|The ASH annual general meeting was unusually well attended|
The Independent has published a cack-handed and factually incorrect hatchet job of Mark Littlewood, director of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Littlewood can frequently be heard on television and radio making the case for free markets and is involved in the government's Red Tape Challenge - the latest attempt by the coalition to pretend they are against excessive regulation. The Institute of Economic Affairs has been around since 1955 and is one of the country's most prestigious think tanks.
Wrongly describing Littlewood as David Cameron's "aide", The Independent falsely implies that a report being launched at the IEA's offices is an IEA publication and suggests that Littlewood shouldn't voice his views about plain packaging because, er, he doesn't agree with it.
"He clearly has a pro-tobacco agenda and has campaigned for a number of years against regulation of the tobacco industry. He could not, therefore, fulfil the remit of an independent adviser to the Government," said the [All Party Parliamentary Committee on Smoking and Health] chairman, Stephen Williams MP, in a letter to Mr Cable.
Beg pardon? Haven't you, Stephen Williams, got a clear anti-tobacco agenda and campaigned for a number of years for greater regulation? By your own twisted definition, you are not independent and nor is anyone else who has an opinion on anything. In any case, Littlewood no more has a "pro-smoking agenda" than the pro-choice movement has a "pro-abortion agenda".
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking organisation ASH, said: "Mark Littlewood is not independent, he has nailed his colours to the mast by supporting the tobacco industry-funded campaign against plain packs, just as he did its campaign to bring smoking back to our pubs."
Er, yes. Littlewood disagrees with plain packaging and opposes the smoking ban. So what? So do I. So do millions of people. ASH's own survey found that most people don't support plain packaging. I realise that tobacco control is an amen corner, but diverse views are supposed to be welcome in parliament. It's kind of the point of having a debating chamber.
The Independent says that it doesn't know if the IEA receives donations from the tobacco industry. Nor do I, and I don't care, but I would hazard a guess that, as a free market think tank, it receives a good deal of money from various industries and that some of these industries may benefit from the government's Red Tape Challenge. Presumably then, Littlewood is not a fit and proper person to discuss the regulation of any industry, particularly since he has "nailed his colours to the mast" by speaking out in favour of free markets.
This is sheer McCarthyism. Littlewood is being targeted purely because his views diverge from those of the anti-smoking lobby. No dissenting voice can be heard. Liberals must be purged from civil society.
In a statement to The Independent, the Department for Business said that Mr Littlewood would not be involved in any tobacco-related matter.
Way to buckle to a shrill minority of zealots there, Department of Business. As Alex Massie says:
The horror of it! Since Mr Littlewood believes we could manage with fewer regulations a sensible person would conclude that his appointment was a modest but good thing. Apparently not.
It is telling that as ASH's policies get more weird, desperate and unpopular, the more it resorts to squealing about "Big Tobacco". To its credit - and unlike the head-bangers in Australia and the US - ASH tended not to play ad hominems until about five years ago. The bunker mentality we are seeing now is what you would expect from people who are unable to defend themselves in a rational debate (see also "think of the children" - the real last refuge of the scoundrel).
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the IEA gets funding from cigarette manufacturers. Are we to assume that Littlewood - an enthusiastic smoker and a keen libertarian - would otherwise be vehemently anti-smoking? He was saying the same thing when he worked for the Lib Dems. And Liberty. And when he co-founded No2ID and Liberal Vision. Spot a civil liberties theme emerging here? Are they in the pay of Philip Morris as well? Or maybe - just maybe - his opinions have been formed by studying the evidence and reaching his own conclusion.
It is a sign of exceptional self-righteousness bordering on schizophremia to think that those who disagree with you must be paid to do so, as Kristian Niemietz explained in a perceptive article last week.
Last autumn and this winter, [George] Monbiot [Guardian journalist and climate change fanatic] wrote a number of articles effectively saying that there is not really such a thing as a free-market philosophy. Think tanks who call themselves ‘libertarian’ or ‘free-market’ are merely hired PR agencies, who say what their paymasters – big corporations and billionaires – tell them to say. Monbiot seems to believe that if you could hide bugging device in the office of a free-market think tank, the conversations you would hear behind the scenes would go something like this:
- ‘I just finished my new paper. Complete baloney from the first to the last page of course - we all know that free markets don’t work - but who cares, it’s what the paymasters want to hear.’
- ‘Sure. And I’ve just given a talk pretending I believed in privatisation, can you imagine? Hard to keep a straight face, but I think I managed it.’
According to Monbiot, nobody really believes in libertarianism, not even those obscure paymasters he’s so obsessed with. This is because in his interpretation, libertarianism is not a world view in the conventional sense. It is a character defect, a desire to exploit other people and destroy the planet.
Should it really be surprising that someone who believes in free choice and free markets should disagree with the confiscation of trademarks? Should it surprise us that a libertarian opposes the infringement of private property rights? It should not. The message from ASH is that anyone who opposes red tape should not be involved in the Red Tape Challenge, and anyone who opposes their increasingly unhinged agenda should not be allowed to engage in policy-making.
Tobacco policy is essentially a closed shop in this country. The Department of Health pays ASH to come up with policy documents (such as Beyond Smoking Kills) and then pays them to campaign for the policies it has recommended. The DoH then uses taxpayers' money to pay its other front groups (such as Smokefree Northwest) to lobby at the grass-roots level. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking is run by ASH (Deborah Arnott is its secretariat) and they work to brief MPs and lobby for the same policies. ASH and the DoH work closely together behind the scenes to mislead both the House of Commons and the House of Lords (as the Dark Market e-mails reveal).
At no point is any dissenting voice allowed to be heard. The tobacco industry is forbidden from lobbying the government and smokers themselves are never considered to be 'stakeholders'. From top to bottom, the decision-making process is controlled by a small elite of unaccountable, unelected anti-smoking prohibitionists living off the taxpayers' dime.
And now, it seems, mere disagreement with any part of their policy agenda is enough to have you excluded from involvement and demonised by useful idiots at little-read broadsheet newspapers. One cannot be "independent" if you disagree with the prohibtionists. What a strange and Orwellian definition of independence these people have. Still, it helps to distract from a sensible debate about the issue and that's all ASH can hope for.
Alex Massie has more on this at The Spectator.