Ariel Sharon’s left-wing roots and how to handle a scandal, the British way

The French press still has a lot to learn from the British tabloids in how to break a scandal, plus the unenlightening secret of British succession.

“Sugar,” my late mother would declare, shovelling extra dollops of the stuff on her grandchildren’s breakfast cereal despite my protests and my wife’s, “gives you energy.” This was the almost universal view of her generation – formed by the ubiquitous propaganda of the sugar industry – and it was correct.

Unfortunately, most people never burn off the energy and the surplus turns into fat, leading to obesity, which in turn leads to Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and other ills. Or so, if I understand them cor­rectly, scientists are telling us.

The latest shock horror is that the fruit juice you buy in supermarkets, hitherto recommended as one of the “five-a-day” portions of fruit and vegetables necessary for a healthy diet, has become so laden with sugar that it is as bad for you as Coca-Cola and should be avoided, or at least diluted, at all costs. I am reminded of how yoghurt, an ancient food praised by Pliny the Elder for its “agreeable acidity” and widely hailed for its nutritional value 50 years ago, was transformed by commercial manufacturers into a sugary confection almost indistin­guishable from blancmange.

For consumers, it is all very confusing. One sometimes suspects that health experts have a vested interest in the confusion, which allows them to sit on committees drawing fees and expenses while they delib­erate on opaque systems of food labelling.

There is no need for any of it. The gov­ernment should simply treat food as though it were tobacco or another dangerous drug and slap a punitive rate of tax on all of it except fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and grains, sustainable wet fish and (within guidelines) bread – and put the onus on manufacturers to prove, case by case, that any other product is sufficiently healthy, nutritious and good for the planet to deserve exemption, along with permission to display a kitemark to that effect. This would relieve us of dilemmas about what to eat and create substantial extra revenue for the National Health Service.

Bought the farm

Ariel Sharon, who has died at the age of 85, was born on a moshav in central Pales­tine. The moshavim, like the better-known kibbutzim, are a reminder of why Israel once commanded wide support on the left.

Unlike the kibbutzim, they allowed inde­pendent households but most originally functioned as workers’ or farmers’ co-operatives. Even in the 1960s, many of us on the left saw Israel as the most promising model for a society that would avoid the worst of both Soviet communism and western capitalism.

Nearly all of its land was (and, excluding the occupied territories, still is) owned by the state or state agencies. We even used to applaud Israeli military victories as show­ing how social democrats could be more efficient as well as more socially just. Now Israel is just another privatising, neoliberal state, as well as one that is widely perceived as aggressive, imperialist and racist.

Private space invaders

The French press is still learning how to invade privacy, British-style. Confronted with evidence of presidential shagging, one must have every possible detail of where the shag allegedly took place, including the price of the property, its owner and names of any prominent neighbours.

In a helpful demonstration, our own Daily Mail “can reveal” that President Hollande’s “Paris love nest” is valued at £2.5m; the neighbouring owners include the “multi­millionaire fashion designer Pierre Cardin”; “the French actress Emmanuelle Hauck . . . uses the flat”; and, most importantly, since you need a “public interest” angle, it is registered to “a convicted criminal with Mafia links” (though the ownership remains unknown). QED.

Secret of our succession

For my wife’s birthday, we went to Kensington Palace, which ought to be interesting (even to a republican like me) because it was the home of Diana and now accommodates Mr and Mrs William Windsor. I was unimpressed. I realise that museums now offer “experiences” rather than information and that the palace is marketed as “enchanted”. But in very dark, overheated rooms, it was impossible to know what one was looking at or why. I spent a long time staring at a model that, I was told, represented the 44 potential successors to the throne who, on Queen Anne’s death in 1714, were bypassed in favour of the elector of Hanover who became George I.

How this was intended to elaborate (in a slightly misleading way) what I already knew – or to enlighten somebody unfamiliar with the English succession – was unclear. I cannot improve on a comment on the Time Out website: “Absolutely avoid this money-grubbing tacky experience.”

A memorial service and funeral for Ariel Sharon on 13 January 2014. Photo: Getty.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 15 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 1914 to 2014