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Norman Lamb: Doh!

By Angela Harbutt

 

Only a short while ago Norman Lamb MP was one of our best. He stood up, and spoke out, on principle against needless government intrusion. A true poster boy for all those liberals amongst us who object to the nanny state telling adults how to live our lives.

Back in 2008, when the the Labour government suggested hiding cigarettes behind shutters in shops, Norman was one of the first to speak out. As Shadow Health Minister he rightly stated :

“This is the nanny state going too far.”

And he didn’t stop there. He also said

“This will hit small businesses with added costs while there is no clear evidence that it will actually reduce the number of young people smoking.”

And indeed he said this:

“The Government is obsessed with headline-grabbing gimmicks instead of tackling the real problems. Buying tobacco for children must be made a criminal offence. Ministers also need to clamp down on the shockingly high amount of tobacco that is smuggled illegally into this country.”

Where is that man we wonder? Roll on to 2013 and, when in a position to actually have an impact on the excesses of the nanny state, low and behold he pops up in the Guardian saying:

“As a liberal I would always defend someone’s right to smoke, if that’s what they choose to do. But, given we’re dealing here with a product that kills between 80,000 and 100,000 people a year, I think it’s legitimate for government to seek to control the marketing of that deadly product…”

 

Well, Norman, nothing has changed since 2008. Cigarettes are bad for you. Sure. But no more than they were in 2008, when you were against the display ban. Adults should be treated as adults – even when you are in power.

If ever there was a policy that was nothing more than a “headline-grabbing gimmick” (your words), banning coloured boxes must surely be it? What happened to your concern about the impact of policy gimmicks on small businesses? And why choose this point to ignore the 500,000 voters who registered their opposition to this policy during the consultation? Back in 2008 your concern was rightly focused on the black-market and proxy purchasing. Why, when in power, choose to support a policy that will make it actually easier and cheaper for organised crime to counterfeit cigarettes? You were against the tobacco display ban – but it was introduced anyway – why not at least wait to measure the effectiveness of that policy (and the ban on tobacco vending machines) before arguing for yet more legislation?

Picture courtesy of "Hands Off Our Packs"

Picture courtesy of “Hands Off Our Packs”

You say that:

“I think it would be a legacy for this government to have legislated on something which would be a landmark public health reform and to be out there in front in Europe.”

Great. If that’s the case [or indeed if it is, as it seems, just the usual politician's desire to be "seen" to be doing something]  here are a few policies that may assist you in leaving a health legacy you can actually be proud of.

 

1. Clear the path for e-cigarettes. This revolution is leaving you behind. Hundreds of thousands are electing to choose this product – yet you waste your time on ruling what colour of boxes you think adults should look at – a campaign gimmick that is untried, untested and unwanted. If you want to be “out there in front of Europe” then let’s get as many e-cigarettes out there as possible. If you hadn’t noticed – they are working – unlike the tired, unimaginative and dangerous “more of the same” policies coming from those in tobacco control. Note that Chris Davies [Libdem] MEP seems to be way ahead of you [see "Politics at it should be done"]

2. Introduce a ban on proxy purchasing (your idea from 2008). Smoking is an adult pursuit. If your concern is children, then make it illegal to purchase cigarettes on behalf of minors.

3. And while you are at it, increase the penalties on those caught selling cigarettes to kids.

4. Act on counterfeiting. Fake cigarettes sell at half the price of UK duty paid cigarettes. Quite attractive to cash strapped youngsters don’t you think? They are sold to minors at school gates, car book sales and markets. They don’t ask for ID, and they don’t care who they sell to. Why not introduce some serious penalties for smuggling and counterfeiting?

That is just four for starters – and they really do start to look like a liberal legacy we can all be proud of.

PS: With great relief we note that education minister, David Laws, and the Home Office minister, Jeremy Browne are reported to remain firmly against this policy.

Seen elsewhere on this topic: “Norman Lamb:Perfect Example of the Genre” and “Open Minded?

Angela Harbutt is currently campaigning against the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco.

