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Welcome to the party season

Squeaky bum time.

That's right, party conference season is in full swing, which is why I haven't been blogging this week. Too busy organising and promoting events that will take place at the Labour and Conservative conferences in Liverpool and Manchester respectively.

You can organise the most fantastic meeting but if no-one turns up it's a dud in any language. Competition is fierce. At any one time there may be 20 rival events, some offering free champagne, others promising a Cabinet (or Shadow Cabinet) minister.

Labour events are especially hard work for Forest. In 2005 we had an absolute corker of a meeting starring David Hockney, Joe Jackson and Mirror columnist Sue Carroll, but rightly we erred on the side of caution by booking the smallest room in the hotel.

In 2007, after two days' hard graft handing out leaflets many times over, we attracted a hundred delegates and one MP to a drinks reception. The following year however we hit rock bottom when only 12 people attended a speaker meeting in Manchester with not a single MP in sight. (It didn't help that the party declined to publish details of the event in the conference brochure.)

This year we're organising a party with live music at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool. It's a risk because the club is a 12-minute walk from Albert Dock where the main events are taking place (that's a huge distance in conference terms), but we wanted to do something a little different.

Why bother, I hear you ask? "Won't catch me near Labour Conference," wrote one person on our Facebook event page. "It's the bloody Labour Party who killed our pubs and clubs with their overbearing nannying ways."

True, but in my view you've got to take the fight to our opponents, be it Labour, the Lib Dems or the Conservatives. Anything else smacks of defeatism.

Our job is to communicate with those MPs who share our concerns about excessive regulation and the plight of Britain's pubs and clubs. They do exist and turning our backs on potential allies doesn't make sense, politically.

It's important too to maintain a media and political profile and party conferences provide a useful platform. Last week, for example, I got a call from Five Live expressing interest in our Cavern Club event. Fingers crossed, Stand Up for Liberty! – our principal event at the Conservative conference in Manchester – will attract similar interest.

Earlier this week Pat Nurse asked why we didn't attend the UKIP conference in Eastbourne last week. "It really would be nice if you could be seen to be properly impartial and not go to any party conferences or go to them all (inc Lib Dems)."

Simple answer? Money. It's expensive to organise events that stand out from the crowd and we have to prioritise. That's why we're not doing anything at this week's Lib Dem conference either.

Actually, I've had good reports about this year's UKIP conference but it's a vicious circle. To attract journalists and broadcasters to its conference UKIP needs MPs and a greater share of the vote in a general election.

With no MPs and little or no media interest, UKIP's annual conference will remain a sideshow of limited value to anyone outside the party.

Sorry, but that's the way it is.

See also: Forest at the Labour and Conservative party conferences


New threat to freedom in the Middle East

Delighted to welcome a new columnist to The Free Society.

Rania Hafez is director of the professional network Muslim Women in Education. In her first article for TFS, published today, Rania describes how a Western-style nanny state is proving such a threat to individual freedom in the Middle East.

See: Arab liberty goes up in smoke


Meet Roly

I promised you a picture of our new cockapoo puppy.

We collected him yesterday and here he is. We've named him Roly and he's the brown/apricot one.


Stuart Bell: remember this video?

Political anoraks may remember this video.

I posted it on my old blog in May 2010, shortly before the election. It was made by John Walsh, the Conservative candidate in Middlesbrough, and I thought it was hilarious.

In view of the reports about the Labour MP for Middlesbrough (Stuart Bell denies being Britain's laziest MP) I thought it deserved another airing.


Kent pub wins Best Smoking Area

Ye Olde Whyte Lyon in Locksbottom wins Best Smoking Area award.

Kent pub, Ye Olde Whyte Lyon, has won a nationwide search to find the pub with the Best Smoking Area in the UK.

The Great British Pub Awards 2011, run by trade magazine, The Publican’s Morning Advertiser, has been looking for pubs that provide excellent outdoor smoking facilities for adult customers, and Ye Olde Whyte Lyon has come out top.

