Allergic to freedom
Why is Europe taking up arms against herbal remedies?
To what problem is the statutory regulation of herbalists a solution? Are the tiny bits of bark and sap and leaf peddled by contemporary wisewomen deleterious to human health? Are we at risk of being sterilised by St John’s wort, paralysed by pau d’arco, maddened by meadowsweet? Hardly. Herbal remedies might be inert placebos or they might, as my wife maintains, be better for you than antibiotics. My wife is often right; and in any case, as the author of Proverbs tells us, ‘better a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith’ (rarely could the bit about the herbs have applied so aptly).
In a sense, though, it doesn’t matter whether complementary medicine lives up to its billing. This isn’t about science; it’s about freedom. Our starting assumption ought surely to be that herbal practitioners have no interest in killing their customers. Their wares tend to be milder than the pharmaceutical alternatives, and have often been prescribed for centuries. If they were toxic, I think we’d have noticed by now. Six million people in Britain have visited a herbalist at some point in the past two years, and two million regularly use alternative treatments as a first resort, yet herbal remedies account for just 0.4 per cent of reported adverse reactions.
When pushed on this point, defenders of the new rules — which come into force on 1 May — sometimes point half-heartedly to a death involving Chinese medicine; yet that case involved the adulteration of the advertised substance. It was, in other words, a violation of the existing trading standards laws.
No, the real reason that the government is obliging all herbal practitioners to sell only approved products is that it is carrying out instructions from Brussels. The ban was voted through the European Parliament seven years ago but, as so often, Eurocrats built in a delay, knowing that national ministers were far more likely to agree to an unpopular measure that would blow up in the laps of their successors.
To be fair, Conservative ministers are now doing their best to mitigate a proposal which, in opposition, they rejected. Under the government’s scheme, herbalists would be invited to register with a professional association which could then license their merchandise collectively, instead of obliging each individual practitioner to spend tens of thousands of pounds on product approval. Some herbalists’ organisations have now accepted this settlement — which, until very recently, they angrily opposed. But smaller practitioners fear that they will be put out of business. The herbalist who concocts cal-
To the Eurocrat, ‘unlicensed’ is synonymous with ‘illegal’
endula cream from her own marigolds will, they insist, be breaking the law.
Britain’s abjectness before Brussels is nothing new. Why, though, is the EU criminalising an activity peaceably pursued by at least 20 million of its citizens? Why is it making itself even more unpopular? Three reasons.
First, the desire to regulate is encoded deep in the Eurocrat’s DNA. To his mind, ‘unlicensed’ is synonymous with ‘illegal’. He faintly resents the idea that a trade might have grown up organically, without state approval. His instinct is to rationalise, to regularise, to standardise.
Second, the EU has fallen for that epochal idiocy, first adumbrated by the German Green movement, known as ‘the precautionary principle’, which holds that, because
‘Filled up, paid with a smile and left a tip — he look like Bob Diamond to you?’
something might be dangerous, we shouldn’t permit it until it has been shown to be safe. This sounds reasonable enough until you think about what it means in practice. It puts producers in the impossible position of having to prove a negative.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, for example, it was widely believed that the noise of a passing train would cause pregnant women to miscarry. Had we applied the precautionary principle, we would never have laid an inch of track: the rail operators of the day couldn’t prove that they wouldn’t cause miscarriages, any more than today’s health stores can prove that their wares are not toxic.
The third reason for the ban is, however, the most powerful. Whenever an apparently absurd law of this kind emanates from the EU, ask yourself cui bono — whose interest does it serve? In this case, there is no mystery: the directive was openly lobbied for by large pharmaceutical companies, which saw an opportunity to put their smaller rivals out of business. Not for the first time, big corporations have used the EU to push through rules which national assemblies would never have countenanced. MPs were left in no doubt about how their constituents viewed the proposal. But Brussels fonctionnaires are invulnerable to the ballot box: the EU was designed, in the aftermath of the second world war, precisely to shield them from public opinion.
What, though, has any of this has to do with the single market? Most herbalists, after all, operate only within a radius of a few miles. Once again, we are reminded that the EU does not confine itself to crossborder issues. Brussels tells us how to open bank accounts, how to strap our children into car seats, how to sell our houses, how to hold ladders against walls.
Last month, David Cameron discovered that his flagship policy — funding Big Society schemes with £100 million recovered from disused bank accounts — could not be pursued without special permission from the European Commission.Two weeks later, women learned that they could no longer benefit from cheaper car insurance.
Most British voters vaguely dislike the EU, but don’t regard it as an especially pressing nuisance. We tend to think of it as a racket that happens across the Channel: expensive, undemocratic and doubtless corrupt, but hardly immediate.
Those who take herbal remedies will soon know better: they are being treated as fishermen and slaughtermen, art dealers and fund managers, cheesemakers and female drivers have been treated before them. See how Brussels curls its tendrils into every cranny of national life, blocking the light, strangling the native growth.
Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP for the South East of England
the spectator | 12 March 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk Rod Liddle
Whatever your celebrity sins,
spare us the false apology
What a pleasure to welcome back into our newspapers that grasping porcine ginger trollop, Sarah Ferguson. It is money, of course, which has seen her return to media prominence; perpetually skint as a consequence of her fabulously extravagant lifestyle and sense of entitlement, she allowed her incalculably thick ex-husband, Prince Andrew, to fix up a loan for £15,000 to help clear her debts, money which came from a convicted paedophile, the US businessman Jeffrey Epstein.
Jeff was one of Andy’s roster of mates — a magnificent cabal, incidentally, which comprises almost everybody foul in the world, almost everybody who you would least like to sit next to at dinner, kiddie fiddlers, relatives of Cap’n Bob Maxwell, growling hummus-breathed Arabic despots, arms dealers etc. I am not convinced that £15,000 will keep Fergie in pies and Gstaad for very long, anyway, but that is not the point. Now that the press have found out about the loan, Fergie is cloaking herself with that most modern of adornments, faux contrition. She is appalled to have accepted the loan which Andrew sorted out for her, she now says, it was a quite ghastly mistake. And she also felt the need to add to her press statement the confession that she feels very strongly that adults shouldn’t shag children, it’s something she’s always been very decided about, shagging children.
Here’s a bet: if the press hadn’t found out about it she’d have said nowt and would have kept her robust views about paedophilia to herself. She is not sorry at all, she is just embarrassed to have been caught out pocketing money from a sleek-haired yankee millionaire nonce. Rightly, some people are questioning if Prince Andrew is quite the best person to be flying around the world, waving the flag for Britain, seeing as he has the IQ of a half-pound block of Cathedral City cheddar cheese. Diplomats imply that he is pig ignorant; a Labour MP, Mike Gapes (himself formerly a grim Trotskyite), has said that the Duke of York is an embarrassment to Britain; the government has been forced to say that he is doing a bloody brilliant job for the country and has our full support, etc.
Well, yes, sure. But at least Andrew hasn’t done that terribly au courant thing and issued a patently false apology. The thing all of our slebs do from time to time, when they’ve been caught with half of Bolivia up their nostrils or — worse yet— ‘doing a racist’, as my children call it. As in ‘Liam got in trouble with teacher today for doing a racist.’ The faux apology, the craven genuflection to popular sentiment, occasioned by being caught doing something. Not contrition, not remotely contrition, but a desperate yearning not to let what they have done have an impact upon their yearly earnings,
Fergie is cloaking herself with that most modern of adornments, faux contrition mixed with a soupçon of shame in the more sensitive souls (i.e., not Fergie).
The faux apology was perfected by Tony Blair, of course, who spent his years in office apologising for things which he had no right to apologise for, because he was not guilty of them — Bloody Sunday, slavery, etc — but being steadfastly unapologetic about invading Iraq and destroying the British economy for a generation. But it has become the most reliably tiresome event in our newspapers since then, whether it be Tiger Woods apologising for having been caught out having sexual intercourse with every woman aged under 30 in the United States of America,
‘I’m not sure Boadicea should be driving now the premiums have gone up.’
the spectator | 12 March 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk or backbench Tories who have swindled you out of £100,000 by claiming morally illicit expenses for their second homes, or moats, or duck houses.
The faux apology is at its most spectacular, and egregious, when matters of race are concerned. This, I suppose, is because racism is second only to paedophilia in the list of really, really, bad stuff which slebs are required to apologise for. My favourite faux apologies concern those members of the glitterati who have been accused of anti-Semitism. So the halfwit Mel Gibson is overheard, or recorded, saying that Jews are responsible for all the wars that ever took place in the world and are quite the most ghastly people and he later ‘apologises’, attempting to convince us, mazel tov, that he thinks Jews are absolutely terrific and that his recorded comments did not reflect his state of mind.
Ditto the magnificently horrible John Galliano, who believes that having told someone that he thought Hitler was ‘great’ and that he wished their relatives had died in the gas chambers did not, per se, reflect upon him as having an anti-Semitic mindset. No, no, quite the reverse. One would have been more appreciative of Christian Dior’s handling of the matter were it not for the fact that Christian Dior was himself a Nazi collaborator and a friend of both Hitler and Eva Braun, and that his niece, Françoise Dior, was convicted in Britain of attempting to blow up synagogues and was married — at separate times, no bigamy implied here — to John Tyndall, later the leader of the National Front, and Colin Jordan, a neo-Nazi who was himself imprisoned for violent racist acts.
But that’s the faux apology for you; it covers only that which immediately embarrasses whoever it is who is making the apology. There is often not even an attempt at sincerity, just a bowing down before the altar of popular sentiment when they have been caught out. Think of what Fergie could apologise for, sincerely, if she had the time.
Spectator.co.uk/rodliddle Commentary without apology