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How does a worm wriggle?

Ask Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health.

On January 16 Williams wrote that he was "pleased to help launch Europe’s first major campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of glitzy tobacco packaging to children. The Coalition Government will shortly launch its consultation exercise on whether to follow the example of Australia and introduce the plain packaging of cigarettes" ... blah blah, blah blah blah.

I mentioned it here and invited people to add a comment on Williams' blog. To date there are 958 comments. (Most of his posts attract single figures.)

At the time I estimated that 99 per cent of the comments were strongly opposed to Williams' vision of a Utopian smoke free world. So what did he do? He fell back on the desperate argument that most of his detractors must be in the pay (or a stooge) of Big Tobacco.

Back on this blog I described this response as "pathetic". To my surprise he responded with a comment of his own:

Oh Simon, I'm disappointed. Pathetic is such a mild insult. Your mates have gone rather further on my blog. It's been at least a few hours since someone alluded to my neo-Nazi cum fascist opinions.

Anyway, on a serious note, whether you like it or not the Coalition Government is about to launch a consultation on plain packs. I hope you and your friends will be able to rise to the debate.

Well, I couldn't resist that challenge so, this week, following the launch of the Hands Off Our Packs website on Monday, I emailed the cheerleader for plain packaging as follows:

Dear Stephen,

We have just launched a website, Hands Off Our Packs, to counter the arguments put forward by the Plain Packs Protect campaign, among others.

During the course of the consultation on plain packaging we will be organising a number of events including a panel discussion and debate at a central London venue close to Parliament Square.

We would welcome the opportunity to have a public debate on this issue and I would therefore like to invite you to speak on a date – probably in March – that is convenient for you.

Our proposed format is a debate with four speakers, split 2:2 for and against plain packaging, and a chairman. Alternatively we will invite 4-5 panelists with a variety of opinions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Simon Clark
Director, Forest

No reply.

Yesterday I rang his Westminster office and spoke to an assistant researcher who thought he had seen my email but asked me re-send it so he could bring it to Williams' attention.

So I sent the invitation again and here is the (very efficient) researcher's response:

Many thanks for sending that information through to me. I do recall seeing this invitation now, and I did in fact show it to Stephen earlier this week.

He informed me that although he would ordinarily be happy to speak in such a debate, he is reluctant to take part in this particular discussion because he believes that it would be preferable if the debate were organised and hosted by an independent body, rather than by Forest.

Unfortunately therefore Stephen does not feel that he would be able to participate in this discussion.

So, having challenged us to "rise to the debate" on plain packaging, Stephen Williams couldn't be bothered replying in person to our invitation and he is now trying to wriggle his way out of a public debate on the feeblest of grounds.

I guess we'll just have to find an "independent body" to organise and host the debate. Can't wait to hear what his excuse will be when that happens!

See also: The difference between an MP with bottle and one without

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Reader Comments (23)

I knew from the moment you issued the challenge that he would slither out of it.

He knows he's pushing for legislation that is utterly devoid of merit, and that he would be trying to defend the indefensible.

He's merely a puppet for the Big Pharma shills at ASH, CRUK et al., looking for his moment of glory.

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 12:38 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Bigots have closed minds Simon.

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 14:28 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

in response to mr williams assertion to you that it had been a few hours since someone alluded to his "neo-nazi cum facist opinions" can i just point out that they apparently neglected to preface the phrase with the word 'arrogant'.

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 15:56 | Unregistered Commenterrob fielder

PC = Public Consultation (never in a million years!) = Private Conflab (every time) = ASH win.....and sod the rest of the world, what do they know anyway :)

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 17:42 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Johnson

Offer to let THEM "host" it and pay the expenses for it then. The only "independent" part of it needs to be the organizational structure, moderation, and whatever window-trappings go along with the debate (E.G. it would be inappropriate to have it on a stage against a backdrop of ASH or BAT posters).

Mr. Williams seems to have made you an offer Simon: take him up on it and publicize it. He's accepted the debate, he's merely quibbling over the details.

