Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Wednesday
Jul012015

We can work it out

Public Health England say employers should let staff travel to work at less busy times of day during the heatwave.

Dr Angie Bone, head of extreme events at PHE, said: "Employers should ensure indoor areas are kept cool and consider allowing these individuals to travel to or from their place of work during cooler, or less busy times of the day."

FFS.

Thankfully I no longer commute every day to London but when I did I learned that during hot weather it was best to travel to work early when it was still relatively cool and public transport was less crowded.

I didn't need the state to advise me and as an employer I definitely didn't need a taxpayer-funded NGO to tell me how to run my business.

I could work it out for myself.

Btw, is 'head of extreme events at PHE' a full-time job? I'd love to know what else, apart from a heatwave, qualifies as an "extreme event" at PHE.

Full story: Heatwave: stop staff travelling in rush hour, health officials urge (Daily Telegraph).

Update: Nanny state Britain turning glorious sunshine into a national crisis (Daily Mail).

Monday
Jun292015

Q: What should we do about our lovely neighbours who smoke? A: Get a life?

Whenever possible I try to listen to Graham Norton on Radio 2 on Saturday mornings.

More often than not I'm driving my children somewhere so I catch some but not all of it.

My favourite bit of the programme is 'Grill Graham' where he discusses "the latest dilemmas" with comedian Maria McErlane.

I missed it on Saturday but thanks to a member of the Friends of Forest Facebook group my attention has been drawn to one of this week's dilemmas.

In short, Mary wrote in to say that while she and her husband like their "lovely" neighbours of 20 years, there's a problem:

"They smoke and the smell seeps through our wall. It's beginning to really get to us. What should we do?"

You can listen to Graham and Maria's response here. And the listeners' responses here.

Enjoy.

Thursday
Jun252015

Smoke On The Water 2015

Thanks to everyone who joined us for Smoke On The Water last night.

Over 200 guests boarded The Elizabethan at Westminster Pier, including several MPs and representatives of half a dozen think tanks and political groups.

Parliamentary researchers were there too but most encouraging of all was the number of younger people who turned out in force.

Readers of this blog were well represented too. Sorry I wasn't able to talk at length but it was good to say hello to some of you.

Last night's event had a Cuban theme, hence the mojitos and exotic dancers.

We even had a Cuban band called The Sugar Kings which was rather apt given the fact that we were promoting our new campaign Action on Consumer Choice.

Seventy bottles of Prosecco and 150 mojitos had been consumed in less than an hour when The Elizabethan left Westminster Pier at 8.00pm sharp.

Ninety minutes earlier grey clouds had gathered over the Thames, a light wind had sprung up, and I thought we might be in for a choppy ride.

Instead the sun came out and we enjoyed a gentle cruise all the way down to Canary Wharf before returning to Festival Pier on the South Bank by 10.00pm.

On the return leg I'm told that one well known blogger pulled some remarkable shapes on the dance floor. Whether he remembers any of them is open to question because he later left both his overcoat and his tie on the boat.

As casualties go however there was no repeat of two years ago when one young reveller collapsed on the embankment shortly after leaving the boat and was taken to hospital.

Anyway, here are a few photos taken, as ever, by Dan Donovan. To view the full gallery click here.

Tuesday
Jun232015

Smoking and vaping in parks declared "anti-social"

Waterford City council has caused a stir by banning smoking and "cursing" in public parks.

The new rules are a bid to "curb anti-social behaviour" but how is smoking in the open air "anti-social" unless, of course, you're blowing smoke directly in someone's face?

The ban on smoking even extends to the use of e-cigarettes because, according to Fine Gael councillor Lola O’Sullivan, "Smoking is smoking, whatever kind of way you do it."

Earlier today my Forest colleague John Mallon responded as follows:

"There is nothing anti-social about smoking in a public park. There is no risk to anyone else, including children. Most of the time, unless you're very close, you won't even be aware they're doing it.

"It makes even less sense to ban e-cigarettes. Vaping is not smoking, however you look at it. An increasing number of smokers are using e-cigarettes as a harm reduction or smoking cessation aid. Why ban something that some people are using to quit smoking?

"Swearing can be anti-social but there are already laws to deal with loud and repeated profanities.

"These new rules are excessive and unnecessary. The overwhelming majority of people know how to behave in public spaces without being regulated to an inch of their lives."

Since then he's been on two national radio stations, Newstalk and Today FM, and has featured in news bulletins on WLR FM, the local Waterford radio station.

Head-to-head with Lola O'Sullivan, John reports that "She was giggly and light-hearted."

I'm glad someone finds it funny.

Update: Smokers’ group criticises new ban as ‘excessive’ (Irish Times)

Monday
Jun222015

Fact or fiction? 250,000 attend anti-austerity rally in London

According to the organisers 250,000 people attended the anti-austerity rally in London on Saturday.

In March 2011, following a TUC rally that was claimed to have attracted 250-500,000 protestors, I wrote:

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.

The same is true of Saturday's rally. The real figure is certain to have been far below the estimated figure banded about by organisers and for once even the BBC wasn't falling for the hype: 'Tens of thousands of people have taken part in anti-austerity demonstrations in UK cities'.

Guido has more here: No, 250,000 people did not protest on Saturday.

The reason this matters is that campaigners make all sorts of ludicrous claims and, in many cases, the media is happy to repeat them without questioning them.

The smoking ban, for example, was introduced on the back of the fictitious estimate that 11,000 non-smokers were dying every year in Britain as a result of "passive smoking".

I could list many more 'estimates' and 'guesstimates' that bear little relation to real life - public health campaigners are especially adept at this form of propaganda - but I genuinely haven't got time.

