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Monday
May212007

Joe Jackson's tour diary

JoeJackson_200.jpg Joe Jackson, a good friend of Forest, is currently touring the UK as part of his 2007 European tour. Over the next ten days you can catch him in Nottingham, Sheffield, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Belfast.

Two years ago, when Joe toured the US and Europe with Todd Rundgren and a New York string quartet called Ethel, I asked him to write a tour diary - from a smoker's perspective. Some entries have clearly been overtaken by events. Nevertheless, it's still an interesting read - see HERE.

Monday
May212007

Music to my ears

ianhunter_451x131.jpg I took the family to Cardiff on Saturday to see Ray Davies on the latest leg of his UK tour. En route, between bursts of Five Live, we listened to his 2006 album Other People's Lives. On the way home we listened to the new album by Ian Hunter. Davies is 62 and Hunter is now, remarkably, 67. Although the hits dried up long ago - and both men have endured long periods of creative inertia - recent albums have been well-received.

In Hunter's case this has been achieved by the adoption, late in life, of a more political approach to songwriting. (See also Rant, 2001.) Davies' lyrics are, perhaps, more observational, though a track from his new album (to be released later this year) is a typically humorous yet trenchant commentary on dehumanising bureaucracy.

Music, like politics, is personal so I wouldn't dream of recommending a particular album or artist but if anyone wants to suggest a song that could be included on a fantasy Free Society compilation CD, feel free (no pun intended). The more obscure the better!

Sunday
May202007

Wembley's banned wagon

Wembley_100.jpg A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had been to Wembley for one of the new stadium's warm up matches. Thanks to a bizarre ban on cameras I had to smuggle mine in under my jumper. Writing in today's Sunday Times, following yesterday's Cup Final, reporter John Aizlewood comments on the seemingly endless list of prohibited items:

"Only terrorists and pyromaniacs could argue with explosives and fireworks, but those Trading Standards Swat teams might wonder why flags and air horns were on sale outside, but banned inside. And outlawing fans' cameras is a childish and venal step too far."

Footballs, too, are banned. At this rate it will be easier, and quicker, to list the things we ARE allowed to take in.

Friday
May182007

Assessing Conservative values

conservativeparty_100.jpg On Wednesday I attended a rather swish reception hosted by Fleishman Hillard, a leading public affairs and PR consultancy. Other guests included MPs, lobbyists, political chiefs of staff and researchers. This week the company published a document called The Cameron Environment: Assessing Conservative Values. The report is predictably vague in many areas, but here are some of the policies they think a Tory government might adopt:

    • Adjust balance between the state and the public
    • More aggressive green agenda
    • Lighter touch taxation
    • Abolish ID card project
    • Introduction of a Bill of Rights

If you're hoping that Cameron might, just might, relax the smoking ban - don't hold your breath. Fleishman Hillard report that new policies will focus on "trusting the professionals". (The British Medical Association will be pleased!) Specifically, under health, they suggest that the Tories are "likely" to establish a Chief Medical Officer's Department within the Department of Health. (The CMO was a leading figure behind the smoking ban.) There may also be a "stronger role" for the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. (Remember them? They recently called for smokers to be given time off work to attend smoking cessation courses.)

Then again, on fox-hunting, Fleishman Hillard believe the Tories "will call for another free vote on a revised version of the Act, which we would expect to be far more palatable for rural communities". If they can do that for hunting with hounds, why not smoking in (some) enclosed public places? You can download the entire document HERE.

Thursday
May172007

Pictures for an exhibition

Dan_451.jpg Designer, musician and photographer Dan Donovan (above) - currently working on several Forest projects - writes:

"We live in a culture driven by fear and draconian legislation. After years of anti-smoking propaganda people seem to accept the ban without too much thought. A total blanket ban is shortsighted and unfair on those who enjoy the smoking culture. July 1st will be a sad day and an insult to the smoking community.

"To counteract the demonisation of smokers I want to put together a photographic piece of work featuring smokers in indoor public spaces. If you are a smoker and would like to be part of this exhibition please get in touch so we can arrange to take your picture."

