Smoking in the home - let battle commence

Today's Sunday Times Scotland reports that:

Anti-smoking campaigners in Scotland are seeking to stop people lighting up at home as part of a drive to reduce the harmful health effects of inhaling secondhand tobacco smoke.

No-one should be surprised. Banning smoking in the home has been one of tobacco control's less than secret ambitions for years.

It took a while for them to admit it, of course. When they were campaigning to ban smoking in the workplace we were repeatedly assured there was no question of smoking being banned at home.

Then, in December 2011, ASH published a briefing note, 'Smoke drift in the home and workplace'. See ASH: how to ban smoking in the home (my title not theirs).

Since then tobacco control has been chipping away, getting people used to the idea. Earlier this year, encouraged by the ban on smoking in cars with children (the first time smoking had been banned in a private space, if you exclude private businesses) it was reported that:

Smoking could be banned in some new council homes in a bid to protect the health of children, a UK public health expert has said.

Under the proposals, tenants would be asked to sign an agreement not to light up inside their home.

President of the Faculty of Public Health, Prof John Middleton, says some councils and housing associations are already exploring the smoke-free housing idea.

Today's report in Scotland also focuses on social housing so the tactics are clear - first, discriminate against those who can't afford their own homes, then extend the ban to every private home and garden. (Have you never heard of a tiny bit of smoke drifting back in to the house? It's a serious health risk!!)

Children, inevitably, are the Trojan horse through which this and other prohibitionist policies are being slipped in.

Ban smoking in cars with children? Tick. Ban smoking in children's play areas? Tick.

Ban smoking in parks and beaches (to prevent children from being exposed to the sight of someone smoking)? Tick, tick, tick.

Now smoking in the home is under threat because, we are told, "hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland are still at risk from exposure to secondhand smoke in their homes."

I'd like to see hard evidence to justify this claim, not to mention the insinuation that people's health is at serious risk as a result. The level of risk is important. We're surrounded by chemicals and particles in the home. The dose is the poison and most of the time the dose is relatively benign. Same goes for tobacco smoke.

The Enstrom/Kabat report, which most readers of this blog will be familiar with, remains the largest ever study of the impact of secondhand smoke on non-smokers in the home.

The results and conclusions were unambiguous and in the absence of any study with a similar database or longevity must never be forgotten.

The study, published by the BMJ in May 2003, focused on "35,561 never smokers who had a spouse in the study with known smoking habits" and found that:

For participants followed from 1960 until 1998 the age adjusted relative risk (95% confidence interval) for never smokers married to ever smokers compared with never smokers married to never smokers was 0.94 (0.85 to 1.05) for coronary heart disease, 0.75 (0.42 to 1.35) for lung cancer, and 1.27 (0.78 to 2.08) for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among 9619 men, and 1.01 (0.94 to 1.08), 0.99 (0.72 to 1.37), and 1.13 (0.80 to 1.58), respectively, among 25 942 women.

No significant associations were found for current or former exposure to environmental tobacco smoke before or after adjusting for seven confounders and before or after excluding participants with pre-existing disease. No significant associations were found during the shorter follow up periods of 1960-5, 1966-72, 1973-85, and 1973-98.

In plain English the authors concluded that:

The results do not support a causal relation between environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco related mortality, although they do not rule out a small effect. The association between exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer may be considerably weaker than generally believed.

The report, as we know, provoked a huge outcry with tobacco control activists falling over themselves to dismiss the report and smear the authors by any means possible.

ASH's response, reported by the BBC, was particularly interesting:

"This could be very damaging as it will be used by industry lobbyists to argue against laws to ban smoking in public places and workplaces."

In other words, ignore the study, the largest and most authoritative of its kind, because it could derail our authoritarian plan to impose a smoking ban on every workplace in the country which is based on the claim - never proven - that passive smoking is a serious health risk.

