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Brexit and the politics of contempt 

Great result for the Brexit party in the European elections.

If I’m biased it’s not just because I know several of the party’s candidates including Claire Fox (above).

The parallels between the treatment of smokers over the past two decades and the contempt shown for those who voted to leave the European Union are pretty obvious when you look at it.

In the same way that tobacco companies are accused of conning people to take up smoking, Brexit voters - it was said - were manipulated by slogans on the side of a bus.

Smokers, it is often implied, are too stupid - or addicted - to fully understand the health risks of smoking. Likewise it’s been a mantra since the referendum that many Brexiteers were too stupid to know what they were voting for.

Yet if people choose to smoke knowing the health risks, that too is anathema for tobacco control campaigners, just as the fact that millions of people voted to leave the EU despite the well-publicised uncertainty is incomprehensible to Remainers.

Either way there’s an expectancy that government should step in to ‘save’ us, whether that’s by banning/regulating tobacco almost to extinction, or by stopping/neutering Brexit to the point where it exists in name only.

Consider too the way the UK government ignored the outcome of its own public consultation on plain packaging.

Over 450,000 people signed petitions opposing the measure. Half that number supported the policy. Two years later the government went ahead with it anyway.

Plain packaging was Brexit in reverse except the result was even more decisive. The point is the same, though. Why hold a consultation or referendum if you’re going to ignore the result?

As it happens, I’ve long been struck by how few Brexiteers there are in tobacco control and public health.

To judge from social media, public health campaigners are invariably anti-Brexit. Significantly, several of the leading vaping advocates are hardline Remainers too.

It’s quite revealing to read some of their anti-Brexit tweets - the insults, the condescending ‘I know better than you’ attitude and the strident refusal to respect other people’s genuinely held views.

Anyway, huge congratulations to Claire Fox, elected as the number one Brexit party candidate in the North West of England.

Claire, pictured above speaking at a Forest EU event in Brussels (yes, I’m aware of the irony), did more than anyone to give the Brexit party broader appeal across the political spectrum.

Left or right, this was about upholding democracy, she said, and she was right.

Her energy, resilience and refusal to bow to some pretty nasty personal attacks was a masterclass in how to fight an election.

I understand she was advised by many people not to stand but I’m so glad she did. In 2012, commenting on the Battle of Ideas, the annual event Claire founded more than a decade ago, I wrote:

The Battle of Ideas is a fantastic event and a huge achievement. To organise a festival like that would make me very proud.

If I have a (small) criticism it's this. Politically speaking it remains a talking shop far removed from the realities of day-to-day politics.

By standing as a candidate at huge personal risk to her reputation, Claire took the sort of direct action one can only admire because it’s extremely rare among the commentariat.

Imagine Owen Jones, David Aaronovitch or Polly Toynbee actually standing for election rather than sniping from the sidelines.

I’m no fan (quite the opposite) but at least Gavin Esler, the former BBC correspondent, had the courage, like Claire, to put his convictions to the electorate.

Congratulations too to Brian Monteith (pictured below after speaking at a Forest event at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last year).

Brian was another successful Brexit party candidate. Twelve years after he stood down as a member of the Scottish Parliament, Brian is now an MEP for the North East of England.

Not bad for a former Forest spokesman and an occasional pipe and cigar smoker!

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Reader Comments (5)

Claire Fox is a breath of fresh and cleansing air in a world wrapped in an authoritarian smog. A brave lady who talks a lot of unpalatable, to some, illuminating sense. A Treasure on Radio Four's Moral Maze. This old grump loves her.

Monday, May 27, 2019 at 17:59 | Unregistered Commentergrumpybutterfly

Well said. I totally agree with you and grumpy butterfly.

So much of the insults levelled at Brexit voters, and the means by which unpopular public health and anti smoker policies are forced on people who don't want them, is very reflective of what has been going on since the 2016 vote, and the attempt to bypass democracy and ignore the majority population.

I sincerely hope the Brexit party does stand and win national elections and give a voice and representation to those of us currently denied any engagement in policy making.

We need a change in politics for good because we are all sick of the whole bunch of professionally groomed influencers telling the rest of us how we should live and what we should think.

More than ever we need a strong, confident, open minded and fair leader who can go forward with courage - and stop listening to the screeching toddlers on Twitter crying racist, fascist or Nazi every time someone says something they disagree with.

Monday, May 27, 2019 at 19:27 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

Allowing freedom and personal choice negates their illusion of superiority. The common ingredient is a desire for totalitarian social control.

Monday, May 27, 2019 at 21:32 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

“To judge from social media, public health campaigners are invariably anti-Brexit. Significantly, several of the leading vaping advocates are hardline Remainers too.”

It’s hardly surprising, though, is it? I’ve long said that the anti-smoking attitude inevitably comes along with a whole host of other less-willingly-admitted unpalatable attitudes. I don’t quite know why it is, but it’s almost as if, having “embraced” anti-smoking ideology, these people get to enjoy the taste of feeling a bit superior to other people and then lots of other nasty little sides to their nature find a way of coming out, too. Anti-smoking, it seems, is something of a conduit to some of the less pleasant sides of a human nature - I’ve never known a person who has given up smoking and become a nicer person to know, but I’ve known a whole lot who have given up smoking and become significantly less pleasant. Perhaps, then, it’s no wonder that society is now more violent, less tolerant, more miserable, less open, less welcoming, more cynical and less friendly than it used to be, when so many people are taking on the whole “package” that seems inevitably to follow on from becoming an anti-smoker. No matter how many of these people like to drone on, quoting all the right mantras to “prove” their “libertarian” credentials, all the time they allow the intolerance of anti-smoking to keep its foot in the door of their characters, then all the other intolerances will inevitably slip in, too, whether they want them to or not. I’ve always said that a person’s (or organisation’s) attitude towards smoking will tell you more about their attitudes towards everything than anything else will so, in respect of Public Health & Co and their attitudes towards people who hold different opinions on Brexit from theirs, that measure has proved pretty much 100% accurate.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 0:19 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Misty, I always thought that when the nasties in ASH demanded smokers be excluded, marginalised, stigmatised, criminalised and discriminated against, they opened the way for other hate groups to demand the same for social groups they despise.

Since the blanket smoking ban and war on smokers, hatred has been more mainstream and spread to other groups and there has been far more intolerance.

Govt should recognise ASH has a hate group and stop funding it. Now should be the time for unity not funding those who demand social divisions and laws that aim to discriminate.

Boris Johnson faces prosecution for political campaigning. I disagree with that - but if we begin to go down that road then surely the time will come when ASH's lies about smokers, such as their cost to employers in a bid to make them unemployable, should also face prosecution. Hate crime is an offence, allegedly.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 14:00 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

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