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Iain Dale’s diary

On Thursday, as I mentioned in my previous post, I was in Birmingham to finalise plans for our forthcoming events at the Conservative conference.

When the Tories were last in Birmingham, two years ago, Forest hosted a drinks party that attracted 500 guests.

How many were drawn to the event by our guest speaker, LBC presenter (and former Conservative PPC) Iain Dale, I don’t know but I do know that Iain felt rather intimidated by the experience because he tweeted as much.

Anyway, I was thinking about that this morning when I read, on Iain’s blog, 7,000 words from a personal diary he started to write in 2002.

He abandoned it after only a few months which is a pity because it’s a really entertaining read, reminiscent of Gyles Brandreth’s Breaking The Code: Westminster Diaries which is a favourite book of mine.

It also (and this in no way influences my opinion!) includes two references to me:

Monday 21 October
Had a meeting with Simon Clark this afternoon. The main thing to come out of it is an idea to put to Associated Newspapers about launching a rival to The Spectator. Could be interesting.

Friday 25 October
Had lunch yesterday with Jane Mays from the Mail. Ostensibly to sound her out about whether Associated might be interested in launching a rival to the Speccy. This arose out of a talk with Simon Clark on Monday about how we could take the Politico magazine to the next stage. She seemed quite keen, but not sure if anything will come of it.

Nothing did come of it but if I have time tomorrow I might explain the background to these entries.

Meanwhile do read the whole thing. These extracts don’t really do Iain’s embryonic diary justice. The rest is far more interesting!

See ‘Six weeks in the autumn - my very personal diary from 2002’ (Iain Dale).


The Wright move

I was in Birmingham yesterday making final arrangements for our forthcoming events at the Conservative party conference.

It was wet and rather miserable.

While I was there I had to do a couple of radio interviews on the subject of smoking being “eradicated” in England by 2030.

One was with Matthew Wright, former presenter of The Wright Stuff on Channel 5.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before but many years ago, when Jonathan Ross left his BBC One chat show following the Russell Brand debacle, I wrote to the BBC suggesting that Wright be given the job.

In hindsight it seems a bizarre and rather futile thing to do (I’ve never done anything like it before or since) but I’d been on The Wright Stuff and had watched the programme several times.

Wright seemed a genuinely decent guy who listened to and had empathy for his guests but wasn’t afraid to challenge them. He also struck me as pretty fair in the way he addressed topical issues.

He was also very entertaining with a good sense of humour.

I don't know if he was even considered as a replacement for Ross because Graham Norton was promoted from Monday to the Friday night slot (you can't argue with that) and Wright stayed where he was.

In June, after 18 years, he finally left Channel 5 and I was interested to see what he would do next.

The answer was TalkRADIO and yesterday I found myself speaking to him on my mobile phone while standing in a quiet but rather damp corner of Brindleyplace, close to the International Conference Centre.

As ever he was challenging but conversational in a way that very few presenters can master. (If I was controller of Radio 2 I’d have snapped him up as Chris Evans’ replacement but I suspect he’ll be much happier in a less restrictive environment.)

However, the reason for this post is that, having concluded the interview by asking me, “How do you sleep at night?”, one of my favourite presenters paid me a small compliment that, literally, left me speechless.

You can listen to it here.

PS. He later tweeted:

Update: TalkRADIO has since tweeted:

Update: I may have been a bit hasty with my praise (see Matthew's additional tweet below)! To be fair, he kept his views in check during the interview which wasn't aggressive. He simply played devil's advocate, which I would expect any good broadcaster to do, and I had ample time to respond. Can't ask for more than that.


Stoptober and the “eradication” of smoking

Stoptober 2018, Public Health England’s mass quit smoking campaign, is launched today.

Readers may recall that last year I had a long battle with PHE to find out how many smokers had signed up to Stoptober 2016.

See: Stoptober and the mystery of the missing evaluation.

Eventually, after a lot of prodding (including a Freedom of Information request), PHE told us:

We are releasing an evaluation document of Stoptober 2016 during Stoptober 2017; this will be available on the PHE website ... The original publication date was delayed.

