There are 51 million people in England, and of them, something like a quarter are smokers. I wondered this morning how many counties of England they would fill, starting at the top left corner, and working downwards, using online county population figures. This was the result:
Cumbria (494,000), Cumberland (312,000), Tyne and Wear (1,119,000), Durham (511,000), Yorkshire (3,988,000), Lancashire (1,449,000), Greater Manchester (2,629,000) and Merseyside (1,366,000) all added up to almost 12 million people.
That’s what the map of England would look like if smokers all lived in one place together. There’d be whole cities full of them. And all their representatives – councillors and MPs – would all be smokers too. And a quarter of MPs in Westminster would be smokers.
Rising tobacco taxes, imposed by Westminster, would have fallen wholly on the northern counties, and would have been deeply resented.
In such circumstances, would it have been possible to impose a smoking ban on the whole country? No, of course it wouldn’t. Any such suggestion would have been met with furious resistance by smoking MPs representing millions of smokers. If, nevertheless, a complete smoking ban had been pushed through by the remaining MPs, the northern smokers would have refused to implement it. The smoking ban would have only been effective in the south, where nobody smoked. Once you reached Lancashire and Yorkshire, all the pubs would be smoke-filled.
And the political consequences would have been the de facto division of England into two states. The northern Westminster MPs would have returned home, and set up their own parliament in Manchester or somwhere, where their first act would have been to lift the tax on tobacco. England would have been split through the middle.
And the economic consequences would have been the northerners would no longer go south for their holidays, or go shopping in the south or in London, because they were no longer welcome there. But southerners would have been as welcome as ever in the north, to visit the Lake District and so on. Northern pubs and cafes would be as thriving as ever, but in the south they’d lose a significant fraction of their custom. So while the northern economy would grow, the southern economy would shrink.
It’s possible to imagine that the relations between the two states would deteriorate further, when southerners erected barbed wire fences along the border, ostensibly to keep northern smokers out (even though they didn’t want to come south), but actually to prevent southerners going north. Families would have been split, much like with West Germany and East Germany.
Relations would have deteriorated further when the southern Prime Minister referred openly to “stinking, poisonous northern smokers” and northern political leaders responded by calling southerners “brain-washed killjoys”. There would have been a number of border incidents when people tried to escape from the south to the north, or southern snatch squads were sent north to rescue children from smoky schools (where children would be taught to smoke). The southern BBC would have broadcast non-stop antismoking ads to the north, and the north would have responded by broadcasting films like Casablanca to the south.
Eventually, war would probably break out between the two states.
Well, it’s possible to imagine that things like this would happen in such circumstances. And it’s only because smokers are more or less evenly distributed over England that this hasn’t happened.
But it could be said that, even though the actual circumstance is not quite as described above, the outcome actually remains the same. A profound social division has been created, which has in effect divided the country down the middle. And the Westminster parliament has lost authority in the eyes of many smokers. And smokers have stopped spending. But the division is far less visible than it would be if smokers and non-smokers were geographically separated.
There is one principal difference between the two scenarios, and it is that the (imaginary) northern smokers had political representatives who spoke up for them in Westminster, and who continued to represent them in the northern Manchester assembly. But the smokers dispersed across the whole of England have no political representation at all, apart from a handful of Westminster MPs – which is why it’s been easy for antismoking zealots to rob smokers with ever-mounting taxation, and vilify them openly in the process.
This is why it’s become important for scattered smokers to unite and create a political voice for themselves, forming a smokers’ movement. And since the situation in England is being repeated in France and Germany and all over Europe, and indeed all over the world, this must be an international smokers’ movement. And exactly such a movement is now beginning to emerge. And it is set to grow stronger and stronger, as angry smokers all over the world find out about it, and join in.
Yet it’s unlikely that this smokers’ movement will ever acquire ‘normal’ political representation – i.e. MPs or Representatives – in the countries they inhabit, while they continue to remain a minority. So their political activities would most likely remain extra-parliamentary. They would have to exert influence in other ways.
Although it is possible that a sort of smokers’ Israel might emerge, probably in some southern or eastern European countries, to which smokers would flock in their thousands, just like Jews fleeing from Nazi persecution.
History repeats itself. All this has happened before, many times over.