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That was the year that was

I've really enjoyed this past week. Apart from a 12-day cruise to Iceland and Norway in the summer, it's the only time that I have genuinely been off work all year. Anyway, here are some of the highlights from 2010. They are followed by the top 20 most commented upon posts that appeared on this blog and, finally, the story that I most enjoyed playing a small part in.

02 ... Slow death of the British pub
02 ... Goldberg, Campbell and corpsing
09 ... More propaganda dressed up as science
10 ... If you can't tweet 'em, join 'em
14 ... Breakfast with Bannatyne
16 ... My date with Ingrid Bergman
16 ... In defence of the cigarette break
19 ... Tony Benn helps launch Big Brother Watch
24 ... Smoking and oral sex
26 ... England: minority support for comprehensive smoking ban
27 ... George Miller-Kurakin: a celebration
30 ... New tobacco control strategy to be unveiled

01 ... In the media spotlight
22 ... Does Government Internet ban include Forest?
26 ... What does public health minister Gillian Merron know about pubs?
27 ... Smoking ban costs landlord his liberty
27 ... Government consultations: why bother?

01 ... Free Nick Hogan: how you can help
04 ... Government unblocks Forest website
05 ... Nick Hogan: target reached!!!
06 ... This media bias really hacks me off
07 ... Still smoking and drinking at 100
10 ... Nick Hogan: free at last!
11 ... Nick Hogan: behind the scenes
13 ... Forest versus SmokeFree North West
20 ... Damning indictment of that Policy Exchange report
22 ... Caught on camera for The One Show
24 ... Forest responds to RCP report
25 ... That RCP report (and me, me, me)
26 ... Forest versus Prof John Britton
30 ... Minister refuses to meet the man from Forest

03 ... Duncan Bannatyne: I've received death threats on Forest website
06 ... Memories of Palace Street
08 ... The truth about smoking and health
09 ... Dr Phil Button: the 'lost' interview
14 ... Election 2010: read between the lines
18 ... Tony Blair and the Tory chicken
19 ... How liberal are the Liberal Democrats?
20 ... Health wars: the phantom menace
26 ... Politics, potatoes and petrol
26 ... Let us eat cake (and anything else we want)
28 ... For you, Brown, ze Election is over

17 ... Tom, Lorraine and the tangerine dream
19 ... Voices of freedom: join the debate!
23 ... Robert Chambers 1964-2010
29 ... Voices of freedom: who's who
31 ... Shock horror: tobacco industry lobbies government!!!

11 ... All this and Lembit too
17 ... MP wants smoking ban lifted
23 ... In the Long Room at Lords
26 ... Alan Plater has gone outside
30 ... Voices of Freedom: thanks, it was a blast

05 ... Postcard from Ireland
08 ... Rod Liddle, Brian Binley and me
11 ... Rod Liddle on the smoking ban
13 ... Antony (Worrall Thompson) cooks up a storm
13 ... Lefties, liberals and libertarians
15 ... Messing about on the river
23 ... That Morning Advertiser interview in full

11 ... My holiday hell
11 ... Why I tip my hat to Tony Blair
17 ... More evidence of the bully state
17 ... Pubs need smokers
17 ... Introducing Forest Eireann
30 ... Jolly evening at the Jolly Brewer
31 ... What Lord Laird thinks about smokers

02 ... Countdown to Bangalore
02 ... Yes, the BBC was biased!
10 ... Government: no plans to extend smoking ban to private vehicles
11 ... 2010 Great British Pub Awards
15 ... Smoking ban hits Irish pubs too
17 ... MP tables motion on smoking in pubs and clubs
18 ... Best creative outdoor area?
23 ... Life after Forest
24 ... Mum and Dad, 80 not out
26 ... Why Forest lost interest in Labour
27 ... In defence of Wayne Rooney
28 ... Smoking at work? Give me a break!

01 ... Dutch smokers win partial reprieve
06 ... Welcome to Bangalore
12 ... Postcard from India: part one
12 ... Soundbite: David Nuttall MP
13 ... MPs reject David Nuttall Bill
13 ... Smoking Bill: how MPs voted
14 ... MP's campaign for review of the smoking ban to continue
16 ... Tobacco: who's in control?
20 ... Forest slams ASH Scotland's new anti-smoking drive
21 ... Taking (RAND) Europe to task
22 ... Peter Kelner, YouGov and ASH (continued)
24 ... My night with Tess Daly
24 ... Nick Clegg's luxury item: a stash of cigarettes
27 ... Forest: cut public spending on tobacco control groups
29 ... Now IEA calls for end to state aid for anti-tobacco groups
31 ... Halloween: a health warning

