Coming soon ... 

I am spending the day putting some final touches to the new Forest website.

This is not a facelift, as in 2007. It looks totally different and has been built with new software, which we are just getting to grips with. (Actually, it's quite intuitive.)

There are a few bugs and what builders call snagging to sort out, but it should go live in a day or two.

Watch this space.


Scandalous behaviour

Sorry to see one of my favourite emporiums, Fortnum & Mason, "stormed by 300 yobs" on Saturday.

I'm not a frequent customer but I do pop in now and again. Perhaps they were protesting at the price of glacé apricots, utterly delicious but now £40 a box.

Now that is something to protest about!


Don't be fooled by Ed Miliband or those estimated attendance figures

Inspired by Ed Miliband and the TUC rally in London on Saturday I have written a piece for The Free Society about public spending cuts.

Here's an excerpt:

Famously, the British governed India (population 300-350 million) with just 1,200 civil servants. By all accounts, British rule in India was highly efficient.

Goodness knows how many civil servants there are in Britain today (where there is a population of 60 million), let alone public sector workers, but in 2009 the Ministry of Defence alone employed 85,730 civil servants.

Clearly there is a huge amount of waste and inefficiency in the public sector which is staffed by hundreds of thousands of unelected mandarins (the same mandarins who draft tobacco control regulations).

Don't be fooled by Ed Miliband, the TUC and everyone who attended Saturday's rally in London. The economic crisis has given Britain an unexpected but wonderful opportunity to cut public expenditure and reduce inefficiency in the public sector.

See: Demonstrate? Cuts in public spending are something to celebrate

As for the estimated attendance on Saturday, I would treat that with a gigantic pinch of salt.

According to the TUC, between 250,000 and 500,000 people attended the rally. Taking its cue from the organisers, the BBC reported: "It is estimated more than 250,000 people from across Britain have taken part in a demonstration in central London against government spending".

I have very good reason to be sceptical about this estimate. In October 1983 I stood on the roof of an office in Whitehall which gave me a bird's eye view of a CND march in London. According to the BBC, it was estimated that one million people took part in the march and subsequent rally in Hyde Park. Bizarrely this was far greater than even CND's estimate of 400,000.

They were both wrong. The group whose roof I was standing on belonged to an anti-CND outfit called the Coalition for Peace Through Security (CPS). Julian Lewis, who was director of CPS and is now MP for New Forest East, takes up the story:

"The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had, in its time, managed to rustle up more shouters on the streets than most: it turned out about 150,000 and 100,000 in 1981 and 1982 respectively, and characteristically claimed a quarter of a million on each occasion.

"In order to frustrate yet another such cavalier exaggeration in October 1983, the Coalition for Peace Through Security commissioned an expert photographic analysis which showed the true figure on that occasion to be approximately 98,000 for march and rally combined.

"So as to show 'progress' on their own grossly inflated estimates for the previous two years, the CND had felt obliged to claim 400,000 – a total ruled out as absolutely impossible by our aerial survey."

Without a similar survey I don't know how anyone could estimate accurately the number of people at Saturday's rally, but you can be sure that neither the TUC nor the BBC will have erred on the side of reality.

A bit like Ed Miliband, in fact.


Squeeze at the Royal Albert Hall

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had gone to the Royal Albert Hall to see Squeeze.

It was an eventful evening because I got a puncture en route and we missed most of the support act, which was a pity because I like The Feeling too.

The first time I saw Squeeze live was 30 years ago at a very different venue - the hot, sweaty bearpit that featured in the title of the Clash's 1978 single '(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais'.

Anyway, here's a video of Glen Tilbrook at the Albert Hall on Tuesday. He's singing one of my favourite Squeeze songs, 'Vanity Fair' from the 1981 album East Side Story.


Scotland: time to rethink smoking ban

Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the smoking ban in Scotland. Forest has issued the following press release:


The smokers’ lobby group Forest has called for amendments to the smoking ban that would bring Scotland into line with most European countries.

The group wants pubs and clubs in Scotland to have the option of providing separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms. It also wants the regulations on outdoor smoking shelters to be relaxed so that smokers can light up outside in greater comfort all year round.