Incredibly the four-page document was posted online on October 26, 2017, a full twelve months after the campaign it was evaluating finished.

See: At last! The Stoptober 2016 campaign evaluation report.

My suspicion is that had Forest not pursued the matter the report would not have been published at all.

This year we decided to take a softly softly approach and see if PHE would publish an evaluation report for Stoptober 2017 without being nagged to do so.

So far I’ve seen nothing to suggest they will, although they may be following a similar schedule for the 2016 report (ie publication towards the end of Stoptober 2018).

It does strike me as odd though that an evaluation report for a campaign conducted the previous year should appear only at the conclusion of the following campaign.

After all, you might think they would want to learn from the previous campaign and plan accordingly.

Anyway, after a series of C and D-list ‘celebrities’, the person PHE has chosen to front Stoptober 2018 is TV presenter Jeremy Kyle who has quit smoking after 35 years and is currently vaping:

“The thing that is really helping me stay smoke-free is vaping. I’m currently on the lowest nicotine strength and will then come off the e-cigarette altogether when the time is right for me.

“Since quitting I’ve learned just how important using support is and for people not to go ‘cold turkey’ – that certainly didn’t work for me in the past.

“If I can quit, I honestly believe anyone can quit if you just have the right support, and that’s what Stoptober is there to give you, and I want people to know that and to do it this year.”

See: Jeremy Kyle calls on smokers to quit smoking during Stoptober (ITV News)

As it happens, I don’t have a major problem with Stoptober. Indeed, aside from the evaluation issue, it seems less preachy that most anti-smoking campaigns.

I do however question its ‘success’ which seems to be measured in terms of the annual decline in the national smoking rate - the reasons for which are many and varied.

Indeed, I’d suggest that the main beneficiaries of Stoptober are not smokers who want to quit but the PR agencies employed at great expense to promote it.

Update: Channel 5 News contacted Forest yesterday to see if someone was available today for a quick interview about the campaign.

Unfortunately I’m in Birmingham all day today and unable to go to the ITN studios in London, which is their preferred location.

I will however be on the Matthew Wright Show (Talk Radio) at 3.30 discussing PHE’s claim that smoking could be “eradicated” in England by 2030.


John Mallon around and about

Once a year, sometimes more, Forest's man in Ireland hits the road and travels the length and breadth of the country.

The goal is for John Mallon to visit as many radio stations as possible over a two or three-week period.

On Monday John drove from his home in Cork to Tralee in the south west of Ireland where he was interviewed on Radio Kerry.

On Tuesday he travelled to Ennis, Co Clare, where he appeared on Clare FM.

Today he was in Galway where he featured on Galway Bay FM and tomorrow he's in Sligo (I think) for an interview with Ocean FM which broadcasts to south County Donegal, north County Leitrim and most of County Sligo.

Next week, if everything goes to plan (it rarely does), the tour moves to Waterford, Kilkenny, Kildare, Clonmel and Tipperary before returning to Cork.

Finally, in week three, John will head to Dublin before the announcement of the Budget on October 9.

Naturally therefore the theme of the tour is the punitive taxation of tobacco that hits low earners hardest and pushes some smokers further into poverty.

If that sounds familiar it's because the UK and Ireland are in a continual race to have the highest rates of duty on tobacco products in the EU.

Both countries wear it like a badge of pride, leap-frogging over one another with every budget announcement.

Referring to his own country, John says:

"Smokers have been the whipping boys in successive Budgets for far too long. The current levels of tax on tobacco are immoral because they target low earners and others who can least afford the annual tax increases on tobacco.

"Increasing the tax on RYO tobacco to bring it in line with cigarettes (FMC) is especially unfair because it’s a deliberate attempt to force people to give up one of the very few pleasures they may have."

Calling on the Finance Minister to freeze excise duty on tobacco in next month’s Budget, he adds:

"Enough is enough. It’s time for Paschal Donohoe to strike a blow for common sense and decency. Tobacco is a legal product. Smokers expect to pay a premium for what is a potentially unhealthy habit, but there is no logic in pursuing an unfair policy that discriminates against the poor, hurts legitimate retailers and costs the nation revenue that goes to criminal gangs or governments abroad."