Email dan@design-dell.com.

Wednesday
May162007

The uglification of England

Graphic_warning100.jpg The "uglification of England" that David Hockney refers to and Barry Goodman describes in practise (below) is reflected by some of the emails that are flying into our inbox. Today, we received the following (this is the edited version!):

"Hello Mr Simon Clark of FOREST, I am 'THE ANTI SMOKER'. On 1st July 2007 Smoking WILL be totally banned in ALL PUBLIC PLACES.  This will be permanent and there is NOTHING you will be able to do about it!  Then your Pro-Smoking Club will be declared illegal and people will give up smoking  in their droves like in Southern Ireland which is now a 'Non-Smokers Paradise'. Yes, Mr Clark, come and have a nice chat with me. I'd eat you alive (verbally I mean). You don't want me inside your head, you'd have a nervous breakdown. Goodbye Mr Clark."

OK, he's barking mad. But there's plenty more where that came from. Other emails include:

"Smoking in public is obnoxious and always has been. Next you will be suggesting that the slave trade was perfectly acceptable, or maybe that paedophile's [sic] are robbed of their human rights."

"No more medical treatment for smokers. Let them die slowly and in agony. They all scum [sic] especially FOREST members."

"Smokers are ignorant, abhorrant and arrogant little twats who couldn't give a shit about anyone but
themselves. They are fucking idiots and I hate them."

"You people are SCUM. Hope you all get cancer and die a slow death you evil bastards."

"Smokers are a dying breed of smelly individuals with little willpower, even less self esteem and probably no common sense. Have fun and die happy in an oxygen tent :-)"

You might think these people are all nutters (or, as we now say, not fit for purpose) but you'd be wrong. Two years ago a local councillor returned a letter Forest had sent to thousands of councillors throughout Britain. Across the top he had scrawled, "I hope you get cancer and die." When we mentioned this to the local paper, the news editor laughed and said, "Oh, he's quite a character!", and ignored it.

The smoking debate has long been characterised by extremism on both sides. But the level of abuse from anti-smokers is definitely getting worse and, interestingly, it has got worse since MPs voted to ban smoking in enclosed public places. Encouraged by our elected representatives, and the government's increasingly radical anti-smoking campaigns, some people clearly feel they have been given the green light to say (and do) whatever they like if it involves smokers. How far this will go remains to be seen. I'll keep you posted - if I haven't been eaten alive.

Wednesday
May162007

Mourinho and the state of the nation

Yorkshire_Terrier100.jpg I have no idea what went on at Jose Mourinho's house last night, or whether his dog has had the necessary innoculations (full story HERE). But what does it say about our society that Mourinho was (allegedly) forced to rush home to stop the police forcibly removing the family pet from his home? Clearly, someone has tipped off the police, and someone (possibly a police officer) has tipped off the press. Is this the sign of a vibrant, free society where everyone is treated equally, regardless of their wealth, talent or celebrity status? Or is Britain is slowly losing the plot?

Tuesday
May152007

ASA to uphold complaint against DoH

FishHook250.jpg The Advertising Standards Authority will tomorrow announce that it is to uphold complaints against the Department of Health for its anti-smoking advertising campaign. Advertisements showed smokers with giant fishhooks piercing their cheeks. Another showed a hook pulling a mother away from her small daughter. A third depicted a man being pulled through traffic and into a newsagent’s shop to buy cigarettes. Full details will be published on the ASA website tomorrow. Health minister Caroline Flint will no doubt try to wriggle off the hook (no pun intended) but this is still an embarrassment for her, health secretary Patricia Hewitt and the DoH.

Tuesday
May152007

Assault on decency

cigarette.jpg On the Forest website we have a section called 'Writing Worth Reading' with links to what we think is useful reading if you're interested in the smoking debate. Today we have added three articles. In the first, the Independent's Philip Hensher speaks for many of us when he writes:

"There must be some limit to the expansionist ambitions of the [anti-smoking] campaign - I would think that they must concede that it isn't actually reasonable to demand that people be prevented from smoking in the open air, or when they are alone at home. But who knows?"