01 ... The heroin addict
05 ... Smoking bans: how the UK compares to Europe
08 ... MP hails victory for Dutch smokers
14 ... The BBC, Maggie and me
14 ... Archive: interview with Forest's first director, Stephen Eyres
15 ... Forget the law, ASH is a fake charity and here's why
16 ... Smoking, pregnant women and their criminal offspring
17 ... Passive smoking and the price of propaganda
21 ... Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
27 ... Joe Jackson: how can we tackle the passive smoking 'fraud'?
28 ... The good (Andrew Marr), the bad (Andrew Lansley) and the Widdy
30 ... Forest response to white paper on public health

01 ... Cheer up, Christmas is coming
02 ... To Russia the World Cup - and, frankly, I don't give a damn
05 ... Why the winner of I'm A Celebrity made me proud to be British
07 ... Forest launches petition against EC proposals on tobacco
11 ... The future of smoking in pubs
13 ... Tobacco control: Forest video urges public to fight EC proposals
14 ... ASH spokeswoman accuses tobacco industry of "terror campaign"
14 ... Did Roy Castle smoke?
17 ... Forest petition: final total
18 ... Tory and Lib Dem rebels fight back against Big Government
19 ... Public health minister attends ASH AGM
29 ... Time to support pubs, not boycott them

Top 20 most commented upon posts

Open thread (250 comments)
Wanted: comments on e-cigarettes (111)
Nick Hogan: target reached (110)
Joe Jackson: ten reasons why the smoking ban stinks (87)
Three in five smokers want smoking ban relaxed (84)
Smoking ban and pub closures (72)
MP hails victory for Dutch smokers (68)
How liberal is Cameron’s Cabinet? (66)
Nick Clegg: your freedom, his choice (63)
More propaganda dressed as science (58)
MP wants smoking ban review (54)
In the media spotlight: launch of govt tobacco control strategy paper (57)
The actress, her child and a wisp of smoke (55)
MP's campaign for review of the smoking ban to continue (54)
Policy Exchange: words fail me (53)
Forest response to white paper on public health (52)
Scotland's smoking gun and ASH's response to UK pub crisis (50)
Forest versus ASH: seconds out (48)
Forest: cut public spending on tobacco control groups (48)
House rules: a reminder (48)

Top story
Nick Hogan appeal


Dad, I hate you!

As well as lots of books, I also got several DVD box sets for Christmas - The David Lean Centenary Collection (a 10-DVD set including Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist), a Film Noir Collection including The Killers and Double Indemnity and best of all, perhaps, a 15-DVD set entitled, quite simply, Alfred Hitchcock.

The latter features most of my favourite Hitchcock films including Torn Curtain, Vertigo, Rear Window and Psycho.

Psycho was the first Hitchcock film I ever saw and even now I find it hard to watch one or two scenes. Last night I decided it was time to share the experience with my children.

My daughter, 13, wasn't so keen but she didn't miss a beat, even when Janet Leigh was stabbed in the shower. In fact, I noticed that she never took her eyes of the screen, even when she was burying her head in a cushion.

After the detective was murdered, however, she caught my eye and whispered, "Dad, I hate you!"

Tonight we're going to watch The Birds. My treat.


Time to support pubs, not boycott them

A couple of months ago I attended the 2010 Scottish Licensed Trade News Awards. I was a guest of Imperial Tobacco who were supporting the Best Smoking Facilities award, which was won by a smoker-friendly bar in Edinburgh, and I wrote about it HERE.

I mentioned that I had bumped into Paul Waterson, president of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA). I have known Paul for several years. In 2007 he even attended Forest's Revolt In Style dinner at The Savoy hotel in London.

A couple of weeks before the 2010 SLTN awards Paul had given us a quote in support of our Smoking Gun report that highlighted the impact of the smoking ban on pubs in Britain and I have no doubt that this was a major help in generating a lot of coverage for the report in Scotland.

Comments on this blog were not entirely supportive of the report ("Unless this study reaches the mainstream media then it's little better than useless") or the role of publicans in opposing the smoking ban in Scotland.

I was forced to defend the report and even the publicans themselves. In response, for example, to someone who questioned why I had attended an awards ceremony "for the very people who so actively supported the smoking ban" (eh?), I wrote:

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (in particular its chief executive Paul Waterson) fought every inch of the way to stop a comprehensive smoking ban being introduced in Scotland. I don't believe they could have done any more than they did. It was good to see Paul at last night's event because he is one of the good guys in all this.