Btw, it was reported this week that:

Twenty two per cent of the Irish population are current smokers, with 18 per cent smoking daily and four per cent smoking occasionally, Minister of State at the Department of Health Catherine Byrne said at the publication of the 2017 Annual Report on the Tobacco Free Ireland Action Plan.

That is not an insignificant minority and John does a fantastic job representing the interests of the many smokers in Ireland who don't want to quit.

See 'Over one fifth of Irish people still smoking' (Health Manager).

John meanwhile has been off combustibles for a year now and has switched permanently to vaping. Perhaps we should launch a new organisation to represent vapers in Ireland.

After all, no-one else seems interested and we're effectively doing the job already.


A touch of class

I posted this photo on Facebook last week and now I’m posting it here.

It’s the covered smoking area cum cafe at the Rosewood Hotel, home of last week’s Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum (GTNF) in London.

Nice, isn’t it?

Before GTNF I’d never heard of the Rosewood, even though I must have walked past it many times over the years.

In my defence the entrance is set back from the road, through an arch, so easy to miss unless you’re looking for it.

Inside it was pretty sumptuous - book an executive king room tonight and it will cost you £630 - so you might expect the smoking area, if one exists, to be tucked out of sight.

But no. It was in a corner of the main courtyard, close to reception. Discreet but easy to locate.

Nor were smokers restricted to the area above. I saw several people light up in other parts of the courtyard and no-one seemed in the least bit bothered.

My point is that smoking may be considered by some to be a dirty working class habit that needs to be eradicated, but even at the top end the market knows better.

Smokers are a minority but they’re still an important economic driver. Why else would one of the poshest hotels in London provide a warm, comfortable smoking area for their well-heeled guests?

Ultimately though this is about simple, basic hospitality which still includes the need to accommodate guests and visitors who wish to smoke.

So hats off to the Rosewood and thanks to GTNF for allowing Forest to ‘own’ the smoking area for the duration of the conference!


Fringe benefits

Pleased to announce that Forest will be hosting two fringe events at the Conservative conference in Birmingham.

The first, ‘Should smoking be consigned to history?’, is the first time Forest has shared a platform with Philip Morris since the tobacco company announced that it wanted to stop selling cigarettes in the UK by 2030.

Chaired by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas and a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, panellists are me, Mark MacGregor (Philip Morris UK), Rae Maile (Cenkos Securities) and Chris Snowdon (Institute of Economic Affairs).

The second event is a reprise of the debate we hosted at the IEA in London last year. Subject: ’The most pleasurable nicotine delivery device in the world’.

Is it the combustible cigarette? Or the cigar? The pipe, perhaps? Or maybe it’s snus (still illegal to sell in the UK) or that new kid on the block, the e-cigarette.

Contestants on Tuesday October 2 include Claire Fox, Madeline Grant (IEA), political consultant and former MSP Brian Monteith, parliamentary researcher Mark Oates, and James Price (TaxPayers Alliance).

Austin Court, the venue for both meetings, is outside the secure zone so everyone is welcome to join us, no passes required.

Should be fun.


From Bournemouth to Blackpool, the best and worst party conference locations

The 2018 party conference season has begun.

The Lib Dems (remember them?) are kicking things off in Brighton (15-18 September), to be followed by Ukip (Birmingham, 21-22 September).

Labour then pitch up in Manchester (23-26 September) before the Conservatives meet in Birmingham (30 Sept-3 October).

The season ends with the Greens in Bristol (5-7 October) and the SNP in Glasgow (7-9 October).

I can feel you losing interest already so I won’t labour the subject other than to say that I’m sad that my favourite conference location - Bournemouth - is no longer on the rota for the larger (Labour and Conservative) conferences.

Two years ago I nominated Forest’s top ten conference events.

Last year we began to seriously review the value of hosting events at party conference - be it a drinks reception or panel discussion - and this year it was a close call whether it was worth the effort.

