Home Estate Planning The Debate: Is it desirable to have a Prime Minister who fasts?

The Debate: Is it desirable to have a Prime Minister who fasts?

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The Prime Minister fasts for 36 hours each week – is that a good thing? Our columnists battle it out before City A.M. delivers the verdict.

Benedict Spence is a faster and freelance writer

Yes: Leaders should not have to worry about impending death by obesity

I was recently told I have the look of a man who enjoys his lunchtime foie gras, which seems unfair as it’s January, and I’m slimming by sticking to oysters. 

I like to eat well, inhaling steak and wine on the daily. If hobbits eat seven times a day, I’m the Shire’s Mr Creosote. But I’m only a glutton five days a week — I have a secret which, at risk of carpet-bombing my reputation for keeping them, I shall now reveal in print. Like Rishi Sunak, I fast.

The PM is not a man with a foie gras physiognomy. Celery, perhaps. Who knows, maybe more midriff heft would lend him authority. But, we both know the cold embrace of the 36-hour fast. It seems strange, but when used to it, senses heighten, and thoughts become clearer, as the body ponders imminent starvation and decides to work overtime to avert it. 

This is no bad thing for a PM. Sunak doesn’t need famine to trigger survival mode, but still, it’s a helpful edge.

Unlike Sunak, I also endure a 72-hour monthly fast. Harder to ride out. A plan for a 100-hour quarterly fast is progressing as slowly as a frog whose legs I have just eaten, but remains on the agenda.

My motivations are more vain than the PM’s religiosity. Fasts are an acceptable trade-off for not ‘clean eating’ to stay svelte. They’ve also been linked to disease prevention, and are popular among the longevity crowd. Plenty to like there — leaders should not have to worry about impending death by obesity. Time spent calorie counting is time that could go on running the country. 

Another goal of mine is to outlive my enemies, starting with my opponent opposite (game on, old fruit). I don’t have half as many enemies as the average PM, but I imagine staying power would appeal to Sunak, history being written by the victors and all.

And victors we need. As headlines abound about war, shortages and conscription, it’s good to remind politicians mistakes have consequences. A 36-hour fast is no trial compared to what befalls countries whose governments fail them. 

James Price is director of government affairs at the Adam Smith Institute

No: Abstinence puts the PM out of kilter – to his peril

There is story (like so many of the best, probably apocryphal) about former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s meeting with Adolf Hitler in the build-up to war. It said that Chamberlain was a heavy smoker, but because Hitler hated smoking, it was banned in the place where they met. Irritable, Chamberlain agreed to too much and gave Hitler too much ground to end the meeting and get out. A similar story is told of Angela Merkel’s fear of dogs and Vladimir Putin introducing one into a room during a bilateral meeting. It is admirable that far from having cravings or phobias, today’s PM seems to have almost no weaknesses or vices beyond his own Party. Indeed, in the reports that Sunak undertakes long fasts he is to be credited for the kind of self-control so lacking in the public purse or on his own backbenches. 

But the PM’s steely ability to resist food, alcohol, meat, tobacco or much else puts him very much out of kilter with most of the rest of us. At an individual level, it’s encouraging to see someone with such self-control at the top of government, as someone who sets a wonderfully clean-cut example for children and adults alike. In a world of flawed, fallen anti-heroes (and Boris, of course) the PM is squeaky clean. Even Alfred the Great had to be shown to burn his cakes to prove his fallibility.

But given this week’s announcement that disposable vapes are to be banned for adults (because children use them – even though they are already illegal for children), I wonder whether this superpower risks becoming Rishi’s Achilles heel. Vapes help many people quit smoking, just as booze can help us unwind and weakness is relatable. Does Rishi’s ability to abstain cloud his judgment on how the rest of his fellow Brits operate in the world? He may find out, fast!

The Verdict: ‘It’s like work from home for your mouth’

Fasting: Rishi Sunak does it for 36 hours a week and says it’s an “important discipline”. But is it a desirable one for a prime minister? Spence says yes: the PM will go forth and prosper. Price, however, suspects Sunak is out of touch with the everyday fag-wielding, lager-guzzling Brit.

Ah, the impossible standards we expect from politicians: must they be superior to ourselves or relatable? If the latter, Sunak should not only abandon fasting in favour of yobbing 3,000 calories a day but also quit teetotalism to gulp down 18 units of alcohol each week. Alarming to City A.M. is the possibility of a hungry premier, making rash decisions. Even more alarming is the idea that everyone in this country follow our head of state’s fasting ritual, as this would surely result in a dearth of consumption in the eatieries and drinkeries of, as concerns us specifically, the Square Mile. As one of our esteemed employees phrased it, “it’s like work from home for your mouth”.

And that’s a frightening prospect for a pro- work from work outfit. In the belief that leaders must lead by example,. we suggest Sunak ditches the fast – otherwise he risks provoking a crisis of low consumption across the nation.

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