cigarette pack Tory panic at the new Conservative Party.
cigarette pack

I like these Wiki entries. They're vanity, compiled by the individual his/her self and Sarah Wollaston MP (Con) has done an excellent job with hers (1). It seems to be all business and zero bull, while her personal website is community and health and bicycles (2). That's to be expected, she's a Doctor, she was a General Practitioner and for several years she was a police forensic examiner.

During the selection process she campaigned on the problems associated with alcohol related crime and won because she was seen as the only candidate who wasn't a career politician. I think that's impressive, this is one seriously principled lady and I admire her pluck. She's gone to bat for a stack of issues she knows intimately and defied the party whip on a couple of occasions. She even went so far as to tell them she'd vote against any attempt to repeal the hunting ban. That's core Tory stuff, but she got away with it because the Lib/Dems won't support it either and it'll never be raised in this parliament.

On learning that UKIP is in favour of separate smoking rooms and knowing this is an issue with some Tory voters, Sarah didn't mince her words. She warned the party hierarchy to avoid any attempt to outflank UKIP as the party of "booze and fags" (3) - and I agree with her!

Sarah only became an MP in 2010 and her motivation was the closure of a hospital. She's seen the dark side of alcohol - and people who only see that side of things are bound to have a viewpoint that's not shared by the majority. Sarah's doing nothing especially novel or ground breaking, she's stating the obvious; if you abuse yourself then you'll live a slow life fast. That it involves a tiny minority may not be obvious to someone in A & E, but we need to keep things in perspective and in fairness to Sarah she seems to be able to see the broader picture... to an extent.

Because she came into politics at the last election, it's possible that she's not aware of that period between 2007 and 2010 when someone from the Conservative Party contacted Forest and asked them to "help galvanise smokers". If memory serves it was about getting us to vote for them at the local council elections. Forest declined the offer.

During that period ConservativeHome ran several posts implying that the Tory Party would review the smoking ban if they were elected, along the lines this orphan (notable by the number of comments made by a certain Frank Davis) (4). And many of us remember David Cameron and his "I don't like bans" television interview.

I admit to being suckered by all that and just before the 2010 election I included the Conservatives as one of the parties that wanted to see the smoking ban amended.

Of course they didn't win outright and shortly after the election a post appeared on the ConservativeHome stating there would be no review of the smoking ban because of the Lib/Dems. Actually they were more explicit, they named Clegg as the problem.

Older, more experienced Conservative MPs know they courted the smoker vote, and are aware that it's part of the reason they got elected. But that was 2010 and some of us have moved on. They may never read Frank Davis, or Leg Iron or any of the other anti-ban blogs or sites, but Tory voters do and they know that Frank, Legs and others are pretty keen on UKIP.

UKIP is not the only party that wants to see the smoking ban amended; the BNP is a national alternative, while folks down south have a third choice - the English Democrats. Not one of them is a party of "booze and fags" and this is where Sarah and her colleagues come across as rather pompous and patronizing. The smoking ban is not central to any one of these parties, the reasons they have issues with the ban range from infringements of property rights and civil liberties to seeing it as a serious (possibly insurmountable) impediment to a broad based economic recovery.

Broadly speaking each party stands for change and voters can familiarize themselves with how they intend to achieve that. I find it encouraging that so many people are doing exactly that. UKIP made a valid point, their appeal is such that they managed to get people to get out and vote for the first time in many years. That's commendable, however it seems the English Democrats have been able to do something similar and gained more than 3% of all votes at last months' local elections.

That said a vote for any party other than the "big three" is a success, all the more so if it was taken from them. I've watched UKIP go from 3% to close to 15% of the national vote and while most of it has been by word of mouth, the greatest bounce was post Stony Stratford! Since then every attempt to put down UKIP because Mr Farage smokes is another advert for the party! My only regret is the English Democrats and the BNP don't have charismatic party leaders... yet.

Next year we'll see the EU elections - and they're by Proportional Representation. If UKIP and the English Democrats carry on as they have over the past three years, my suspicion is we'll see what the man in the street really wants. Real Change.