Ironically it’s a difficult habit to break and so, tomorrow, I’ll post details of the two meetings we’re hosting at this year’s Conservative conference in Birmingham.

Labour and the Lib Dems aren’t worth the trouble, if I’m honest, although we may reconsider organising an event at the Labour conference if Corbyn wins the next election!

But first, here are my favourite (and least favourite) conference locations:

What’s not to like? The town is fine if nothing special but the beach is as good as it gets at any UK seaside resort. Bournemouth is reasonably easy to get to by car and rail (if not exactly quick) and there’s even a small airport where I once caught a flight to Edinburgh, returning the next day to pick up my car. Conference-wise it’s very delegate friendly because there are lots of hotels and b&bs within easy walking distance of the conference centre. And at this time of year I can’t think of anything nicer than wandering down to the beach in late autumn sunshine. Or having breakfast, mid morning coffee or lunch at WestBeach seaside restaurant. Or enjoying the crispiest chilli beef at the wonderfully named Ocean Palace Restaurant.

Good: Sea views, the beach, WestBeach seaside restaurant
Bad: Too many hotels lacking modern amenities (including air-conditioning!)

There’s much to admire about Brighton. The Royal Pavilion may attract the tourists but there’s far more to the city than the former royal residence. Arriving in Brighton in 2005 for a Forest event, David Hockney praised the light that reflects off the sea and the famous white buildings. As a conference venue however Brighton doesn’t work for me. The conference centre is ugly as hell and the famous Grand Hotel (where I was drinking hours before the IRA bomb exploded in 1983) is an unhappy reminder of a shocking event. On the other hand I have very happy memories of more recent conferences that will live with me forever.

Good: The light!
Bad: The beach - a good beach needs sand not pebbles!

Friends insist it’s great place to live and work but I’m not entirely sold on Manchester. It has some impressive Victorian architecture but there’s something rather austere about the place. The monstrously gothic town hall is a case in point. I’m biased because Forest is banned from hosting events in the town hall due to our tobacco industry connections, but I’m not sure I would want to organise an event there anyway. It’s the sort of place where only the Addams Family could feel at home. Conference-wise however Manchester is a significant improvement on Blackpool, which it replaced, because the hotels are, in general, significantly better. And while the weather may be very similar, at least there’s more protection from the wind and the rain!

Good: Some good hotels and restaurants
Bad: Above average rainfall, Andy Burnham

Birmingham is an easy drive from my home in Cambridgeshire and my daughter is at university there so I’ve become a fairly regular visitor. She loves it but the city’s charms have largely eluded me so far. Like Manchester there is a reasonable choice of hotels and some fine restaurants but the much-touted canals have limited appeal. It’s certainly not Venice although, given what we hear about Venice being overwhelmed by tourists, that may be a good thing. The ICC however is a fine conference centre with excellent facilities and plenty of bars and restaurants within easy walking distance.

Good: Easy access by train or car, some good restaurants
Bad: Aesthetically challenging city centre if not downright ugly in parts

Apart from a couple of visits in the Eighties (one to Anfield), I came to Liverpool quite late, but I like it. In my experience the people are extremely friendly and the location of the conference centre in the rejuvenated Albert Dock area works pretty well. True, it isolates delegates a bit from the city centre, especially if you stay in one of the new hotels close to the conference centre and overlooking the old docks, but I like the feeling of space and the fact that it overlooks the Mersey. When I’ve been there I’ve often considered going back for a weekend break. The fact that I haven’t probably says something but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Good: Friendly locals
Bad: I genuinely can’t think of anything, and not for want of trying!

I had never been to Doncaster until Ukip (and Nigel Farage) rolled into town a few years ago. The conference was at the racecourse on the edge of town. It was all a bit surreal. On the first night we had dinner in town and walked out of the restaurant to find police cars zipping around, blue lights flashing. I haven’t been back.

Good: The racecourse was quite nice
Bad: Friday nights

My first visit, as a teenager, was to see the Illuminations. I was so impressed I returned a year later with a friend and a tent. That was when my brief love affair with Blackpool ended. Today I can’t find a single good word to say about the town apart from the house prices which seem incredibly cheap (according to the episode of Location, Location, Location I watched last week). There must be a reason for that and my advice is to avoid the centre at all costs and stay a short drive down the coast in Lytham St Annes because everything in Blackpool is mostly dreadful. Thankfully it’s no longer on the conference rota and for most of us that’s a blessing. Sorry.

