Diary of a Political Campaign

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Whitening detector

One problem with appearing on television is that people are quick to comment on your appearance.

Social media has made this a whole lot worse and I sympathise with those (women especially) who are targeted for criticism about their looks.

Thankfully I've escaped the worst excesses of the Internet. The other day I was described as a "chubby twat" but I've no complaints. It could have been so much worse.

The most personal comment I've received came via a private email sent by someone in South Africa:

Just seen you on Sky. Your teeth are disgusting - don't you have or can't you afford dental care? Why do so many British people have terrible teeth? Curious that you think that its normal to walk around like that?

Far from being offended I thought "He's right!" and decided to do something about it.

The first step was registering with a dentist.

Step two was a long overdue check-up during which I suggested teeth whitening.

Step three was another appointment to begin a course of professional bleaching.

I won't bore you with the details (you can read about the process here) but according to the blurb, "Teeth whitening can’t make your teeth brilliant white, but it can lighten the existing colour by several shades."

I was dubious about my ability to stick to the daily routine but I have and after four weeks I've noticed a difference.

Unfortunately, following root canal treatment many years ago, a couple of teeth are impervious to bleaching gel. The only solution for them is veneers.

Veneers, I've discovered, cost £500 per tooth. Teeth 'whitening' has already set me back £350 so I'll give that a miss - for now.

Then again, if a plain speaking South African sees me on TV and still isn't happy, rest assured I'll be on the phone to my dentist. Again.


Why Ed Miliband will never be prime minister

I won't add to the comments on last night's debate but reports say that David Cameron wooed the audience during an ad break by reciting the words to 'Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)':

Apparently this is the only song he knows the words to:

Tasked with keeping the audience entertained during an advert break, Sky News host Kay Burley asked Cameron [if he] could sing. The Prime Minister said no — but revealed he does sing 'Ernie' in the shower, a comic ditty about a milkman by legendary British comedian Benny Hill.

Then, at Burley's urging, Cameron recited a line or two to the audience. This is the first verse he quoted:

You could hear the hoof beats pound as they raced across the ground,
And the clatter of the wheels as they spun 'round and 'round.
And he galloped into market street, his badge upon his chest,
His name was Ernie, and he drove the fastest milk cart in the west.

However the funniest part of the report is at the end:

Then 45 minutes later it was Ed Miliband's turn to face the nation. "Ed, Do you know Ernie?" Burley asked.

"Absolutely not."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Ed Miliband will never be prime minister.

Full report: David Cameron sung a cheesy Benny Hill song to the audience at the Sky debate during an advert break (Business Insider)

PS. Like Cameron, there's only one song I know the words to (and can sing). Unfortunately it's 'Two Little Boys'.

I don't think I'll be performing that any time soon.


The changing faces of public health

Thanks to the BBC Britain's public health minister has undergone a Doctor Who-like regeneration.

As has the CEO of Action on Smoking and Health, pictured below speaking at the Despatch Box in the House of Commons.

H/T to the eagle-eyed viewer who sent me the images.


Fancy that! Minister's "dedicated DH team" includes CEO of ASH

Breaking news.

Whether by accident or design, public health minister Jane Ellison has just revealed what we all secretly thought.

Deborah Arnott, CEO of taxpayer-funded fake charity Action on Smoking and Health, is actually part of the "dedicated" Department of Health team that was last week awarded a Luther L Terry award for Exemplary Leadership in Tobacco Control.

Named after the late US Surgeon General:

They recognise outstanding global achievement in the field of tobacco control, in six categories: outstanding individual leadership, outstanding organization, outstanding research contribution, exemplary leadership by a government ministry, distinguished career, and outstanding community service.

Among those honoured this year was 'The United Kingdom Department of Health’s Tobacco Program[me]' which received the award for 'Exemplary Leadership by a Government Ministry'.

See 2015 Luther L Terry Awards.

This year's awards were presented by the American Cancer Society at a ceremony on March 19 in Abu Dhabi at the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health and here is a picture of the "dedicated DH team", tweeted by Ellison earlier this evening.

Arnott is standing second from left, next to Ellison. On the far left (no pun intended) is Andrew Black, tobacco programme manager at the Department of Health.

The other man looks familiar but I can't put a name to the face. Someone may be able to tell me who he is.


Standing room only, and no smoking!

Those nice people at the National Institute for Clinical Excellence have issued more guidelines.

According to the Telegraph:

Companies should tell employees to stand up in meetings as it is healthier than sitting, health watchdogs say ...

The Nice standard on physical activity also says employers should encourage staff to set goals on how far they walk and cycle each day.

Nice also called for better education in schools about the risks of drinking too much, and no public health diktat would be complete without mentioning smoking.

Nice also issued guidance on smoking, which said NHS trusts should not allow staff to smoke during working hours, or whenever they were wearing their uniforms.

Forest's response, quoted by the Telegraph, was:

"Health workers should be judged on their ability to do their job, not on some politically correct picture of the perfect person.

"As long as it doesn't interfere with their job it's immoral to threaten hard-working people with disciplinary action just because they enjoy a smoke before or after work or during a legitimate break. Health workers shouldn't have to be role models."

