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The fightback starts here…

By Angela Harbutt
July 15th, 2011 at 11:22 am | 2 Comments | Posted in freedom, Government, Personal Freedom, UK Politics

Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, UK, is a small market town, with a long history and a serious claim to ownership of the term ‘cock and bull story’. At the height of the great coaching era, when Stony Stratford was an important stopping-off point for mail and passenger coaches travelling between London and the North there was much rivalry between the two main coaching inns – The Cock and The Bull -the two inns fighting to see which could furnish the most outlandish and scurrilous travellers’ tales…..

You might be forgiven therefore for thinking that the latest news to emerge from this sleepy English town was a nostalgic revival of that old tradition. A PR man’s great idea to get Stony back onto the map with a story of outlandish proportions that people would sit up and take notice of this quintessential haven of Englishness. But it isn’t a stunt – though people are certainly taking notice.

Four years since the law to ban smoking in enclosed and semi-enclosed public buildings was introduced in England.. One English Parish –  the Parish Council of Stony – has now decided that they want to introduce a bylaw to ban smoking outdoors….in the streets, parks, and every other scrap of outdoor space that the Parish has control over.

The law to ban smoking indoors was never intended to go as far as it did. The original idea was to exempt private clubs and to let pubs provide smoking rooms. But egged on by the highly funded anti-tobacco lobby, Parliament’s paternalistic fervour took over and Parliament pushed through a blanket prohibition instead. That was a shameful act – one that a growing number of MPs feel, rightly, was not Parliament’s finest hour.

Now the people of Stony face an even more draconian ban, led by one Mr Bartlett, to ban all smoking outdoors. His arguments for imposing an outdoor ban would be funny were it not so serious…. He believes that the smoking ban would ‘make the environment cleaner’ and prevent ‘harm’ to children. He is quoted as saying :

 “Why should people have the freedom to smoke in my face, pass on diseases and spoil the environment? ….. When you walk through the high street in any town smoke is in your face and harming you and any children there…. Smokers then get their butt, which is full of saliva, and chuck it on the floor…It costs millions to clear street rubbish, and goodness knows what a child could pick up from them…”

I personally agree that the sight of cigarette butts on the streets is unsightly but on that basis you would ban every sweet, snack, soft drink and fast food sold in Britain. We already have the facility in this country to punish littering – just enforce them surely? As for the idea that puffing smoke into the open air can somehow “harm” children, or that discarded butts are spreading plague-like diseases throughout the UK is both ignorant and ridiculous. How such an ill-informed and inflammatory statement can be made by an elected official is simply beyond me.

This is NOT the free Britain we know and love.  As a nation we are still, thank goodness, proud of our individual freedoms and our tolerance of others. We are a nation of co-operative compromise – finding ways to accommodate the opinion and desires of the majority, without opressing the minority. 

Smokers have up until now largely accepted the laws laid down by Government. But you can only push a mild man so far – and no further. Smokers were bemused but now furious at the puritan’s increasingly outrageous accusations about the effects of smoking on others. They were surprised but now angry at the level of bile and hatred that these claims have incited. They were driven out of the pubs for reasons that were never proven nor clear – NOW they are to be cleared off the streets. They have rightly had enough.

Non smokers too are now joining the smokers in their fight. Many have come to realise from the rhetoric and growing hysteria of the puritans that once smoking has been “wiped from the face of the earth” these same people will turn their bile on drinkers, fatties, clubbers or any other section of society subject to their disgust and scorn.

So the fight back starts here. Smokers and non-smokers, businessmen and private citizens, young and old are taking to the streets this Saturday in Stony Stratford to say NO. We the people have for centuries past rubbed along together, altered our habits to accommodate changing social views, found happy compromise where differences emerge. We don’t need Government, local or national, to do it for us. And certainly not when it leads to people being driven off the streets based on daft ideas and groundless assertions. Nor will we allow to pass, unchallenged, measures that incite intolerance or victimisation of our friends and neighbours. And mostly we will not tolerate bullies – especially self-serving elected bullies who abuse their power.