Good: Nothing that comes to mind
Bad: Everything.


Was that it? Smoke-Free Index fails to ignite media interest

On Sunday I had a convivial chat with a woman from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.

Talking over dinner I was led to understand there would be a ‘MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT’ at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum that took place in London this week.

I was also told that her boss, Derek Yach, who was addressing the conference, was going to be featured in the Guardian on Thursday.

I was intrigued. What could this ‘major announcement’ be? After all, what could possibly top last year’s coup when, on the eve of GTNF 2017 in New York, Yach announced he was launching the Foundation for a Smoke Free World with Philip Morris International committing $1 billion to the project over twelve years?

I racked my brain and eagerly anticipated what the great man might say to capture the media’s attention.

Sad to report, Derek Yach’s ‘major announcement’ was a complete damp squib. All it amounted to was a proposal for a ‘Smoke-Free Index’ that will monitor the industry’s progress towards a ‘smoke-free’ world.

Big deal.

You can read the press release here but check out the vainglorious headline (and copyright symbol):

Foundation for a Smoke-Free World to Impact Tobacco Industry and Nicotine Ecosystem and Drive Change Through the Smoke-Free Index©

In the event not even the Guardian could be persuaded that the Smoke-Free Index© initiative was newsworthy.

The fact that the Foundation considered it a ‘major announcement’ suggests an almost delusional degree of self-importance.

Who does Yach think he is - Michael Bloomberg?

I do wonder what PMI’s competitors think of the company funding a body that intends to hold their feet to the fire, forever monitoring their activities in the name of some ‘smoke-free’ utopia.

I wonder too if by committing a billion dollars to the Foundation, PMI has created an albatross that could seriously embarrass both the company and its investors in the years ahead.

For example, if their public statements are anything to go by, senior PMI executives clearly think their company is leading the race towards a ‘better’, smoke-free future.

They boast that they are disrupting not just the industry but their own company.

But what happens if and when PMI lags behind some of its rivals? (Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.) Will the Foundation’s Smoke-Free Index point the finger at the company that is bankrolling it?

If it is to maintain any credibility it will have to and PMI will have to suck it up because the company has committed to giving the Foundation $80 million a year until 2029. (Imagine the outcry if they abandoned the project before that date.)

Meanwhile other leading tobacco companies - all of whom are engaged in selling and developing risk reduction products and have no reason to bow to PMI - face having their activities publicly analysed by a body funded exclusively by one of their major global rivals.

Anyway, in a perfect piece of scheduling, Derek Yach was followed on to the GTNF stage by Peter Nixon, MD of Philip Morris UK.

A self-confessed ‘salesman’, Nixon gave an assured, polished performance. If nothing else, he and his media team are masters of the art of the soundbite, as these subsequent tweets illustrate:

Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, there was no opportunity to ask questions of either Nixon or Yach which would have been nice.

The good news is that while Philip Morris may have abandoned consumers who want to smoke, other tobacco companies haven’t.

Another keynote speaker at GTNF was Suzanne Wise, senior vice president of corporate development of JTI.

On Thursday, following an interview on Sky News, JTI tweeted:

Well said.

Update: The Guardian did run a story from GTNF but it was inspired not by Derek Yach but by another New York based speaker:

Addressing a 300-strong audience of tobacco and vaping industry representatives, Helen Redmond, an expert in substance use at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, said people in poor countries should not be priced out of nicotine-based products that could potentially help them to quit smoking.

Redmond compared the medicinal qualities of nicotine with cannabis and stressed “the need to get vaping to the poorest, who need it most”.

“It’s a human rights issue – as a harm reduction device, prices need to come down,” she said. “Nicotine is not a dirty drug, it helps with depression and anxiety.”

See: Affordable vaping for smokers in poor countries branded 'a human rights issue' (Guardian)

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