The Party Politics of Smoking

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.

About Frank Davis

smoker
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4 Responses to The Party Politics of Smoking

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, it’s certainly curious – to say the least – that none of the major parties either could or would see the opportunity to steal a very significant number of voters from under Labour’s nose. Is it, do you think, because so many of these bans and anti-smoking campaigns are coming from Europe – or, as we Euro-sceptics like to call it “She Who Must Be Obeyed?” For sure, none of the major parties, (not even the Tories, for all their “big talk”) ever seem particularly prepared to stand up to the EU – indeed it seems that the EU’s every wish and whim is their command. Perhaps that’s why UKIP are the only ones prepared to amend the ban. Maybe they were also canny enough to see that by stealing the smoking vote they could also shore up their own anti-EU position. Or maybe it’s because our Westminster MP’s are painfully aware that, once the Lisbon Treaty is ratified and fully implemented they will be out of a job (because the whole of the UK will be divided into EU regions, administered and run from Brussels, and there will be no function remaining for a UK Government to fulfil), so why fight for votes when parliament is due to be irrevocably dissolved for the final time in 2010? It really won’t matter who wins, because they’ll all be out on their ears within a very short time anyway. Far better, surely, to concentrate on buttering up the EU in the hope of being transferred to a lucrative posting there once their lucrative posting here is finished. I’ve always said that the smoking ban was, and is, about much, much more than just smoking, and to date I’ve seen nothing to convince me otherwise.
    Oh, and by the way, the BNP also promised to amend the smoking ban – and are also advocates of withdrawal from the EU, too – and they have also made some significant gains over recent months. Coincidence? No, I don’t think so.

  2. Frank Davis says:

    so why fight for votes when parliament is due to be irrevocably dissolved for the final time in 2010?
    Well, that’s certainly an explanation. And of course I’ve read about this on the web. But I don’t actually believe it. If, of course, parliament actually is dissolved for the last time in 2010, and boarded up, then I’ll have to believe it.
    Why don’t I believe it? Well, because if it was going to happen, the media would be giving us the glorious date when we would become full members of the EU superstate, and the joys that membership would bring, etc, etc, and getting everyone ready for it, playing the Ode to Joy. Instead, nothing is happening at all. The EU is not much of a subject for discussion at all in the media these days, and hasn’t been for years. It’s simply not credible that such an enormous change could happen without people being very thoroughly prepared for it. And since this isn’t happening, I don’t believe that our parliament is going to be closed down in 2010, and MPs made redundant.
    And anyway the UK smoking ban doesn’t come from the EU. We have a ban because Tony Blair signed up to the WHO convention on Tobacco Control back in 2003, along with about 150 other countries. The WHO is a UN organisation, and it turned antismoking and oriented towards ‘lifestyle health’ when Gro Harlem Brundtland took over as its director sometime in the 1990s. But that’s another story.
    That said, the EU bureaucracy is as antismoking as any, and is discussing further antismoking legislation. And this is the reason why I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the EU. I didn’t mind the Community of Nations thing. But an EU superstate interfering in absolutely every detail of everyone’s lives: No. Never.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Maybe so, and I really hope you’re right. But do you think that the press would be ALLOWED to report such a story – which would clearly upset a lot of people and – shock! horror! – might even galvanise the normally-apathetic British public into some kind of protest? After all, they weren’t allowed to report any pro-smoking news prior to the ban, despite there being plenty of material out there (as you have ably pointed out in many of your articles). Or might they not also keep the facade of a Westminster parliament going for a few years, just to convince the public that “nothing’s REALLY changed”?
    Call me a cynic if you will, but …….!

  4. Frank Davis says:

    I don’t think that the press is “not allowed” to report some stories. There isn’t a law against it. Instead it is that there would seem to be a prevailing climate of opinion within the media about the EU, or smoking, or global warming, or whatever. In part this may be determined by whoever owns or runs these media outfits, but there also is quite apparently strong agreement with the policy among those whose job it is to actually write or speak about it at the coal face.
    In respect of the smoking ban, I don’t think that the media are “not allowed” to say anything positive about smoking. I think instead that it’s simply that the climate of opinion within the media is extremely dogmatic on the subject. People are also extremely dogmatic about it on the street as well. People that I know. It’s only a few weeks ago that somebody I know very well was loudly telling me that smoking caused cancer and heart disease. It wasn’t that she “wasn’t allowed” to think otherwise.
    It seems to me that we live in extremely dogmatic times, in which more or less everybody is utterly convinced that whatever they believe about anything, it is the absolute and final and unalterable truth of the matter, and to believe or think otherwise is sheer stupidity. There’s a remarkable smugness and lack of self-doubt. Too few people are asking: “What if we’re mistaken?” Everybody thinks they know everything, when it is manifest that most of them know next to nothing at all, and are simply saying what everybody else says (which is what I threw back at the woman who was telling me that smoking caused lung cancer).
    If we are controlled, or “not allowed”, the chains are very largely in our own minds, and we wear them of our own free will.
    In respect of Europe, the debate about it, which was loud and raucous a decade or so ago, has gone very quiet. I’m not quite sure why. But the divisions are still there. Some people are all for an EU superstate, and I can see why. Others are not, and I can see why too. It is not that we are “not allowed” to think one thing or the other. In a year or so, the whole thing will probably erupt explosively.

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