If the bullies and puritans get their way in Stony Stratford we will see a ripple effect across the country – and they will be coming to your town and coming for you next. The fight starts here. Details of Saturday’s event..

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Smoking, Freedom and all things (ob)noxiouxs

By Tom Papworth
June 28th, 2011 at 8:58 am | 39 Comments | Posted in Culture, drugs, freedom, health, Nannying, Personal Freedom

Last week, Angela kicked off a firestorm with her article about abuse of public money by Action on Smoking and Health, the anti-tobacco pressure-group.

Now, Liberal Vision does not need to dwell on tobacco regulation. There are countless infringements on individual liberty out there to discuss, and we don’t want to develop some single-issue hobby-horse. But tobacco regulation is a good proxy for plenty of other government interventions, and the activities of the anti-smoking lobby are echoed by paternalists in other parts of the public health establishment and beyond. It is therefore worth teasing out some of the issues that tobacco regulation raises so that we can better understand liberty in general.

It seems to make sense to begin with a comment from Martin: “Why on earth is [Angela’s] article listed under ‘Personal Freedom’?”. Martin argues that:

Smoking harms human health, as does secondary smoking… Poisoning other people irrespective of their wishes makes an absolute travesty of the term ‘personal freedom’. A more appropriate article tag would be ‘Blinkered Self-Interest’.

Much to the chagrin of some libertarians, it is a fair question and it deserves a response. It is also not enough to deny the effects of second hand smoke: whether or not you question the belief that evidence of the dangers of passive smoking is conclusive, it is clear that the evidence is not conclusive that it is not dangerous. Furthermore, it is smelly and unpleasant for many non-smokers and so some form of negative externality results even if the health one does not.

Having said that, I do believe that this is a matter of personal freedom, and I hope to explain why.

In a follow-up email to Angela, Martin explained why he felt that smoking was not a matter of personal freedom or one compatible with liberalism:

Liberalism has always been about personal freedoms that should only extend up to the point before they start to harm others…. you are bastardising the central plank of liberalism by linking the slow poisoning of others with some sort of human right.

The first point is clearly a reformulation of a sound principle, best captured by Oliver Wendell Holmes when he said that “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” However, this must surely be situational: if Holmes is already swinging his fists about when Martin walks up to him, and Holmes therefore breaks Martin’s nose, it is Martin who has invaded Holmes’s personal space and responsibility rests with Martin for the pain he has suffered. Similarly, if Angela is sitting on a bench enjoying a cigarette and Martin comes and sits alongside her, it is Martin, not Angela, who is responsible for any perceived aesthetic or medical consequence. The alternative would be either to ban Angela from smoking altogether (which is the response taken by ASH and the government in banning smoking in many areas) or to empower Martin to force her to stub out every time he approached her.

Of course, it is not simply enough to say “s/he who arrives first gets to decide” (though that is exactly the approach that has traditionally been taken to ownership of resources). Martin may not have to sit next to Angela on the bench, but he may have to sit next to her in a train or a pub. So who should arbitrate in this case?

ASH clearly believes that this is the role of government – which it has encouraged to ban smoking in just about any venue where two strangers might meet indoors. However, it is that which is at odd with liberalism; not the “slow poisoning of others.” This is my second point: that ultimately, the right to decide what takes place in any locale should be at the discretion of the owner of that property. (A unhelpful and circular argument results from adding “as long as the activity is legal” which encourages paternalists to point out that the government can make it illegal on private property, which is true but not liberal. It’s a long-winded diversion, however. Read The Constitution of Liberty if it is troubling you).

Imagine Angela, Martin and I are on Come Dine With Me. When we all go to Martin’s house, he is entitled to tell Angela that she cannot smoke anywhere on the premises. At my house, I might say that it’s up to them whether they smoke, or that they can smoke, but only in the garden. When we visit Angela, she is within her rights to say that we are only allowed in her house if we smoke. Martin will refuse to enter Angela’s house – and mine if I let Angela smoke at the dinner table – and similarly Angela may refuse to set foot in Martin’s. That’s fine. It’s their house; they make the rules.