The pub won the award thanks to its large patio area which boasts a canvas canopy, heaters, and an outside television, as well as a beer garden which is populated by a wide range of flowers, trees and plants. The pub even provides blankets to customers who wish to stay outside when the weather is chilly.

Wendy Mannion, joint licensee of Ye Olde Whyte Lyon and a smoker, said: "We didn't want a smoking area that was dark, dingy and smelly, but one that was engineered to be the best with a nice, cosy ambience.

"The smoking area is popular with smokers and non-smokers alike. In fact we reckon that 60 per cent of customers who use the smoking area are non-smokers who want to enjoy the atmosphere."

Ye Olde Whyte Lyon joined three other finalists (The Blind Beggar in Whitechapel, London; The Woolly Sheep in Skipton, North Yorkshire; and The Fountain in Soham, Cambridgeshire) to battle it out for the title.

The winner was announced at a gala awards ceremony in London last night.

Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown, who presented the Best Smoking Area award, said: "Congratulations to Ye Olde Whyte Lyon. I like the kind of pub that anyone can go to. Some pubs are more like restaurants. Others specialise in sport or music. I like a pub that makes an effort to appeal to everyone, and that includes adults who choose to smoke.”

The Best Smoking Area award is supported by tobacco manufacturer Japan Tobacco International (JTI), and the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign which wants the government to review the smoking ban and give licensees the option of separate smoking rooms.

Simon Clark, director of smokers’ lobby group Forest, which supports the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, said: “The smoking ban has had a devastating impact on thousands of pubs throughout the country. Thankfully, this award shows that many pubs still value customers who smoke and don’t want them marginalised or isolated from other customers.

“All four finalists have created a very attractive outdoor area but we felt Ye Old Whyte Lyon had gone that extra mile to make smokers feel welcome. For that reason the licensees fully deserve this award.”

TV chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who owns The Greyhound pub near Henley-on-Thames and recently created an e-petition calling for a review of the smoking ban, said: “I know how important it is to offer customers an attractive facility where they can eat, drink and, dare I say it, smoke.

“I congratulate Ye Olde Whyte Lyon but not every pub has an outdoor area suitable for development. The government should review the ban and give licensees the option of having a separate, well-ventilated smoking room indoors.”

Laura Fry, Corporate Affairs Manager UK at JTI, said: "JTI’s aim is to help licensees improve the profitability of their business and accommodate all of their customers, including the 10.5 million adults in the UK who choose to smoke.

"We are delighted to support both the Best Smoking Area award at the Great British Pub Awards and the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign. Congratulations to Ye Olde Whyte Lyon."


Great British Pub Awards 2011

It's the Great British Pub Awards in London tonight.

Venue is The Hilton, Park Lane, and the fun starts at 7.00pm. The awards (including Best Smoking Area) will be presented after dinner but the entertainment doesn't stop there. The drinking (and dancing) continues until 2.00am.

It's going to be a long night. Report to follow.


Why do governments think they know best?

Further to yesterday's post about Scotland's environment minister Stewart Stevenson, my colleague Tom Miers has contributed a great piece for the Edinburgh Evening News.

He writes:

Government campaigns against lifestyle choices set a sinister precedent for the erosion of civil liberties. The demonisation of minorities is particularly irresponsible.

The individual, bereft of responsibility for his actions, becomes more feckless and lacking in self-reliance.

Prohibition encourages smuggling and organised crime. Smokers' respect for the rule of law diminishes with every contraband purchase.

Why do politicians seek to bully us so? Perhaps to mask their own health and welfare policy failures. Government would do well to put its own house in order before invading ours.

The full article is featured in a report entitled Smokers in firing line with drive to stub it out in cars.

PS. The paper is asking readers: 'Should Scotland legislate to stop kids being exposed to second-hand smoke in cars?'. Vote here. (Update: no longer available.)


E-petition newsletter

Read our e-petition update.

Copies have been sent to the following mailing lists – Forest, The Free Society, Save Our Pubs & Clubs: Amend The Smoking Ban.

Update: Emma Boon of the TaxPayers Alliance has just tweeted: