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Lunatics and libertarians

I must declare an interest.

Last year I helped libertarian bloggers Anna Raccoon and Old Holborn get smoker-friendly landlord Nick Hogan released from jail.

It was an exhilarating few days. Anna (aka Susanne Nundy) was friendly, professional and true to her word. Her description of Old Holborn, who led our raid on Salford Prison, is spot on:

I have a lot of respect for Old Holborn, he is a maverick, he is irrepressible, tiresomely energetic, and the original loose cannon. Hence I have a soft spot for him ...

Working with Anna and Old Holborn was as close as I've come to what some might call the "libertarian fringe". I enjoyed the experience but having dipped my toe in the water I wasn't tempted to jump in.

Today, via Dick Puddlecote, I discovered on Anna Raccoon's website this extraordinary, epic post.

The first half made me laugh out loud. Beautifully written, it's the funniest thing I have read in ages.

The second half was more disturbing and made me fear for several people's sanity.

Dick asks: "So what now, then? All over to UKIP?"

If I was Nigel Farage I'd be pulling up the drawbridge and dropping the portcullis.


Croeso cynnes iawn (but don't smoke)

Phew, that was close.

Yesterday was the closing date for submissions to the Welsh Assembly Government's consultation on the draft Tobacco Control Action Plan for Wales.

Forest's response was submitted at 23:59 precisely. We did our best to answer the questions, really we did, but I'm getting ever more cynical about these so-called 'consultations'.

Consequently, when the final question asked, 'Do you wish to make any other comments on the draft Tobacco Control Action Plan for Wales?', I wrote:

We note that Forest, which was founded in 1979 and is well-known in media and political circles as a group that campaigns on behalf of those who choose to consume tobacco, is not included in the List of Consultees.

Indeed, looking at the list, we cannot find a single organisation that represents those consumers who choose to consume tobacco, enjoy consuming tobacco and take great pleasure from consuming tobacco, despite the potential health risks (which they are well aware of).

We note too that in the Respondent’s Details it lists ‘Tobacco manufacturer’ and ‘Tobacco retailer’ but does not include ‘Tobacco consumer’.

We consider it negligent that such a consultation can be carried out with no apparent attempt to consult those who enjoy consuming tobacco and have no wish to give up. This suggests a myopic attitude to the subject that ill becomes government and brings into question the impartiality of the entire consultation process.

Anyway, I know our submission has been accepted because this morning I received the following email:

Annwyl Simon Clark,

Diolch am ymateb i'r ymgynghoriad uchod. Bydd pob ymateb a ddaw i law yn cael eu hystyried cyn cwblhau'r Cynllun Gweithredu maes o law.

Yn gywir

PS. The headline means "A very warm welcome" (I think).


Can't win the Ashes but they are the world's number one nanny state

New article by Chris Snowdon on The Free Society:

The Australians were recently in the news after making the decision to wrap cigarettes in olive coloured plain packages. With tangible patriotic pride, campaigners claimed this as a world first, and so it is, but it only scratches the surface of the plans Australia’s public health lobby have in store.

See: Australia – the world’s number one nanny state


The Queen in Ireland

I've been following the Queen's visit to Ireland with great interest.

I first visited Ireland – the Republic – for a conference more than 20 years ago. I travelled by train from London to Holyhead and caught the overnight ferry to Dun Laoghaire. It was a long, uncomfortable journey but when I arrived I felt completely at home. Even the post boxes – albeit repainted green – featured the monarch's monogram (the letters 'VR' or 'ER' and a crown).

Around the same time I also visited a friend who was serving in the army in Northern Ireland. Now that was weird. In the evening I ate in the officers' mess – a comfortable country house – and during the day we did some sightseeing, which was strictly limited due to the fact that two-thirds of the province was out of bounds for my friend for security reasons.

Since 2003 I have been visiting Ireland – the south, in particular – with increasing regularity, usually on business but also for the occasional break and even a holiday or two.

I am embarrassed to say that I remain largely ignorant of Irish history although visits to Croke Park, home of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) where 14 people were killed by Crown forces on 21 November 21, 1920 (Bloody Sunday), have offered a poignant insight into the past.

Thankfully, in her speech at Dublin Castle last night, the Queen didn't apologise for Britain's part in Ireland's history. Truth is, it's far too complicated for something as simplistic as that.

Take Bloody Sunday, for example. The shootings at Croke Park didn't happen in isolation. They followed the deaths of 14 undercover British agents who were killed the previous night by the IRA. I believe too that there were many Irishmen in the "British forces" in Ireland, just as there were many Scots in the "English" armies that fought on Scottish soil. To portray Irish or Scottish history as a long-term battle with the English is wrong.

Likewise, the relationship between many Irish nationalists and Britain is hugely complicated. On my last trip to Dublin in March I stayed in a hotel where every bedroom was dedicated to a famous Irish republican. My room was named after the 18th century rebel Theobald Wolfe Tone "who sought to overthrow English rule in Ireland and who led a French military force to Ireland during the insurrection of 1798".

Another room was dedicated to Sir Roger Casement who was hanged "for his part in working with Germany and Irish nationalists in planning the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916". Casement was born in Kingstown, Co Dublin. He had a "long and distinguished career" working for the British Foreign Service. During his career he became British Consul for Mozambique (1895-98), Angola (1898-1900), Congo (1901-04) and Brazil (1906-11). He was awarded a knighthood for highlighting the exploitation of labour in the Congo Free State. Four years later "He was tried and convicted in London for treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown and hung hanged in Pentonville prison on August 3rd, 1916 after losing his appeal".

That, I think, sums up the complicated history of the British and Irish people, and I haven't even mentioned the Irish soldiers who fought with the British Army in two world wars or the many millions of people who have come from Ireland to live in Britain.

Anyway, in all my visits to Ireland I have received nothing but friendship and a warm welcome from everyone I have met, and reading the reports of the Queen's visit in the Irish Times yesterday was actually rather moving.

But what I really want to share with you is this email, received yesterday from John Mallon, our man in Cork:

There really only is one news item here, and that is the visit of the Queen. All other human activity has been suspended for her stay with us. While it may just be another Royal visit abroad for the UK, it has a deep and lasting significance here.

The sight of the British Monarch laying a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance yesterday, (The holy shrine of Irish Republicanism) was one of life's "Wow" moments. The Lady herself has been perfect, showing a natural dignity and we hope our hospitality is up to her standards.

The minor disturbance you may have seen on the news yesterday is easily explained. It took place on Dorset Street in the inner city and was the normal local reaction to the sight of Gardai!!!

The Queen is a credit to the UK.

How nice is that?!

See: When the Queen went out on the pitch it was an unreal moment (Scotsman)


Recommended reading

Apologies for the lack of posts this week. VERY busy.

If you're looking for something to read I recommend the following article posted on The Free Society today:

Jason Smith reads the government’s latest report on social mobility and concludes that it tells us more about modern politicians than the people they try to govern.

See: Social mobility and the isolated political class.

Normal service resumed tomorrow.


So, was the Rally Against Debt a success?

A mixed response, as you would expect, to yesterday's Rally Against Debt.

According to one blogger:

The left said they couldn’t organise a piss up in a posh wine bar. They were right. Today’s Rally Against The Cuts gig was a wash out.

300 was the honest estimate, despite Guido Fawkes’ talk of 500. Toby Young decided on taking his children to see some pirates and I’m sure many on the “rally” would now see sense in his decision.

Another wrote:

The ‘Rally against Debt’, which was launched with a fanfare as the response of the ‘silent majority’ to the TUC demonstration of over 500,000, was a pathetic event.

Those who were actually there saw it rather differently. James Worron, for whom Saturday was his first ever demonstration, wrote:

I arrived and the crowd was indeed a little small, but there was a good vibe, and some people I knew. I probably wasn’t the only one there who hadn’t been on a demo before. There was a vague uncertainty about what to do. We didn’t march anywhere, and attempts to start chanting got nowhere.

Still the crowd was eclectic and lively. Harry Cole put a Chihuahua in his jacket. A girl’s placard asked George [Osborne] for “more, faster, deeper,” someone else had a “Hayek is my homeboy” t-shirt. It was also good natured, two left-wing counter-protestors trying to get a “Libraries Suck” counter-placard in the photo were seen off with good humour all round.

Simon Richards, director of The Freedom Association, wrote:

"Yesterday's Rally Against Debt was just one small, early, but significant sign that even the excessive patience of the silent majority is, at long last, starting to run out."

As someone who was also there, I thought it was a pretty decent effort. There were more than enough people (and press photographers) to make you feel you were part of an 'event'.

I counted eight speakers. Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs and Matthew Sinclair of the TaxPayers' Alliance provided the necessary gravitas, but documentary film maker Martin Durkin was perhaps the pick of the bunch. His speech rivalled Nigel Farage's for laughs and his enthusiasm was equally infectious.

Compared to the TUC's Alternative March the turnout may have been small, but what did people expect? Unlike the union-sponsored event, Rally Against Debt didn't have a penny to its name when the idea was promoted on Facebook a few weeks ago. Bar some logistical support from the TaxPayers' Alliance, I don't think much changed, financially, ahead of yesterday's event.

Media-wise, however, Rally Against Debt was a success, punching well above its weight. "Is that a protest or a bus queue?" sneered one left-wing blogger, but online you will find a string of reports – in the Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Mail. BBC News features a report and even a video. You can't buy that sort of coverage (and I should know!).

Compare the coverage of Saturday's rally with a similar event organised by the I Want A Referendum campaign in 2008. Publicised over many months and executed brilliantly on the day, the I Want A Referendum lobby of parliament attracted almost 3,000 people to Westminster but was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

Check the reports of yesterday's rally and you'll see a wall of banners, most of them homemade. Images are often more important than words and the message is clear – this was a genuine grassroots event featuring people of all ages.

Some media commentators have tried to portray Rally Against Debt as a bunch of toffs but that wasn't my experience. True, it was a very Middle England sort of crowd, but does that make us toffs? Only the left could portray Britain's national debt crisis as a class war.

Rally Against Debt started on Facebook and, it could be argued, would not have happened without it. As a campaign tool, however, it's a mixed blessing.

It is frustrating, for example, when 1,900 people indicate that they will attend an event like this and only a fraction of them bother to do so. It confirms, to me at least, that Facebook is an additional campaign tool, but one that flatters to deceive.

Anyway, those of us who made the effort to attend the first Rally Against Debt enjoyed a good-humoured protest that didn't overstay its welcome. Some critics have highlighted the fact that we drifted away before the end of our allotted time but the blessedly short speeches had finished so what were we supposed to do? Chant inane slogans? Riot?

We convened, we made our point, and then we made a beeline for the pub. Isn't that what normal people do? (Personally I would have liked to march en masse to Fortnum & Mason for afternoon tea but the great food emporium may have feared the worst had we all arrived together.)

Yesterday's event won't change the world but if you support the sentiments behind Rally Against Debt it was far, far better than sitting on your backside at home. Congratulations to everyone involved.

See also: We rallied against the debt (Guido Fawkes)
We rallied against debt (TaxPayers Alliance)
Rally Against Debt - what impact will it have? (Platform 10)

H/T Photo courtesy Simon Richards (The Freedom Association)

Update: Thanks for coming (Rally Against Debt)
That Rally Against Debt (Devil's Kitchen)


Review of the week


Now WHO turns on drivers

Driving to Liverpool today, then back to Cambridgeshire via Manchester, a round trip of approximately 350 miles.

Yesterday the Telegraph reported that "Speeding motorists fines are set to rise by up to 40 per cent under plans being considered by ministers".

The Department for Transport is ready to raise the fixed penalty for motorists caught breaking the limit from £60, the level set in 2000, to as high as £100.

Similar increases are planned for other offences such as using a hand held mobile phone while driving and failing to wear a seat belt.

Other penalties are also set to soar under the road safety strategy announced by Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary.

I wouldn't mind if there was a bit of give and take - variable speed limits, for example, that go up as well as down.

This is well-worn argument but motorway speed limits were set in the 1960s when the average family saloon could barely do 70mph.

Fines and penalty points should be given for reckless or dangerous driving, and that is often dependent on road conditions (heavy traffic, bad weather etc).

There is nothing reckless or dangerous about travelling at 100mph in good conditions on a clear motorway.

Yesterday, the Today programme interviewed a spokesman for an organisation called Road Peace, "A national charity for road crash victims".

I have every sympathy for anyone who has lost someone in a car accident, but I took a dislike to the slick, almost messianic Road Peace spokesman.

I was half asleep, I admit, but I heard several references to 3,000 deaths on the road every day.

This is a global figure of course that is largely irrelevant when discussing road crash victims in Britain or indeed Western Europe where roads are, by and large, in a reasonable condition, and driving standards are relatively high.

I did a little investigation and it won't surprise you to learn that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has just launched a 'Decade of Action for Road Safety’ campaign "to raise awareness of dangers on the road".

Across the world each year, nearly 1.3 million people die as a result of a road traffic collision – that’s more than 3,000 deaths each day.

According to the WHO, unless immediate and effective action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death in the world.

I'll come back to this issue later. In the meantime, I've got a meeting to go to, and it's a three-hour drive to get there.

Must dash.