Why is a restaurant different from a house? Why is a taxi different? Or a pub (which, despite it’s unfortunate name, is a private, and not a public, space)? The answer is that there is no difference. It should be up to the restaurateur, the taxi driver and the publican to set the rules.

Anti-smokers usually fear that this will result in a free-for-all with smoking everywhere. This is unlikely. Truly “public” (or quasi-public) spaces, those run or regulated by public bodies, would undoubtedly remain smoke free. As for the rest, it is unlikely that they would all now revert to allowing smoking: non-smokers like smoke-free spaces, and there are costs to cleaning up after smokers. However, if the balance tipped too far towards smoking establishments, this could be managed by a licensing system: taxi licences would either forbid smoking or regulate the number of smoking cabs; local authorities could license smoking as they do on- and off-licence sales of alcohol. This still undermines property rights, but it is a better solution than the current blanket provision. Why, after all, can the members of a private club that centres around the enjoyment of cigars not smoke in their clubhouse?

The third point, then, must address what is often portrayed as both the main argument and the one hardest to refute – though ASH admitted it was in fact merely a tactical ploy – which is that something must be done to protect the health of workers. This, again, is a property rights issue: every man has a property in his own person, and is able to make an informed decision as to the costs and benefits of any employment. The idea that no person should be allowed to take employment that carries a risk is absurd. Instead, the risks should be made clear and individuals should be free to determine the balance for themselves. If people are able to evaluate the risks of going to war or space, of running into burning buildings or driving 40 tonne trucks across a thin layer of ice above the Arctic Ocean, they are presumably able to evaluate the risks, and the potential rewards, in terms of wage premiums, higher overall levels of employment, and so forth.

Some might not mind working in a smoky bar; some might actively enjoy it; and some might value the extra income more than they fear the health risks. But it is their choice to make. They do not need ASH or the government taking decisions for them. It is that removal of individual choice, discretion and responsibility that is “bastardising the central plank of liberalism”.

ASH…We Really Must Do This More Often

By Angela Harbutt
June 24th, 2011 at 12:46 am | 12 Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom

A couple of days ago I wrote a small wee post on ASH . I thought it might be of  interest to those who read our blog and care about personal freedom and the nannying (and now “nudge”) state in which we live.  I was somewhat taken aback by the response (positive and negative). When Big ASH piles into the comments you know you have touched a nerve.

Anybody who thought that the debate on smoking was over, must surely think again.

Some of the comments were so astonishing that I was going to write a whole new post about them. Then I saw that Dick Puddlecote had done something already… “We Really Must Do This More Often” . To be honest, it wasn’t quite the post I had in mind, but it is really very funny and thought you might enjoy. And I will leave my  musings for another day. My thanks to Mr Puddlecote.

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ASH abuse of public money must end

By Angela Harbutt
June 22nd, 2011 at 12:28 pm | 157 Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) is a campaigning health charity set up in 1971 by the Royal College of Physicians to work towards eliminating the harm caused by tobacco.  This could have been a force for good –  afterall there is nothing intrisically wrong with wishing to reduce the harm caused by tobacco.  It rather depends how you go about it – and that is so often  determined by who is footing the bills.

ASH receives huge amounts of money from the taxpayer  and sadly, like so many publicly funded bodies with too much money and too little scrutiny it has NOT gone about its task well. ASH has now become a fat, over-staffed, political, and single-minded organisation hell bent on eradicating smoking from the face of the earth, by whatever means necessary.  Where it could have worked with the industry to find solutions to the issues, it has set itself up against the manufacturers, the retailers and the consumers. And much of its so-called advice has been at best ineffecitve , and all too often counter-productive , with huge financial and social unintended consequences.

