Tuesday, September 19, 2006

An Unanswerable Putdown

All Hail St Jamie of Oliver.

Last night's return to the "School Dinners" fray showed him to be on spectacular form. The first episode of the new series raises, as one might expect, a number of issues.

Firstly, it demonstrates clearly the parlous condition of the infrastructure of the state. Jamie's School Dinners plan rests on the assumption that fresh food can be cooked and served to children in each school. This assumption was shown to be somewhat flawed in Lincolnshire, for all but 3 out of 286 primary schools in that county.

Secondly, it shows the degree to which people's ability and/or willingness to JFDI seems to have been eroded, both in the state and private sectors. We could posit causes of this lamentable decline in the nation's collective "spunk" (for want of a better word) till the cows come home. Jamie, to his immense credit, gives us the DS Pink solution and identifies clearly what is missing: leadership.

No kitchen at the school? Go and find a commercial kitchen nearby. There's a pub, with a good chef, lots of kit and bugger all trade of a weekday lunchtime during termtime.
No hot cupboards? Divert some of the LEA money (aside - that was being spent on what exactly?) to provide hotboxes.
Input costs too high? Find a local produce wholesaler or farmer and cut out the middle man.
Can't scale up from a single school to an entire county? Organise a day out at a castle and invite school headteachers, contract caterers, pub landlords, farmers and wholesalers and ask them all to plot themselves on a big map.

In short, get the apparatus of the state out of the way, make some noise, let the market in the form of sentient individuals do its stuff and JUST F*CKING GET ON WITH IT.

There was a spotless quote from one contract caterer:

(from memory) I had no idea that there was such a big market with no

There is one other hugely interesting aside to this: all these individuals with all the opportunity for mutually beneficial trade seemed to be creating a sense of excitement, of connections between people, of the fundamental goodness of human interaction, of "community" damn it. Humans want to make relationships and trade with other humans around them. The fascinating thing was that the LEA - even at the level of the county - could not make this happen by dictat. You have to delegate right down to the lowest level and let people get on with it. The LEA simply cannot arrange contracts for 286 schools at once and no caterer could take on that load in its entirety.

But there is a darker side. Whatever one may think about the eponymous (he must be nearly eponymous by now) Mr Oliver and whatever one may think about the importance and soundness of his cause, he is a walking demonstration of the massive structural faults in our system of government. Mr Oliver is a little short of a single issue terrorist who has inflicted the most insidious form of "blackmail by television" upon the current administration.

Harsh? Perhaps. Fair? Certainly, as I shall show.

  • Jamie Oliver is a "celebrity". Household name: Check.
  • He is campaigning on an emotive issue, that relates to the wellbeing of our children. "Think of the Children": Check.
  • He brings his own media team to his meetings with government ministers. TV Coverage: Check.
No politician - of any stripe - is going to declare on television that such an eminently sensible solution to an undoubtedly serious issue should not receive money when such money is demanded. What Jamie Oliver has done is to demonstrate exactly how to extort taxpayers cash for any given pet project. In a world of limited resources, especially if one desires that government resources NEED to be limited, all requests for such resources have to be balanced. Availability of a charismatic celebrity ought not to be one of the criteria for setting such a balance. I struggle to see how, in a liberal pluralist democracy with a strong and free press, such blackmail can be resisted.

But aside from the imminent collapse of Western Civilisation caused by the demand for more than 37p/meal/child, Jamie Oliver has done one more thing, the benefits of which will flow for many years to come. He has spoken truth to power. In the words of Luke, Chap 1 v51-52:
He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the
imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and
exalted them of low degree.
He managed to get some time with the PM. They discussed the fact that children, or the parents of same, were spending huge amounts on junk food and snacks, which scuppered the take up rates of the proper food being provided. He asked, possibly unreasonably, what might be done to ban children from bringing junk food into schools. The PM, who - to be fair to him - is or ought to be largely powerless on something of this nature, muttered something about a voluntary code of conduct regarding the advertising of junk food to children. We can all see that this is a ridiculous and entirely ineffectual answer. But only someone of the calibre of Jamie Oliver would even consider, let alone dare, responding to this with the dismissive remark:
"That's a bit wet, Tony".
If Mr Oliver were to receive a knighthood, it would be richly deserved for this rejoinder alone.

In fact, he might be up for something higher than a knighthood. I quoted Luke 1, 51-52. Guess what is in v53....
"He hath filled the hungry with good things"


Chromatistes said...

I say, P-G! Compulsory chapel had its uses after all.

james higham said...

Yes this is so, P-G. All it needs is a bit of oomph. By the way, I can't get Dales' cursed pdf open and want to know where you came on the list. I'm surprised he didn't have a Take the piss category.