 In the Guardian, David Hockney (a member of Forest's Supporters' Council) derides the smoking ban and concludes:

"In England people should speak up more, defend themselves, but it's hard against all the forces at work. Two million anti-smoking signs are going up on July 1, including inside Westminster Abbey. The uglification of England is under way by people with no vision. I detest it."

The third article was published yesterday on the online daily magazine First Post. What Hockney calls the "uglification of England" is far more serious than unappealing no-smoking sign. Barry Goodman reports that he has been physically assaulted three times while smoking in perfectly legitimate places - twice at street tables outside cafes, and most recently in a restaurant when there was only one other table occupied.

"I've never in my life experienced such hatred among strangers and I shudder at what it bodes for the future, and not just for smokers."

Remember those words, the next time you hear the anti-smoking lobby whine, "We're not against smokers, just smoking."

Monday
May142007

Driven to distraction

BBC_Breakfast.jpg I spent the early part of this morning at BBC Television Centre in London. And I mean early. I had to get up at four o'clock in order to drive to London from my home in Cambridgeshire to be on the Breakfast programme at 6.20.

My fellow guest was Simon Ettinghausen of the Local Authority Road Safety Officers' Association (Larsoa). Simon insisted that smoking while driving is a major distraction, although the studies I have seen suggest otherwise, but we agreed that proper research needs to be done.

The programme received so many texts and emails on the subject that I was interviewed again at 8.10. While I was waiting I did a quick interview with BBC Radio Wales. This time my opponent was Simon's colleague David Frost. Like Simon, he couldn't give any figures for the number of accidents caused by smoking while driving in the UK - because, to the best of my knowledge, there aren't any. The whole thing is an absolute farce.

Meanwhile the Government says it has no plans to ban smoking in cars. (See HERE.) If you believe that, you'll believe anything.

Sunday
May132007

Driving and smoking: a criminal offence?

SmokeDrive100.jpg The Observer reports that the Local Authority Road Safety Officers' Association, which represents local councils, is calling for a ban on smoking while driving "in an attempt to cut the number of crashes". According to the paper, the Department of Health said it would "seriously consider" a ban. (Full story HERE.)

I'm not sure what this has to do with the DoH. Surely smoking and driving is a matter for the Department of Transport? Last year the Driving Standards Agency, part of the DoT, invited a list of 'stakeholders' to contribute towards a review of the The Highway Code. "We wish to take account of the views of a wide range of stakeholders and others with an interest in road safety."

Needless to say representatives of smokers were excluded from the list, despite the fact that it was being suggested that smoking might be added to a list of distractions that should be avoided when driving. (Other activities, already on the list, include loud music, eating and drinking, reading maps, and arguing with passengers.)

Undeterred, Forest submitted a document to the DSA pointing out that "International studies show that smoking is one of the least distracting things a driver can do. Worse distractions include tuning the radio, changing a CD, or adjusting the climate controls. Talking to other passengers, even singing to oneself, is far more distracting than smoking. Accidents caused by smoking are negligible by comparison." (See HERE.)

The point is, while there are other distractions that are far more likely to lead to accidents, no-one has suggested that tuning the radio, adjusting climate controls or chatting to passengers should be made illegal while driving. In any case, we already have laws to combat reckless driving or driving without due care and attention. If it can be proved that smoking while driving is the direct cause of an accident, by all means prosecute the driver under existing laws. What we don't need is yet another law that is designed not to reduce the number of accidents but to stigmatise smokers and limit what adults can do in their own private space.

Sunday
May132007

The Routemaster: London's symbol of liberty

BusWeLoved100.jpgI was asked last week why a Routemaster bus is included in the Taking Liberties masthead. My family moved to Scotland when I was ten but before that I grew up in Maidenhead, Berkshire, and from time to time I would spend weekends and holidays in London with my aunt. I must have been five or six when these visits began and everywhere we went we travelled by bus. (I don't recall ever going on the Tube at that time.) My love of London - and the Routemaster - dates back to those exciting, liberating days.