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Tackling the Shiraz riots of 2012

By Angela Harbutt
October 20th, 2012 at 1:38 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

 

The Telegraph is carrying the stark warning today that the government is set to outlaw the discounting of bulk deals on wine by supermarkets, as part of a review on alcohol pricing. Ministers, they say, believe such promotions give customers a financial incentive to purchase more alcohol than they intended to buy and should be banned. It is said this is another measure being championed by the PM himself.

When this whole alcohol review was launched, the alcohol review was billed as all about trouble-making youths and other anti-social drinkers. 

The availability of cheap alcohol has been a key contributing factor in the development of this country’s binge-drinking culture. The government will no longer tolerate the sale of heavily discounted alcohol which leads to irresponsible behaviour and unacceptable levels of crime and health harms.”

To be clear I am totally against minimum pricing of alcohol, it is regressive, nannying, unfair and won’t work.  We have laws to deal with “anti-social” behaviour and crime. But this latest proposal really is paternalism gone mad. Who, I wonder “preloads” with bottles of Merlot before hitting the night clubs? Since when did Chardonnay drinkers hang around the city centre on a Saturday night hurling abuse at passers by? I don’t know and I bet the government doesn’t know either.

So what business is it of government if a shop offers me a deal, that incentivises me to buy 2 botttles of wine rather than 1, indeed 24 bottles of wine instead of 12? Isn’t that between me and the shop? It doesn’t mean I have to drink it all in one session. I frequently buy 24 toilet rolls in one session. I probably only intended to buy 4, but the shop “incentivised” me. I have also been known to buy as many as 36 cans of Coke in one go because the price was great and frankly it is more convenient for me to buy in bulk and saves me precious time and money.  I don’t rush home and consume them all at once, but even if I did whose business is it? Certainly not the government’s.

Bizarrely the Government appears to be leaving wine clubs untouched. It seems it is OK to plan to buy case loads of wine, just unacceptable to pick up a bargain whilst doing the weekly shop. Perhaps supermarkets have been added to the list of sinners, including bankers and energy companies on David Cameron’s hit list. Or maybe it is that wine clubs are the preserves of the rich middle classes who can be relied upon to decant their wine, sniff and sip, and behave in an altogether more refined manner.

I doubt there will be Shiraz riots any time soon. To be frank the supermarkets will just cut the bottle price rather than offer multi-buy discounts and life will go on. For now.

But the language being used here “the government will not tolerate ….” is very worrying. So too is the assault on the right of socially responsible people to buy a legal product in the quantities, and at the price, they choose without interference from government. Banning people from purchasing discounted wine from Waitrose or Tescos is clearly not about binge-drinking, anti-social behaviour or criminal activity – so why is this particularly bizarre proposal being seemingly led by the Home Office?

It is hard to tell how far the creeping influence of health lobby groups has actually reached – but it seems even to the Home Office. That combined with the paternalistic nature of a certain number of those in power, (Mr Cameron at the top of that list) who seem to say one thing (“individual responsibility”) but do something very different, has led us to this place.

There is a meeting scheduled next week between Mr Cameron and the Home Office. Here is hoping the likes of Damian Green and Jeremy Browne can remind the PM of what he said back in 2010

“…all these insights lead to one conclusion that is central to Conservatism: the more responsibility we give people, the more likely they are to make ethical decisions. “

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Hats off to Norman Baker

By Tom Papworth
August 3rd, 2012 at 2:34 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in freedom, Liberal Democrats, Libertarians, Nannying, Personal Freedom, Transport

Stephen Tall, Research Associate at Centre Forum and Editor of Lib Dem Voice, has kindly posted my choice for Liberal Hero of the Week on the Centre Forum blog.

So (ahem!) hats off to Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport with responsibility for cycling, who described as his “libertarian right” to cycle without a helmet on.

And if you want to find out why, you can read the full article on the Centre Forum blog.

transport-ministers-cycling

(PS: Do I win a prize for squeezing the most links into my opening sentence?)