Today few people seem willing to fight the 'passive' smoking myth but that's exactly what we have to do because it will be very hard to win this battle on the sole argument that people have a right to behave exactly as they want in their own homes. (Clearly this isn't true on a host of issues.)

What I find frightening is the way younger generations have been indoctrinated to believe all the propaganda about passive smoking. This isn't scientific so it isn't the first argument I use when discussing smoking in the home, but I do like to point out that if the scare stories about passive smoking are anywhere near true then it's amazing that the generation of children most exposed to tobacco smoke (the baby boom generation of the Fifties and Sixties) is living longer than ever before in human history.

Imagine that. A generation of children – at least 50 per of whom must have been regularly exposed to tobacco smoke in the home for much of their childhood – has largely survived to tell the tale.

I accept there have been medical advances during that time but if regular exposure to tobacco smoke is as dangerous as we're led to believe all the medical advances in the world wouldn't have kept the overwhelming majority of that generation living long into their eighties and, increasingly, their nineties.

Btw, the Sunday Times sent Forest an email at 8.30 last night inviting us to comment "within 30 minutes".

Normally that wouldn't be a problem but I was driving home from Derbyshire at the time and didn't see the email until 10.30, by which time it was too late to reply.

We will however be fighting this all the way. I hope you will too.


Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

It's not often that I disagree with Chris Snowdon but this is one of those occasions.

Earlier in the week it was announced that US economist Richard Thaler, 'one of the founding fathers of behavioural economics', had been awarded a Nobel Prize for Economics.

Thaler is better known to me and many other people as the author of Nudge.

One of Chris's arguments is that libertarian paternalism, which Nudge promotes, is more libertarian than paternalist.

Most of those who disagree with Nudge, he adds, haven't read the book.

Well, I have read the book (although I may not have finished it) and I'm not a fan.

I wish I'd kept my original copy because I read it on a long haul flight – before it lulled me to sleep – and I remember making copious notes in the margins.

The following comments then are less about the book and more about libertarian paternalism in general.

Libertarian paternalism, or nudging, is often defended on the grounds that it excludes prohibition.

That's true. The problem is, while the theory may be fine, in practice it is invariably embraced by those whose endgame is prohibition.

Thaler's policy, as expressed in his book, is far more benign than that but libertarian paternalism rarely ends with a nudge.

Instead it works like this. Policies are introduced that are designed to change people's behaviour by exposing them to 'healthier' choices as opposed to 'unhealthy' choices.

'Unhealthy' choices aren't banned but they're made less visible. It could for example mean the removal of confectionary around supermarket checkouts.

If people prove resistant to being nudged governments invariably decide to intervene. Nudging therefore is often no more than a stepping stone to regulations or legislation.

E-cigarettes are a classic example of how nudging should work. Smokers have a choice of smoking or vaping and so far 1.6 million people in Britain have chosen voluntarily to switch permanently to e-cigs. (In total 2.9 million now vape but 1.3 million are dual users.)

The problem is, the rate at which smokers are switching to e-cigarettes is slowing down, hence the suggestion that smoking should be banned outside pubs or even offices to "encourage" smokers to vape instead.

As far as I know Thaler doesn't recommend that type of policy but it's a small step from a benign nudge to a more forceful push.

The use of taxation to change people's behaviour is also a form of nudging. Again, this may not be a policy Thaler endorses but I've heard so many people defend punitive taxation on the grounds that it 'encourages' people to smoke less that nudging and taxation are effectively partners in crime.

By the same token a tax on sugar could be described as nudging. Or minimum pricing of alcohol. The list is endless. 'Libertarian paternalism' is an oxymoron and it's wrong to suggest otherwise.

The first time I heard the term was in 2007 when it was unveiled with a great flourish by Professor Julian Le Grand, a former adviser to Tony Blair. I wrote about it here:

Professor Le Grand said instead of requiring people to make healthy choices – by giving up smoking, taking more exercise and eating less salt – policies should be framed so the healthy option is automatic and people have to choose deliberately to depart from it.