Years later, when I moved to London, I travelled to work on the No 6, never tiring of the freedom to jump on and off that unique open platform without waiting for permission from driver or conductor. Like millions of people, I cannot begin to count the number of times I ran to catch the bus as it pulled away, leaping on to the platform and grabbing the pole to stop myself falling off. Elation tinged with relief!

A favourite memory is hanging off the platform one day as the bus sped off down Whitehall while a friend on a bike pedalled furiously, inches from the tailgate. Today, health & safety would frown on such behaviour - but in 50 years how many people were killed or seriously hurt jumping on or off a Routemaster bus?

travis_100.jpg By coincidence, another guest at the ICA on Friday night was Travis Elborough (left), author of The Bus We Loved: London's affair with the Routemaster (Granta, 2005). If anyone doubts the liberating qualities of this special vehicle I urge you to read the book. Or read THIS interview in which he says: "That bell, with its school orchestra triangle 'ding-ding', such a comic, comforting sound, will be hard to forget ... And lastly, of course, the open platform at the rear for that liberty to hop on and off, in a way that seemed somehow to acknowledge all the spontaneity of life in the capital."

Needless to say it was an interfering politician, Ken Livingstone, who abolished the Routemaster and replaced it with the notorious 'bendy bus' that Travis correctly describes as having "all the aesthetics of a Hoover attachment". Thanks to Ken we have lost a little bit of freedom. It's not much but all these things add up. Without the Routemaster our lives are a little less spontaneous and a little less fun.

Saturday
May122007

A little taste of hedonism

AFH-cov100.jpg I met some interesting people at last night's ICA event. Tamara Tyrer is co-founder of The Whoopee Club. She looks 18 but assured me that she celebrated her 30th birthday only last week. She brought with her four dancers who entertained us with their burlesque routines. There is a fine line between 'art' and, er, stripping but Tamara insisted that this was 'art'. Actually it was quite tame - these girls would have been equally at home at a vicar's tea party.

Another guest was musician Alexander M. who also looked absurdly young. By coincidence, Alex is the brother of Will Mayor whose company Livewire Design is developing the new Free Society website. Alex's band is the grandly named Alexanders Festival Hall. As I was leaving he gave me a CD with some of their songs. I'm listening to it now. He's also part of Baxendale - spot the Pet Shop Boys' influence!

Less engaging was 'Soho artist' Sebastian Horsley. Wearing a shocking pink suit he certainly stood out from the crowd, but saying "FUCK" loudly, aggressively and often isn't hedonistic, it's just boring. This self-styled dandy claims to have  slept with over 1,000 prostitutes at a cost of £100,000. I don't have a problem with that. I do have a problem with someone who, when he was no longer centre stage, declared, very loudly, that he was "bored" and wanted to go home. No-one was stopping him.

PS. Entering into the spirit of the occasion, I had my first taste of what I was told was laudanum. It tasted rather like port. Perhaps it was port. I'll never know. But I'd like to think that it wasn't.

Friday
May112007

The pleasure principle

whoppee-club200.jpg If I don't post again today it's because I am frantically doing some research for my appearance tonight at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Subject: hedonism.

The ICA website (see HERE) only tells the half of it. A fellow guest is Tamara Tyler, co-founder of The Whoopee Club, and the event begins with a "Whoopee maids routine in which five performers mingle with the audience, then strip from being maids into chorus girls". It ends with a "Whoopee kitsch hearts routine, with giant hearts as props" and during the interval the audience will be entertained by "the Whoopee Beaux Belles' routine to Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love with bows and arrows as props".

Meanwhile I have been sent the following email by my contact at the ICA: "By the way, I've got permission to allow smoking during the event (the ICA has been no-smoking since September). A small but very satisfying little victory!"

Thursday
May102007

Tony Blair: taking liberties?


I was invited to attend an advance screening of Taking Liberties (the movie) in London tonight. Sadly I can't go but in view of Tony Blair's announcement today I thought you'd like to see the trailer. The film goes on national release on June 8th.