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Monday
Sep152014

University challenge

Nottingham University held an open day on Friday.

I took my daughter because Nottingham is one of the places that offers American Studies which I don't remember being available when I was a student. If it had I would have jumped at it, a year in America being a welcome bonus.

The last time I visited the Nottingham campus was 30 years ago. I didn't see much (a few buildings and lots of trees) because it was after dark and I was trying not to draw attention to myself.

The previous year I had left my job in public relations and launched a national student magazine. Campus was founded in 1978 at Aberdeen. Others kept it going when I left but I wanted it to go national and when they graduated it seemed the right time.

The biggest problem was distribution. Student union shops refused to sell it because it was stridently anti-union so we were forced to flog copies door-to-door in halls of residence.

Students would sell copies in return for 50 per cent of the cover price. We also used our connections with the Federation of Conservative Students and that's how I ended up on the Nottingham campus one dark November night.

I arranged to meet the local FCS chairman and with the help of several other members we moved from one hall to another, knocking on doors, selling our illicit literature.

At one point we inadvertently knocked on the door of a student union rep who took umbrage and went off to alert the authorities. For an hour or more we kept one step ahead, moving from building to building, floor to floor.

Most students welcomed us and the knowledge we were selling – and they were buying – a prohibited publication gave the escapade a rather exciting clandestine feel.

For the record, the FCS chairman who welcomed me and was so hospitable that night was John Hayes, now minister of state for transport. Thanks for the memories, John!

PS. Hugely impressed with the Nottingham University campus. A friend's daughter who visited it a few weeks ago said it was "too green". That's what I loved about it.

I don't know how typical it is, but I particularly liked Cripps Hall. Built in 1959 (the year I was born), it features a minstrels gallery, oak panelling, chandeliers, large arched windows and a clock tower.

Now that's what I call a hall of residence!

Sunday
Sep142014

Conference calls

The conference season is almost upon us.

Actually it began with the Greens but I wasn't paying attention.

Labour are in Manchester this year (September 21-24) but Forest won't be going. The last time we organised an event at a Labour conference in Manchester the party omitted our fringe listing and officials stopped us from distributing leaflets to delegates inside the secure area so the event was impossible to promote and hardly anyone turned up.

Instead we're saving our pennies and going to Doncaster for the Ukip conference (September 25-27), which should be fun. We've booked a stand in the exhibition area and will be handing out leaflets to promote 'Last Chance Saloon', the latest phase of the Hands Off Our Packs campaign which we are launching next week.

From Doncaster we're going straight to Birmingham for the Tory conference where we're organising two events.

The first, Stand Up For Liberty with Conservatives for Liberty, is on Sunday September 28 at 21:30 in the Hyatt Hotel. It's a bit different from your ordinary conference event because in addition to free drinks plus guest speaker (journalist James Delingpole) we'll be featuring a new Forest video, 'The Freedom Cage', followed by 30 minutes of stand up comedy.

The second event, Last Chance Saloon, is on Monday September 29 at the same time. Venue is the IEA/TPA ThinkTent outside the ICC but within the secure area. It's a drinks reception with a Wild West theme – hence the food (barbecue chicken wings, burgers and ribs) and drink (margaritas, whisky sours, bottles of Budweiser and (alcoholic) ginger ale.

If you're going to Birmingham and would like to join us email events@forestonline.org for an invitation.

Unusually the Lib Dem conference follows the Tory conference this year. For the second year in a row they're off to Glasgow.

I hear it was pretty depressing last year. Not only were delegates rattling around the enormous SECC but the weather was miserable.

I like Glasgow but there's nothing more miserable than a wet Wednesday on the banks of the Clyde.

So, no, I won't be going. I'll be somewhere else. Watch this space.

Thursday
Sep112014

Smoke gets in teddy's eyes

Here's the ITV Wales report on smoking in cars with children in which I make a brief appearance.

What I love is the way smoke is deliberately blown in the face of the teddy bear, replicating with 100 per cent accuracy the fate of millions of small children every day.

Smokers? They should be locked up.

If you're on Twitter you can tweet a response here.