Will he stand by his word?

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains" (I guess that makes me "non-independent" eh?)

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 18:20 | Unregistered CommenterMichael J. McFadden

The golden rule of Tobacco Control organisations is NOT to engage in any meaningful debate with your opponents. Once you start debating the specifics of any tobacco control proposal such as plain packaging, it quickly becomes apparent that their proposals are vacuous fantasies devoid of any logic or evidence.

Simon, even if this MP is invited to a debate at a neutral venue, he will not turn up. You only have to read his blog to conclude that the arguments for implementing plain packaging have been shot to pieces. The only thing you can say in his favour is that he has let the debate rage on his blog without censorship or taking the blog down.

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 19:05 | Unregistered CommenterBill C

A total self appointed intellectual superior above the will of the people or simply an arrogant effing trougher.
MP, representative of the people, my arse!

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 19:17 | Unregistered CommenterXopher

Running scared?

Your letter was a polite request to an open and honest debate which Stephen Williams MP could give no viable reason for turning down. But of course he has no expertise in this area, he is simply one of those politicians who has jumped aboard the smoking ban (and peripheral issues) band-wagon – hoping to earn himself a few brownie points.

I would write back saying that you will happily agree to fulfil his request of an independent body to oversee proceedings, with perhaps three or four participants on either side raising issues about the whole debate and not just about plain packaging.

Paint him into a corner, how could he possibly refuse this kind of scenario? I suspect however that he will still find a way of declining, i.e. something not right with the location, not happy with the participants, too broad an agenda, and of course that good old standby, not enough time – and so on.

Worth a try though…particularly if the media were there in some measure.

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 19:28 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Henson

It could be hosted independently at one of the typically empty dying pubs who might like the chance to offer free hosting in return for the day's worth of business it might bring. Since the anti-smoking industry claims bans, plain packs, retail restrictions, etc. are all good for business, this would be one way for them to put their money where their mouth is and allow at least one nearly empty dying put to enjoy at least one day's worth of a full till for a change.

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 19:44 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Has Stephen Williams had a change of heart?

February 3, 2012 10:14 pm

nope. Don’t know what you’ve heard or read but I am happy to debate the full range of tobacco control issues. I will of course be doing that in the House of Commons. But if an independent forum wishes to organise a debate between me and Simon then I’m sure that could happen. A newspaper, think tank or university debating society would be good hosts."

Friday, February 3, 2012 at 22:51 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Well Simon, posted in the comments section of his own blog is this:

"stephenwilliamsmp permalink*
February 3, 2012 10:14 pm

nope. Don’t know what you’ve heard or read but I am happy to debate the full range of tobacco control issues. I will of course be doing that in the House of Commons. But if an independent forum wishes to organise a debate between me and Simon then I’m sure that could happen. A newspaper, think tank or university debating society would be good hosts."

Whether or not he has communicated this directly to you I don't know, but he has laid out his conditions. Not too onerous for you to organise, I suspect.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 6:29 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Simon - Curious that you should accuse Stephen Williams of being afraid to discuss the issues. I’ve posted 3 posts on this board in recent weeks. All were short, pertinent to the article and inoffensive. They also argued against your claims. Guess what? Only one of those three posts made it through your recently imposed moderation arrangements. What does that say about YOUR bottle?

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 9:26 | Unregistered CommenterRollo Tommasi

It worked ;) Let's hope he carries through :)

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 10:00 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

"A newspaper, think tank or university debating society..."

let's hope the newspaper isn't The Guardian as it's hardly "independent" on this issue bearing in mind it pushed for a full ban year after year before 2007, it carried the story of how Debs Arnott pulled a confidence trick on Govt to get the ban, also allowed her to call for smokers to be marginalised after July 2007, and let's not forget the Guardian's biased reporting of the first Forest event at the HoC after the ban, where people like me dragged up on a council estate, who came at our own expense to try and tell our MPs how we felt were dismissed as champagne charlies because only the Guardian cared about the "poor" Poor like us and we were too thick to know what's in our own best interests.

