A blooming good ideaMartin Doyle
The only flaw in this argument is that when the problems were serious enough, councils always did get involved. Wellington is no exception. When needs must, the council has championed the safest type of housing to survive earthquakes, organised milk deliveries round the city, and brought in a bus system running on electricity. They’re merely examples of how Wellington councils, led by strong-minded mayors, have at times led the masses towards the Promised Land.
In this regard, it’s worth taking note of New York’s inspirational mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Out of the blue, he has proposed banning large-sized sugary drinks from food outlets all over New York. Basically, he thinks New Yorkers are getting too fat and something needs to be done about it. Drinks aren’t the only factor, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.
My first reaction when I heard of this proposal was astonishment. It’s hard to imagine the mayor of a large city, especially one boasting the Statue of Liberty, interfering with the liberty of people to eat and drink as much as they like. I guess in New Zealand, critics would say it’s not a council’s role, and who is this leftwing, New Age, interfering, Nanny-State wannabe do-gooder?
And that’s where it gets interesting. Michael Bloomberg is none of these things. He is regarded as right-wing, he’s 70 years old, and has a personal wealth of $22 billion. Well, why should he even worry about what the peasants are eating and drinking?
After all, what’s in it for him? Answer: nothing, but he obviously thinks if you are going to be leader of eight million people, you might as well deliver leadership where they need it most. Sixty per cent of New Yorkers are now obese and the problem is going to bloat out a lot further if no one tries to rope it in.
Well, perhaps this might work in New York and nowhere else, you might think. Wrong again. None other than Boris Johnson, mayor of London, has expressed huge support for Bloomberg and says he’s going to consider the idea for Britain’s capital.
It’s good to know that mayors round the world still feel free to contemplate this sort of action. Imagine a world where councils had no say at all about food products they considered harmful. That is why our politicians are wise to at least kick the tyres of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement to make sure we don’t end up in a position where we don’t dare make a move for fear of being sued for damages by overseas food-giants.
What Bloomberg and Johnson are demonstrating is that reducing the waistlines of the voters neither oversteps the mark nor belittles the role of mayor.