David Hockney lights up the House of Commons
Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 9:34
Simon Clark

Where to begin?

Yesterday's reception for the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign at the House of Commons went as well as we could have hoped. Better, actually.

It wasn't perfect. Thirty-five parliamentarians registered to attend but I'm not sure how many turned up. There was a debate in the chamber that kept several MPs away (including my own who nevertheless sent a member of staff to say hello). In addition we were competing with a garden party at Buckingham Palace and some of our guests were double-booked. (Guess which event they chose to attend?!) In several instances they did however send a researcher to represent them.

Of the 300 people who pre-registered at least 200 – possibly more – joined us in the Terrace Pavilion. (If you're wondering what happened to the rest, this is quite normal for a 'freebie' event. Experience has taught me that around two-thirds of people who register will turn up on the day. The capacity of the Pavilion is 200 standing so the numbers were just right.)

At one point, looking at the queue at the Cromwell Green entrance and knowing how long it can take to get through security, I was concerned that some people might not make it in time. I needn't have worried. A trickle of guests became a flood and soon the Terrace, in particular, was full of people talking, drinking and (what else?) smoking.

Lots of familiar faces – Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes), Eamonn Butler (Adam Smith Institute), Dan Hamilton (Big Brother Watch), Alex Deane (formerly Big Brother Watch), Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Angela Harbutt (Liberal Vision), Nick Hogan, Lembit Opik – and some less familiar ones including publicans and members of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union. (The arrival on College Green of the CIU's National Executive Committee reminded me of a scene from The Godfather.)

The big news is that David Hockney turned up. We sent him an invitation a couple of weeks ago but we only got a call yesterday morning to say that he was coming. At 4.40 we were told he was "in the building" and at 4.50 there he was, as large as life, standing next to me as our hosts – Greg Knight, Roger Godsiff and John Hemming – launched into their speeches.

Mick McGlasham, general secretary of the CIU, also spoke but it was David who got the largest cheer and, as ever, he didn't disappoint. In a short but humorous speech he spoke of being "angry" and attacked the politicians who are turning Britain into a "mean-spirited" country. He had come, he said, because he "wanted to do his bit".

The BBC conducted interviews on the Terrace and we also had two camera crews of our own. (We've commissioned two videos of the event which should be ready next week.) Fingers crossed, there should also be a feature in the Independent to coincide with the anniversary of the smoking ban.

Finally, I was so busy I didn't speak to that many people so apologies if you were there and I didn't say hello. If you came, many thanks for making the effort. It was very much appreciated. Online activism is all well and good but the biggest statements are made in person.

See: Labour's ban comes home to roost (Guido Fawkes)
Pub smoking ban needs review says MP (The Daily Politics, BBC1)
MPs call for smokers to be allowed back into pubs (Birmingham Mail)
Campaign fighting for rethink over smoking ban (Bristol Evening Post)

Above: David Hockney (right) with The Rt Hon Greg Knight MP

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