You know the one Simon, the piece that sparked the initial debate on Kerry Mccarthy's blog - another MP with fingers in her ears.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 11:41 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Sorry Dave, your comment hadn't yet appeared when I duplicated it this morning. One of the inevitable drawbacks of moderation I guess.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 12:00 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman

Rollo says, "All were short, pertinent to the article and inoffensive". I find that very hard to believe. Then again, I do sometimes omit comments for being repetitive or boring (a crime far worse than being wrong, in my opinion).

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 13:37 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Boring and repetitive”? Well that argument certainly doesn’t wash Simon. I don’t comment on here often and you get very few challenging responses other than from the other Simon. So what repetition are you talking about? You’ve just not got the bottle to debate an issue when challenged.

To give you an example, the last contribution I made was in response to your article “Selling Cigarettes to the Ladies”. You didn’t have the bottle to publish my criticism. Luckily, I copied my comments onto the Youtube site you highlighted. A legitimate response to your claims. Not boring. Not repetitive. And no longer than, for instance, Pat Nurse’s post above.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 14:24 | Unregistered CommenterRollo Tommasi

So Rollo, will you be making an appearance at the debate if it happens? What name will you be using for the occasion? Will you show up as Rollo with a funny hat and sunglasses?

(Simon, you don't need to print this if you find it offensive, but I feel that Rollo's passing himself off as a "real named" person for years on the UK boards was far more offensive than anything I could say here.)


Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 14:29 | Unregistered CommenterMichael J. McFadden

What cocerns me is this part: "Don’t know what you’ve heard or read but I am happy to debate the full range of tobacco control issues. I will of course be doing that in the House of Commons."

This means that Stephen Williams can stand up and spout as much cr*p and untruthful wordage as he desires, for who is going stop him from doing so?

If Arnott says that SHS kills 6 moths per day, such as 'SW' will simply parrot such in any HofC speech. I watched Dr Richard Taylor do exactly this, before he lost his seat (thank God!), as he stood up and spouted the miraculous 17% HA reduction in Scotland as 'proof' of smoking cessation programmes were working-unbelievably, not one MP got up to correct this imbecile. When I wrote to him and informed him, in no uncertain terms, that he was blatantly lying 'to the House' he merely replied that he was unaware of the evidence destroying the Pell study.

But, the damage was already done, the entire HofC had been informed of the 17% cobblers! Now what SW would be able to say to his APP, in private and knowing that they are already anti tobacco orientated, and get away with is basically unimaginable.

We need an open table in an unbiased venue-then slaughter him.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 14:38 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Johnson

Rollo: You didn’t have the bottle to publish my criticism.

Rollo, you sound as though you're on the bottle.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 17:17 | Unregistered CommenterAAA

Rollo, I've said this before and I'll say it again, this blog is primarily a diary about my work. It's also a noticeboard for events and campaigns, and I use it to record and sometimes comment on stories about smoking and other issues.

I read all the comments and it's a useful resource but if you want a direct reply send me an email and I will reply to that. As far as the blog goes, consider yourself to be part of a self-selecting focus group. The point is, I am an observer (or moderator) of that group. I can't be a participant as well.

Occasionally I have dipped my toe in the water and responded to a direct question or challenge but it never achieves much. Experience tells me that whatever I say people like you will never be satisfied. You will pick over every word, accuse me of all sorts, and demand a reply to that as well. This tit-for-tat 'discussion' can go on for days or even weeks (see Stephen Williams' blog!!) but it's not for me.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 18:26 | Unregistered CommenterSimon


Don't take it to heart, my posts quite often don't make it through moderation, but I must admit that I have never thought of it as in anyway meaningful or sinister.

Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 19:42 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

There has recently been a spate of anti-smoking troll spamming on related blogs and a lot of bloggers have had to use more active moderation, this always leads less posts getting through, don't take it personaly. I still have two well sourced posts on stephens blog that have been awaiting moderation for weeks now.

Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 11:56 | Unregistered CommenterFredrik Eich

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