Boris Johnson and the ‘Me Too?’ Movement

July 30, 2020

Some politicians need personal experience to help them make decisions.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, has thrown his weight behind efforts to help his fellow citizens lose weight.

Johnson came out in favor of restrictions for marketing unhealthy food in the United Kingdom. His motivation, he says, was a bout with COVID-19 that made him realize, as he lay gasping for breath in the hospital, that he was too fat.

The proposals center on banning advertisements for fast food before 9 p.m., to keep children from seeing them. They’ve drawn the usual criticism from industry that they go too far, and from consumer groups that they don’t go far enough; I don’t intend to rehash that.

But the British situation is interesting to me because it’s an extreme case of what I call the “Me Too?” movement: Politicians who change their minds about an issue, or think about it for the first time, as soon as it affects them personally. We see this all the time: politicians become sympathetic toward LGBTQ causes when one of their children comes out as gay; they take up the cause of prison reform once they’re sent there.

Johnson is the first prominent politician that I know of to change course on food policy because of his own weight problem. Before then, he had taken the standard Tory stance against “the nanny state,” which of course has its counterpart in America. Former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, for example, relentlessly dragged Michelle Obama for the healthy lunches initiative.

Johnson, of course, didn’t suddenly decide one morning that he and his fellow Englishmen could stand to lose some weight. It took a bout with a potentially deadly infectious disease to convince him. Let’s hope the pols on this side of the Atlantic don’t need a drastic experience like that to guide them toward sound food policy.