Drowned Smokers

The media and the blogs have been full of Gordon Brown’s latest gaffe, privately calling a Labour voter a ‘bigot’ minutes after publicly telling her how pleased he was to meet her. Pundits have been out in force to assess whether it will do significant damage.

I hope it does. It’s an episode which highlights the two-faced nature of modern politics: politicians will say one thing in public, and something completely different in private. What is presented to the voting public is a sham and a mask. It’s up to the public to try to guess what lies behind the mask.

And it also highlights Labour’s attitude to its own voters, which is one of complete contempt. A Labour voter had asked about East European immigrants, and for this she was dismissed as a ‘bigot’. Yet as I see it, it is this Labour government which is a government of bigots.

So I hope it damages Labour. I hope that it will prove to be an ’emblematic moment’, as one BBC reporter suggested it might be. But most politicians who commented upon the episode were much more forgiving. Probably because they also were as equally two-faced as Gordon Brown, and as equally bigoted.

But the episode also demonstrates the shallow nature of the entire campaign. Nothing of substance is being discussed. Not the public debt. Not the EU. Not the collapsing grand narrative of global warming. Nor, of course, the smoking ban. A politician has simply been found out for saying one thing in public, and another in private. Is that news?

Nick Clegg’s response to it all, questioned by Eddie Mair on Radio 4’s PM, was more or less to say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I”. That may have been because the very first question that Eddie Mair asked him was whether he believed in God. He didn’t. But it was a question for which he clearly didn’t have a prepared answer, and was slightly on the back foot for the rest of the interview. Indeed many of the subsequent questions were also ones which he didn’t have a ready answer for. For example, was there anything he wasn’t very good at? Lots of things, he replied. And, had he considered that he might become Prime Minister next week? No, he hadn’t.

I discovered today that Nick Clegg had only been an MP since 2005. Perhaps this explains his charm to many voters. He has perhaps not yet learned to become a standard, two-faced, bigoted politician. He remains engaging and approachable. He seems to be trying to answer questions, even if they are sometimes very strange questions.

Not that I’m in the least bit charmed. There’s only one issue for me at this election, and that is the smoking ban. It’s a piece of legislation which has exiled me from society. And, as an outcast and exile, all other questions are necessarily secondary. The national debt. The EU. Global warming. Immigration. All of them. I can only see them through the prism of the smoking ban. Such matters only have meaning for people who are, or who regard themselves as being, full British citizens, and who therefore have a stake in this country’s future development. On 1 July 2007, I ceased to have such a stake.

I’m not charmed by Clegg because, according to the Public Whip’s handy all-in-one display of MPs’ votes on the smoking ban, Clegg voted for the total ban. As such, he joins Gordon Brown and Tony Blair and Vince Cable and all the rest of the MPs who decided that day to expel Britain’s 15 million smokers from their pubs. He is, as far as I am concerned, one of the damned. For the vote he cast that day has determined entirely what I will think of him hereafter. Nothing else matters.

I realise that there are a great many smokers who don’t share my attitude. Many of them still regard themselves as British citizens, and full members of society. They probably never went to pubs very much, so the smoking ban didn’t have much impact on their lives. Or else they belonged to communities which didn’t entirely rely on pubs and clubs for their meeting places. I have not been one of those fortunate people. I relied almost entirely upon pubs as meeting places. Once they were turned into so many dentists’ waiting rooms, my community of friends began to disintegrate. Over the past three years, I’ve become more and more isolated. And it’s an isolation which is only set to deepen.

More or less whatever happens, the ill effects of it fall more on some people than on others. One might think of a people as being an army that goes off to war in Flanders fields. Some of them return covered in glory. Some of them return injured. Some of them return entirely unharmed. And some of them are killed, and never return at all. I belong in the final category, even if I am still struggling to disinter myself from the mud that covers me.

I’m sure that I’m not alone. There are plenty of other dead out there. Some of the smokers I know have recounted similar stories of deepening isolation. It’s barely surprising, given the inexorable logic of the situation. If you destroy a social institution, you also destroy the network of relationships that have been built up in that institution. So it’s not just my community of friends that has been destroyed, but millions upon millions of friendships across the entire land.