See Bosses 'should make staff stand in meetings' (Daily Telegraph).

I was also quoted by the Sun but it's behind the paywall.

Update: The Sun quoted me saying:

"Health workers shouldn't have to be role models. What happens if they're overweight? Will they be forced to lose weight in order to keep their jobs?"

Politicians, what are they like?

That's weird.

I've just received a letter from my MP. It was written in response to the letter I sent him, asking him to vote against plain packaging.

It reads:

Thank you for contacting me about standardised packaging for cigarettes.

As you know, the final agreement by members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords delivers on the Government's commitment to introduce standardised packaging regulations before the end of this parliament.

I realise that you have strong feelings about this issue. However, I think this is an important measure, and the evidence from Australia – where similar measures have already been put in place – has shown that this will reduce levels of smoking and save lives.

Smoking remains one of our most significant public health challenges. It is a major cause of cancer, heart and respiratory disease and almost 80,000 people in England alone die every year from ill health caused by smoking. It places an enormous strain on the NHS.

That is why I believe that the policy is a proportionate and justified response to the considerable public health harm from smoking tobacco.

Thank you again for contacting me on this issue.

The weird thing is this: on March 11 the MP concerned voted against plain packaging!!

And that's not all. A few days before the vote I emailed another MP:

I know you have previously voted in favour of plain packaging but ahead of a possible vote on the issue this week I attach some information that may be of interest to you.

This was his reply:

I must say that I cannot remember why [I voted in favour of plain packaging]. At present I'm minded to vote against it, on the grounds that it makes counterfeiting easier. Isn't that the best argument against it?

I'm pleased to say the MP concerned did vote against plain packaging on March 11 but it's odd he "can't remember why" he previously voted in favour.

Meanwhile my own MP votes against but, two weeks later, says the measure is a "proportionate and justified response to the considerable public health harm from smoking tobacco".

Politicians, what are they like?


Truth, lies and the language of war

'Fight against tobacco epidemic reaches a critical stage' tweeted ASH this morning.

This was followed by a link to a report about the 'just released Tobacco Atlas':

The atlas, which provides updated global information on tobacco consumption, says the contagion has reached "a critical stage".

Epidemic? Contagion? Does Tobacco Atlas (or indeed ASH) know what these words actually mean?

An epidemic is "a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time".

Contagion is "the communication of disease from one person or organism to another by close contact".

This is scaremongering on an epic scale. ASH, of course, is happy to disseminate this nonsense without a flicker of embarrassment.

Meanwhile our old friend James Reilly has been speaking about the battle for plain packaging legislation.

Addressing the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi, Ireland's former health minister sounded more like an X-Factor contestant when he spoke of the "long journey" to legislation.

From Members of the European Parliament to US Congressmen. From Indonesian farmers to Irish retailers. We were lobbied on a scale that Irish politics had never seen before but we had built a strong coalition that proved impenetrable to tobacco industry lobbying.

Politicians from all parties and none joined forces to support this measure. Committed NGOs - from both the public health sector and the protection of children sector - worked tirelessly to maintain public support. We formed a coalition whose resolve was unshakeable ...

There has been a battle to progress this legislation every step of the way. But these were all battles worth fighting

Quoting the Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, he continued:

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

If we do nothing, the tobacco industry will delay and thwart public health legislation. If we stand up to them - if we meet them head on - we will defeat them.

Because their only aim is to protect their profits. Our aim is to protect the health of our people, especially that of our children. We have the truth on our side.

Truth, as an old lady once told me, is not fragile. It will not break - nor will we.

I’ve been asked repeatedly why don’t we wait to see how a larger country - one with a bigger legal arsenal - gets on with plain packaging before we proceed.

There is a time to follow and there is a time to lead ... When one addiction is responsible for almost one in five deaths in our country - it is time to lead. We have taken the lead from Australia but we are now giving the lead to Europe.

The UK are following and France intends to move next. If Europe follows, can the rest of the world be far behind?

And so it went on:

I hope plain packaging will be driving down smoking rates throughout the world.

Throughout the world we have committed NGOs and politicians who are showing the determination required to tackle this scourge head on.

That is why conferences like this are so important. We learn from each other. We learn what works. We learn to stand together.

Despite their billions of euros and hidden connections, the tobacco industry can be defeated.

We must rise to the challenge to protect our children from a killer addiction that ends the lives of half of those who become addicted to it.

Remember: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

We won’t stand idly by — our children can’t afford us to fail. Standing together, we can, we must, we will prevail.

As Private Eye used to say, pass the sickbag.

Full speech: Ireland refused to be bullied by Big Tobacco (Irish Examiner).


Belgian waffle

Currently in Brussels - Tout Bon, to be precise.

Tout Bon is an unpretentious cafe restaurant in the Place du Luxembourg, next to the European Parliament.

I 'discovered' it on a previous trip to Brussels and it's one of my favourite cafes anywhere.

The coffee is acceptable (that's a compliment, btw) but what I like best are the fresh pastries.

I also like the decor, wooden floor, the simple wooden tables and chairs, the fast wifi and friendly service.

I could sit here happily all day with my laptop and phone. Who needs an office?!