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Agencies Policy & Regulation Politics For Drummies

Poor health killing UK’s prosperity and marketing not helping, says Lord Bethell


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

May 22, 2024 | 5 min read

The next government needs to take rapid action to get the nation back on track, according to the hereditary peer, who appears on the latest edition of the Politics for Drummies podcast.

Lord Bethell

Lord Bethell talks health and weird politicians

In conversation with host Alastair Duncan, hereditary peer, Conservative politician in the House of Lords and co-founder and former managing director of the Ministry of Sound, James Nicolas Bethell, 5th Baron Bethell, outlines how the role he played in the House of Lords during the Covid pandemic bought home to him how Britain’s poor health is now an emergency for whoever takes over Number 10 after the forthcoming general election.

“During the pandemic, the penny dropped for me how ill we are in the UK,” he says. “We are much more ill than other countries, actually. The sight of people going into the ICU units to be intubated was tough, and most of them were smokers, obese or overweight and carrying all sorts of diseases. That’s why the virus hit them so hard. Many of these people came from areas of deprivation. It [poor health] is really holding us back as a nation. People are dropping out of the workforce because they are so unwell.

“This idea of trying to stop people from being unwell is the one that captivates me. Our focus in the NHS is to try and treat people, but often it’s too late by the time they’ve staggered into A&E pissing blood and needing surgery. That’s quite an expensive way of running a healthcare system.”

As a former entrepreneur and marketer, Bethell recognizes the power of marketing and suggests that tighter regulations around marketing and uses of social media platforms would be a starting point.

“I am fed up with the gambling companies, the pollution companies, the junk food companies who produce highly addictive products that are difficult to shake off. I’ve had my struggles with addiction, giving up smoking and getting my eating habits sorted out are some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. And they relentlessly market this stuff at kids, at households, at families. They restrict our shopping opportunities around a very narrow set of choices.

“Bringing in higher taxes for smoking or even restricting sales and distribution marketing with junk food or sugar tax... Watersheds on the marketing and restrictions on using social media for marketing junk foods... Those are the kinds of high-level things that a government needs to look at. But that’s not all; that’s not going to fix it on its own. The NHS can do its bit by pivoting towards prevention and trying to catch disease earlier. Then how do we tackle the really egregious polluters? The people are making a fortune out of our poor health.”

These are huge challenges. Does Bethell feel that today’s politicians and leaders have what it takes to meet them? It appears the jury is out.

“I’m afraid politics does now attract weirdos because of the nature of it,” he says. “It is attracting the weirdos and it didn’t used to be like that. In the old days, it was war heroes, successful entrepreneurs, trade unionists and civil rights campaigners. My family’s been in politics for 150 years and there were always kooks and weirdos, but not quite as many as there are these days.

“Politicians have never been popular. And you don’t go in it for the praise. What’s sad for me is seeing really good people being broken down by the pressure. Watching people who seem to have integrity and good intentions slip up, make mistakes, overreach, drink too much, go a bit loopy and then actually lose their effectiveness, their propriety, their integrity and be broken by the system... You see it again and again and you want to reach out and guide them away from it.”

Agencies Policy & Regulation Politics For Drummies

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