While we continue to fight for amendments to the ban it is important that we support those pubs and clubs that go the extra mile to accommodate smokers in as much comfort as possible.

It is also important to keep the smoking issue alive and in the minds of the hospitality industry. Last night I spoke to a number of people in the hospitality industry in Scotland and was able to do just that. Refusing to engage and operating in a bubble surrounded by like-minded people and preaching only to the converted will get us nowhere.

I mention this because this morning a report in the Aberdeen Press & Journal, headlined 'Publicans appeal for the return of smoking', includes the following quote by our old friend Paul Waterson:

"The ban has had a devastating impact on our members. We were told that pubs would be swamped with people coming back because there would be no smoke, but that has not been the case.

"We would like a system where ventilation ... is a consideration. We could have a pub licence for smoking, but they would have to have a certain level of ventilation equipment in place.

Ventilation works in industrial situations where the air needs to be clean. Why couldn't it work in pubs?"

The article also mentions our Smoking Gun report:

Recent research by the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign showed that 11.1% of pubs north of the border had closed their doors since the ban. There were 6,610 operating pubs in Scotland before the ban. This fell to 5,873 within four years.

If I sound a little put out it's because I am, a bit. Some people - on this blog and elsewhere - are very quick to poor cold water on the work that we do, the contacts that we make (and maintain) and the networking (including the occasional glass of champagne!) that is a necessary part of any lobbying effort.

What this amounts to is keeping the issue alive and, believe me, that's important. I have seen first hand - in Ireland and in Canada - just how hard it is to relight the flame of liberty once it has been allowed to splutter out and die, and I will do everything I can to stop that happening here.

That's why we have NEVER criticised publicans in Scotland, least of all members of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association who, unlike their counterparts in England, have consistently opposed the smoking ban.

It is also why we have NEVER encouraged anyone to boycott pubs as a form of protest. In these difficult economic times it is important to support your local pub before not after it goes bust.

While you are there point out to the landlord and your fellow customers why you continue to oppose the smoking ban and invite them to support the campaign to change it. (Download this poster and ask the landlord to put it on the wall.)

In the new year we will be announcing a special event that will take place in Westminster in 2011. We need as many publicans as possible to come and make their voices heard. And that means working with them, not against them.


What's special about this picture?

Someone I had not heard from since school contacted me recently via Facebook. He also sent me this photograph, taken in the Lake District in 1975 when we were 16. (To avoid confusion, I am second from the left.)

The previous year the same group had spent a week camping in Pitlochry in Perthshire. One of the few things I remember about that experience was waking up one morning, extremely hungover, unable to move, and enveloped by the smell of stale Newcastle Brown wafting from an old enamel camping mug sitting on the ground inches from my nose.

The following year we were driven from Fife, where we all lived, to Cumbria so that we could walk from Windermere to Keswick, camping overnight in various boggy fields.

It wasn't a happy experience. It certainly put me off hill walking (and camping) for many years. In fact I vowed that never again would I carry a heavy rucksack any distance if I could find someone or something (ie a car) to do it for me.

Once again the single abiding memory of that holiday is associated with alcohol. You probably have to be Scottish (or to have lived in Scotland) to appreciate it, but this is what happened when I walked into a pub near Ambleside and asked for a beer that the locals had never heard of:

Me: Pint of Special, please.

Barman: What's special about it?

At least I got served. No need for proof of age ID cards in those days.

Above: Mike Tough, me, Bill Roberts, Guzzle Gray


Keith Richards: a true life story

Welcome back. For me, the great joy of the week after Christmas is having the opportunity to do absolutely nothing, apart from eat, drink and read.

Top of my 2010 Christmas reading list is Keith Richards' Life. I should finish it this afternoon and I can't tell you how much I am enjoying it. And I'm not the only one.

Writing in the Telegraph today Boris Johnson reveals that not only was he too given the book as a present, but it has convinced him that Richards should be given a knighthood.

I cannot think of another member of the British artistic, cultural or media world who has done so much or who has so widely penetrated the global consciousness. David Attenborough? Stephen Fry? He knocks them into a cocked hat, to say nothing of the politicians and quangocrats who will cart off the gongs next week.

I'm not a great fan of the Rolling Stones but reading Life I have to agree. Full article HERE.


Happy Christmas to you all

Just collected the turkey so I think that's enough blogging for now. All that remains is to wish you all a very happy Christmas. Normal service will be resumed in the New Year. Next week there will be an open thread for people to comment as you wish. I may also publish some archive material so do drop by.

PS. The Daily Telegraph reports that Gentleman's smoking lounge makes Parisian comeback. On that half decent note, I bid you au revoir.