(Respect was a relative unknown. George Galloway smokes cigars but that doesn't automatically endear him, nor the party, to smokers. I contacted Respect and asked what their view is of the smoking ban. They declined a reply.)

Sarah's not the only Conservative politician with a simplistic view of UKIP and the people who vote for them. I mentioned one in February who thought Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum in 2017 had dealt a fatal blow to UKIP ("shot the fox" in Tory parlance). I place no faith in any pledge by Cameron, nor anyone of consequence in the Tory party and it seems I'm not alone. I suspect many people have thought long and hard before switching their allegiance and, smoking ban aside, I like their concept of a simplified tax code as well as a flat rate of income tax. That's long overdue and something the Tory party should have implemented years ago. Only UKIP offers that prospect. No they're not one dimensional, they're perfectly valid alternatives that happen to appeal to people who enjoy smoking.

I'd like to think that at least one person in UKIP or the English Democrats or the British National Party has looked at what's going on with "Health" in the same way as Mrs. Thatcher did with regard to the Unions. She saw them as a drag on our economy and set out to reform them. I see the whole "Health Thing" (and it's not just about smoking or booze or weight, it's about the whole aspect of one sector of society dictating to another, freed from critical or financial constraints by treaties that we were signed up to without due process) in exactly the same light as those unions. They need to be reformed.

Whatever the constraints of working in coalition, the Conservative Party has had more than ample time to turn off the financial spigots that allow this to happen. Instead they've chosen a form of appeasement that lead to the 5% escalator on tobacco last year; that idiotic Committee on plain packaging that's headed up by Stephen Williams (Lib/Dem) and that blatant Trojan Horse, the ban on smoking in cars when children are present. That appears to have stalled, however it was always the opening gambit to force a total ban on smoking in cars with or without kiddies, or anyone else for that matter. Thankfully Bucko the Moose has exposed one of their early forays (5).

Sarah may be blithely unaware of these cabals, however she seems as relaxed as the Tory leadership about pursuing issues that used to be the foundation of the Conservative Party, like removing restrictions to the free market, culling bureaucrats and mandarins, making it very easy to start and run a business, individual freedoms and responsibilities and - of course - individual choice. These are not vague wishy-washy principles, many people search for parties that place these at the top of their agenda - and UKIP still holds these dear.

Sarah's perfectly correct, there's no way the Conservative Party can ever hope to outflank UKIP on this, or any other issue they stand for. The detoxified, philanthropic Tory Party is a pale shadow of its former self and their only answer to UKIP seems to be that they might take so many votes from the Tories that they'll allow the Labour party to regain control. That's disingenuous and an insult to those who helped oust Labour in 2009.

We have written to you, we have petitioned you, we have an army of bloggers who you know about. The pubs are doing their bit and you've been told by everyone from little old ladies who lost their bingo halls to night club owners and the people who run your social clubs; the smoking ban has been, is, and will continue to be a thumping great big issue. You've ignored us while trying to endear yourselves to the very people who hold nothing but loathing and contempt for you. Even a mindless idiot must have a vague inclination that public sector employees are not in the least chuffed at seeing their salaries capped and pension contributions increased and - quite correctly - blame you.

Mr Andrew Black, the Tobacco Programme Manager at the Department of Health is guaranteed to be around when you guys are ancient history. And virtually every one on this 100 plus list of entities (6), all part of the "Smoke Free Coalition", are public sector employees. All caught up in the wage freeze and all perfectly happy to deal with Labour, especially as they have a reputation for throwing money at the public sector and lost causes.

You're making the same mistake as the previous lot, you're not listening to the right people, those who got you elected. It's only when it becomes an issue of your inevitable political demise that you first try to insult us with that Ken Clarke opine about racists, then try to scare us with the prospect of many more years of Labour. That doesn't scare me one tiny little bit because the threat is always worse than the reality and - for some - their social life is already covert and growing (7). Or prize winning - and growing (8).

We need a UKIP presence in Westminster and what constituencies they take from which party is inconsequential. They need practical experience, they need the mandated national exposure the BBC must provide and we need verification that they will remember who got them there. I suspect they will... and that'll be a first for decades.
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Smoking Scot
June 2013