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Turn the BBC into a Cooperative

By Sara Scarlett
February 7th, 2012 at 12:35 pm | 21 Comments | Posted in BBC, UK Politics

The television license is a tax in everything but name but advert-free, non-profit television should always be an option for consumers. Turning the BBC from a government-owned corporation into a consumer-owned cooperative would mean nothing about its current high quality content would change – just the unfair aspect of how it is funded.

As it is currently structured, the funding of the BBC creates a lot of losers. I love BBC programming but I rarely watch any BBC channels beyond BBC One and Two. I hardly ever watch sport and do not have access to BBC Three and Four. If you only use your TV to play video games and watch X-Factor on ITV, the license fee means you lose out entirely.

Many regard spending £145.50 year on television as frivolous spending they would never normally do unless made to do so – especially in an economic climate where a great deal of us are watching the pennies more closely. As a consumer I should only have to pay for the services I use. Likewise other people should not have to pay for television I enjoy and value if they don’t enjoy and value it themselves. That is unfair.

In many respects the BBC is broken. It is wasteful and has no incentive to cut back on that unnecessary spending. In recent years I believe that a lot of legitimate criticism of the BBC would have been avoided had the BBC taken more time to appreciate what their audience wanted. This would certainly have prevented instances where the BBC overstaffed events, such as Glastonbury and the Dale Farm Eviction.

Currently 20% of BBC funding comes from sources other than the license fee. Those sources could be expanded and this other revenue – coupled with efficiency savings – can take care of niche channels like BBC Parliament and other innovation and experimentation.

Were the BBC a cooperative, members would pay a yearly fee for the service in lieu of commercial advertising. Logistically speaking this may mean the small matter of having a BBC box in your living room. But rather than a flat license fee for everyone this would allow for a variety of membership options, ranging from cheap ‘Basic’ and ‘Student’ options to expensive options with more channels or packages specifically geared towards your interests.

Being a cooperative would mean the BBC would be owned by the individuals who choose to be members rather than being the jurisdiction of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The members would be democratically enabled thus; the BBC would be more accountable to its audience. I predict that this would result in the content of the BBC becoming much higher quality and the organisation itself becoming leaner and more efficient.

Turning the Beeb into a cooperative is a win-win situation. If you were given the opportunity to preserve something that you enjoy and value, whilst at the same time making it more fair, efficient, democratically accountable and – most importantly – more liberal – it would be silly not to do so.

Sign the e-petition here:



Why I am against plain packaging of tobacco

By Angela Harbutt
February 6th, 2012 at 9:28 pm | 9 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Earlier today I mentioned that I have joined Forests Hands Off Our Packs campaign opposing the introduction of plain packaging of  tobacco. I promised a fuller explanation of why I am opposing it . Here are my reasons

The term ‘plain packaging’ is deliberately misleading. The Tobacco Control industry doesn’t want plain packs at all. It wants cigarettes sold in ugly, standardised, uniformly coloured packets with even larger and more grotesque graphic health warnings on both sides of the packet. And this is meant to help people quit smoking? Ever larger health warnings and gross pictures haven’t worked to date – and we all know why. If you want to encourage obese people to take up a healthier lifestyle you don’t start out by showing them how disgusting they are. You offer inspirational and supportive messages. If the aim of Government is to encourage quitting – and insists on continuing with messages on packets– why not make images and messages on packs positive/informative – say, showing the quit line number – or a picture of a sportsman- (hey you could be like this if you quit smoking). Making packs even grosser than they already won’t achieve the aim of cutting smoking, it is saying you are disgusting and society should feel free to have a dig at you – that is tantamount to state bullying and that has no place in an educated free society.

There is actually no evidence that ‘plain’ packaging will stop under 18s from taking up smoking or help adult smokers quit. That is because only one country – Australia – has decided to introduce “plain” packs. This law comes into effect later this year. Doesn’t it make sense to wait a few months to assess the impact – and identify any unintended consequences – before we race headlong to similar legislation in the UK? What is the rush? The ban on vending machines has only just been introduced and the ban on displaying tobacco in shops has not even started. We should surely assess the outcomes there.  There have been grand claims made in the UK about the many “research studies” that have been conducted showing the positive effect that “plain” packaging will have on youth smoking rates. But I think that we should take such studies with a pinch of salt. Asking people whether they think “plain packaging” would help people quit, or deter youngsters is just speculation…opinion.. It is not evidence. I spent many years working in market research and I know that what people say they will do when they are talking to researchers – is not what they do in real life. So are the tobacco control researchers stupid? I doubt it. I am afraid we are seeing all too many “activist academics” who start with an idea and then work out,with evangelical zeal, how to “prove it”.  I support an “evidence based drugs policy”, not studies asking people to second guess what they might do, run by people seeking to prove their ideas are right rather than finding the truth. And I say again – beware of unintended consequences – I am deeply concerned that making tobacco more taboo is just going to encourage more under 18s to take it up not less.