The future of ASH’s government funding must, now,  surely be in doubt.  Here we have an  organisation funded by government, actively lobbying government – often behind closed doors and with alarming success. I say “alarming” becuase it is. Government spending money to lobby itself makes ordinary folks blood boil at the best of times – indeed David Cameron said he would put a stop to it –  but this extraordinary abuse of public money surely can’t continue in the current economic climate.

I don’t say abolish ASH – we live in a free country. But government funding must cease. I came

 Read this letter from Kieran McDonnell, president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, to David Cameron :

21 June 2011

Dear Prime Minister,

Formal complaint regarding breach of the Ministerial Code

I write to you in my capacity as President of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), which represents 16,500 newsagent members across the UK, with a complaint regarding the conduct of your Public Health Minister Anne Milton with reference public statements made and circulated on 15th June when Ms Milton attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking & Health’s 40th anniversary for Action on Smoking & Health (ASH).

At the meeting, Ms Milton credited the Vice Chair of the group (and former Chair of the Health Select Committee) Kevin Barron MP for his help “behind the scenes” when addressing smoking legislation. In addition the Minister also accepted an award and presented an award to the Director of ASH.

This statement and public acceptance and deliverance of awards to an organisation that has been lobbying her department, MPs and other government departments (and indeed is granted government funding on the basis that it not be used for lobbying purposes) has called into question the manner in which recent tobacco display ban legislation has been made; and the ability of the Minister to be considered unbiased on the issue.

I attach a copy of the event report from an independent parliamentary reporting service and would ask that you formally conduct an investigation into the conduct of your minister in the light of her public admission that she had worked with an officer of an ASH funded parliamentary lobby group on recent legislation “behind the scenes”. Moreover, this inappropriate conduct necessitates a review of the legitimacy of the legislation itself.

We have long suspected that ‘behind the scenes’ dealings have been going on in the formation of this legislation in the manner in which it has been pushed through without running the legislation past the Reducing Regulation Committee; without identifying a ‘one out’ for the legislation; and indeed without fulfilling the BRE Guidance to undertake a Small Business Impact Assessment.

In light of these recent statements, I regrettably now see proof of these suspicions which is deeply offensive to our members who have campaigned so hard to see the government fulfil its pre-election commitments to bring the debate back to the House of Commons for a free vote and which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats publically opposed in opposition.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Yours sincerely,

Kieran McDonnell
President, National Federation of Retail Newsagents

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Save Our Pubs & Clubs – join us in Westminster on June 29

By Angela Harbutt
May 23rd, 2011 at 11:20 pm | 27 Comments | Posted in Personal Freedom

Liberal Vision are off to the Houses of Parliament on 29th June. Well… We have certainly signed up to Simon Clark’s genius event. Details from the Taking Liberties website are shown below – you can click here to find out how to get your own invite to the reception.

Special thanks go to Rt Hon Greg Knight MP (Conservative), Roger Godsiff MP (Labour) and John Hemming MP (Liberal Democrat) who are hosting the event.

The fight to amend the smoking ban is going to the heart of Westminster.

On Wednesday June 29, two days before the fourth anniversary of the smoking ban in England, we want supporters of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign to join us at the Houses of Parliament.

Supporters are invited to attend a special reception hosted by The Rt Hon Greg Knight MP (Conservative), Roger Godsiff MP (Labour) and John Hemming MP (Liberal Democrat).

Location: Terrace Pavilion, House of Commons.

Time: 4.00-6.00pm

In advance of the event you will be asked to contact your local MP so you can arrange to meet them at the reception to discuss the smoking ban and related issues.

The aim of the event is to highlight the impact of the ban and demonstrate the strength of feeling that still exists in many quarters.

This is rare opportunity to lobby your MP in the presence of other like-minded people. We need as many people as possible to take part so please support this initiative and encourage others to do so too.

To attend the reception you MUST register in advance. So visit the Taking Liberties website and get yourself on the list.

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