Among his suggestions are a proposal for a smoking permit, which smokers would have to produce when buying cigarettes, an "exercise hour" to be provided by all large companies for their employees and a ban on salt in processed food.

The idea, dubbed "libertarian paternalism", reverses the traditional government approach that requires individuals to opt in to healthy schemes. Instead, they would have to opt out to make the unhealthy choice, by buying a smoking permit, choosing not to participate in the exercise hour or adding salt at the table.

By preserving individual choice, the approach could be defended against charges of a "nanny state," he said. "Some people say this is paternalism squared. But at a fundamental level, you are not being made to do anything. It is not like banning something, it is not prohibition. It is a softer form of paternalism."

Does that sound more libertarian than paternalist to you?

In 2008 I helped launch The Freedom Zone at the Conservative party conference and as part of that two-day event I organised a panel discussion called 'Libertarian Paternalism and the Nanny State'. I described it here:

Chaired by Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas), it featured rather a good panel - Tim Montgomerie (editor, Conservative Home and an influential figure in Conservative circles), Dr Eamonn Butler (director, Adam Smith Institute), Brian Monteith (The Free Society) and Shane Frith (director, Progressive Vision).

Tim was the lone voice in defence of libertarian paternalism (aka "nudging") and without him the meeting would not have worked half as well as it did. Eamonn expressed sympathy for the concept, but doubted that politicians could implement it without going too far. Brian talked of the "bully state" and Shane criticised the extent to which government intrudes into people's lives. A lively discussion, well chaired, in front of an appreciative audience.

Anyone who knows anything about centre right-wing politics knows that Tim Montgomerie, the founder and former editor of Conservative Home, is no libertarian. Far from it. In January 2010 for example he wrote an article that is no longer online but, again, I wrote about it here:

If you want to know where we're heading under the next Conservative government, there's a clue in this article by Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome.

The title alone is fairly explicit: "We need a state that helps people who do the right thing". It all sounds very reasonable, doesn't it? The problem is, who decides what the "right" thing is? Politicians? Bureaucrats? The media? And what does Montgomerie mean by "help"?

At the Conservative party conference in Birmingham in 2008 Tim was a panellist at a fringe meeting organised by The Free Society. We called it "Libertarian Paternalism and the Nanny State" and it followed reports that David Cameron was in favour of a policy known as "nudging".

This, it seems, is the acceptable face of the nanny/bully state. Instead of forcing people to change their behaviour, they are encouraged or "nudged" in the "right" direction.

Montgomerie's article for ConHome was prompted by a speech David Cameron had given to Demos, a Blairite think tank, the previous day. The Conservative leader (he was yet to be prime minister) told his audience:

"I know this is tricky territory for a politician. We're not exactly paragons of virtue ourselves. But to those who think politics should stay away from issues of character and behaviour, I say this:

When there are more than 120,000 deaths each year related to obesity, smoking, alcohol and drug misuse. When millions of schoolchildren miss out on learning because their classmates are constantly disruptive. When British families are drowning in nearly one and a half trillion pounds worth of personal debt.

And then ask yourself: do any of these problems relate to personal choices that people make? Or are they all somehow soluble by top down government action, unrelated to what people actually choose to do? Can we hope to solve these problems if we just ignore character and behaviour?"

Commenting on Cameron's speech I wrote:

I don't disagree with the reference to disruptive schoolchildren. But what about obesity, smoking and alcohol which he describes as issues of "character and behaviour".

I am not denying that there are problem areas (for example, excessive drinking by some young people) that need to be addressed. But what is he implying? That people who smoke, drink or are overweight are guilty of bad character or poor behaviour?

Cameron and his associates will deny it, but this smacks of a moral crusade (more echoes of Tony Blair).

For me, libertarian paternalism not only has echoes of Tony Blair, it suggests the same self-righteousness that became a hallmark of both Blair and David Cameron.

Graphic warnings, the tobacco display ban and plain packaging are all nudges. Likewise minimum pricing of alcohol and a sugar tax.

