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Votes at 16 won’t have young people flocking back to the Lib Dems

By Leslie Clark
January 21st, 2013 at 11:14 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in freedom, Liberal Democrats

Over on his blog, Stephen Williams MP has revealed he will once again attempt to lower the voting age to 16 for UK elections and referenda.

Williams makes some valid points about its successful operation elsewhere, on the maturity of young adults and their political awareness through organisations like the UK Youth Parliament. But whilst votes at 16 has been a longstanding aspiration of the Liberal Democrats, it could be perceived as a desperate attempt to reconnect with the younger demographic following their u-turn on tuition fees.

Many remarked alterations to the franchise for the Scottish Independence Referendum was an attempt to gerrymander the vote (subsequent polling has shown this would backfire) and for Nationalists to cynically curry favour with young people.

Indeed, where had the sudden desire to ‘empower’ and ‘enfranchise’ [insert meaningless buzzword here] young people come from? After all, the SNP effectively deemed them as too infantile to understand the obvious health consequences of smoking cigarettes by upping the purchasing age from 16 to 18 and then sought to increase the purchasing age for booze from 18 to 21. One Nationalist MSP even ludicrously proposed a curfew on young drivers under 25 (good on LYS for taking them to task).

One would expect liberal voices to challenge  such liberty eroding moves yet in his article Stephen Williams said,

There are good health reasons for controlling access to alcohol and tobacco.”

Hold on. You can be deemed mature enough to participate in an election and understand the main policy debates including, one assumes, health policy, yet be too immature to fully understand the consequences of smoking fags or drinking lager? It seems hypocritical to confer rights on one hand whilst restricting them on the other. If they are young adults, we should allow them to exercise personal responsibility. I believe young people have the capacity to make sensible and informed decisions about their own life but it is puzzling that some advocates of votes at 16 don’t seem to agree.

Votes at 16 won’t help the Lib Dems suddenly re-engage with young people. I’m not inherently against the idea of extending the franchise but we should look at the rights of young people in their totality rather than an à la carte approach. Within the confines of a blog post, I tentatively suggest:

  • Allowing young adults to make their own decisions about how they lead their life. In response to a YouGov poll last year, only 17% of 18-24 year olds believed politicians and civil servants were well-equipped to make personal decisions on their behalf. They reject the Nanny State; so liberate them from it
  • Don’t return to opportunistic and unaffordable pledges aimed at students like scrapping tuition fees
  • Instil a little intergenerational equity into policy and share the burden of cuts
  • Challenge negative perceptions surrounding young people on issues such as anti-social behaviour and binge drinking
  • But most of all, inspire them. The age-old liberal values of personal freedom, civil liberties, peace and internationalism sound pretty appealing to young ears.
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Plain packaging – a dirty war alright!

By Angela Harbutt
March 13th, 2012 at 2:49 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Some of you might have read the Independent article today “The PM, his pro-smoking aide, and a dirty war over cigarette packaging“. In the article it says (amongst other things…)

“…The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has asked Vince Cable, the Trade and Industry Minister, for reassurances that Mr Littlewood will not be advising on tobacco-related matters because of his “clear conflict of interest”.

“….Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking organisation ASH, said: “Mark Littlewood is not independent, he has nailed his colours to the mast by supporting the tobacco industry-funded campaign against plain packs, just as he did its campaign to bring smoking back to our pubs.”

Nailed his colours to the mast ? Too right he has – and years ago. Mark Littlewood (founder of, and former blogger here at LV) has been a passionate smoker, and blogger on the issue for years – and not just on tobacco. He has stood up to governments on tobacco and alcohol and drugs and gambling and a number of other lifestyle issues time and again here on this very blog, on the media. You name it Littlewood has been there.

…And long before he started this blog, when he was the spin doctor for the Lib Dems  he was positively evangelical about people’s freedoms, civil (co-founder of no2id) and  personal.

And who did he report to when working at the Lib Dems ? A certain Lord Rennard. The same Lord Rennard who just happens to be the vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health – (which is also chaired by Stephen Williams MP – also a Lib Dem) – the group that happened to make the complaint about Mark Littlewood to erm… fellow Lib Dem Vince Cable. Priceless! What is that about? Memory loss?

There can be nobody on the APPG – not Lord Rennard the vice chair or Stephen Williams the chair, nor anyone at ASH or indeed Vince Cable that doesn’t know Mark’s stance on tobacco – nor that he has held this stance for decades.

Surprised the Independent didn’t seem to know any of that  – or perhaps just chose not to mention any of that in their article. No – Their stance is to allude to what monies Mark Littlewood’s current organisation might receive from tobacco. As if this would make any difference to Mark Littlewood. It would be laughable were it not all so darned serious.

Personally I find it utterly hypocritical that the entire anti-tobacco health industry feels free to spout their “personal heart-felt beliefs” on smoking to Andrew Lansley and the Department of Health without any qualms. Indeed self-confessed tobacco-haters are commissioned and paid for by the Department of Health  to produce “independent” government policy papers on smoking. Yet these people – or their mouthpieces – go charging off to the Trade and Industry Minister as soon as someone, whose personal beliefs are at odds with theirs, gets anywhere so much as a foot into the doors of power. And who was it I wonder that gave this story to the Independent?

What ever the “Independent” might imply or the APPG disingenuously assert, this attack has nothing to do with tobacco funding any organisation.  It is indeed, as the “Independent” headline says, a dirty war. Because this is an attempt to use the power and privilege of parliamentary position to blacken a man’s name; to cow Mark Littlewood personally into shutting up, or attempt to force his employers into gagging him. I sincerely hope that neither will occur.

As for the APPG on Smoking and Health – a group that receives funding, “admin support” and “briefing papers” from the anti-smoking campaign group ASH – well it is about time this parliamentary loophole to power and influence was plugged once and for all.

Angela Harbutt is a proud campaigner for the Forest run campaign Hands Off Our Packs , opposing the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco.

Update : read also related pieces here – Velvet Gove Iron Fist , Alex Massie at the Spectator and Simon Clark-Taking Liberties

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