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Stephen Williams is not a liberal

By Angela Harbutt
November 16th, 2011 at 4:18 pm | 27 Comments | Posted in freedom, Government, Liberal Philosophy, Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

Stephen Williams may be a member of the Liberal party but he is no liberal. Yesterday he wrote a piece for Lib Dem Voice championing the nanny state with the bizarre piece entitled, chillinglyHow to damage tobacco brands“. Why would any liberal (and especially a member of Parliament) living in the free world wish to damage any legal company’s brand?

I have pretty much said my piece over on the comments page so I won’t repeat it here. What I did think worthy of mention was the reaction to the piece in the comments section. Overwhelming  the contributors were against what Stephen Williams MP had to say – some puzzled, some angry and some downright apoplectic. Could it be that liberalism is finding it’s voice? By jove I think it might!

Here are a few choice comments – go read the full conversation over on LDV….

“Shameful from a so-called liberal politician”

“What is it with you people and your irresistible urge to meddle?”

“There appears to be a pathological inability to leave people alone to live their lives how they choose”.

“Surely there are for better ways for Mr Williams to be spending his time”

“Open displays of tobacco in shops that make smoking seem like a normal part of everyday life…Well that will be because it is! I’m not a Mark Littlewood/FOREST type fundie but stuff like that could drive me that way!” (Updated due to author request)

stuff like that could drive me that way”

“’I’m afraid Stephen Williams’s proposal fits in the category of “something must be done””

“This is terrible -stupid idea – I don’t know one person who smokes because the packaging looks good”

“Wars have been fought to give people freedom of choice and not be dictated to by a governing body”

“I’m very unimpressed by this trendy streak of statist authoritarianism that certain Lib Dems seem rather proud of”

“Never been a smoker and never want to be but if the party got behind this kind of policy I’d be right out the door”

“Wasn’t the “Liberal” in the party name enough of a clue?”

Well said, one and all.

Ps…. Stephen Williams is the Lib Dem MP for Bristol West and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health. The anti-smoking group ASH  provides administrative support to the group. Draw what conclusions you will.


Stephen Williams was kind enough to respond to my comment over on LDV…

“Angela – you don’t provide any evidence for your assertion that the indoor smoking ban has caused the decline of local pubs. Many pubs have flourished since 2007 as they are now more attractive places for the majority of the population to socialise. I now eat and drink in pubs that I wouldn’t have considered entering 4 years ago. Pubs that have adapted to the change by offering good food and activities have thrived. Pubs that did not respond to changed circumstances have not. The latter are at more risk from ridiculously cheap alcohol in supermarkets….which is one reason why I am in favour of minimum pricing for units of alcohol. And yes responsible governments do have to act on obesity – rising levels of diabetes and heart disease are hardly causes for liberal celebration

and just to really ruin your day (:-) perhaps you’d like to read another posting on my own blog: “

My reply:

“Dear Stephen – thank you taking time from your busy schedule to reply to my comment..

But actually .. It’s not “my day” you are ruining – it’s “my party”

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Rationing – coming to a local store near you soon

By Angela Harbutt
November 13th, 2011 at 7:00 am | 6 Comments | Posted in Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

Just when you thought that the madness could not go any further – it does. Sitting down with a much-needed glass of wine last night to catch up on fellow bloggers activities elsewhere, I casually click over to see what  Dick Puddlecote has to say about the world…. WTF? He tells me that far from the planned plain-packaging ban on all tobacco products being the “pièce de résistance” on the anti-smoking groups activities – they have much more in mind…


Yep – that’s right… rationing. Some anti-smoking nutter (I am sorry but I can find no other word for him) – has a new idea that is filtering into the system…

Under the proposal, a license would give the smoker a right to a limited quota of tobacco supply, say 10 cigarettes a day or 20 cigarettes a day and so on. There is a fee payable to government to give the consumer the right to use tobacco. The more tobacco the license holder pre‑commits to smoke, the higher the license fee involved.

Under the licensing plan consumers would be asked to pass a test, ‘not dissimilar to a driving test’ Chapman stated, to qualify for a right to receive a license to legally purchase tobacco.

After a horribly detailed account of exactly how this odious plan would be implemented – too gross to recount here (go read it) – Dick makes the all too true point

“Remember that anti-tobacco holds global conferences to share notes on their policies. If there comes a time when plain packaging is nodded through by our crashingly gullible Westminster representatives, all guns will be turned away from business, and onto ever more coercive measures to restrict personal consumption

And as I mentioned just a few days ago Where (they) have succeeded with tobacco – so they will follow for alcohol, fast food, chocolate and every other indulgence we enjoy.

Are we really willing to live in a so-called free society where we blindly allow rich government funded groups – that can afford to travel around the world chatting to one another thanks to our tax contributions –  to silently strip away every bit of our free choice we have?

