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Wednesday
Mar232011

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.

Tuesday
Mar222011

Welcome to the Liberty League

When we launched The Free Society in 2008 the plan was to show how the war on tobacco is just one example of excessive interference by Big Government in people's daily lives.

With smoking banned in all public places in the UK, we were concerned that non-smokers might lose interest in the subject and we would lose support, even from the ranks of tolerant non-smokers some of whom, let's be honest, quite like smoke free pubs and bars.

We had to demonstrate that tobacco is one of many lifestyle issues under attack and that, ultimately, the argument goes far beyond smoking. It's about individual freedom, personal responsibility, mutual consideration and much more.

We wanted to link to other liberal or libertarian-minded groups and create a loose coalition that might recreate the "swarm effect" that Deborah Arnott, director of ASH, wrote about in her infamous Guardian article Smoke and mirrors.

That same year, in partnership with The Freedom Association, we launched The Freedom Zone at the Conservative party conference, co-hosting events with the likes of the Manifesto Club and Progressive Vision, and last year we launched a series of debates in London, Voices of Freedom: The Battle Against Big Government.

Each debate was organised and co-hosted by The Free Society in association with one of the following groups: Institute of Economic Affairs, Adam Smith Institute, Big Brother Watch, Manifesto Club and Liberal Vision.

The concept appears to have taken off. The Freedom Zone has become a fixture at the Conservative conference, the 2011 Voices of Freedom debates will be announced shortly, and I am delighted to report that the pro-liberty movement has a new ally.

Co-founder Anton Howes, a student at King’s College London and a member of the ASI's Next Generation Group, writes:

The Liberty League is a network for libertarian and classical liberal groups. It acts as a one-stop-shop for anyone wanting to get involved in the movement, helping to train and expand libertarian societies, maintaining a comprehensive list of all pro-freedom events in the UK, and channelling support to activists from campaigns and think-tanks.

It has opened applications for its inaugural Freedom Forum conference on April 1-3 at the Birmingham and Midland Institute.

For £20 (and a £10 deposit to be refunded on registration) accommodation, meals, free books and videos will all be provided. This is the perfect chance to meet other young pro-liberty activists from all over the UK, as well as taking part in seminars, meeting the libertarian movement's best speakers, and learning from activist training workshops.

Speakers from the Adam Smith Institute, Institute of Economic Affairs, Institute of Ideas, The Freedom Association, Big Brother Watch, some MPs and of course The Free Society's very own Simon Clark are confirmed.

Make sure you apply straight away, as space is limited and places are disappearing quickly.

I will be taking part in a panel discussion on 'Tobacco, Alcohol and Other Drugs'. I can report too that The Free Society has joined the Liberty League network.

To put this development in perspective, until a few years ago Forest fought a fairly lonely battle when it came to defending the sale and consumption of tobacco. Now a significant number of groups and individuals (including Clare Fox and David Bowden at the Institute of Ideas) are prepared to take a stand on the issue, and the wider implications.

In addition to Forest and The Free Society, they include the Institute of Economic Affairs, Adam Smith Institute, The Freedom Association, TaxPayers' Alliance, Big Brother Watch, Manifesto Club, Democracy Institute, Progressive Vision, Liberal Vision, Nurses for Reform, Economic Policy Centre and the Centre for Policy Studies.

Not a bad coalition, if you ask me. And it's getting larger all the time.

Monday
Mar212011

Cancer Research: overzealous, overstaffed and over here

Cancer Research has responded to my article on Politics.co.uk last week with a piece of their own: Tobacco control plan is a victory for public health.

The extraordinary thing is, they needed TWO people to write it! Here's a taste:

Large, brightly lit shop displays of tobacco act like big adverts for cigarette brands and, placed next to the sweets and crisps in shops, make smoking seem like an invitingly normal, everyday activity rather than a deadly addiction ...