For some people, like Lawrence Walker, it was too much. He took his own life about 6 months after the ban came into force. He had become, in that time, a complete exile. He had lost all connection with everything and everyone. He probably didn’t have an internet connection, deep in the Cornish countryside. I at least have that, and so belong to the strange virtual communities which flourish within it. Such communities are – like e-cigarettes – better than nothing. But they don’t compare to the real thing, the actual experience of meeting people and talking to them.

It’s one reason why I am optimistic that the smoking ban will be amended or repealed one day. I simply don’t believe that such an utterly vile and vindictive and monstrously destructive piece of legislation can survive very long. I can no more imagine it being possible than I can believe that a country can be ruled by villains and thieves and murderers for very long either.

It’s not just all the pubs that have been closing, largely as a consequence of the ban. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The real damage is the social damage, the millions of broken friendships, crushed out by an imposed isolation. The pub closures at least get reported in a few newspapers. The underlying fractured society is never reported at all. The individual hairline fissures are almost too tiny to notice. But I think that they are all that really matters. Any society is, in some sense, simply the sum of all the connections between everyone in it. Remove those connections, and the pubs will remain standing, and the trains will still run, but there will be no society at all.

This is why the smoking ban will be amended or – better still – entirely repealed. The enormous and progressive social damage will become increasingly apparent, even to those who are not smokers, and whose lives were entirely unaffected (and maybe even temporarily improved) by the smoking ban.

And it’s also why all antismoking organisations must be destroyed. Every single last fucking one of them. They must become proscribed organisations like Al Qaeda or the IRA. And it’s why the World Health Organisation and the medical establishment must be reformed root and branch, and large numbers of their senior members struck off or fired or otherwise removed from their posts. What else is to be done with people who inflict such enormous damage on society? These people pose as the earnest friends of humanity, anxious for their health. But they are in fact the bitterest enemies of civil society and community and friendship and conviviality. And all they ever tell are lies.

It’ll make no difference who gets elected next week, because none of the political parties (apart from UKIP and the BNP) are proposing to do anything at all about the smoking ban. So it looks like it will be another few years before the voices of the drowned smokers will be heard. The enormous social damage will go on being done. But their voices will eventually be heard. One or two far-sighted politicians, and maybe a bishop here and there, or some social psychologist, will draw attention to them. Who knows how it will happen. But happen it will.

About Frank Davis

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15 Responses to Drowned Smokers

  1. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant post. And I agree with every word.
    Mr A.

  2. iessalb says:

    It’s interesting how some people immediately “get it” while others languish in la-la land for a long, long time. I remember getting an instant gut feeling that we were up against a basic garden variety hate group when the antismoking movement first took hold in America. I told anyone and everyone who would listen that they were nothing more than a sanitized version of the KKK hiding underneath a neat white smock; some got it and others didn’t. It’s now morphed into an abominable stew of the KKK with Carrie Nation and her disgusting killjoy Prohibition experiment thrown in for garnishment.
    Slowly but surely I’m finding that it’s become apparent to more people I converse with that I had it right. I, too, have faith that the day will come when the antismoking hate mob will be relegated to the ashcan of failed history. I will rejoice in their downfall.
    Just imagine the UKIP suddenly getting an extra, unanticipated 15 million votes as each and every smoker finally wakes up.
    I’m also hoping for a punishing defeat for the Dem’s this November in the US.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Beautifully written piece, Frank, and a superb articulation of what has been done to those quiet, decent folk who thought they were the backbone of this country until they were banished to the outer zone of other people’s mindless bigotry.
    Who of we smokers ever thought we would become a scapegoated minority pilloried for our very existence? As a result of the ban I have met and talked to an astonishing range of people (standing outside various buildings across the country), all races, all ages, all classes, the white ex-offender, the Black woman barrister, the Chinese student, the hulking Hell’s Angel. There always was an unspoken solidarity between smokers (giving someone a light, helping a stranger light up in a howling gale), but now it is spoken. New threads of connection have been made in the real world (for those of us who are not too elderly or frail or vulnerable to stand outside) and in this virtual world. Maybe it’s just me, but we don’t seem to going away, and because our sin is so visible we are a constant thorn in the side of those who want us just to disappear. If this summer is as good as they’re suggesting, we have many opportunities to be very visible and very unapologetic.
    PT Barnum

