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Review of the week


Sluts and tarts

Media alert.

Suzy Dean, a columnist for The Free Society, reports that she is going to be on Channel 4 News tonight off the back of the Slut Walk article she wrote for us recently.

I liked this tongue-in-cheek response from Rob Lyons, deputy editor of Spiked: "Very apt, given that you're a media tart".


PS. Click here to read Suzy's blog. In 2008 she featured in a Free Society video Say NO to the nanny state and once told the BBC, "I really enjoy smoking".


I'm going to the Olympics - are you?

So, have you got any Olympic tickets?

Having bid for £1,000 worth of tickets (I beat the deadline by five minutes), my bank account was this week debited by £66. (That's £60 worth of tickets plus a £6 admin fee.)

Frankly, I'm lucky. Listening to Five Live on Wednesday, scores of people were complaining that they had got nothing at all, despite (in some cases) applying for thousands of pounds worth of tickets.

According to one report, even Boris Johnson failed to get a single ticket, although I can't help think that he'll be invited to a few events (the Opening Ceremony, perhaps) in his official capacity.

What was funny was the fact that most callers failed to understand that the application process was a lottery - official.

As one person pointed out, when you enter the National Lottery, do you expect to get something – even £1 – just because you've bought £100 worth of Lottery tickets?

Look on the bright side. Unlike most lotteries, no-one has lost money.

Anyway, I'm trying to work out what my tickets are for. Given that the minimum price for a ticket is generally £20 (with some exceptions for children aged 16 or less), it appears that I have failed to get tickets for the whole family for any single event.

Instead – and this is a shrewd guess – I think I've got two £30 tickets for the boxing!!!

At least my son will be happy.


Important questions about civil liberties

Further to yesterday's post, Chris Snowdon has written a review of Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke for The Free Society.

Simon Davies' report, says Chris, asks important questions about the state of civil liberties in Britain for those whose lifestyle choices make them outsiders.

Discriminated against by the NHS, taxed to the tune of around £2,000 a year by the Treasury and now told they cannot smoke in a park because the mere sight of them will traumatise children, smokers exist in what Davies calls “a shrinking zone of normality”. It is, he says, “open season” on smokers.

See: Important questions about the state of civil liberties in Britain.


Civil liberties – up in smoke?

Today sees the publication of a report entitled Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke. The introduction is self-explanatory:

This paper has been prepared by a team led by Simon Davies of Privacy International at the request of Forest, the UK smokers’ rights organisation. Forest has also contributed to the external research cost of the work, for which we are grateful.

The research does not address the health aspects of tobacco smoking, nor does it take sides on what has become a controversial aspect of public policy management. Instead the paper focuses on the privacy and civil liberties implications arising from the regulation of tobacco use globally.

The publication of the report is timely. Although tobacco regulation in the modern era is relatively recent, enough time has elapsed to determine some key trends and implications. One of those trends is the surveillance and control of tobacco smokers, with all the consequent risks to privacy and rights. The almost unrestricted use of drug testing kits for nicotine, routine tracking smokers by way of public camera networks, infiltration of social network profiles, banning images of smoking in films and establishing whistleblower and reporting hotlines are signs that a foundation has been established to institutionalise smokers as low grade criminals.

Whatever specific position is taken on tobacco regulation (or indeed any other issue), an evidence-based approach is crucial when assessing the effect of public policy. Privacy and rights advocates frequently apply neutral analysis when dealing with laws relating to national security, counter-terrorism, police powers and reforms to the criminal justice system. This doesn’t mean that those analysing the measures are opposed to the aims of such reforms. On the contrary, it is often the case that an evidence-based audit of such powers can improve both the effectiveness and public trust in those objectives. The same applies in the realm of tobacco regulation.

The health risks associated with smoking are accepted by the authors of this report and by the sponsoring organisation. We also acknowledge that governments and other authorities have a role to play educating people, children especially, about those risks. However several centuries of substance regulation show that careless regulation can create severe consequences in terms of the impact on individuals. In establishing regulation, governments must strive to avoid an unintended own-goal that invites negative and damaging consequences. We have sought in this paper to identify such consequences and we invite government to reflect on them.

In some senses this paper is an early-warning report. While the fear and persecution that characterised previous substance prohibition is not yet generally evident in the realm of tobacco control there are danger signs that without care the next decade could witness injustices on a substantial scale. As we establish in this report, there is already adequate evidence that in some environments smokers are regarded as social pariahs who deserve no rights. If smokers start to perceive themselves this way then the path will be cleared for a repeat of the worst errors made in previous attempts to prohibit the use of substances. As with previous prohibitions, regulation moves quickly from a public health mechanism to an assault on the individual.

We have printed 2,000 copies of the report and will be distributing it to politicians, journalists and broadcasters. Copies will be available at our Voices of Freedom event in London tonight.

You can download it by clicking on the following link:

Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke


Diane Abbott wants smoking banned outside Olympic venues

Spent the morning at the House of Commons. Very quiet. MPs are away this week.

Whilst I was there I got a call from London Tonight, ITV's London regional news programme. They wanted a quick response to the 'news' that Labour MP Diane Abbott wants smoking banned in all Olympic parks in 2012. That means indoors and outdoors.

I was interviewed, sitting on a bench, in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament. The sun had disappeared and we had to film under a tree to escape the light rain. It was cold, wet and miserable.

I paraphrase. "This isn't China," I said. "Britain isn't a dictatorship. The Olympics should be an opportunity to celebrate Britain as it is, not as politicians would like it to be. Are they going to ban alcohol and people who are overweight as well?"

Update: Olympic smoking ban? (London Tonight). They used a different bit of the interview!


The Free Society ... on Today's radar

A breakthrough of sorts, I suppose.

Yesterday I was contacted by a producer on the Today programme. I've been on the programme a few times and I assumed that they wanted to talk about World No Smoking Day (May 31).

But no. They wanted to contact Simon Hills, associate editor of The Times Magazine. Simon is a regular contributor to The Free Society and he recently wrote a piece entitled What's wrong with being posh?.

The article had caught their eye and they wanted him to take part in a discussion about "posh" people. (Well, it is a bank holiday.)

Eventually they plumped for someone – the Telegraph's James Delingpole – who could go into the studio. Nevertheless, as Simon commented later, "It's good that they're reading the website".


Hemming: British culture "being eroded"

From today's Sunday Express:

Fresh from reducing Ryan Giggs’s injunction to a pile of ashes, Lib Dem MP John Hemming is lending his support to another campaign calling for urgent changes to the smoking ban.

He is joining Tory Greg Knight and Labour’s Roger Godsiff in demanding the Government amend the ban to allow struggling pubs and clubs to offer “well-ventilated rooms” for smokers.

The campaign believes it unfair that smokers are forced to stand or sit outside and that our laws are draconian compared with the rest of Europe. The pub industry claims the ban has had a “devastating” impact on trade and flies in the face of the Coalition’s philosophy to allow individuals to make their own choices.

Anti-secrecy crusader Mr Hemming, who fancies himself as a possible party leader and who will help host a reception for the Save Our Pubs And Clubs campaign in Parliament next month, said: “British culture is being eroded at the moment.”

See: Giggs's nemesis fumes over ban.