The tobacco control plan is a testament to the campaigning of a huge range of organisations that care about the nation's health and want to reduce the harm from smoking. Charities such as Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation line up alongside medical bodies such as the BMA and royal colleges for physicians and GPs. We join together because we see the damage caused by smoking and the evidence for what works to cut smoking.

These motivations are in contrast to the tobacco industry whose interests are inherently opposed to the nation's health - their obligations to shareholders require them to maximise profits and sales of cigarettes. The industry's past record is such that the government limits its discussions with them to operational matters. They prefer to influence through front groups but in future anyone who lobbies the Department of Health on tobacco policy will have to declare their links to the industry.

Action on tobacco displays, a review of plain packaging, commitment to stop smoking services and a tough approach to the tobacco industry add up to a good start for the government. The crucial next step is to implement plain packaging and end the dangerously seductive branding of cigarettes.

To comment click here.

Monday
Mar212011

Scotland's smoking ban five years on

Further to this post, the Scotsman has published a feature entitled 'Five years of the smoking ban'.

"With the fifth anniversary of the most radical public health legislation since devolution, Lyndsay Moss gauges how Scots have reacted and tries to discover what the next step might be."

The article is not (yet) available online but it includes comments from me, Paul Waterson of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, Phil Hanlon and Jill Pell, professors of public health at Glasgow University, and Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH Scotland.

It also features several case studies including a publican, Lynn Adams, who "has seen her business decline since the smoking ban came in", and a smoker, Dr Stuart Waiton:

Stuart Waiton is a lecturer in Dundee and has smoked on and off for the past 25 years and now smokes about four cigarettes and two pipes a day.

The 43-year-old said the smoking ban had changed the atmosphere in pubs, and he finds the altered attitude to smokers since the legislation "depressing".

He said: "The fact I have to go outside to have a cigarette is an irritation, but it's nothing compared to the sense of depression that there is no 'public' in Britain in terms of a public that organises its own affairs without having experts setting the agenda.

"Previously people were quite happy to sit and smoke and talk. Now you have people standing outside, so something they had been doing for 20 years without any bother is suddenly not an accepted thing - I am a danger to other people and they might see me as a danger and, therefore, I must stand outside the pub. That is depressing."

Waiton said after the ban it became a novelty to visit pubs in England, where smoking was allowed until July 2007.

He said: "I was suddenly in a situation where I was in a pub where I could smoke and it felt strangely liberaying.

"It occurred to me to be a bizarre thing that it was accepted now in Scotland that you were, in a sense, killing people if you smoked in a bar, and yet you could go to England and kill people and no-one seemed to mind."

Waiton said what currently annoyed him most was schools teaching children to lecture their parents about the dangers of tobacco.

The father-of-two said: "My children's teachers are educating them to educate me not to smoke, which I find profoundly insidious."

He said his children had made a point of showing him a no-smoking poster they had made. "Ironically, they had spelt it incorrectly, with 'smocking' instead of smoking. I thought that was brilliant as I am always saying: if only your teachers educated you - rather than trying to socialise you to socialise me - you might actually be able to spell."

Other profiles include 'The Quitter' and 'The Doctor'.

Update: Five years of the smoking ban

Monday
Mar212011

Thank God for Guinness

Returned late last night from our weekend in Dublin.

The least said about the rugby on Saturday the better. It was all going so well - for the first 30 seconds. After that - well, we were in the third row of the upper tier behind one end so we got a perfect view of the carnage that followed.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon at Croke Park, home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) where Dublin were playing Mayo.

Having enjoyed a week's holiday in Westport, Co Mayo, several years ago - and seen Mayo play Fermanagh in an All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park in 2004 - we supported the visitors.

Dublin won. Naturally.

Before the match my son bought a hurling stick. The taxi driver who drove us to the airport after the match was visibly impressed. Not so airport security. They confiscated it as an "offensive weapon".

"Do we look like we're going to club someone to death?" I protested, but to no avail.

It was one of those weekends.

Thank God for Guinness.