Speaking ahead of the fifth anniversary of the smoking ban in Scotland, which was introduced on 26 March 2006, Simon Clark, director of Forest, said:

“Other European countries have found a sensible compromise ranging from licensed smoking premises to exemptions for small or drink-only bars. Why not Scotland?

“At the very least the regulations on outdoor smoking shelters should be relaxed so people can smoke outside in a warm and comfortable environment all year round.”

Clark blamed the smoking ban for accelerating pub closures in Scotland and called on politicians to act:

“Research demonstrates that the smoking ban is the main cause of pub closures in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Total pub losses in England, Scotland and Wales since the introduction of smoking bans in all three countries are in excess of 5,500. Scotland alone has lost over 700 pubs since the introduction of the ban in March 2006.

“This cannot be allowed to continue. Pubs and clubs are the heart of many rural and urban communities and their loss is having a serious impact on jobs and many people’s social lives. From the feedback we receive, the ban continues to provoke a great deal of anger and anguish.

“We accept that many people do not want to be exposed to other people’s tobacco smoke, so what we are asking for is an amendment to the ban that would allow separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

“The majority of licensed premises would probably remain non-smoking but there would be a degree of choice for those who want to smoke and drink indoors in a warm and sociable environment.

“At present smokers have no choice other than to stand outside, whatever the weather, or stay at home. An increasing number are choosing to stay at home and who can blame them if there is nowhere for them to smoke and drink in comfort?”

Clark added: “For the sake of our local communities, the Scottish Government must review the impact of the smoking ban and consider amendments to this unnecessarily harsh piece of legislation.”

Click here to download a pdf of the news release.


Tobacco duty increase hits law-abiding consumers who use British shops

Forest's response to the increase in tobacco duty announced today by the Chancellor:


The smokers' lobby group Forest has criticised the Chancellor’s decision to increase tobacco duty by two per cent above inflation, arguing that it penalises "law-abiding consumers".

Director Simon Clark said: "Law-abiding consumers who buy their tobacco in British shops are being penalised unfairly.

"The policy also discriminates against those who can least afford it, especially the elderly and the low paid.

"Increasing tobacco duty could cost the government billions of pounds. The people who will benefit most are black marketeers and those who purchase their tobacco abroad."

He added: "The Chancellor said the government's policy on tobacco will reduce smoking. It's not the government's role to force people to stop consuming a legal product. That's social engineering, which we deplore."

Update: Expect an increase of 33-50p on a pack of 20 cigarettes, and around 67p on a 25g pack of hand rolling tobacco.


Bad memories of Budget Day

As a small child I hated Budget Day.

I'd cycle home from school, turn on the television, only to find that all the children's programmes had been moved to BBC2 to accommodate some tedious, long-winded analysis of the Chancellor's statement on BBC1. For a six or seven-year-old it was perhaps the most boring thing I had ever heard.

The problem was, on our old black and white TV we didn't get BBC2. And we didn't watch ITV. In fact, I can't remember ever watching ITV as a small child. I don't think it was snobbishness on my family's part. I just think we got better reception on BBC1 and anyway it was too much hassle getting up to retune the television using the little plastic dial on the front of the set.

So BBC1 it was until my father bought a new (colour) television in 1971. Finally we had BBC2, and I think we even watched the occasional programme on ITV.

But that explains why, to this day, the Budget still leaves me cold.

PS. Wearing my professional (ie Forest) hat I shall however be monitoring the Budget to comment upon the anticipated rise in tobacco duty. Watch this space.


Wheel of misfortune

Is it me or am I unlucky?

Drove to London last night to see Squeeze and The Feeling - one of this week's Teenage Cancer Trust concerts - and on my way to the Royal Albert Hall I got a puncture. Again.

Tried to change the wheel myself but we were on a slope (the sliproad at junction 5 of the M1 near Watford) and the car kept rolling off the jack. My hands - and trousers - were filthy.

Called the AA. Owing to our "vulnerable situation" we were given priority status and the patrolman arrived after 45 minutes.

Thankfully, it wasn't just me. There was a problem with the jack, which twisted and collapsed when the car reached a certain height, but he eventually changed the wheel and we continued our journey.

Rest of the evening can be summed up as follows: missed all but the last ten minutes of The Feeling, saw Squeeze, then limped home (on a speed restricted space-saver tyre) shortly before 1.00am.

Excuse me if I have a nap after the Budget this afternoon.