Groupthink and the bully state
Friday, March 3, 2017 at 13:44
Simon Clark

It was Ranald MacDonald, MD of Boisdale Restaurants, who coined the phrase 'the bully state' in relation to lifestyle freedoms.

I remember the moment. It was shortly after breakfast, in September 2006. Ranald, Claire Fox and I were sitting outside our hotel in Bournemouth discussing the events of the previous night.

'Politics and Prohibition', a drinks reception organised by Forest, had been a huge success, one of the best events we've done, attracting 400 guests to the main ballroom at the Royal Bath Hotel.

It was the last occasion people were allowed to smoke indoors at a party conference event so we wanted to do something special.

Claire was one of the speakers, struggling to make herself heard above the noise. When Ranald took to the stage he immediately lit a large cigar and began his 'speech'.

Within half a minute actors dressed as policemen had pushed their way through the crowd, climbed on stage and 'arrested' him for "inciting people to enjoy themselves".

The rest of the performance (which included a song and dance routine) was a blur but it finished with hundreds of people singing 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' as Ranald was led away in handcuffs.

The following morning, as we nursed a variety of hangovers, it felt a bit surreal. Inevitably the subject of the nanny state came up and after a few minutes Ranald declared, "It's not a nanny state, it's a bully state."

Three years later, in an attempt to embed the term in the public mind, we published a book – by former Forest spokesman Brian Monteith – about the mounting attacks on individual freedoms and called it The Bully State.

Today, as next week's Budget will demonstrate, the bully state is alive and well, although tobacco duty is only one example of how the state is trying to force smokers to quit.

The policy of increasing taxation is being driven by well paid politicians and tobacco control campaigners whose lack of empathy for those who enjoy smoking and are less well off never ceases to amaze.

However we're not alone in feeling uncomfortable about this ongoing assault on the poor. Even members of the public health community are beginning to express concern.

Lisa McNally is a bubbly and committed public health consultant who has always struck me as a fundamentally decent and engaging person. On Wednesday however she made a BIG mistake. She upset ASH.

Describing the thrust of ASH's latest briefing document – 'Ditch or Switch: Give Yourself a Pay Rise!' – as 'insensitive', she tweeted, 'I'm worried this message lacks empathy with the severe deprivation that so many ppl are experiencing.'

'Public Health,' she added, 'must not be about the affluent telling the poor how to improve their lot.'

According to a further tweet this led to an 'angry call' from Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, who allegedly told McNally her comment was 'unhelpful'.

We'll never know exactly what was said between the two, or the tone, but following Arnott's call McNally tweeted that she felt 'a bit' intimidated.

And that's the problem with tobacco control. If you don't embrace their groupthink philosophy you get told off or worse.

But the tweets I found even more interesting were posted by Tom Pruen, chief scientific officer for the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA).

Responding to McNally's 'angry call' tweet, vaping advocate Pruen wrote, 'I suggest doing this through a medium other than twitter. Baiting the powerful is only fun when its BT.'

Translation: it's OK to bait the tobacco industry but not tobacco control, especially Deborah Arnott and ASH.

When McNally replied that she was 'not having fun ... I am fairly furious! I won't stay quiet ...' Pruen warned:

'Fair enough. It's obvious that you're right, but rocking the boat still has its risks.'

Translation: don't upset tobacco control – it won't end well!

A tweet or two later he added, 'It's certainly the case that making enemies more powerful than you is rarely career enhancing' to which McNally replied, 'Are you saying that criticising ASH may harm my career?'

Here are some of those tweets in full. You couldn't make them up.

H/T to Fergus Mason for bringing them to my attention.

All logically true. But I'm worried this message lacks empathy with the severe deprivation that so many ppl are experiencing. https://t.co/AU4wVK7Nej

— Lisa McNally (@Lisa_McNally1) February 28, 2017

@grannylouisa Just has an angry call from Deborah Arnott because I made a criticism of the 'pay rise' campaign.

— Lisa McNally (@Lisa_McNally1) March 1, 2017

.@ASH_LDN Following your call to me, I'm sorry you find my feedback unhelpful. However, I stand by my views. This campaign is insensitive..

— Lisa McNally (@Lisa_McNally1) March 1, 2017

@NealRoff @GrahamGords1001 @jsummers71 Have sent an open reply to them. Won't be intimidated - even if I am a bit 😎

— Lisa McNally (@Lisa_McNally1) March 1, 2017

@Lisa_McNally1 @grannylouisa I suggest doing this through a medium other than twitter.
Baiting the powerful is only fun when its BT

— Tom Pruen (@crossbow2112) March 1, 2017

@Lisa_McNally1 @grannylouisa Fair enough.
It's obvious that you're right, but rocking the boat still has it's risks.

— Tom Pruen (@crossbow2112) March 1, 2017

@crossbow2112 @grannylouisa Are you saying that criticizing ASH may harm my career?

— Lisa McNally (@Lisa_McNally1) March 1, 2017
Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/).
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