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« A Labour MP writes | Main | Tea for twelve? »

Smoking, food and sex

BigBen-451.jpgSo, on the hottest day of the year so far, we found ourselves in a small wood-panelled dining room on the lower ground floor of the House of Commons. Dining Room B can hold 45 people (at a squeeze) and having invited 40 guests (plus MPs) I was concerned that everyone might get a little hot (and bothered).

I needn't have worried - it was fine. Our guests (a representative group of smokers, non-smokers, pub and bar owners) included Trevor Baylis (inventor of the clockwork radio and a former Pipesmoker of the Year), journalist (and smoker) Pat Nurse (who wrote THIS marvellous article on The Free Society blog), Ranald Macdonald (MD of Boisdale) Sean Spillane (who runs a working men' club in Luton), Paul Keenan (fined only this week for allowing people to smoke in his live music venue in Braintree, Essex), Nick Hogan (ditto, in his former pub in Bolton), and Ana Knight, whose small London bar was forced to close as a direct result of the smoking ban.

Exceeding our expectations, 17 MPs and five peers turned up. Of the MPs, there were eleven Conservatives, five Labour, and one LibDem. Views ranged from those strongly opposed to the smoking ban to those broadly in favour. (Greg Clark, Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, told me that constituents often come up and congratulate him for voting for the ban. Hmmm.)

Our host, Philip Davies, gave a short, well-received speech. I announced the launch of our new Amend The Smoking Ban campaign. And Trevor Baylis told a joke involving smoking and sex. A short video of the event will appear on Friction TV in the next few days.

PS. The food - sandwiches, iced cakes, pastries, scones and strawberries - looked delicious. Unfortunately, apart from a few strawberries, I was too busy to even think of food, let alone eat it. Next time, perhaps.

Reader Comments (10)

I must say Forest's events are extremely good. I was at the House Of Commons and it was a really good turnout and my MP gave me 40 minutes and I thought listened. Not that I expect the world to change overnight. Great meeting so many people and Paul the publican from Braintree really gave an appalling story of his dealings with the local council. They should hang their heads in shame. Afterwards I went with Anita, Anne and Bob Loveday for a small libation at Boisdale to end a productive day and very enjoyable too. Thanks Simon I hope I did my bit.

July 2, 2008 at 13:17 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Congratulations, Simon, and all who managed to get there. Absolutely top notch and achieved with your usual impeccable style. Thanks for giving us such worthy representation and all strength to you in the forthcoming campaign.

Pity you had to sacrifice the scrumptious parliamentary delicacies - not surprising, though.

July 2, 2008 at 13:35 | Unregistered CommenterMargot Johnson

Paul the publican from Braintree really gave an appalling story of his dealings with the local council. They should hang their heads in shame.

No need to be so elaborate about it. They should hang.

July 2, 2008 at 13:50 | Unregistered Commenteridlex

An excellent occasion and fine words from all.

Sitting down by the pocket ashtray display we did a fine job of explaining what they were for and could have sold them many times over :)

Seriously, a good chance to explain to our representatatives, who did genuinely seem interested, that the succesful ban is by no means succesful and was adversely affecting people in many ways.

Some seemed suprised that the social impact was far more wide ranging than they had been lead to believe.

The newsnight piece was far milder than my expection of an anti rant. Perhaps things are changing.


July 2, 2008 at 19:02 | Unregistered Commenterwest2

I sent a message to Greg Clark. Don't suppose I'll get a reply but since the ban I've been sensitive about those that have anti views but turn up at pro-smoker discussions purely to have a suprior attitude, so why not?

Dear Greg Clark,

I must first apologise for sending you this message via as I am not a constituent of yours but I'm afraid I couldn't find a valid address to e-mail you from your Conservative party web-page.

I suppose as a result I shall expect to receive no reply whatsoever but I hope that, seeing as you attended the Forest presentation about the anniversary of the smoking ban, you may be open-minded enough to listen to opinions that differ from the constant stream of dehumanising propaganda issued by organisations that have huge funding, and single-minded aims, and that are targeted directly at people like me who favour some semblance of self-determination in my choices in life.

