One of the puzzles of the smoking ban has been the way in which all the main political parties appear to have decided that they don’t want the votes of smokers, all 10-15 million of them. Perhaps it’s a passive smoking thing, and they fear that they’ll get lung cancer from smokers’ votes? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a piece of ‘research’ somewhere that proves this.
Smoking is increasingly confined to the working class, and the working class vote usually goes to Labour. And so the smoking ban has been an attack on Labour’s core voters. This has always looked like political madness to me, but there you go.
But if Labour have been bonkers to alienate many of their own core voters, one might have expected the other two parties to step in to grab those voters for themselves. The Liberal Democrats, above all, might have been expected to declare that in a free and liberal society, smokers should have a right to their own pubs or smoking rooms.
But instead, nearly every single Lib Dem MP voted for a complete ban.
Equally, a Conservative party which supports the traditional rights of fox hunters might very easily have declared that smoking was a tradition in British pubs going back hundreds of years, and part of the fabric of society.
Instead, about one third of Tory MPs voted for a complete ban, and David Cameron shows no interest whatsoever in re-opening the issue.
In this manner, every single one of the main parties has declared, in effect, that they do not want the votes of smokers.
The one party that has said that it will seek to amend the smoking ban is UKIP. Is it entirely accidental that UKIP’s vote has surged very strongly in recent months, while Labour’s vote has slumped?
It is almost as if the three main parties have agreed among themselves that the smoking ban will not be a party political issue, and that none of them will try to make capital out of it. Or perhaps it is that since the smoking ban has always been framed entirely in terms of public health, with all considerations of personal freedom and community set aside, that politicians fear that speaking up for smokers would be equivalent to speaking up for lung cancer? Or perhaps it is that, faced with a blizzard of scientific studies on the dangers of smoking and passive smoking, politicians have allowed public health experts to dictate policy for them, abnegating their own responsibility? If so, all politics has become the politics of public health, and previous political considerations – the idols of freedom, equality, opportunity, etc – have fallen beneath the vast and expanding Moloch of public health.
The other possibility is that the parties have noticed the gains that UKIP has been making with its open appeal to smokers, but feel that if they were to now turn around and speak up for smokers themselves, they would gain no advantage. For if David Cameron were to float the possibility of, say, introducing smoking rooms into pubs, Nick Clegg would most likely say the same thing later that afternoon, and Gordon Brown would follow up the next morning. Or perhaps it is that, whichever party comes up with the slightest relaxation of the ban, the likes of Sir Liam Donaldson and ASH and other public health experts would promptly declare that it would be retrograde step that would result in the slow and horrible deaths of millions of children.
My own guess is that Labour has hopelessly saddled themselves with the smoking ban, and have now become locked into this destructive policy, and they can’t turn round now and say they’ll amend their own ban. They broke a manifesto promise to enact the ban anyway. What are their promises worth anyway? And it really doesn’t matter what a weathervane Lib Dem party does or doesn’t do. I used to vote for them, but now that I know that they’re not the freedom-loving liberals I thought they were, I’ll never vote for them again, regardless of whatever their policy on the smoking ban might become. This leaves the Conservatives as the only major party that smokers can hope might come to their aid. Perhaps the question for the Conservatives is whether they are prepared to allow UKIP to grab the smokers’ votes, calculating that disenchantment with Labour will sweep them to power at the next election without need of those votes. If so, should the Conservative lead in the polls start to narrow, and a decisive victory next year look rather less certain, David Cameron may come to feel the need for those smokers’ votes.
So, I can well imagine that, a few weeks before the General Election next year, David Cameron will unveil a plan to amend the smoking ban. It will be framed in terms of mending a broken society, restoring community and diversity and hallowed tradition. And, who knows, he may even start smoking again.