If the aim of government is to reduce the take up of smoking amongst children why not tackle the real issue – distribution. We already have laws that prevent the sale of tobacco to under 18’s. Spending money on enforcing existing laws would be much better use of public money than rushing to introduce new ones. The sale of illicit and counterfeit cigarettes is a huge problem in the UK as well as the rest of Europe. It is estimated that 190 billion are manufactured each year in China alone and 65 per cent of the cigarettes seized in the EU are counterfeit. These fake cigarettes contain eye-watering high levels of heavy metals, rodent droppings and goodness knows what else (go watch the Panorama programme). If we care about public health – then let’s get rid of these. Criminal gangs don’t care who they sell to and are offering them at half the price of legitimate cigarettes. Where do you think kids will go to get their cigarettes? And “plain” packaging will make the counterfeiter’s job easier. According to Ruth Orchard, director general of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group,

“Plain packaging represents an invitation to counterfeiting. If put into practice for the tobacco industry, this could impact on all sectors where counterfeiting is rife. It creates a trading environment where packaging is no longer distinctive and products become easy to replicate illegally.”

So why are we punishing the local community shop keeper – making it more difficult for him to ply his trade, whilst making it easier for his competitor, the criminal gang boss, to do business?

Courtesy: didbygraham

We know that actions have consequences and in a liberal society we should encourage everyone to take responsibility for their lifestyle choices. But I for one won’t accept government shouting at us hysterically every time we do something that the state disapproves of. That is exactly what “plain” packaging amounts to. It is, as I say earlier, state bullying. If we allow plain packaging on tobacco how long before we see similar state diktats spread to other products. And it frankly does not wash that tobacco is a special case and plain packaging on other goods won’t follow. Sin taxes brought in on tobacco exist on alcohol already, with calls from the health lobby to go much further (minimum pricing) and now we see calls for a Fat Tax. We have health warnings on tobacco – and we are now seeing calls for health warnings on alcohol. We will soon experience a display ban on tobacco – we are now seeing pressure to stop sweets on display at checkout stations. We have the smoking ban – to limit where you can smoke – and we are now seeing calls for the reintroduction of more stringent licensing laws limiting where and when you can drink. If we allow the packaging of a legal product like tobacco to be interfered with to such an extent, it is only a matter of time before chocolate bars and other “unhealthy foods”, fizzy drinks and alcohol (all considered addictive by the way) similarly disfigured. And I can tell the argument they will use – if we put tobacco in plain packs to signal it is a public “bad” – we are sending a signal to young people that fizzy drinks/chocolate/fatty foods/alcohol are ok to consume and we can’t have that.

There are other issues that weigh seriously with me but the above are the most important. To me.

As a Liberal Democrat I believe in discourse and debate. I am not asking you to sign the petition against it for the reasons above. These are my reasons. But I would urge all Liberal Democrats to not allow their dislike of smoking to cloud their judgement. Be clear of all of the issues – including the possible unintended consequences of legislation- before making  a decision. I would especially ask our politicians not to jump on the anti-tobacco band wagon – nor disrespect those that engage with them by accusing them of being “tobacco stooges” when they disagree.  People are getting very angry that law after law is being passed without reference to the consequences, or effectiveness, of past or even upcoming legislation.

All of the above are reasonable arguments I think, why we should say loud and clear NO to plain packaging. And they are the reasons why I have joined the Hands Off Our Packs Campaign. But perhaps my mum has the best response to the plan to introduce “plain” packaging… “Well that won’t bloody work!” And she is right. Mums always are.

Angela Harbutt joins the fight against plain packaging on tobacco

By Angela Harbutt
February 6th, 2012 at 4:55 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

In December 2011 the Secretary of State for Health announced that a public consultation on the plain packaging of tobacco would commence Spring 2012.It will probably not come as a surprise to many of you, and a source of great pride for me, that I am announcing today that I am formally joining the FOREST campaign to fight this insane idea.

As it says in in our mission statement “Liberal Vision exists to promote individual liberty, a free economy and limited government.”   And I have been writing about personal freedom and the nanny state for as long as I have been involved in it (just a selection)….

