Devil’s Advocate: is Great Britain lazy and fat?

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YES

It’s undoubtedly fair to say that Britain has become lazy and fat in the past number of decades. This has become apparent from the obesity crisis we currently face, with almost 40 per cent of children between the ages of 11 and 15 in the UK classified as obese. You don’t even need statistics, you can probably see the problem with a casual glance around on pretty much any given high street in the UK.

Similarly, I think that there has been an increase in laziness in Britain. However, this laziness is a result of inherent failures in the political system.

The ‘Right Honourable’ Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox thought that last week he would remind us all here in Britain that we are “too lazy and too fat.” He followed that statement by saying that business men would rather play “golf on a Friday afternoon” than contribute to Britain’s prosperity.

Now I completely agree that Britain has become too lazy and probably too fat, but for that critique to come out of Liam Fox’s mouth was almost too much for me.

Let me try to pinpoint the exact date that the British public stopped caring about anything other than their own prosperity and started the descent into laziness. You may say that we became lazy with the increased use of the computer, or when fast food hit our shores. However, you don’t get to decide because this is my column. In my opinion, Britain started to become lazy on 4 May 1979, the day one of Liam Fox’s heroes became Prime Minister: Margaret Thatcher.

With the impacts of the Thatcher government in mind, let us assess Liam Fox’s comment about business men playing golf on a Friday rather than working. Thatcher’s free market policies told the business elite that whatever they wished to do with their Fridays would contribute the most to Britain’s prosperity. Either Liam has lurched significantly to the left and plans to enforce working hours on these fun loving CEOs, or his new position as Secretary of State for International Trade is harder than he expected.

As a result of Thatcher’s individualism, along with the closing of industry, community spirit in Britain has been destroyed, which has created a widespread epidemic of laziness. If people are not going to leave their doors open for their neighbours anymore, they are certainly not going to put in an extra day of work.

The culture in this country has altered drastically, and Britons are no longer the hard-working, proud, healthy-minded and healthy-bodied individuals they once were. We have instead become a dogged, depressed nation, organs swimming bleakly in saturated fat, brains paralysed with idleness behind metaphorically square eyes. Our culture is neither nutritious for our minds nor for our bellies. The laziness epidemic in Britain is only too apparent in the sort of products which are being sold to satisfy the mass-market – no-effort pre-prepared pasta sauces with sky-high salt and sugar contents, and the increased popularity of apps which enable anything you could possibly dream of to arrive directly to your front door, sometimes in a matter of minutes.

Liam Fox made sure he emphasised the failings of workers in Britain. However, back in June he was a leading figure of the economic car crash of lies that was ‘Brexit’, causing mass devaluation of the pound and endangering thousands of jobs. So now we are left with a trade secretary, who is pointing out to us that we are lazy and saying that we need to contribute to Britain’s prosperity, while undermining Britain’s prosperity by removing us from all our trade agreements and the European common market.

As a result, people have become disinclined to work, and this has become something which seems to be inheritable. Children learn by imitation – if there is no close familial example of work ethic, then it is more than likely that a child will follow the lead of the unmotivated parent. Similarly, it’s logical that if your parents are overweight, then there is a considerable chance that you will be too, and the statistics back this up – one survey found that 48 per cent of children with overweight parents became overweight, compared with only 13 per cent of children with parents of a normal weight.

Though we have become lazy and fat, I don’t feel that it is through any major fault of our own. Liam Fox stands as the epitome of the Tory politician who is willing to destroy British jobs and trade for ideological reasons, and then blame it on the people of Britain – who as a result have become, as a rule, lazy and fat. I have no clue how this man made it back into the cabinet and, ironically, I find no problem with naming him as truly one of the laziest politicians in Westminster.

NO

To claim that British business is too lazy and fat is probably not the best thing to do if your job is to try and persuade foreign governments to trade with Britain on preferential terms. However, that didn’t stop Liam Fox from blurting out insults.

It isn’t really surprising that Mr Fox came out with this nonsense, given his track record of making ridiculous claims is almost endless: he has described gay marriage as “social engineering” and was a chief architect of Brexit (not to forget his vampirical thirst for cuts to the NHS budget). This latest addition to his list of blunders is not only wrong, but also dangerous.

His comments may have been directed to exporters, but this is yet another cheap shot at the hard-working ordinary Britons who are so often written o by politicians. Over the past six years, senior Tory ministers have repeatedly belittled workers, describing a sizeable chunk of the country as “skivers.” In a further tightening of the screws, jobseekers who decline zero-hour contracts are now hit with stricter benefit sanctions.

It is little surprise, therefore, that productivity is some 17 per cent lower than our international peers, which is presumably the evidence our trade secretary used for his remarks. The government and mainstream media have constantly put down the ordinary labourer. It is no wonder that morale in the workplace is cripplingly low. Instead of giving Britain a wake-up call, Mr Fox has further compounded the problem.

In actual fact, the country’s productivity crisis is not as simple as it seems at first glance. Politicians and Rupert Murdoch’s papers will often blame the public for not working hard enough. They will tell us that the average worker wastes five days a year checking personal emails and chatting with colleagues.

Yet, we as a country did something rather unusual in response to the financial crisis of 2008. We did not lay off as many workers compared to our international peers. Unemployment in the UK only rose to around 8.5 per cent (nowhere near our previous post-recession peaks of 12 per cent in the mid 1980s and 11 per cent in the mid 1990s. In the wake of 2008, unemployment reached 10 per cent in the US and exceeded 11 per cent in Germany. So, in short, we were producing a lot less (as a result of reduced demand following the crisis) but with roughly the same amount of people – not because we’re lazy!

In addition to this, our economy is largely based on the financial services sector, which represents our largest export. This is where productivity becomes difficult to measure. It is almost impossible to measure how productive someone who supplies a service is. It is easier to measure the productivity of the economy in Germany or the States, where manufacturing represents a larger proportion of national income.

Another issue I have with the claims made by a man who thinks nothing of slashing taxes for the rich is that it is very bizarre to associate golf with being overweight or lazy. Golf is a form of exercise. I could easily rack up a good six miles hacking my way around the Old Course, and one needs to be incredibly skilled if they are to be good at the sport.

There is also something profoundly wrong about generalising an entire industry, as Fox has done so grotesquely. The vast majority of workers and business leaders operate under intense pressure and have to endure very long hours. Granted, there may be the occasional Wednesday off to play golf, but business people can never really switch off. Emails always need to be checked, paperwork is often taken home at weekends and on family holidays, many have to work even when they are ill– and so it is an insult to the people who make the wheel of our economy turn to describe them as “lazy” and “fat.”

Mr Fox’s comments have certainly alienated those in the business world. Richard Reed, the founder of Innocent Smoothies, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said that “[Mr Fox] is a representative of us, of this country, and he turns around and slags us off, calling us fat and lazy. He’s a complete fraud. He’s never done a day’s business in his life.”

Peter Jones, Richard Branson and Richard Reed are just a few examples of the exact type of highly motivated, incredibly successful and largely humble business people who Mr Fox attacked with his comments.

However, it is not just those at the top that he has offended. It is the thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises which are the backbone of our economy. They provide jobs in the millions, provide families with incomes and are the exact type of organisations that the trade secretary needs to have on board if he is to make Brexit a success.

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