My message is prompted by your comment to Forest that your constituents often congratulate you for your voting for a blanket ban on smoking in pubs & clubs. I'm sorry, but I don't wish to smudge the issue by calling it a ban on smoking in public places as I would be quite happy with that. The issue that is contentious and is totally unnecessary is the ban on ALL pubs & clubs, so I hope that clarifies my position. Offices, yes fine, buses & trains, no problem, planes, sure, cinemas, who cares ... ban smoking entirely from all of them and I can't see any smoker or tolerant non-smoker raising any valid objection.

BUT ... when Government starts to pass laws against people quietly enjoying their social lives, they have to be very careful as the line between being a responsible Government and interfering in personal freedoms becomes blurred.

You mention your constituents congratulating you for voting for a blanket ban, but did you canvass opinion, prior to the ban, by venturing into a few community pubs & members only clubs to seek their customers' thoughts about it? I seriously doubt it as otherwise I'm pretty sure your vote would have been cast for a partial ban to afford exemptions which was one of the choices afforded to you, and a vote that would have led to a choice for everyone in the country as to how they choose to spend their time away from the pressures of work instead of a massive club to beat all smokers in preparation for more to come.

The result of your being one of the MPs that refused to countenance any exemptions to the ban is that a law has now been passed that completely ignores 20% of the adult population of the country. No choice, no say, no chance of being listened to. I'm sure you read that last sentence and imagined writing back about how smokers all love the ban (you read it from the ASH twisted surveys) but that is not only false but it is also not the point. Prior to the ban, there were 60,000 pubs (less now) and not ONE is allowed to allow smokers, tolerant non-smokers, and staff that really don't care about the tiny perceived danger of passive smoke. Cases in point are the many around the country that resist the law even this long after it was drafted and yet are still being brow-beaten and judicially punished by those 'that know better'. How, as a Conservative, can you be happy that these business owners are being hounded and fined out of business by draconian laws when it is quite clear that their owners, staff & customers are completely happy with the way the business is being run?

As a Conservative, why are you so very much against personal responsibility and the freedom of businesses to set their stall out how they see fit? As someone who grew up in pubs run by my parents, I am acutely aware that pubs are NOT public places, the history of such establishments are that the customers are allowed in at the discretion of the owner and can be excluded for any reason, this is a Conservative ideal, yet you voted against it. Members only clubs are even more under the auspices of the clientele, the rules of said clubs are dictated by the members - if the members wanted the club to be smoke free they would have asked for it. What right has the Government to dictate to such members what they should be doing in the club that they collectively own? Isn't the right to determine what one does with what one owns also a Conservative ideal?

I am a Conservative dream. I own my property, I have a family, I own a successful and lucrative business that employs 60+ staff, I am privately educated and until this ban came in, I had a social life. Yet my nights 'out' with friends are now nights 'in' with friends, and whereas I used to book a babysitter to look after the kids and put them in their own bed, I now have to farm them out to elsewhere just to be able to relax with a 'Pint and Castella' (look it up) after a working week. I thought the Conservative party was all FOR the family.

There is no reason why there could not be a system of smoking and non-smoking pubs that would be agreeable to everyone in this country and which would offer choice to all sections of society in their free time. For a Conservative to advocate prohibition goes against everything I have ever learnt about Conservative ideals and I am very surprised that you should take such a stance that reinforces the 'broken society' that David Cameron regularly rails against.

The vote that you seem to be so proud of has now opened up a whole can of worms which was not intended by the original legislation. Smokers are now vilified at every opportunity, so much so that my first thought as to your being at the Forest presentation was to gloat at the 'filthy smokers'. I hope that wasn't your intention but the reason it has to be considered is that smokers have, since July 1st 2007, been subjected to appalling abuses on every level and are now treated as somehow less than human. The vindictiveness of the anti-smoking lobby is staggering as they now propose further denormalisation of smokers with no thought of the personal choices that valid members of society like myself think that we have earned.

In short, we are now the only section of society for which discrimination is not only allowed, but is actually actively encouraged!

If you have got this far, I congratulate you, you have probably read more about objections to this ban than any Labour MP that voted as you did. They like to believe that objectors don't exist and that the 10m+ voters in this country that smoke haven't had anything to do with their disastrous election results in the past year. Brown had an 11% opinion poll majority this time last year and was thinking of holding a snap General Election ... that lead disappeared within a week or two of the ban and he bottled it. There was no Northern Rock then, no Credit Crunch kicking in, no high fuel prices, no abolition of the 10% tax rate, no punitive retrospective car tax. It has just got worse for Labour since. Smokers don't shout much, but we do vote quite a bit.