Enemies of enterprise seek control of tobacco ; The fightback starts here ; Government confirms time travel has been cracked ; Stephen Williams is not a liberal ; battle lines are drawn this is the mother of all fights ; A fat tax is definitively not the answer ; ASH – Abuse of public money must end ; Save our pubs and clubs – join us in Westminster on june 29th ; The mother of all government apologies is just around the corner ; Alcohol poisoning is not an issue for government ; Latest government plans: trivial or just plain wrong ; Chocolate Orange Dave strikes again ; A very unlikely heroine ; Government signals “illicit tobacco welcome here” ; Raising a glass north of the border ; Time to bin ASH before it destroys another part of the economy ; Smoking ban amendment: where were the Lib Dems? ; A big test for David Cameron’s “Big Society mantra”; Can I have my super casino back now?

But there comes a time when you have to stop writing about it and go try doing something about it.

So that is what I am doing. I will post a little later why I think everyone should oppose plain packaging on tobacco. But for now I just wanted to flag up that I am now formally part of the handsoffourpacks campaign and my future blog posts should be considered in that light.

You can now also follow my thoughts or read more about the issue on plain packaging of tobacco at the HandsOffOurPacks website where there is an online petition which I urge you to sign  and ideas about how you can get involved . You can also follow the campaign on twitter and facebook.

More later.

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What do we want “LAWS”.. When do we want him “NOW”

By Angela Harbutt
February 4th, 2012 at 9:52 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Lib Dems overwhelming want David Laws back in the mix – big time. A Lib Dem Voice survey of members , released today, suggests that an overwhelming  72% of Lib Dem members in the LDV sample want to see David Laws return to a ministerial post in the Coalition government, with most wanting to see him return to the cabinet.

There are some Lib Dems who think that he is better placed to stay behind the scenes and mastermind the next election strategy. I have some sympathy with that. We do need someone who knows what they are doing, this time around, running that. But what we need, just  as importantly right now, is to be able to show we are competent in government.With ideas that work and a positive message for what we can achieve rather than prevent. Getting Ed Davey (who has been phenomenal in  Business)  into the Climate job and  Norman Lamb (who has spent too much time behind the scenes) to take up Ed’s post are both excellent moves. But if there was the chance of adding David Laws to the line up who wouldn’t think that was a pretty impressive team to field in the all-important run up to the next general election.

If David Cameron is serious about this partnership – and if Nick Clegg really does have the balls to do what’s necessary – then it surely can’t be long before David Laws is off the subs bench and back in the game?

UPDATE – Sunday Telegraph reporting that Laws may be in for a big job… GET IN.

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Chris Huhne goes, but is this the Rule of Law(s)?

By Tom Papworth
February 3rd, 2012 at 11:34 am | 3 Comments | Posted in coalition, Government, Liberal Democrats

So Chris Huhne (and ex-wife Vicky Pryce)  is to be charged with perverting the course of justice as a result of allegations that the former Environment Secretary Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change allowed or persuaded his wife to accept speeding penalty points on his behalf in 2003.

Mr Huhne strenuously denies the charges (and one can’t help but wonder whether Ms. Pryce will be less keen to repeat her allegations now that she is being charged as well) but it has not saved him. He has been forced to resign from the Cabinet.

It’s an odd business, to say the least. Not the charges themselves – this matter needs to be investigated and, if there is a prima facie case, charges should be filed. What is odd is the fact that he has to resign now.

It is a fundamental principle of the rule of law that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In most walks of life, that would extend to whether one has to resign from one’s job as well. If one is accused of a crime, an employer might suspend a member of staff, to distance itself from the issue, but to sack a person (or expect them to resign) while they try to clear their name is usually considered to be unfair.

What is interesting is that different rules appear to apply to politicians – and to other public figures. On the one hand, there is no process for suspending a minister, or allowing them to step aside temporarily, while the matter is investigated. The minister must quit – end of. I suspect that this is a hangover from the origins of ministerial office, with the minister acknowledging their duty to protect the sovereign from embarrassment. It seems to be a bit harsh in the modern world. Chris Huhne, like anybody else, should have the opportunity to prove their innocence without penalty.

And if he’s guilty, he should be sacked, rather than being allowed to resign.

That being said, it has happened, and there is feverish speculation about who will replace him. Will Ed Davey come into the Cabinet? Will Norman Lamb replace Ed Davey as Employment Minister?

Both would be welcome moves, but people seem to be forgetting one obvious potential promotion. It is widely recognised that David Laws is ripe for a return to the front benches. Is this unfortunate event an opportunity to bring about the return of Laws?

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