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Smokers – State Approved Hate and Intolerance is UK Policy

By Guest
April 16th, 2012 at 12:23 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in freedom, Personal Freedom, Uncategorized

 

I have previously commented on nations more liberal and more tolerant than ours with respect to their treatment of those who choose to smoke. In addition to Germany and The Netherlands I have observed pragmatic approaches that guarantee smoke free air for the many without victimising the significant few in France, Austria and Switzerland.

It is mildly surprising that Switzerland offers some of the best facilities for travelling smokers despite being home to the WHO an organization that seeks to impose its politicised extra budgetary funded will on all without actually having to do anything as inconvenient as obtaining a popular mandate.  My experiences are based on Basel and things may become decreasingly liberal as one approaches Geneva.

Basel provides airside facilities for smokers in both arrivals and departures. They have chairs, tables and other comfort features that tend to be absent from smoking facilities in the UK where our laws are intended to punish and coerce.  UK facilities lack even the basics like an appropriate number of walls.

The Swiss authorities seem unconcerned that the mere sight of a cigarette brand will cause a mass surge in smoking uptake suggesting that they are reasonable, sane individuals unlike their increasingly ridiculous UK counterparts. Imagine not only allowing a cigarette manufacturer to advertise on a smoking lounge but having the intelligence to work out that it might be a good way to help cover the costs of providing such facilities.

Basel airport links directly to an international high speed rail network and it is a short walk from the terminal to the train station.  On arrival there smokers are greeted by the amazing sight of a cafe with a ventilated separate smoking lounge. Yes, smokers can sit down and have a drink in some comfort and apparently without bothering non-smokers.

In the UK smoking facilities are exclusively outdoors and not segregated which seems to create an issue for some non-smokers. I have never really observed unwanted smoke in my workplace but I have noticed that these days I seem to experience greater exposure to environmental smoke outside UK buildings.

It seems I am not alone. Here is a selection of reader’s comments from media forums:

 “I object to having to walk on the road because you’re all standing outside the pub/restaurant on the pavement. When I have to stand close to you and you smell so bad I want to be sick”

 “I for one am tired of the thick wall of foul smelling smoke outside of every shop on every high street in every town as the inconsiderate people who smoke stand in the doorway indulging in their foul habit”

 “Smokers are by nature dirty. They stand outside smoking without a care for anybody else walking past them and blowing their smoke in faces…”

It would appear that a more reasoned approach that did not force smokers onto the streets might benefit everyone but instead, our government encourages social division through laws that inevitably create conflict. Should anyone be in any doubt about the degree of hate and prejudice that has been encouraged towards those who smoke, here are a few more readers’ comments:

“Smokers disgust me. Me and my friends do see them as second class citizens. We all look down our noses at them and their disgusting and filthy habit. We make sure they know it too.”

 “Smoking is disgusting and dirty. And so are smokers.”

 “It’s a no brainer. If you smoke, you are stupid. If you are stupid, you are probably low-income or no income beyond benfits”

“smokers are weak minded addicts and should be removed from society if they can’t be helped or refuse help.”

“We could always just change the law to allow people to legally shoot dead anyone caught with a cig between their lips outside the four walls of their home…”

 And from 2 people commenting on a BBC forum:

 “Smoking is darwinian”

 “An excellent point. My only objection is that procreation often takes place prior to demise.”

 It is difficult to imagine that comments like these would be considered acceptable if directed against any other minority but thanks to a myopic adherence to the one dimensional “quit or die” mantra of the activists and an ongoing “denormalization” campaign, UK politicians have given legitimacy to this hate, which is an inevitable consequence of trying to force social change through coercion and state sponsored intolerance combined with deliberate distortion of the facts.

Politicians who continue to support such strategies despite their manifest failure are entitled to their opinion in an allegedly free society but those who promote intimidation, exclusion and hatred as a means of engineering change should not call themselves liberal. Hiding behind the pretence that it is possible to “denormalize” an established activity without “denormalizing” the millions who indulge in it is not a valid excuse.