Because. And let me make this as plain as I can – it won’t stop with tobacco.

This has surely gotten way out of control. Dick is also right to say that when they have gone as far as they can attacking legal companies Phillip Morris, Kraft, Coca Cola etc activities, they will turn on us. Our freedoms. Our choices.

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Battle lines are drawn: this is the mother of all fights

By Angela Harbutt
November 10th, 2011 at 10:44 pm | 12 Comments | Posted in Economics, Nannying, Personal Freedom

A huge chunk of the corporate world will be taking a very sharp intake of breath right now as it is announced that Australia is to become the first country to seek to strip private legal companies of their trademarks. 

The Australian government has today effectively passed a bill that will mean from December next year, all cigarettes will be sold in olive green packs, with no trademark brand logos permitted on any packaging. Companies will be able to print their name and the cigarette brand in small, prescribed font on the packets together with stark health warning messages and pictures, which will cover 75% of the front of the pack and 90% of the back.

Tobacco companies have vowed to fight the new legislation in court. And rightly so. Can you imagine Coca Cola allowing the shiny red can and swirly brand name to be removed and replaced by an olive green can, with warnings of addiction and early death plastered all over it, without challenge? Or Cadbury giving up its purple bars of loveliness, or Tanqueray its distinctive green bottles without a fight? No I don’t think so. They would rightly argue that their branding is about product differentiation and brand share, that they have invested millions in their trademarks and will challenge any body – including governments – that seek to take that away.

And whilst once the fast food, confectionery and drinks industry stood as far away from the tobacco industry as they possibly could (with fingers crossed muttering quietly “please not us next, please not us next”). “The times they are a changin”.

Taxation, the original weapon of choice of Governments seeking to discourage tobacco consumption, returns increasingly to the alcohol industry, and  is now the insidious stick with which to beat the food industry (think Danish fat tax).

Nor will it stop at just tax. Where health lobby groups have succeeded with tobacco – so they will follow for alcohol, fast food, chocolate and every other indulgence we enjoy.    We already see that great old anti-smoking chestnut- the cost to the NHS -appearing with increasing frequency …  “the cost of obesity to NHS”  or the “£3bn cost of alocohol to NHS every year” .

So too have the scare tactics – the headlines that  get ever more hysterical … the “obesity pandemic“… “Fatty foods Addictive like Cocaine“… “Binge drinking on the rise” (never mind that according to the governments own statistics, alcohol consumption is actually falling).

We are already see signs of anti-tobacco-style attacks on food distribution ( health lobby groups arguing for a ban on siting of “fast food outlets” near educational facilities) and advertising (Diane Abbott’s criticism of Coca Cola and McDonalds sponsoring the Olympic Games) etc.

So sure as night follows day  it’s only a matter of time before it will become “widely accepted” that many of our pleasures and indulgences are in fact wicked evil addictive substances and that we are not responsible consumers but the” hapless and the exploited” that need protecting for our own sakes.

It’s a tiny step from there to the decision that it’s the branding of the fizzy drink, bottle of booze, bar of chocolate, or burger that’s the problem – and stripping away the trademark, packaging design and strap line – is not just desirable but necessary.

And whereas now we have politicians stating “If this legislation stops one young (Australian) from picking up a shiny, coloured packet and prevents them becoming addicted to cigarettes then in my view it will have been worthwhile,” we we soon hear them saying this instead…

If this legislation stops one young (Australian) from picking up a shiny, red tin of Coca Cola  and prevents them becoming addicted to fizzy drinks then in my view it will have been worthwhile” .

And the consequences of travelling blindly down this health evangelist’s path will be brands competing on price, not quality, not health; a duller, less imaginative and exciting world; counterfeiting criminal gangs having a field day; and we the people accepting that we know nothing about anything and that “Government knows best”. When we all have Soviet style cola rationed to us by our “benign” governments we can all praise them and thank them for saving us from ourselves.

I am sure that we all ate more vegetables in the Middle Ages -and probably in Soviet Russia too-  they are just not ages I want to return to, nor regimes I wish to live under. There is an alternative. We can say NO MORE. This is a line in the that has been crossed…Companies have rights. People’s pensions and life-savings are tied up in these companies and their brands. Trademarks can’t be dismissed on a whim.  Intellectual Property Rights can’t be casually cast aside.  And perhaps most importantly …We are adults – not children. And we whilst we say yes to informed choice, education, and help to those who want it…we say no state control.

THIS is a battle that we cannot allow tobacco to lose.

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A Liberal Tolerant Nation?

