Smokers Are Voters Too

Diary of a Political Campaign

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Tuesday
May052015

Kris Hopkins, friend or foe?

Between now and the General Election on May 7 I'm highlighting a series of 'target seats', those where the candidate standing for re-election has supported anti-tobacco policies, and those where a leading candidate is an opponent of excessive lifestyle regulations and policies that infantilise us all. With a few exceptions I'm focussing on marginal or semi-marginal seats.

#36 – Keighley
Another conundrum. Kris Hopkins was one of 74 MPs who voted against regulations to introduce a ban on smoking in cars carrying children. His reason: "I am not in favour of bringing forward changes in the law which, in my view, are unenforceable. I don’t believe it is realistic to properly enforce a ban on smoking in cars." At the same time however Hopkins said he would like to ban smoking “full stop”, adding, “And I say that as a former smoker myself.” No surprise then when the communities minister sided with the Government (and Labour) and voted in favour of plain packaging. According to Hopkins, making standardised cigarette packs compulsory was "the responsible and right thing to do". "There is nothing glamorous or exciting about smoking and the packaging cigarettes are sold in should reflect this reality." If Hopkins thinks current packaging is "glamorous" or "exciting" he ought to get out a bit more. With views like that he won't be missed.

2010 majority: 2,940 (6.2%)
Estimated number of smokers in Keighley: 13,174*.
Principal opponents: Labour
Friend or foe: Foe
Target rating: Vulnerable

*Based on 20% of the registered electorate in 2010

Note: marginal seats have been defined as those with majorities of 10% or less that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose.

Tuesday
May052015

Stephen Mosley, friend or foe?

Between now and the General Election on May 7 I'm highlighting a series of 'target seats', those where the candidate standing for re-election has supported anti-tobacco policies, and those where a leading candidate is an opponent of excessive lifestyle regulations and policies that infantilise us all. With a few exceptions I'm focussing on marginal or semi-marginal seats.

#35 – City of Chester
This is Gyles Brandreth's old seat which he lost to Labour in the 1997 landslide. Mosley won it back for the Conservatives in 2010 and he's been a lot more liberal in terms of tobacco control than Brandreth would have been. In 2010 Mosley voted to relax the smoking ban; in 2014 and again in 2015 he voted against a ban on smoking in private vehicles (carrying children); and in March 2015 he completed the set by voting against plain packaging. Bravo! Chester remains a marginal seat though and if the expected swing from the Conservative to Labour takes place (helped by the collapse of the Lib Dem vote), Mosley will be gone.

2010 majority: 2,583 (5.5%)
Estimated number of smokers in City of Chester: 14,288*.
Principal opponents: Labour
Friend or foe: Friend
Target rating: Extremely vulnerable

*Based on 20% of the registered electorate in 2010

Note: marginal seats have been defined as those with majorities of 10% or less that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose.

Tuesday
May052015

Chris Williamson, friend or foe?

Between now and the General Election on May 7 I'm highlighting a series of 'target seats', those where the candidate standing for re-election has supported anti-tobacco policies, and those where a leading candidate is an opponent of excessive lifestyle regulations and policies that infantilise us all. With a few exceptions I'm focussing on marginal or semi-marginal seats.

#34 – Derby North
Chris Williamson is one of those fairly anonymous backbench MPs who pops up now and again to pontificate in apocalyptic terms on issues of grave national importance. When, for example, the government postponed the introduction of plain packaging in 2013 Williamson described it as "a shameful capitulation to the merchants of death!" No surprise then that he voted for the measure in 2015 and voted against an amendment to the smoking ban in 2010. Williamson believes a new tax should be levied on fast food, tobacco and chewing gum to help councils clear up litter, and after that? Hopefully we'll never find out.

2010 majority: 613 (1.4%)
Estimated number of smokers in Derby North: 14,288*.
Principal opponents: Conservative
Friend or foe: Foe
Target rating: Extremely vulnerable

*Based on 20% of the registered electorate in 2010

Note: marginal seats have been defined as those with majorities of 10% or less that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose.

Monday
May042015

Nigel Huddleston, friend or foe?

Between now and the General Election on May 7 I'm highlighting a series of 'target seats', those where the candidate standing for re-election has supported anti-tobacco policies, and those where a leading candidate is an opponent of excessive lifestyle regulations and policies that infantilise us all. With a few exceptions I'm focussing on marginal or semi-marginal seats.

