occur.

Jamie Oliver’s sugary drinks tax proposal strongly resonates with the socialist ideals of anti-choice and a centralised state. Indeed, it is one tranche of a broader free-market assault. Other policy aims include banning junk food advertisements before 9pm and mandating food and drink companies to display yet more nutritional information on packaging.

Whilst the impracticality and hypocrisy of the sugary drinks tax represents a merely theoretical, media seeking policy proposal, it is the chef’s broader statist mentality that is unforgivable.

Jamie Oliver ought to lead his sugar revolution from the market place he knows so well – commercial cookery – and not foray into ludicrous fiscal activity.

Ben Judge recently graduated from King’s College London where he was President of the Conservative Society.