No-one is banned from buying or consuming any of these products (unless it's Lucozade where the company has simply removed the 'unhealthy' product from sale and replaced it with a 'healthier' version giving consumers no choice or say in the matter) but the slippery slope is clear to see.

All these policies may be designed to nudge us to make 'better' choices. Sadly it doesn't stop there, does it?

See also Nudge and liberty (Velvet Glove Iron Fist).


Proof of purchase

Don't take my word for it. 

Further to Tuesday's post I have now purchased a ticket to attend the 2017 E-Cigarette Summit, and here's the evidence:

I'll post a full review after the event next month.


Cost of cigarettes up to €12 a pack as finance minister targets a "fairer" Ireland

It was Budget day in Ireland yesterday.

New Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe surprised no-one when he announced that the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes would go up by 50c (same as last year), taking the average price to €12.

That's the sixth consecutive Budget excise duty on tobacco has been increased and it's helped confirm Ireland as the most expensive country in Europe to buy tobacco.

(The UK was the most expensive but with the pound weakening in relation to the euro Ireland has sneaked ahead again.)

Although the news was expected, John Mallon, Forest's man in Ireland, nevertheless found himself in demand. Within a couple of hours he gave interviews to TV3, RTE Radio 1, Newstalk and Today FM.

He was also on a panel of guests discussing the Budget on RTE television and was quoted by the Irish Examiner, Irish Independent, Irish Sun, Irish Daily Star, Cork Evening Echo and The Journal.

Here's our full response:

BUDGET 2018 – Campaigners say a further increase in tobacco duty announced today is “unfair” and “irresponsible” because it discriminates against the less well off and will fuel illicit trade.

John Mallon, spokesman for the smokers’ group Forest Ireland, said:

"Ireland is already the most expensive place in Europe to buy tobacco. Raising the price of cigarettes for the sixth consecutive budget is unfair because it disproportionately hurts those on lower incomes.

"Evidence shows that a hike in taxes fuels illicit trade. It’s no secret that Ireland has a serious problem with black market tobacco. Increasing the tax on tobacco is irresponsible because it will only make the situation worse."

He added: "Paschal Donohoe [Minister for Finance] talks of building a fairer Ireland. Raising tax on tobacco does nothing to achieve that aim. It robs law-abiding consumers of their hard-earned cash and enriches criminal gangs."

Needless to say John buys all his tobacco abroad and there will be thousands of smokers in the UK and Ireland who do exactly the same.

In fact it reminds me of a tweet the IEA's Mark Littlewood posted in the summer – see below. He won't be alone, I'm sure.

The loss of revenue to the British and Irish governments is immense yet they persist with a punitive taxation policy that not only costs money but edges more people towards poverty. I think that's immoral but the British and Irish governments seem to disagree.

Next month we'll find out if Philip Hammond intends to increase excise duty on tobacco for the second time this year. (The last increase was in March.)

If he does smokers will have a legitimate argument that they are being singled out for treatment that goes way beyond so-called nudging.

Talking of which, I have something to say about that too. Watch this space!


Why I'm tempted to attend the 2017 E-Cigarette Summit

Dick Puddlecote has posted a damning indictment of the E-Cigarette Summit on his blog.

Echoing many of my own views about this annual event, Dick highlights the lack of consumer involvement and concludes:

Basically, the whole day will be a load of people who mostly don't vape or smoke talking about what to do to people who do. In other words, yet another public health conference, and all the more pointless for it. Still, it'll suit tobacco controllers not to have to field any awkward questions, and further prove that this sphere of policy is now controlled, dictated and owned by 'public health'.

From a promising beginning in 2013 (which I wrote about here), the E-Cigarette Summit has become yet another forum that allows public health campaigners to dictate the terms of the debate.

Two years ago, spotting the direction of travel, I wrote a post (Why I'm not attending today's E-Cigarette Summit) in which I commented:

Last year I considered going again but when I looked at the list of speakers it was pretty much the same as the year before and heaven knows there are only so many times I can listen to Deborah Arnott without jumping off a bridge.