Thursday
Sep112014

Open to question

I'm going to Broadcasting House in a few minutes to talk about freedom and smoking for the Open University.

It's for a second year OU course entitled 'Understanding Politics' and it was pitched to me as follows:

We're looking at freedom, using smoking and the smoking ban as an illustrative example when facing opposing positions such as 'free to smoke' and 'free to breathe clean air'.

Personally I've never considered the two mutually exclusive. People should be 'free to smoke' (in some public places) just as others should be 'free to breathe clean air'.

As it happens I'm currently sitting outside a cafe 50 yards from Oxford Circus.

There's a long queue of traffic to my left (diesel fume alert!) and to my right a couple of people smoking. (I had to check they were smoking because I wasn't aware of any smoke drifting in my direction.)

I would be hugely surprised if I was breathing 'clean' air but the pollution levels, such as they are, seem perfectly acceptable. In fact, the reason I'm sitting outside is precisely because it's not hot and stuffy and I therefore prefer to sit here than in a windowless, smoke free basement.

If I'm inhaling particles of smoke and carbon and slowly killing myself, who cares? I'd sooner be out here watching the world go by with people who look equally unconcerned about their 'right' to breathe clean air. (If they were they'd be wearing those hideous masks some cyclists seem to favour.)

Anyway, back to the OU. A studio has been booked for 60 minutes and the list of questions includes:

Are you a smoker? Were you/are you in favour of the ban on smoking in public places? If so why and if not why not? What impact has the ban had on you and why? Why should governments decide on how we should behave? Have we become a nanny state? Why not regulate in the home as well as in public? Where will the line be drawn - ie should the government only act to stop us causing harm to others or should it try to stop us harming ourselves?

Thursday
Sep112014

Smokers in Wales face on the spot fines

Early start this morning.

I'm being interviewed by ITV News (Wales) in London. The Welsh Government is pressing ahead with plans to ban smoking in cars with children and the proposals include an on spot fine of £50 for offenders.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Smoking in a car with a small child is inconsiderate. With the window closed you could even argue it's unacceptable but legislation - including on the spot fines - is unnecessary and excessive.

In 2014 relatively few people smoke in a car with a child present, and I can't remember the last time I saw someone do it with the windows shut.

Society has changed and people's behaviour has changed with it but that's not enough for today's interfering self-righteous politicians. They can't resist introducing yet another law to govern how we behave.

How on earth will be law be enforced? Will traffic police follow a car whose driver is smoking, then pull them over if they suspect a child is in the car?

It's even more bizarre when, according to reports, the police are already ignoring far more serious crimes. Smokers however are an easy target.

"Smoking in your car, were we sir? And a child present too.

"I'm afraid you'll have to accompany me to the nearest cash machine.

"Mastercard? That'll do nicely, sir.

PS. I also recorded a short interview for Five Live on this subject last night. Not sure when it will be broadcast. Probably went out at 2.00am!

Tuesday
Sep092014

Is there a spin doctor in the house?

I have been reading with open-mouthed astonishment the tweets by Prof John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health.

Following a series of foul-mouthed, abusive tweets towards vapers (most of which he later deleted), Ashton yesterday tweeted:

At least he had the good grace to apologise.

Since then however the public health lobby has attempted to spin his behaviour in a rather different light.

The Times today has a report by health correspondent Chris Smyth who writes:

Public health chiefs have accused e-cigarette users of a campaign of online abuse, saying that junior scientists are being scared away from research by explicit attacks from "vapers" on Twitter.

It reminds me of the 2012 Guardian report, Pro-smoking activists threaten and harass health campaigners:

Academics and health campaigners are being subjected to threats of violence, harassment and personal abuse by pro-smoking activists as UK ministers consult over whether tobacco should be sold only in plain packets.

I don't condone abuse or intimidation on social media or anywhere else (it's one of the things I hate about the Yes campaign in Scotland), but there's a pattern emerging here.

Anti-smoking activists regularly dish it out, accusing smokers (and now vapers) of all sorts, but they're quick to complain when those same people fight back.