  4. Anonymous says:

    The trouble is, you are rational, and there is no limit to their irrationality

  5. Anonymous says:

    They don’t like pubs. In pubs, matters in public disfavour are discussed and reflected upon. A strong sense of community and friendship won’t sell ID cards and the paraphernalia of the State. It’s harder to say “enough is enough” when you’re on your own. The closing of 30 pubs a week is no accident. How to stop it? There are several ways. Either Landlords, fearful of their livelihoods, must pick a date, and on that date defy the ban en masse, thousands at once. Or, in touristy areas, such as major city centres, they must close – again en masse – for one day per week, as they did in Amsterdam for this very reason. Or else every smoker must light up in a bar at the same time and date, in their millions. Organisation is the true problem, plus our resolve and sense of pride, which is under constant attack. Do we have the balls?

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree with anon 12.42. The law will be changed only after mass protest. That is why the hunting ban is to be scrapped – not because the Conservatives have a strong belief in the freedom to chase and kill animals. It would take just one day of several thousand pubs and cafes alowing smoking. I’m not sure closing would have much effect. Smokers would have to play their part by donating money to pay fines. I’ll repeat my alternative suggestion. Several hundred people jointly sign a lease and open a smoking research establishment. This would conduct bona fide research into extraction systems. While legal, it would eventually be closed down and a fine paid. This would then be repeated indefinitely. Were the maximum fine of £2500 to be paid each time, just 1000 people each donating £50 could fund 20 operations. I’m sure that some extraction system manufacturers would give large discounts as their names would be featured prominently on the resulting videos viewable on the research website. What do other people think?

  7. Anonymous says:

    A little out of topic
    Hi Frank
    I’m enjoying your blog. Check out this one
    I’m sorry it’s a little out of topic, but there was no e-mail addres to write to.
    Lars Folmann

  8. Frank Davis says:

    I think the ban will be repealed or amended. It’s what I always think. Because it’s such a vile law.
    But I suspect that it will be repealed when the tide of public opinion changes, as I think it’s already changing. I think that more and more people are, little by little, beginning to realise just how petty and vindictive the antismokers really are.
    I’m very hopeful that the public spending cuts which are going to start next week will see government funding of antismoking organisations being slashed. If it isn’t, I’m going to wonder why. And a lot of other people will wonder why too. I’m surprised, frankly, that there haven’t been cuts already.
    On the news just now it’s been reported that the governor of the Bank of England has privately said that the cuts are going to be so savage that the government that implements them will be unelectable for a generation. Which may explain why none of the parties seem particularly keen to win. Is Gordon Brown trying to make sure he doesn’t get re-elected? He’s doing a great job of it. Anyway, if the cuts are going to be truly savage, I can’t imagine that antismoking cash will get any special dispensation. If the antismoking campaign continues, it’ll be because Big Pharma funds it. And why should they want to? What’s in it for them?
    My guess is that next week will bring the end of the screeching, meddling nanny state. The government can’t afford it any longer. It was luxury they could indulge in during the boom years. Nobody’ll dream of continuing it (except diehard antismokers in need of state funding).
    I expect that, as the nanny state dwindles away, it may actually begin to become possible to have an genuine open discussion of the ban and its effects, without any dissent being shouted down, and ascribed to the malign influence of Big Tobacco.
    Global warming is now past its peak. That’s another thing that governments can’t afford. You hear less and less about it already.
    Maybe public disobedience would help things along, but I think that, in the years to come, it’ll be pushing against an open door.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I am getting too old to stand outside pubs or restaurants. Plus I was taught that it was only ‘ladies of the night’ that stood in the street smoking.
    I have been 3 years away from any social contact other than the odd hello with neighbours.
    Being a widow with no family it was always going to be hard to get back into some semblance of normality with regard to socialising, but I didn’t think that it would be this bad.
    I used to meet up in a cafeteria with some lady friends, but now that has stopped as a few of the ladies were smokers and didn’t want to stand in the street to have a cigarette.
    I went to a quiz night at the local pub as there were quite a few elderly ‘singles’ there. That has stopped. I also playe bingo once a week and that too has stopped as there is no pleasure in having a drink there with no cigarette.
    I am now on anti depressants and wish that I had the courage to kill myself and join my dear husband.
    Thank you politicians for making my life not worth living after working from age 14 until 68. I am now 74 and have lost my soul and will to live in this lonely place.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to think that people will come to their senses at some stage in the future, but to be honest, I think the trouble is that the majority of members of the British public just don’t seem to have the capacity to see things further than the end of their noses.
    Like Iessalb above, I’ve long seen the anti-smoking movement as much, much more than just an anti-smoking movement and, as I’ve mentioned on here many times, I think that in all its manifestations it is responsible for one hell of a lot more damage than just the obvious fallout of isolation of smokers and large numbers of pub closures.
    But I don’t think that many people are able to look at virtually anything once- or twice-removed, either backwards or forwards, as it were. They see the preponderance of CCTV as a preponderance of CCTV. They see ID cards as ID cards. They see global warming as global warming – or the global warming scam as a global warming scam. And they see the smoking ban as a ban on smoking. Full stop. They may approve or disapprove of these things, they may like or dislike them, but they rarely see in any of them indications of further damage in wider spheres than it is plainly obvious that those things affect directly. And if the smoking ban does continue, and the anti-smoking movement is given even further scope to extend its activities, even if in a few years’ time there are further financial crises, even less community cohesion, fewer and fewer friendships, less and less innovation and genuine, groundbreaking creativity, I think that few, if any, members of the public will have the breadth of vision to make any connection between the two.
    But I really, really hope that I’m wrong, for all of our sakes – smokers and non-smokers alike.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I am so sorry that you are so isolated and unhappy, and all because of this stupid law and these zealots who want to punish smokers.
    Are the ladies you used to meet in the cafeteria feeling the same as you? Maybe you could organise lunchtime or afternoon get-togethers in each others’ houses? Get everybody to bring some food or drink, do it on a rota basis, and chat, socialise and smoke your heads off together. But regardless, the summer should be better, so you can meet up and sit outside a cafe or pub?
    Don’t let them win. Find ways of getting together with other smokers (and non-smokers who don’t hate smokers), have a good time and stick two fingers up to the smoke fascists.
    PT Barnum