By Guest
October 20th, 2011 at 10:58 am | 5 Comments | Posted in freedom, Personal Freedom

For much of my life I have had frequent cause to feel proud to be part of a nation with a liberal tradition, famed for its ability to compromise and with a long history of standing against tyranny and oppression. The 2006 Health Act has helped to shatter my illusions. Not because I feel that it is wrong to protect people from breathing unwanted smoke but because the legislation goes far beyond what might reasonably be considered necessary and in effect turns millions of people into second class citizens.

If we temporarily ignore the debate over the health impact of passive smoking and accept that even if that case is not proven it is still reasonable in a civilised society for the majority who don’t smoke not to be subjected to detrimental effect from the minority who do, then it is possible to justify legislation and perhaps, by using the broadest definition of “harm”, to claim that such legislation is consistent with liberal values.

However, in a civilised society that claims to value liberty and democracy, legislation to protect the majority might also be reasonably expected to do so without unnecessary detrimental impact on the minority, especially when the minority is otherwise behaving within the law.

Travelling around Europe, I have noticed the ingenious solutions that many countries have adopted in order to provide smoke free environments for the majority whilst accommodating the sizeable minority who choose to smoke. This is especially noticeable in public spaces such as airports where technology has provided one answer. Indoor smoking facilities are provided at many European airports and as a non-smoker I can attest to their effectiveness. Only those who preach the anti-science doctrine of “no safe minimum exposure” could possibly argue against this approach on health grounds.

The contrast with the UK is striking. Most airports do not offer any smoking facilities airside and when facilities do exist, they take the form of a draughty open air cage.

I believe that the solutions arrived at by our more enlightened and more liberal neighbours are aligned with the majority viewpoint and are compatible with the British traditions of tolerance and fairness. They are not possible in the UK however because the 2006 Health Act intentionally goes beyond what is reasonably necessary to protect non-smokers. Apologists for this illiberal piece of legislation effectively penned by pressure groups and enacted at the expense of a broken manifesto pledge, refuse to consider provision for those who smoke even when this can evidently be achieved without significant impact on those who prefer not to be exposed to second hand smoke. This is hardly surprising as they also appear to advocate state bullying, intimidation and coercion on the basis that, in the case of public health statistics, “the end justifies the means”.

We might expect the social engineers of the far left or right to make that argument, but parliamentarians who support this legislation in its current form while claiming to espouse liberal values should hang their heads in shame. I just feel shame for my country.

Written by Chris Oakely. All photographs are the authors own.


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Smoking ban petition: “What’s to disagree with?”

By Angela Harbutt
August 25th, 2011 at 5:31 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom

I have just returned from my USA vacation and am delighted to report that tales of the demise of the smoker across the pond are greatly exaggerated. Indeed in some states the fight back seems to be on.

Despite what you may have heard, it was ludicrously easy to find hotels in New York offering smoking rooms.  Much easier actually than finding a smoking room in many UK cities. Smoking on the streets remains common place – and the numbers of open air bars encouraging you to light up are, if anything, on the increase.

Over in Las Vegas the story is even more encouraging. Back in around 2006 Nevada introduced a smoking ban on places that served food. Initially this meant that several bars simply went smoke free. In some casinos it was actually difficult to find a decent bar where you could sit down with your Sapphire tonic and enjoy the odd Marlborough Light. But public demand has caused many owners to rethink their policy. One casino on the strip has not only opened up two new smoking bars (complete with waitress service) in the last 12 months, but rejigged two of its most popular restaurants to accommodate outdoor seating for smokers. At the other end of the strip, my favourite restaurant – which bizarrely banned smoking on the terrace when the ban was first introduced – has relaxed its rules to allow its patrons to enjoy a cigarette once more. None of this is to the detriment on non smokers. There are still many places that you can go and find a smoke free atmosphere. But a sense of balance is finally being restored. Amen to that.

Returning to a damp Britain was therefore rather depressing.. A return to standing outside the pub with two bar staff avoiding the cars throwing up spray from the gutter while half a dozen people inside enjoyed their “right” to a smoke free environment. How marvelous it would be if we could see some of that Clark County commonsense over here. 

So what to do….? My first political act post-vacation has been to sign the e-petition calling for a review of the smoking ban.

The petition states

We petition the Government to review the impact of the smoking ban on pubs and clubs and consider an amendment that would give licensees the option of separate well-ventilated smoking rooms”

I share many folks scepticism of e-petitions but there is nothing to lose – and just perhaps something to be gained. I have tested out the wording of the petition with friends and family (mostly non-smokers) … “what’s to disagree with?” was the over-riding consensus.

Original legislation went too far. It is now widely known that the intention was never to include every single pub and club in the smoking ban. A growing number of MPs regret voting it through. And as a society,  we are frankly getting rather tired of the pontifications of those on high, and the intolerance and scorn of those who seem incensed by anyone around them who seems to be taking any enjoyment from life. 

So why not give this e-petition a go? You never know it may just work…..