I look forward to your sending me a few smokefree site links by return if you even bother to send anything at all.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Cullip

July 2, 2008 at 23:23 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Cullip

Very good letter by Martin Cullip above, brimming with eminent common sense.

Will Greg Clark read it? Probably not. He clearly occupies that strange separate reality into which the entire political class has blindly stumbled. The Westminster village is now quite clearly an echo chamber within which MPs can only hear the sounds of their own voices, a hall of mirrors in which they can only see their own reflections. It's an asylum from which all common sense has gone missing. And all the parties are afflicted by the same madness to a greater or lesser degree, just as surely as if Westminster tap water had been spiked with LSD or something.

There's only one sure prescription. And it will soon be administered. This insane majority Labour party will be voted out of office. It will be an awful bloodletting, and Labour will probably become unelectable for the next generation. With luck, the Lib Dems, who are equally if not more crazy, won't make any gains - the electorate seems wisely disinclined to grant them any. The only half-sane party is the Conservative party, although its current leader has clearly been drinking the Westminster kool-aid.

The result will be a large influx of new MPs, mostly Conservative, who will be bringing with them that sort of robust common sense set out by Martin Cullip. They will tasked with educating its current occupants about the true facts of life. That the smoking ban is a catastrophe, That global warming isn't happening. And so on. If David Cameron can't stomach this news, he'll simply have to go.

The really important thing will be that the new MPs, of whatever party, will be people who have been experiencing real life outside Westminster, and not the artificial, hallucinatory, separate reality within it. They will, unlike their predecessors (e.g. Greg Clark), be very concerned to know what voters actually feel, rather than what opinion polls conducted by pressure groups and lobbyists tell them they feel. They'll probably set out to reform a mass news media which was complicit in sustaining the delusions of their predecessors. And they'll act to rein in the mad doctors in the medical establishment, and get them back to the business of curing disease rather than writing legislation.

There will be lots of academic dissertations written over subsequent years, along the lines of "When Parliament Went Mad". How did it ever happen? people will ask. How can we stop it happening again?

And the smoking ban will be revoked. Of course.

July 3, 2008 at 3:29 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Davis

Martin Cullip:

A superb letter. May I suggest that you print out this entire thread and send it by post, with a short covering letter, to Greg Clark at the HOC?

Equally important is that he should read the excellent comment by Frank Davis.

July 3, 2008 at 7:54 | Unregistered CommenterMargot Johnson

Excellent post from Martin Cullip, as well and an equally good follow up from Frank Davis.

But, and there always is a "but" isn't there? Will Greg Clark, or indeed anyone, act upon your findings and suggestions? At this moment in time I would say the chances of that are almost nil.

For any MP from one of the three main parties to admit that this law is a shambolic mess, based on false information, that is ruining not just people's social lives, but businesses and communities as well, is akin to stating there is no thing as global warming.

A few years ago, we were all being told that millions, if not billions, around the world, were all going to die of AIDS. Then it was Asian Bird Flu, followed by Mad Cow's Disease. And I am sure no one will forget our honourable government, led by the even more honourable Tony Blair, telling us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction aimed at the western world, and were ready to use them at a moment's notice. We had only one alternative and that was to bomb the hell out of Iraq before they did it to us.

All of the above "facts" are now of course history, and we are still all here, alive and kicking, and bemoaning the fact that we were lied to, time after time, after time.

But, and there goes that word again, what MP who wants to stay in his or her's well paid job, is going to admit that they were wrong, or indeed, that they had been found out to be nothing more than blatant, and incompetent, liars?

Not all MPs are incompetent or liars, but nearly all are scared stiff of loosing their fat cat salaries, and they are also scared of being seen as out of touch with the general consensus at any given time. Can you imagine any modern politician today, having the guts to stand up and say what Enoch Powell said in the "Rivers of Blood" speech in 1968? He made that speech because that is what he believed in, not what he thought it was politically correct to say at the time.

Today, the propagandists have taken over, the public as a whole have been dumbed down, and accept and believe everything that is dished up to them, and if a politician dares to speak up against the status quo of the particular day, then he too is vilified as a non believer.