This year I received several emails inviting me to attend at a cost of £350 (plus VAT) and I was tempted until I saw that not only were the usual anti-smoking suspects speaking (again), but they were now joined by the likes of Andrea Crossfield (Tobacco Free Futures) and Prof John Britton (UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies).

Frankly (and I don't care how good the biscuits are), the thought of spending a whole day being lectured by one anti-smoking activist after another is too much.

I added:

I also sense a slightly patronising attitude towards the vapers who are speaking. With one exception they have been put in sessions where they are sharing the platform with four or five other panellists so their contributions will be limited to say the least.

In contrast John Britton has been parachuted in and given his own session. Ditto Andrea Crossfield who will be talking about 'E-Cigarettes: Practitioners Views, Beliefs, Experiences and Concerns'.

Now I've known Andrea for several years (and I like her) but to the best of my knowledge she's not a 'practitioner'. She's a full-time, state-funded anti-tobacco campaigner. Surely that session could have been given by Lorien Jollye or Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance?

Tobacco Free Futures no longer exists so we will be spared Andrea's no doubt insightful observations at this year's Summit. Against that is the fact that compared to 2015, when there were two consumer representatives, there is now just one on the list of 20 speakers.

Public health activists will probably argue that the event is organised by an independent third party and they have no control over who is invited to speak, but the reality is that – commercially – the E-Cigarette Summit needs the support of the public sector to fill all those seats at the Royal Society and the organisers can't risk alienating their core audience by exposing them to anything that might put them out of their comfort zone.

The result is that important stakeholders such as the tobacco companies are noticeably absent from programme and the sole consumers' representative is relegated to a bit part at the fag end of a long day.

I'm tempted to attend the 2017 E-Cigarette Summit if only to compare it with the first event in 2013 where several delegates were openly vaping and with the exception of a rather grumpy Deborah Arnott it was a surprisingly friendly and positive environment.

I'll only go though if I get a preferential rate as the representative of a non-profit smokers' rights group.

Watch this space.


The 'alt tobacco' lobby and the war on choice

This was the Philip Morris stand at the Tory conference in Manchester last week.

The way it was described to me I was expecting a small house but instead it was just a large and fairly traditional box stand with the words 'Smoke' and 'Free' emblazoned on the side.

Anxious to keep an open mind I picked up a leaflet that began by asking 'How long will the world's leading cigarette company be in the cigarette business?'.

Although I couldn't find an exact answer to this question it was helpful in explaining 'Why Philip Morris International is giving up smoking'.

Smoking is harmful and cigarette smoking causes serious disease and is addictive ... The best option is always not to start smoking or for smokers to quit.

The leaflet quoted Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK and Ireland ("We strongly support the Government's ambition to create a smoke-free generation.") before concluding:

Philip Morris International has set a bold new course to ensure that smoke-free products replace cigarettes ...

Now, we want to work with politicians, local authorities and businesses to help achieve a smoke-free future.

OK, I've quoted those comments in isolation (I've no argument with the overall case for alternative nicotine products) but you get the picture.

This is not a company that intends to defend the use of combustible products or the interests of those who enjoy smoking and don't want to quit.

Indeed, PMI is so determined to lead the charge towards a Utopian 'smoke-free' future the company is prepared, it seems, to risk alienating the very consumers it hopes to convert to its own heated tobacco and 'e-vapour' devices by openly advocating an anti-smoking agenda.

Good luck with that.

My own view is that it's perfectly possible to promote a new generation of reduced risk products (as other companies are doing) without stamping on traditional tobacco products or punishing existing smokers by supporting further increases in excise duty as PMI has done.

Moreover, while it is crazy to demand that PMI stops selling cigarettes with immediate effect, I do think that as long as the company continues to manufacture and sell combustible cigarettes it has a duty to defend the rights and interests of adults who choose to smoke its products.

