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Forest on the fringe

Earlier this week I was in Birmingham for the Conservative party conference.

This year Forest chose to forego our traditional drinks party in favour of two back-to-back fringe events on Tuesday afternoon.

We did this for two reasons. First, cost. Our legendary (!) hospitality was getting too expensive. The last time we were in Birmingham two years ago 500 guests turned up. That doesn’t come cheap.

Second, it’s hard to communicate a serious message when it’s late and people have been drinking. Even with a high profile speaker most guests are simply not listening.

The sight, last year, of some guests (who shall remain nameless) barely able to find their way back to their hotel rooms - let alone remember why they were there or what was said - suggested it might be time to try something different.

This time therefore we decided to host a panel discussion (‘Should smoking be consigned to history’) followed by a reprise of the balloon debate we hosted at the IEA in February last year (‘The most pleasurable nicotine delivery device in the world’).

We were outside the secure zone at Austin Court, a small conference facility a few minutes’ walk from the International Conference Centre.

We first used Austin Court ten years ago when we joined forces with The Freedom Association to launch the Freedom Zone, a mini two-day event that ran alongside the official conference.

Hard to believe that was an entire decade ago.

Forest’s contribution to the Freedom Zone programme included a chat show style event in the main auditorium presented by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas.

This year she chaired the discussion on the future of smoking.

Panellists were me, the IEA’s Chris Snowdon, Rae Maile (a tobacco industry analyst) and Mark MacGregor of Philip Morris UK which wants England to be ‘smoke free’ by 2030.

I thought it was a pretty good discussion, far livelier than many other better-attended events that took place on the fringe.

The balloon debate was also entertaining with some excellent and amusing contributions from our five speakers.

James Price of the TaxPayers’ Alliance advocated the cigar, the IEA’s Madeline Grant spoke about e-cigarettes, while parliamentary researcher Mark Oates made the case for snus.

Former MSP Brian Monteith was an eloquent proponent of the pipe but it was Claire Fox who won the contest with a spirited defence of the cigarette.

(Our previous balloon debate on the subject was also won by the speaker advocating the cigarette. Campaigners for new nicotine products, take note!)

Would I host such events on the Conservative fringe again? I’m not sure.

Despite spending a fair bit on promotion we struggled to entice delegates to join us outside conference zone.

Even on the fringe smoking is a fringe interest. Vaping has the advantage of being something ‘new’ and as for cannabis ...

That said, it’s important (I think) to have some sort of presence at party conference, especially the party in government.

The exact nature of that presence is open for debate but I expect we’ll be back in 2019. Probably.

Below: Former MSP Brian Monteith

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Reader Comments (1)

Good for Clare Fox !

Friday, October 5, 2018 at 16:41 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

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