  12. Frank Davis says:

    I’m sorry to hear of your circumstances. P.T. Barnum’s advice above is about the best I can suggest.
    Or you can describe your experience here (or email me at author@idletheory.info – a name and a town would help), and I’ll post it up on my blog. And perhaps you can get some stories of what life has been like for some of the other smokers you know. And I’ll post those up too.
    What is happening to you is happening to millions of people. I know a 75-year-old who used to meet up with friends at a pub once a week, and with other friends at a cafe. That’s all ended. “I’m too old to stand outside,” he told me, when I last visited him in his little flat, which is the only place I see him these days. It’s the same everywhere.
    If we had media with any sort of social conscience, stories like this would be found in every single town and village in the country. But instead we have a political correctness which regards smokers as being non-persons, and they never get a hearing. It’s utterly shameful.

  13. Anonymous says:

    so eloquent!
    It could be me thinking aloud. Frank it’s enough to know I’m not the only one who feels like this.

  14. Frank Davis says:

    May I suggest to anyone who is reading this that, if they are elderly (65+) and they smoke, they send me an email at author@idletheory.info setting out their personal experience of the smoking ban.
    And may I also suggest that if you know any elderly smokers, you get in contact with them, and ask them how life has been for them, and write it all down, and send it to me.
    I say elderly, not because I’m unsympathetic to less elderly, but because I think that this ban has disproprortionately hurt elderly people, who are the most vulnerable. I’d like to be able to tell their story.
    I may devote a post that appeals my readers for such stories, from anywhere in the world (although the centre of my concern is with the UK and its particularly ferocious ban).

  15. Anonymous says:

    Has it occurred to anyone else (it has to me) that governments, in their accelerating grab for power, are glad the pubs are gone? Isolated people are easier to manipulate beCAUSE they’re isolated and don’t have a place to bounce around ideas (anti-government ideas) and to learn that their opinions are not just eccentric. Further, in a group, they might actually decide (with a little whiskey courage) to take some kind of action.
    Isolated, however, getting their only news and views from the media (which bends to Government Think and forever publishes polls showing NOBODY ELSE AGREES WITH YOU) leads to a sense of futility which leads to increased withdrawal and a dispiriting sense of impotence. Exactly what nanny wants. Dispirit your opponents. Make them think that action is futile.
    I’ll guarantee you if bloggers and posters could get together in an actual physical room they could neatly corral the sheep and stampede across the globe.

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