Alternative nicotine products were also the focus of several fringe events in Manchester. The Institute of Economic Affairs hosted a discussion entitled 'Vaping: Could Brexit be good for our health?' The Adam Smith Institute chipped in with 'Innovation vs. The Nanny State: How markets are solving the problems government can't'. Last but not least, British American Tobacco hosted the Vype Reception, named after the "UK's leading e-cigarette brand".

Chaired by unapologetic smoker Mark Littlewood, speakers at the IEA Think Tent event were Chris Snowdon (IEA), Bob Blackman MP (chairman, APPG on Smoking and Health), Clive Bates (former director of ASH), and James Hargrave, head of public affairs for the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA).

Despite the distractions of heavy drilling outside the marquee and occasional gusts of wind buffeting the roof, I heard enough from Blackman to conclude that the man is a buffoon. His most ridiculous comment was the statement that smoking is "guaranteed" to kill you. No ifs, no buts. "Guaranteed." Other comments were followed by a self-satisfied smirk.

Bates is also becoming a bit smug (more so than he was) but you can't blame him. After all, when people hang on your every word and treat you like a minor deity it's inevitable, I suppose. (Jealous, moi?)

I didn't go to the ASI event because I had other things to do but I was keen to attend the Vype Reception, not least to see how it had evolved from the previous year.

Last year's event took place in a small window-less room in a soulless conference centre. It felt corporate yet clandestine, an odd mix. This year it was located in a large suite in the main hotel – the same room the Tobacco Manufacturers Association used for a reception in 2010. (The significance didn't escape me.) There were many more guests than last year and it felt like a traditional conference event. Like vaping, the Vype Reception had grown up and come of age. I can only see it getting bigger.

Both the IEA event and the Vype Reception were featured in a PR Week report headlined 'Alt tobacco' lobby lights up Tory conference. I'd never heard the term before but it seems that PMI, UKVIA and the IEA are all categorised as 'alt tobacco'. To this group I would add the ASI, the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) and even the Freedom Association whose pro-vaping campaign Freedom to Vape has been quietly active for more than a year now.

It shows how times are a-changing because where there were just two categories of lobby group in this field – tobacco and anti-tobacco – now there are three (at least). To complicate matters further there's a fine line between 'tobacco' and 'alt tobacco' and 'alt tobacco' and 'anti-tobacco', not to mention the distinction between anti-tobacco and anti-smoking. 

No-one, I'm sure, would accuse PMI or the NNA of being anti-tobacco. PMI, after all, advocates the use of heated tobacco while the NNA is fighting a court battle to get another tobacco product – snus – legalised. But anti-smoking? That's a different matter.

The jury is out on the NNA (whose reluctance to condemn almost any anti-smoking measure is nevertheless pretty damning) but the evidence against PMI seems unequivocal. If you announce plans to donate $1 billion to an institution called the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and work with "politicians, local authorities and businesses to help achieve a smoke-free future", it's hard to conclude that you are anything other than anti-smoking.

At least PMI is transparent about its long-term goal. The 'alt tobacco' campaigners I really don't care for are those who claim to believe in choice but – dig a little deeper – and it's clear their advocacy begins and ends with non-combustible products. Cigarettes? Meh.

Some 'alt tobacco' campaigners are so keen to embrace e-cigarettes as a 'solution' to the smoking 'problem' (their words) I sense they will happily abandon smokers to even more prohibitive regulations if it suits their agenda.

Last week for example I spotted a tweet by an 'alt tobacco' advocate that appeared to suggest that while it's wrong to restrict or ban flavoured e-liguids it's perfectly OK to prohibit flavoured (ie menthol) cigarettes. I'm sorry, if you genuinely value consumer choice and personal responsibility neither policy is right and you should say so.

(I've made this point before but I'll make it again. The true test of a genuine liberal is the ability to defend activities he/she neither likes nor indulges in. Smoking is a litmus test for such people and many are failing the test.)

