IN 1981, amid unrest in Toxteth, Brixton and Handsworth, Norman Tebbit scolded the rioters by pointing out that his father had been unemployed in the 1930s.

Tebbit had been told that the rioting was a result of unemployment, but said of his dad: “He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work.”

Now, 40 years on, another Conservative politician is urging us onto our bikes.

The obesity epidemic is back in the news thanks to the other epidemic. Public Health England reports that overweight and obese people are at greater risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19.

It’s thought to be why Boris Johnson – who weighed in at 17-and-a-half stone – ended up in intensive care when he caught it.

Now, as part of a plan to tackle obesity, he is telling GPs to prescribe cycling to their heftier patients.

The Government will invest in more cycle lanes and secure cycle parking, to ensure biking is safer in built-up areas.

Getting us on our bikes is among a number of measures aimed at the two-thirds of the population who are overweight or obese.

A ban on TV ads for junk food before 9pm is being proposed. The sale of chocolates, crisps and sweets at checkouts will be stopped.

Menus in pubs and restaurants will have to print the number of calories each dish contains. It will go for alcoholic drinks too, which account for about 10 per cent of the calorie intake of drinkers.

I know I belong to the two-thirds who are carrying more weight than I should, and I’m not proud of it.

However the “glass half-full” brigade like to point out that there’s a statue inside every block of stone – all very well as long as it’s not a statue of a slave trader.

By the same reasoning, surely there’s a thin person inside every fat person? That’s very much how I see myself – as a slim man inside an overweight one.

Throughout my teens and 20s I was one of those people who could eat and drink vast quantities without apparently gaining weight. Someone even told me I looked like Jarvis Cocker.

I lost that ability in my 30s, but didn’t give up the vast quantities. Now I look more like an American – or maybe a clean shaven, slightly younger Santa Claus.

So a few pairs of trousers have hung unworn in my wardrobe for years. But if I did manage to give up the vast quantities, then maybe I could squeeze into them again. It’s good to have dreams.

Of course the idea of a healthy weight depends entirely on how tall you are. Weighing13 stone may be fine if you’re six feet but dangerous if you’re four feet.

I’m just over six feet tall but could argue that I’m merely short for my weight. I would be a perfectly healthy weight if I was eight feet six.

There have been the usual complaints that anti-obesity measures are interference by the “nanny state”.

Yet it seems to me that the nanny state intervention can sometimes do a lot of good. We’ve known for years that second-hand cigarette smoke is harmful and smokers shouldn’t inflict it on other people.

We’ve also known that plastic bags are a very nasty pollutant, clogging up our oceans and killing marine life.

But it took Government intervention to ban smoking in indoor public places and introduce charging for plastic bags. If it had been left to individuals it would never have happened.

So I’m supportive of this piece of nannying and hope it works. But I suspect it won’t.

Trying to reduce the consumption of addictive substances can be extremely difficult, even with the best willpower in the world.

Sugar, salt and fat are all highly addictive. And those companies who want to keep us buying their products do their best to ensure we remain hooked.

Brain scans have shown that the human brain reacts to sugar in the same way that it reacts to cocaine.

Manufacturers at one the largest processed food companies have begun grinding salt into a finer powder so that it hits the taste buds faster and harder and delivers a more intense feeling.

Companies also market “low fat” versions of popular products while quietly adding more sugar or salt, or both.

Cutting out fat, salt and sugar-laden processed food will be essential if we are to slim down.

But breaking the stranglehold of these addictive drugs will take more than not showing them on TV before 9pm.