Over the past two weeks or so, the smoking-libertarian blogosphere has been in ferment about councillor Paul Bartlett’s proposal to ban smoking in all public spaces in Stony Stratford.
The initial response of Dick Puddlecote and Leg-iron and others seemed to be one of saying: Go ahead and do it! But since then things seem to have evolved with remarkable speed, and DP is now the principal organiser of a meeting in the Vaults in Stony Stratford on 16 July (11am onwards) at which a variety of speakers are booked to speak, and with growing numbers of people (including myself) promising to attend.
Meanwhile, Councillor Bartlett has been appearing on TV and on radio, quite often with a Member of Parliament batting for the other side. And – correct me if I’m wrong – it always seems to be Paul Bartlett and Paul Bartlett alone who is doing all the talking. No other councillor seems to have stepped up to support him, nor any MP, nor indeed any of the professional antismokers (like Deborah Arnott). It’s all getting very one-sided. And Paul Bartlett might soon be complaining that it’s the World v. Paul Bartlett.
Why is this? Why hasn’t Deborah Arnott or Amanda Sandford or any other antismoker stepped up to the plate to bat alongside the plucky Bartlett?
Or are they furiously organising their own counter-demonstration at another pub further down the High Street in Stony Stratford, with their own balloons and placards and speakers, with the 16th of July all set to become a Gunfight at the OK Corral between the rival factions? If they are organising, I’ve certainly heard nothing about it.
Why this asymmetry?
The simple answer would seem to be that the smokers and smoking ban protestors who are converging on Stony Stratford next week belong to a spontaneous grassroot protest movement. And the antismokers belong to professional lobbying organisations under the umbrella of governments, the WHO, the RCP, and so on. There’s no grassroot antismoking movement. There’s just Paul Bartlett, all on his own.
It is as if the smokers have lots of troops, but no generals. And the antismokers have lots of generals, but no troops. People like Deborah Arnott and Amanda Sandford and all the rest of the crew consist of lobbyists and strategists and researchers who spend their time on TV or radio or talking to MPs and ministers and health officers. They’re not going to march on the streets. That’s not their job.
All the same, if Deborah Arnott isn’t going to be at Stony Stratford next week, why isn’t she on TV and radio supporting Paul Bartlett and calling for a counter-demonstration? Can’t she at least do that? After all, it’s not as if she disagrees with Bartlett. She’s been working hard for years to get smoking banned everywhere she possibly can.
As it stands right now it looks like the Shoot-Out at Stony Stratford is going to be a very one-sided affair, and that as Dick Puddlecote stalks down main street with his nervous side-kicks fanned out around him, cigarettes primed, there will be nobody to face them. There’ll be no posse of law men coming in the opposite direction, calling for them to lay down their cigarettes and quit smoking. There maybe won’t even be Paul Bartlett.
So you have to ask: is there honour among thieves? For thieves they are who have stolen from so many people the right to be able to smoke in pubs, and who now want to steal yet more. Are they just going to let Paul Bartlett hang out to dry? Are they going to leave him dying alone out on main street, bleeding from multiple secondhand smoke wounds?
We’ll find out next week.