By Chris Oakley. Chris has previously posted on Liberal Vision:   Alcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth , A Liberal Tolerant nation? and  What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes the plaything of political lobbyists.

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Alcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step”

By Guest
March 26th, 2012 at 4:23 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in freedom, Government, health, Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

Last week witnessed a remarkable low when the leader of a coalition between a party claiming to oppose top down dictatorial government and another claiming to be liberal, announced his support for exactly the  kind of mass social engineering that most of us hoped had died a death with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Sir Ian Gilmore

As I pointed out in a previous post, minimum pricing adherents are not at all ashamed of the totalitarian nature of their plans and indeed have actively sought to persuade our elected representatives of the “rewards” to be gleaned from emulating Soviet policy on alcohol. They did in the process of course focus on short term successes and completely failed to mention the disastrous longer term consequences of said Soviet policy. Zealots and fanatics rarely allow the truth to get in the way of their endless campaigns which is one reason why it is generally a bad idea to appease them.

David Cameron and his government appear to have ignored conventional wisdom with regard to appeasement by caving in to a deeply dishonest campaign for minimum alcohol pricing spearheaded by the medical establishment. A campaign that has, amongst other unsavoury tactics, seen the public lied to about the real price of alcohol, misled over the number of hospital admissions related to alcohol and kept in the dark about positive trends in both attitude and consumption.

At least I have to assume The Prime Minister’s spineless capitulation is an attempt to appease the zealots as the alternative explanation that he and his cabinet truly believe a 40p minimum price per unit will “mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol related deaths per year by the end of the decade” would be evidence that the country really is being run by fools.

One of the reasons it is generally considered a bad idea to appease fanatics is that it only encourages them to greater excess and also encourages others to emulate them.  On Saturday the BBC ran what should have been an upbeat news item about major food companies co-operating with the DH on obesity by cutting calorie content in their products. It sounds like just the sort of thing that people who care about obesity might applaud but this being a BBC news item it had to feature some rather severe criticism from a spokesperson for one of the myriad obscure “charities” that taxpayers are forced to fund.

According to the BBC, Children’s Food Campaign spokesman Charlie Powell said:

 “The food industry wants to be part of the solution but altogether refuses to admit that it’s a big part of the problem. And it’s to the government’s disgrace that the food industry is actually helping to set government health policy. I think we should look at what’s happening on the alcohol network and actually the government have decided that the way to go is actually to mandate companies in terms of their pricing. While they grapple with voluntary approaches, we’ll see these weasel word pledges continue.”

Charlie describes himself as “Left-thinking vegan feminist, campaigning for a fairer and more sustainable world.”

Clearly this otherwise gentle soul has scented blood following the government’s surrender on alcohol and will be crusading for minimum pricing or maybe even outright banning of foods he doesn’t think that we should be eating.  I assume that will include meat if he dares to dream that big. After all, all he needs to do is gather support from the more unscrupulous and fanatical elements of the medical establishment and anything might actually be possible.

His first port of call could be Jonathan Waxman, whose words are living proof if more was needed that passing a medical degree is no guarantee of intelligence, humility, decency or common sense.

“Not only do we need to ramp up the public health campaigns that encourage us to ditch the doughnuts. But we will have to go further and ban adverts for high-fat foods. It is wrong that manufacturers can produce mayonnaise with a 70 per cent fat content, so we should tax food laden with saturated fats. 

Some will argue that this is an affront to personal freedom. But the people with the least ability to make informed choices are the poor, who happen also to be more likely to smoke or be fat.”

As Dave and his elitist mates seem to share Waxman’s view that the people in general and the poor in particular are too stupid to be allowed to make their own choices I think it likely that it will not be long before minimum pricing becomes the preferred option to reduce consumption of anything the medics and activists decide they don’t like.

I recommend stocking up on digestives and other “sinful” foods before it is too late.  I wouldn’t worry about alcohol because it is ridiculously easy to make.

By Chris Oakley. Chris has previously posted on Liberal Vision:  Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth , A Liberal Tolerant nation? and  What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes the plaything of political lobbyists.

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