Friday
Mar182011

Interrogated by the Morning Star - and I survived to tell the tale

Had a long conversation this afternoon with Rory MacKinnon, a reporter for the Morning Star.

He's working on a piece about the response to the Government's tobacco control plan and wanted answers to the following questions (which he kindly emailed in advance):

1. I understand you told a select committee in 2000 that Forest received around £250,000pa in funding from the TMA. Is this figure still accurate?

2. You also confirmed that this represented around 96% of Forest's operating budget. Is this also still accurate?

3. You have said in both your testimony to the select committee and on Forest's website that it was "not set up by the industry, but independently by this chap, Christopher Foxley-Norris, and a few of his pals." Can you confirm that neither the TMA nor its predecessor the Tobacco Advisory Council were behind its creation? If not, why do you maintain that Forest is an independent organisation?"

4. I've read several interviews and columns in which you've said there is no evidence for a tobacco display ban reducing the number of young smokers. How do you reconcile this with the importance the tobacco industry itself places on branding and visibility?

I won't repeat my replies to these and other searching questions. Suffice it to say I'm not expecting a ringing endorsement of Forest or our role in the war on tobacco!

Update: According to its Wikipedia entry, "The [Morning Star] was founded in 1930 as the Daily Worker, the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It was relaunched as the Morning Star in 1966. Since 1945, the paper has been owned by the People's Press Printing Society whose current policy is that Britain's Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party of Britain, underlies the paper's editorial stance."

Another Wikipedia entry states that the Communist Party of Britain is "not to be confused with Communist Party of Great Britain".

Confused? Never!

Friday
Mar182011

Ryanair - you're having a laugh

Tomorrow morning I am catching a flight, with my son, to Dublin to see England's Grand Slam match against Ireland.

I was rather lucky to get tickets. A friend of mine lives in Ireland and he just happens to know someone very close to the Irish rugby team and this person very kindly offered my friend tickets and he, even more kindly, gave them to me.

Anyway, I booked our Ryanair flights a few weeks ago and last night I was just about to print our boarding passes when I noticed that my booking had been registered in the name of 'Simon Philip' instead of 'Simon Clark' (Philip being my middle name).

I don't know how it happened. I have booked so many flights with Ryanair recently that I probably wasn't paying attention when I completed the online booking form. (Personally, I blame my 'smart' computer.)

To avoid any problem I thought I'd better change it before I arrive at Stansted tomorrow with a passport and boarding pass in different names. So I clicked on 'Manage Account', found the appropriate section, and changed the passenger name from 'Simon Philip' to 'Simon Clark'.

And you know what? Ryanair charged me £100 to do it!!!

I know, I know, Ryanair are famous for their additional costs. Well, I don't mind paying for extras like a gin and tonic, or even priority boarding (I love priority boarding!). But £100 to change my name?

They're having a laugh.

Friday
Mar182011

Are today's stars running scared?

With some honorable exceptions, are today's stars running scared of the bully state?

"What on earth has happened to the tradition of stars breaking taboos and causing mayhem?" asks Tom Miers on The Free Society.

It used to be said that the decadence of Western rock culture was a sign of our free society. The rockers reacted against the conservative mores of the post war years, and the more they were condemned the worse they behaved.

What started with floppy haircuts swiftly graduated to orgies, drugs, swearing, sex acts on stage, trashing hotels and general hell-raising. Smoking and drinking were minor props to the carnival of chaos ...

The whole point of rock ‘n’ roll is that it’s meant to break taboos and rebel against the established norms of boring old responsible society. So you would have thought that the stars of today would love nothing better than sticking a v-sign up at the PC brigade, not to mention the health lobbyists.

So what have they to be afraid of? Not falling sales, surely. Really bold establishment-bashing improves popularity among the young.

Perhaps there’s something else. Being a rebel now involves not so much teasing old fuddy-duddies as teasing government. And government carries a big stick. The bully state is starting to clamp down on opinions and behaviour it disapproves of. Maybe the rockers are running scared.

Full article here.