Another day, perhaps.

Monday
Jun222015

Smoke On The Water weather report

I rarely look at the weather forecast ahead of a Forest event.

Why bother? There's nothing you can do. Nevertheless I'm keeping my fingers crossed for our boat party on Wednesday.

The worst case scenario (not predicted) is thick cloud, persistent rain and a cool wind. Who wants to be on the river on a day like that?

Torrential rain a couple of hours before boarding sounds disastrous but it happened to us a few years ago and made very little difference to the number of guests. The sun soon came out again and the little local flooding added to the ambience.

Anyway the BBC website is currently indicating light cloud following a sunny start to the day with a temperature of 21 degrees at 7.00pm. Not bad but whether it's correct is another matter.

As for the event, it's now fully booked and we can't register any more guests. If you're coming I look forward to seeing you, wind, rain or shine.

Saturday
Jun202015

Happy anniversaries

It's been a week of anniversaries.

Waterloo (200), Institute of Economic Affairs (60), Hunters & Frankau (225). Enough has been written about Waterloo so let's start with the IEA.

On Thursday I joined several hundred people at The Brewery, a venue that, as its name suggests, occupies the site of a former East London brewery first built in 1750, 65 years before Waterloo.

The event was to celebrate the 60th birthday, or diamond jubilee, of "the UK’s original pro-market think tank".

An impressive crowd was there to mark the occasion. Among the guests were MPs (including government ministers), broadcasters, journalists and bloggers, representatives of other think tanks and pressure groups, and many supporters and benefactors.

A huge effort had gone into the evening which included a drinks reception followed by dinner and after dinner entertainment. (I believe my former colleague Angela Harbutt had a major role organising the event. She and her team did a great job.)

Dinner was accompanied by a series of speeches and short films that highlighted the history and work of the IEA but although it was a tad self-congratulatory (who can blame them?) there was no sense of resting on laurels.

The future was addressed too with the announcement of a new project with a fancy name I can't quite remember. I was distracted by the fact that Ukip press officer Gawain Towler kept leaving our table to respond to media enquiries about Nigel Farage and Suzanne Evans. He later tweeted "Shockingly bad night at #iea60". To be fair, I don't think he was referring to the event itself.

If I had one very small complaint (not even a complaint, more an observation) it was the lack of serious recognition for the IEA's Lifestyle Economics Unit.

Granted, there are many important issues to address but lifestyle - including the economics of smoking, eating and drinking - is likely to dominate the public sector agenda at local and national level for many years to come.

Economic socialism was discredited and then abandoned in the UK thanks in no small part to the founders of the IEA and those who followed them.

Lifestyle socialism is the latest threat to our liberties but when faced with an audience of the great and the good even the IEA seemed reluctant to mention it.

And so to another, very different, celebration, the 225th anniversary of Hunters & Frankau, the UK's only importer and distributor of Cuban cigars.

Incredibly this family run company was in business 25 years before Waterloo and is still going strong. That's quite an achievement.

Last night they invited a couple of hundred guests to Belgrave Square Garden in London for an evening of cocktails and cigars.

It was an outdoor event, naturally, but there was a tented village that offered maximum protection in the event of bad weather.

Fortunately it was a lovely evening but many of us stayed inside, reluctant to venture far from the cocktail bar.

I enjoyed the IEA event but this was a lot more relaxing. No politics, no rhetoric, no Ukip press officer threatening to resign at any moment, just a simple evening dedicated to three simple pleasures - smoking, eating and drinking.

At The Brewery on Thursday night only a handful of guests took the long walk to freedom (aka the designated smoking area outside the building). At Belgrave Square almost everyone was smoking, even me.

On arrival we were given a Montecristo Media Corona. During the evening more cigars were offered, "for tasting".

To take home we were given an H&F Commemorative Anniversary Box featuring a Ramon Allones Hunters & Frankau Aniversario 225 and a Bolivar Belgravia UK Regional Edition 2015.

The canapes were delicious and my only regret was failing to sample all five cocktails that had been invented for the occasion.

So, happy birthday, IEA, and happy anniversary, H&F. I hope I'm still alive for your next big celebration!

Wednesday
Jun172015

ASH Scotland – Sheila take a bow

When I was in Edinburgh yesterday I took part in a phone-in on BBC Radio Scotland.

The topic, as you might expect (see previous post), was smoking in cars with children.

I was on for 25 minutes and during that time I had the following exchange with Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland.

Sheila Duffy:
For me one of the real benefits in this legislation is raising awareness about tobacco smoke being a harmful substance. Now Forest is largely funded by tobacco companies ...

Me:
And you're funded by the taxpayer, Sheila. You get £900,000 from the Scottish Government. You're funded by the taxpayer and you use that to lobby government …

Duffy:
No we don't get that much from the Scottish Government …

Me:
How much do you get from the Scottish Government? How much?

Duffy:
What, what we do is we look at the evidence and we look at the facts and we …

Me:
How much taxpayers' money do you get annually?

Duffy:
… and the facts are that this is ...

Kaye Adams, Radio Scotland presenter:
How much taxpayers' money do you get, Sheila?

Duffy:
Um [pause], we [pause], certainly not as much as nine thousand [sic].

Me:
How much?

Duffy:
It's about eight hundred thousand.

Me:
[Laughing] Very close then.

Duffy:
We get that to provide services. We get that to ...

Me:
And lobby government!

Duffy:
No, we don't use taxpayers' money to lobby government. We use grant funding to lobby government.

Me:
Semantics, Sheila, semantics.

Adams:
OK, I'm not sure where we're going with that but let's bring in some callers.

Click here if you want to listen. The exchange above begins at 8:38.

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