Whatever happened to the questioning mind? A very dubious "fact" is thrust upon the general public, and they accept it without question. These "facts" as they have become known, are dreamed up by people with equally dubious titles, "experts in their field" we are told. And they are indeed experts in their field, but their field, I'm afraid is propaganda, not health or any of the other subjects they assume the identify of. They are paid "experts", paid to come up with the right answer for the right price. Get it right, and there's plenty more work where that came from, is the order of the day.

So, what are we all to do, give up our struggle for freedom of expression, and freedom to live our lives the way we wish, because a handful of "experts" tell openly outright lies about us and as yet, have got away with it? Or do we fight back, and campaign for our rights, as Forest are doing, and write to our legal representatives, as Martin Cullip has done?

As the great Winston Churchil said on October 29, 1941, in a speech at Harrow School,
"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy".

Forest and the likes of Martin Cullip are doing a grand job, and one which needs to be kept up and expanded upon. We seem to be fighting this battle on a lone front, which is wrong. The tobacco control freaks have waged a worldwide war on smokers, yet all we keep hearing is how many smokers there are in the UK.

We need to mobilise all smokers, all tobacco companies, all bar owners, publicans, restaurateurs, and anyone else allied to the many different industries affected by this ban around the world. Only as a worldwide force, will we be able to turn things around again.

I have also been hearing of late, murmurings of a Resistance Movement, springing up, which of course, did help a great deal in defeating the Nazis during world war two, especially in France. I am not sure what form any sort of resistance would take, but as a concept, it might well be worth considering, if all else fails?

July 3, 2008 at 11:24 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Thurgood

Peter Thurgood wrote: Whatever happened to the questioning mind? A very dubious "fact" is thrust upon the general public, and they accept it without question. These "facts" as they have become known, are dreamed up by people with equally dubious titles, "experts in their field" we are told.

The "facts" always defy common sense. At the outset of the Iraq war we were asked to believe that the regime of Saddam Hussein, defeated in the Gulf war, and subjected to crippling sanctions thereafter, had nevertheless contrived to assemble a vast armoury of sophisticated WMDs. It defied all reason. If Iraq could be a threat to civilisation, well, so could Puerto Rico. Same also with passive smoking. People who had lived all their lives wreathed in tobacco smoke were being asked to believe that it was as toxic as any of Saddam Hussein's imaginary chemical weapons. It flew in the face of everyday experience. Or people who had lived all their lives enjoying warm summers and cold winters were asked to believe that that this benign cycle was about to spin off into uncontrollable warming. It contradicted a hundred centuries of human experience.

And these facts always come in the form of a memorable number. Like "45 minutes". Anyone remember that? And they are simultaneously and slavishly promulgated in all mass media. Anyone who exhibits the slightest scepticism is branded as a denialist tool of Saddam Hussein, or Big Tobacco, or the Oil Companies. And the "facts" always add up into some terrible threat which demands immediate and hasty and unconsidered action.

When these "facts" contradict common sense, the ordinary man in the street falls back upon baffled deference to superior authority. Who can argue with intelligence agencies, or with climate scientists, or epidemiologists?

But as Joe Public is asked to swallow more and more of these "facts", and to set aside more and more of his common sense, it becomes harder and harder for him to stomach - just as surely it would if, under 'expert' advice, he had been persuaded to adopt a 'healthy' diet of pebbles and gravel. The self-appointed experts gradually fall into disrepute. Authority is called into question.

If our intelligence agencies were now to tell us that Malta was about to invade Europe, nobody would believe them, because everybody knows about the WMD fiasco they authored. The same collapse of authority now threatens the entire medical establishment which has been trumpeting the supposed dangers of tobacco smoke while its hospitals are rife with MRSA. And it looms also for climate scientists who fiddle their global warming figures while the earth gets cooler. And it faces a mass media which has willingly peddled all this nonsense. They have all of them devalued themselves with their lies. They will keep on telling them, but nobody will believe them.

Instead, hitherto suppressed common sense, submerged beneath the weight of expert opinion, will come bobbing back up to the surface. 'Experts' and 'authorities' of every sort will be discounted, dismissed, and ultimately fired. They will all vanish, one by one. And with them will depart the serial hallucinations of our time. We will wake up, as if from some transient bad dream, to find the sun still shining on damp old England, and the pub still standing by the village green.

July 3, 2008 at 13:30 | Unregistered CommenterFrank Davis

I'm not really a wuss, Frank, but I was almost moved to tears by your post. I do hope that your opitimistic vision comes to pass.

July 3, 2008 at 21:18 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

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