Carols by candlelight

Enjoyed the annual Carols by Candlelight concert at Ely Cathedral last night, even if it was pretty cold inside this magnificent old building. Fortunately, not only were we well wrapped up, we were able to buy mulled wine at the interval and in the second half they handed out candles which we lit and used to keep warm!


The truth about passive smoking

Sorry, don't have time to comment on the feature that appeared in The Times today. Unless you subscribe you can't read it online but I have read it in the cuttings. Rose W calls it "execrable". I agree. It almost (but not quite) put me off my mince pies.

If, like Rose, you want to read "the truth about secondhand smoke", I recommend this definitive report, published in 2005 and entitled, funnily enough, Prejudice & Propaganda: The Truth About Passive Smoking.

PS. Journalist Simon Crompton has his own website HERE.


Are you insane?!!

Love this story in the Daily Mail. Great picture too if you check the online edition. Click HERE.


All donations gratefully received

A supporter who died this year very kindly left Forest £2,000 in his will. I suggested to the executor of his estate that instead of putting the money into the general pot that covers all our campaign costs, we might put it towards a one-off event (or resource) in our benefactor's name.

Any suggestions?

PS. This morning we banked a further £300 from another supporter. All very generous and much appreciated.


A toast to Brian and Jackie

I was hoping to be in Edinburgh tonight celebrating Brian Monteith's wedding to Jackie Anderson although, if I'm not mistaken, Brian and Jackie have been on some sort of extended honeymoon for two years (at least) so it may come as a surprise to some people that they are not already married.

It's a happy story because Brian and Jackie were at school together in Portobello and were reacquainted at a school reunion a few years ago. Since then they've spent a year in Trinidad and have travelled the world, returning from time to time to Scotland where they catch their breath before setting off on another foreign jaunt.

Anyway, following their wedding yesterday the happy couple have booked the City Chambers overlooking the statue of Adam Smith in the High Street (aka the Royal Mile) for what is generally known as a "bit of a do".

Unfortunately my wife and I can't be there because apart from the weather (heavy snow was forecast in Edinburgh today) my father is in hospital after breaking his hip earlier in the week. He's also on dialysis and had a heart transplant 13 years ago so it's fair to say there are complications!

Consequently, while guests were preparing to enjoy a "very special evening" in Edinburgh, I spent the afternoon at the Royal Derby Hospital.

Tonight however we shall be raising a glass or two to Brian and Jackie - while watching the final of The Apprentice - and I hope you will join me in sending them our very best wishes. Bon voyage!


Perfect couple: public health minister attends ASH AGM

Above: public health minister Anne Milton MP and Deborah Arnott, director of ASH, at the latter's annual general meeting, December 15, 2010.

H/T Brian Bond via Dave Atherton

Brian points out that Anne Milton is married to the director of public health for the East Surrey PCT while her Wiki profile reveals that:

"In February 2006, Milton was among a minority of Conservative MPs to oppose exceptions for private clubs from the proposed Smoking ban in England. Milton had previously announced her opposition to a partial ban, stating it was "the worst possible solution. In summer 2007 David Cameron appointed her Shadow Minister for Health".

Funnily enough I wrote recently to Milton querying her statement, reported by the Morning Advertiser last month, that "there is little, if any, evidence that would link the closure of pubs and clubs to the introduction of [the smoking bans]”.

I pointed out that:

Over the period 1990-2010 the total number of pubs has indeed shown a long-term decline from around 63,500 to 52,000.

However, a little analysis demonstrates the considerable acceleration of the trend from the end of 2006 – the last data point before the bans in England, Wales and N Ireland.

The period from 2006-10 showed an average closure rate of 2.7% a year - over four times as fast as the long-term trend of 0.6%. In other words, on average more than a thousand more pubs closed each year after the bans than before.

Given the frequent references to the impact of the smoking ban by licensed trade associations and companies this is likely to be much more than just a coincidence.

Please find attached a research paper that examines the pub closure data in more detail. This shows an almost exact correlation between the rates of decline in pub numbers in Scotland, England, Wales and even the Republic of Ireland, when viewed in comparison to the varying dates of their bans.

All of these data are publicly available. Given the commitment of the Government to a private sector-led recovery, the closure of more than a thousand businesses a year in a key part of the economy surely requires a more thorough investigation and review.

I look forward to your response and hope that the Government will review its decision not to review the smoking ban in accordance with a commitment given by the previous government.

Needless to say, I'm not holding my breath.