#33 – Mid Worcestershire
I have a special reason for wanting Nigel Huddleston to win this safe Conservative seat. In November 2009 I wrote: "Yesterday, at the invitation of the local Licensed Victuallers Association (LVA) which represents independent licensees, we held a Save Our Pubs & Clubs meeting at The Bramingham pub in Luton. The meeting was well attended and we made some very useful contacts including Nigel Huddleston, Conservative PPC for Luton South, who even donned a SOPAC t-shirt for the obligatory photograph. Registering his support for our campaign, Nigel said: "We've had enough of Gordon Brown's nanny state. Politicians should respect people's freedom to choose." He failed to win Luton South in 2010 but more than halved the Labour majority, prompting me to write: "Nigel had the bottle to support our Save Our Pubs & Clubs initiative - he was even prepared to have his photograph taken while wearing a fetching yellow campaign t-shirt. Your day will come, Nigel, have no fear." That day has now come.

2010 majority: 15,864 (31.1%)
Estimated number of smokers in Mid Worcestershire: 14,428*.
Principal opponent: Liberal Democrat
Friend or foe: Friend
Target rating: Good

*Based on 20% of the registered electorate in 2010

Note: marginal seats have been defined as those with majorities of 10% or less that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose.

Monday
May042015

Julian Huppert, friend or foe?

Between now and the General Election on May 7 I'm highlighting a series of 'target seats', those where the candidate standing for re-election has supported anti-tobacco policies, and those where a leading candidate is an opponent of excessive lifestyle regulations and policies that infantilise us all. With a few exceptions I'm focussing on marginal or semi-marginal seats.

#32 – Cambridge
Vote for plain cigarette packs marks success of Huppert's campaign:
MP Julian Huppert marked the successful culmination of his campaign for plain cigarette packaging yesterday when the issue returned to Parliament and won the backing of MPs. It follows a sustained campaign by Julian who has been lobbying the government to ban tobacco companies from using brightly coloured cigarette packaging. “This issue is so important if we are to stop future generations of young people becoming addicted to nicotine with all the health issues that brings and the strain it puts on our health services,” said Julian. “I respect a person’s right to choose to smoke but the decision needs to be taken as an adult and not as a child.” Huppert respects an adult's right so choose so much he opposed an amendment to the smoking ban that would allow adults to light up in separate smoking rooms in pubs and clubs. Go figure.

2010 majority: 6,792 (13.5%)
Estimated number of smokers in Cambridge: 15,424*.
Principal opponents: Conservative and Labour
Friend or foe: Foe
Target rating: Vulnerable

*Based on 20% of the registered electorate in 2010

Note: marginal seats have been defined as those with majorities of 10% or less that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose.

Sunday
May032015

Stephen Metcalfe: friend or foe?

Between now and the General Election on May 7 I'm highlighting a series of 'target seats', those where the candidate standing for re-election has supported anti-tobacco policies, and those where a leading candidate is an opponent of excessive lifestyle regulations and policies that infantilise us all. With a few exceptions I'm focussing on marginal or semi-marginal seats.

#31 – Basildon South & Thurrock East

The latest polls suggest a 4% swing from Conservative to Labour so Stephen Metcalfe should be safe, although a strong Ukip performance could further eat into his majority. The reason he deserves support is, ironically, spelled out on the Tobacco Tactics website: "In October 2010 he voted for the smoking ban to be overturned. In November 2010 he signed an Early Day Motion calling for a review of the smoking ban. In December 2010 he signed a letter in demanding that the tobacco display ban be reconsidered. In June 2011 he voted against a Private Member’s Bill banning smoking in cars carrying children. Metcalfe was one of the 50 MPs who wrote to the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley in 2012 expressing serious concerns over plain packaging proposals." The taxpayer-funded site hasn't been updated for a while so let me list some of Metcalfe's more recent 'crimes'. In February 2014 and February 2015 he voted against a ban on smoking in private vehicles carrying children, and in March 2015 he voted against plain packaging of tobacco. What's not to like?! Vote Metcalfe!

2010 majority: 5,7772 (12.9%)
Estimated number of smokers in Basildon South & Thurrock East: 14,361*
Principal opponent: Labour
Friend or foe: Friend
Target rating: Should hold on

*Based on 20% of the registered electorate in 2010

Note: marginal seats have been defined as those with majorities of 10% or less that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose.

Sunday
May032015

Richard Graham, friend or foe?

Between now and the General Election on May 7 I'm highlighting a series of 'target seats', those where the candidate standing for re-election has supported anti-tobacco policies, and those where a leading candidate is an opponent of excessive lifestyle regulations and policies that infantilise us all. With a few exceptions I'm focussing on marginal or semi-marginal seats.

