We are witnessing a strange political contest here in the UK. The Conservative Party is in the process of electing a new leader, and the successful candidate will automatically become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
The voters in this election are a tiny, unrepresentative group. Demographically, they are predominantly white, male, well off, based in the south of England and with an average age approaching 60. They are, of course, also predominantly right wing activists with strongly held right wing views.
Each day of the month-long hustings period leading up to the vote, the two remaining candidates, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, seem determined to outdo each other through the ultraconservative promises they make to this closed electorate.
Earlier this week, for example, Boris Johnson railed against the “nanny state” and pledged what he called a “moratorium” on “stealth sin taxes”.
His clear target here was the so-called “sugar tax” introduced by the government last year after years of lobbying by health campaigners.
Mr Johnson appears to have conveniently forgotten that when he was mayor of London he himself introduced a 10 pence surcharge on sugary drinks for sale in City Hall.
However, the real, thinly camouflaged message to the Conservative party voters is that he believes that big business and the wealthy should not pay taxes that are then used to discourage people from harming themselves through what they do to their bodies (smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and so on).
People who do become ill as a result of falling prey to the many health-related pitfalls of modern life will end up being treated by the National Health Service (NHS). By the time they require treatment they will probably already have a diminished quality of life and are likely to require ongoing expensive treatment. This is not an efficient way to deal with preventable health problems, and it puts an increased strain on funding for the NHS.
But never mind, the ultraconservatives have an answer to that problem too – relieve the taxpayer of responsibility for the NHS. This will be achieved by outsourcing NHS services to the profit-making private sector and eventually ending the concept of a free health care system. Outsourcing of the NHS has been happening by “stealth” over the past nine years. During that period, billions of pounds worth of NHS services have been hived off to private sector companies (a number of which, coincidentally, happen to donate to the Conservative Party).
Mr Johnson’s proposed moratorium makes no sense in public health terms. Sugar taxes work – examples include those introduced in Mexico, Chile, Hungary, Poland and Thailand. These are showing that taxes on unhealthy foods do change behaviour and do lead to people making healthier choices. This in turn is likely to lead to better quality of life and so reduces the strain on our creaking health services.
With a quarter of the British population now classed as obese, Mr Johnson’s pledge to row back on the sugar tax would amount to a callous, cynical and retrograde step.
On to the recipe.
This soup is delicious, full of intoxicatingly fresh flavours. Putting strawberries into a gazpacho in place of tomatoes isn’t that strange – they are both fruits after all.
You will need to plan in advance to give the ingredients time to marinate together, but that apart it’s an incredible easy dish, with no cooking involved.
500 g organic strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
120 g organic cucumber, peeled, deseeded (use a melon baller or teaspoon) and roughly chopped
1 organic red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 banana shallots, finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
5-6 drops tabasco sauce
15 g basil leaves, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
500 ml vegetable stock, chilled
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the strawberries, cucumber, pepper, garlic, shallots, lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, tabasco, thyme sprigs and basil leaves in a large bowl. Stir to combine then cover the bowl and leave the flavours to infuse for at least a couple of hours, longer if possible.
2. Pour the vegetable stock into the infused strawberry, cucumber and pepper mixture and stir. Remove the thyme sprigs. Pour the mixture into a blender (you will need to do so in batches) and process until smooth. Chill the gazpacho until ready to serve, then remove from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving.
4. To serve, pour the gazpacho into serving bowls and top with a little drizzle of olive oil and a grinding of black pepper.