The Times, like the Guardian, implies that the consumer – not the public health campaigner – is the villain. Prof Ashton has merely "retaliated".

Frankly he should know better but he's not alone. The attitude and language adopted by the likes of Simon Chapman and other anti-smoking activists has often amazed me.

Reading their self-regarding and often abusive tweets is a fantastic insight into the minds of people who appear to have little or no empathy with ordinary people, many of whom they damn as slaves to addiction.

As Chris Snowdon comments:

You have to wonder how many people in the public health racket have the same mentality but manage - as Ashton did until Saturday - to keep it to themselves.

See 'The dark soul of Prof John Ashton' (Velvet Glove Iron Fist).

I also recommend 'The public health mask slips' (Dick Puddlecote).

The Times' report is behind a paywall but the paper does at least note that:

Professor John Ashton is facing an official complaint after he retaliated, calling one vaper a "c***" and another an "onamist".

You couldn't make it up.

PS. Something else that made me laugh was an item on the Jeremy Vine Show (Radio 2), above.

It featured John Ashton and Clive 'Superhero' Bates, former director of ASH, now a pin-up for every hot-blooded vaper, male and female.

Ashton has rightly been lampooned for declaring that e-cigarettes can make you go blind (I'm sure I could hear Jeremy Vine sniggering) but I can't tell you how ironic it was to hear Clive Bates fighting it out with an anti-tobacco campaigner.

I remember having not dissimilar battles with Clive on radio and television. In those days of course he was more than happy to interrupt me and make outrageous claims about the risks of passive smoking.

Those and other allegations eventually led to the smoking ban and all manner of abusive accusations against smokers and the "threat" they allegedly posed non-smokers in pubs, bars and now, it seems, outdoor parks and beaches.

Meanwhile the World Health Organisation wants to ban vaping in all enclosed public places. Clive objects – because it's quite plainly wrong – but thanks to the smoking ban it's a small (and in some eyes logical) step to ban the use of e-cigarettes too.

Oh, the tangled web we weave.

Monday
Sep082014

Poll: little support for plain packaging

A survey published today reveals "little support for plain packaging of tobacco" (The Sun).

The poll, commissioned by Grassroots Conservatives and conducted by Comres, is published here.

Interestingly only 32 per cent think David Cameron will make a good prime minister after the 2015 general election. Then again, that's better than Boris (28 per cent), Nigel (22), Ed (21) or Nick (12).

Of greater interest to me however was the question, "Which three of the following policies would you most like to see political parties include as manifesto promises to introduce after the next General Election?"

Seventeen policies were listed including cap on immigration into Britain from the European Union, referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, reducing the level of tax on fuel, re-introduction of control orders for suspected terrorists and introduction of plain packing for tobacco products.

Plain packaging came second last and was supported by just four per cent of respondents which rather proves what we have always said – there is no appetite for standardised packaging among the general public.

Full list here. ComRes interviewed 2,010 GB adults online between 29th and 31st August 2014.

Monday
Sep082014

Flight information

I'm a bit late to this but bear with me.

Yesterday evening I took my son to Heathrow. He was catching a flight to Chengdu (China's fifth largest city) via Abu Dhabi.

At baggage drop-off they attached a large red label to his rucksack with the words 'Hot Transfer' in bold white letters.

Looking at the flight times I saw why. There was less than an hour between arrival in Abu Dhabi and departure (on a different plane) to Chengdu.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post.

When I left Heathrow I popped in on friends in Watford. Gary, who I have known since university, loves gadgets and he immediately took me outside with his iPad to demonstrate an app called Flightradar24.

God knows how, but the app calibrates whatever aircraft is overhead and tells you the flight number and where it is heading.

Impressively, it can also track the position of any commercial aircraft currently airborne, anywhere in the world.

So, two minutes ago I checked the position of flight EY818 to Chengdu and discovered it's just north of Calcutta (Kolkata), altitude 41,000 feet, speed 457 knots.

Estimated time of arrival is 19:33 (local time), 30 minutes ahead of schedule, or 12:30 UK time.

Amazing.

OK, I'll do some work now.