#30 – Gloucester
Richard Graham is another Tory who has consistently voted in favour of further tobacco control. In February 2014 and February 2015 he voted for a ban on smoking in private vehicles carrying children, and in March 2015 he voted in favour of plain packaging. He's not alone but paternalistic Tories intent on infantilising the adult population are almost indistinguishable from their Labour and Lib Dem counterparts so genuine liberals in Gloucester may struggle to find a candidate they can wholeheartedly support.

2010 majority: 2,420 (4.8%)
Estimated number of smokers in Gloucester: 15,863*.
Principal opponent: Labour
Friend or foe: Foe
Target rating: Vulnerable

*Based on 20% of the registered electorate in 2010

Note: marginal seats have been defined as those with majorities of 10% or less that require a swing of 5% for the incumbent party to lose.

Saturday
May022015

Election update: apology and prediction

After a day or two away on business I've been catching up on my target seat 'friends and foes'.

By the end of the day I'll have listed 30 with ten to go before the election on Thursday. Worringly it's becoming harder and harder to find genuine 'friends' while the list of 'foes' is endless.

Granted I'm focussing on marginal and semi-marginal seats but I didn't expect to run out of cast iron 'friends', candidates who consistently oppose excessive regulations, so quickly.

Even Nick de Bois, an outspoken opponent of plain packaging, supported a ban on smoking in private vehicles carrying children. As I've said many times, I don't condone the practise but legislation, in my view, is both excessive and intrusive. Nick clearly didn't agree but I listed him as a friend nonetheless.

Elsewhere I've found examples of MPs voting against plain packaging yet opposing an amendment to the smoking ban.

Most bizarre of all was the Ukip candidate who this week 'supported' the party's policy on amending the smoking ban but also came out in favour of a ban on smoking in open air parks. Madness.

Truth is, the voting intentions of many candidates are difficult to predict and a classic example of this is Chris Skidmore.

Last week I awarded Skidmore the much sought after status of 'friend' thanks to his opposition to plain packaging.

I'd forgotten that in February last year, after meeting him on the set of the Sunday Politics West in Bristol, I labelled him "wet with a capital W":

On a personal level he was very pleasant. Before recording started he introduced himself and we had a brief chat, mostly about the weather.

We didn't talk about banning smoking in cars with children but when the producer came to take us to the studio I asked, "How are you voting on Monday?"

"For," he replied.

Fair enough. If he feels strongly and has some good arguments for a ban that are clearly his own I can accept that.

However, when asked by presenter David Garmston how he would vote, and why, a blank look came over his face. It was as if he was on autopilot.

He uttered a few platitudes but nothing to suggest he had a genuine view of his own. Going through the motions is the best way to describe it. A zombie would have shown more passion.

Crucially there was little to distinguish Skidmore's opinion from that of Jo McCarron, the Labour candidate for Kingswood, who was also on the programme.

The only real difference between them was McCarron's bright red dress. (Skidmore was wearing a suit with a white shirt and no tie. Significantly the suit was grey.)

Kingswood is a marginal seat. Unless Tory MPs like Skidmore put some clear blue ideological water between them and their opponents, how can the Conservative party hope to win an overall majority next year?

Nice chap he may be, but Chris Skidmore is wet with a capital 'W'.

See Wet with a capital 'W' – the unacceptably grey face of the parliamentary Tory party.

In hindsight I was perhaps a little harsh so I'd like to apologise. First impressions may have been deceptive.

I still think I was right to highlight the problem many floating voters will face on Thursday. How on earth they can choose between candidates when so many are indistinguishable?

Ultimately it will come down to several factors, including a presidential or X-Factor style vote-off between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Hence my prediction.

I believe that come Thursday an unexpected number of floating voters in England will vote Conservative not for love of the party or its policies or even Cameron himself.

They will vote Conservative because in the privacy of the polling booth they will reject the thought of Miliband in Downing Street with the SNP calling the shots.

(Whether that's an accurate prognosis is neither here nor there. That's how it's being spun and that's how many people will see it.)

That's why, in spite of the polls, I believe the Tories and Lib Dems will get enough seats to form another coalition government.

Either that or the Tories will form a minority government with a confidence and supply arrangement with the Lib Dems.

I may of course be totally wrong.

Update: Daily Mail columnist Tom Utley, a long-time friend of Forest and an occasional guest at our events, has written this piece for today's paper. It's worth reading even if you don't agree with it:

I won't be voting Tory with enthusiasm on Thursday - but the alternative is so unthinkable that I've NEVER felt so strong a duty to do so (Daily Mail)

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