I've noticed too that 'alt tobacco' lobbyists are increasingly using the language and guesstimates of anti-smoking campaigners to promote their cause. This includes the term 'smoke free' and the number of deaths allegedly caused by smoking and 'passive' smoking and the number of lives 'saved' if every smoker switched to vaping.

I can't think of a government body that is more despised by pro-vaping advocates than the World Health Organisation. Nevertheless, if WHO says a billion lives will be lost to smoking this century, it must be true!

Likewise the same campaigners who regularly criticise or lampoon Public Health England for its pronouncements on alcohol and food currently treat anything PHE says about smoking and vaping as if it's the word of God. To be clear, I don't dispute PHE's claim that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes, I just find it funny that many 'alt tobacco' lobbyists promote PHE as the font of all wisdom on smoking and vaping and complete muppets on everything else.

So where does the rise of the 'alt tobacco' lobby leave Forest? Our role, I believe, is to embrace the new without abandoning the old, hence our own fringe event - Eat, Drink, Smoke, Vape - that gave equal billing to smoking and vaping.

I must stress however that while Forest will evolve - happily advocating new nicotine products in the name of choice - we will never abandon the interests of adults who choose to smoke. If that makes us more 'tobacco' than 'alt tobacco', so be it. It's just a label, after all.

The real battle is not between the tobacco, 'alt tobacco' or anti-tobacco lobbies. It's about choice. Quite simply, are you for, or against? 


Morning after the night before

Events have rather overtaken the Forest/TMA drinks party in Manchester on Tuesday night.

I was driving out of the city yesterday morning when Theresa May began her speech. Even before the interruption by a so-called comedian and the repeated coughing fits, it was a car crash.

'The British Dream'? WTF is that? We're British. We don't dream, we muddle by.

The subsequent annoucement of a series of Ed Miliband style policies on housing and energy prices only made things worse. Is this the best the Conservatives can do?

But you'd have to have a heart of granite not to feel for someone dying on their feet. Even while I was driving I was holding my head in my hands muttering, "Oh my God, oh my God."

It was so painful I wanted to turn the radio off but I couldn't.

Outside the Westminster bubble you may be wondering what all the fuss is about but the clips shown on the news last night only hint at the tortuous nature of May's unfortunate performance.

I've previously defended not her policies but her apparently genuine sense of public duty and I do so again, but as others have commented you need luck to be a successful general and May is currently having no luck.

The letters dropping off the staging behind her back was another thrust of the political dagger.

In the light of all that our 'drinks party' (how quaint that sounds) seems light years away. In fact it was quite a success with Conservative MP Nigel Evans giving a rip-roaring speech that could not have been more appropriate to the drink-fuelled nature of the occasion.

"This is the best event at conference," declared Nigel boldly, "because people are allowed to do as they want."

I wouldn't go as far as that but guests were certainly allowed to eat, drink, smoke and vape (at the same time!) so that was probably unique.

Officially we were limited to 120 guests but there were many more than that. The heated, covered terrace was packed and the lounge was pretty full too.

The first guests arrived at 7.45 (the event was billed to start at 8.30), and the last left at 12.15.

Around 10.00 we ran out of booze (we'd pre-ordered cockails, beer and prosecco) and had to order more. 

Sadly the only thing most people will remember about the 2017 Tory conference is the PM's speech the following morning.

C'est la vie.

Below: Nigel Evans MP addresses guests at the Forest/TMA reception. Alongside him are fellow MPs Craig Mackinlay and Gareth Johnson.


Fringe benefits

If you're in Manchester today do join us for Forest's annual fringe event at the Conservative party conference.

It's called Eat, Drink, Smoke, Vape and we're co-hosting it with the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association.

Venue is the rooftop lounge and terrace at Great John Street Hotel (above). We hired it a two years ago and, weather permitting, it's almost perfect for this type of event.

The hotel is outside the secure zone so you don't need a conference pass but you must register in advance because it has a limited capacity of 120.

If you've already registered, I'll see you later.