Smokers may be refused operations

The Sunday Telegraph and the News of the World are running a story first reported by the BBC last month - namely, 'Smokers and overweight patients in need of major operations could be thrown off hospital waiting lists under "desperate" cost-cutting plans'.

The policy seems to have angered several groups including the Patients Association and even some GPs. The Telegraph reports my response as follows:

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, accused the PCT of discriminating against smokers and creating a "two-tier" system. He said: "Of course patients should be told that smoking could have an impact on the success or recovery from an operation, but given that they have paid huge sums in taxation on cigarettes over the years, the question of whether or not they have the surgery should be one for them, not the NHS."

Full article HERE.

The News of the World features my response alongside that of "News of the World GP" Dr Hilary Jones. See below.


Norris McWhirter and the BBC: loose words cost reputations

Via Iain Dale on Twitter I was alerted to an extraordinary post on the Archbishop Cranmer blog. I can't summarise the situation better than His Grace so if you want to know what I'm talking about nip over there and read The Freedom Association is ‘a posher version of the BNP.

Welcome back.

First, I have to declare an interest. I was never a close confidante of Norris McWhirter, co-founder of The Freedom Association, but we did work together, directly and indirectly, on various occasions and he was always very friendly and extremely supportive.

The first time we met was in the Eighties when I was analysing BBC current affairs programmes for, er, left-wing bias. I remember visiting him at The Freedom Association office off Oxford Street and again when the Association downsized to a smaller office south of the river.

In 1990 Norris wrote the foreword to a booklet entitled Broadcasting and Political Bias that featured an essay that was based on a speech I gave to Granada TV's 'Reporting the Nineties' conference in Manchester.

A decade later I'm pretty sure I interviewed him for Freedom Today, The Freedom Association magazine, when I was editor and he was still chairman of the Association.

Outside the Westminster village Norris was far better known for founding the Guinness Book of Records and presenting the BBC children's programme Record Breakers with our old friend Roy Castle. Despite Norris's fame he remained until his death in 2004 the nicest, most modest person you could wish to meet.

Appearances could be deceptive however because his self-effacing charm masked a steely determination never to submit to the unions, who very nearly destroyed Britain in the Seventies, or the IRA terrorists who murdered his twin brother Ross a short time after they launched the National Association for Freedom (later re-named The Freedom Association) in 1975.

The Freedom Association can fight its own battles so I won't bother to respond to comedian David Baddiel's claim on Five Live yesterday that the Association is "a very, very right-wing, kind of sub-BNP, slightly posher version of the BNP organisation".

I'm more interested in defending the reputation of McWhirter, six years deceased, who spent a large part of his life fighting totalitarianism and defending democracy. Ignoring this, presenter and comedian Alan Davies chose to ponder whether McWhirter was "a brown shirt with Mosley". With no-one in the studio to put him right this slur went completely unchallenged.

I'm sure Davies and Baddiel weren't being malicious. But that's not the point. In my view this is a classic example of the unthinking political bias that permeates the BBC at every level.

Fortunately Norris McWhirter has a lot of friends who won't rest until the BBC apologies for yet another deplorable lapse. Watch this space.


Tory and Lib Dem rebels fight back against Big Government

Thanks to Peter Thurgood for drawing my attention to this remarkable - some might call it exciting - story on ConservativeHome: Fifty Conservative MPs demand a free vote on shop tobacco display ban.

Former Conservative MP and Telegraph leader writer Paul Goodman writes:

The EU (in the news this morning), crime, tax - all these are well known causes of Conservative backbench rebellion. But the backing that Tory MPs gave to Nuttall's bill is a reminder that though smoking is a less well recognised issue, it can provoke no less primal a response.

Andrew Lansley and Vince Cable should therefore eye carefully a letter about Labour's tobacco display ban that's about to land on their desks. It reminds them of "the pre-election pledges of both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party to reconsider the tobacco display ban", adding that "there is a very high level of expectation" that the Coalition will honour these commitments.

The letter has been signed to date by 53 Coalition MPs, all but five of them Conservative, but "more signatures are being added to all the time, meaning that over 50 Tories have signed".

How marvellous to see backbench MPs (Lib Dems as well as Tories) fighting back, with Big Government the target.

The tobacco control industry will be having kittens today. However, as Spectator blogger Alex Massie pointed out on Tuesday, in respect of the smoking ban, the real debate is not about smoking, it's about individual businesses and an overbearing government.

The same is true of a display ban. So let's hope the Coalition Government sees sense, sticks to its pre-Election policy and announces that Labour's display ban has finally been consigned to history.

Note: you can comment on ConHome HERE.