Friday 28 June 2024

Who is behind the betting "scandal"?

The political betting "scandal" has dominated the British news cycle for two weeks. Very few people are asking the obvious question: who is behind all the leaks and why are they doing it?

It seems to me to be very much like election interference, as I wrote in Spiked yesterday...

A more interesting question is who is pushing this story? As experienced bookmaker Geoff Banks says, the Gambling Commission has ‘studiously maintained for the past two decades that it neither discusses the details of investigations that it undertakes nor does it discuss the fact that an investigation may or may not be in play’. And yet, through a series of leaks to the press, we know that there is not only a series of investigations underway, but also the names of many of the people under investigation. A pattern is becoming familiar. A journalist is tipped off about a gambling investigation into a political figure. The journalist writes a story in which he says that he ‘understands’ that the person is being investigated. The person is contacted by the journalist, admits that an investigation is underway, and is then suspended.

Who is behind all this? The Met Police are involved in some of these cases, but they have firmly denied leaking any of the names. If it isn’t them, someone at the Gambling Commission would seem to be the most likely suspect. The Commission has been tight-lipped in its few official pronouncements, confirming only that certain investigations are underway, but somebody somewhere has been keeping the media up to speed with its every move.


Thursday 27 June 2024

The WHO's 'banish industry' ruse

David Zaruk has written a very nice five part blog post about the bonkers WHO proposal to treat all industries as 'health-harming' and banish them from policy-making. You can start with Part One. The following quote is taken from Part Five....

It is one thing though for an academic or NGO activist to demand that all industries be excluded from the policy process, and quite another for a UN agency responsible for global health policies to follow them down that rabbit hole. Given how beneficial the public-private partnerships have been for the WHO and global health promotion, publishing such a strategy report to try to break up all corporate engagement was both stupid and dangerous.

Perhaps the fact that this report was released via the WHO Europe office and not via the WHO international office is an indication of dissent at the highest management levels toward such a radical strategy. But until the WHO can seriously speak with a single voice, such folly will continue to destroy its trust and reputation. A new leadership needs to clean up the militant factions and ensure a responsible management of global health policy.

The first step is quite easy: remove their terrible strategy publication, commit to stakeholder dialogue and issue an apology.


I recorded a Swift Half with David in 2022 which is worth 30 minutes of your time.

Tuesday 25 June 2024

The minimum pricing lies get bigger

The Toronto Star is looking to Scotland to teach it how to reduce alcohol-related deaths. In an article titled ‘How Scotland started to kick its alcohol problem — and what Ontario could learn from it’, it pushes back on plans to liberalise Ontario’s state monopoly on alcohol retail, saying:

Ontario officials say they are fulfilling a 2018 election promise to increase “choice and convenience for shoppers and support Ontario retailers, domestic producers and workers in the alcohol industry.”

But Scotland has cut alcohol-related hospital admissions by 40 per cent and deaths by almost half. While in Ontario, alcohol-related admissions have risen by a third and deaths by almost half, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

How did Scotland supposedly achieve this public health miracle?

The key part of Scotland’s landmark policy was aimed at reducing drinking by introducing minimum unit prices to make drinking more expensive.

Ontario already has minimum pricing and Scotland doesn’t have a state alcohol monopoly, so it is not obvious what lessons Ontarians are supposed to be learning, but put that to one side for a moment and consider the main claim.
Read the rest on my Substack.

The squelchy, grey, self-serving, leftish puddle of inanity

Nesta came out with more anti-obesity bollocks at the weekend. I wrote about this pointless organisation for The Critic.

This is an organisation whose core purpose is supposed to be innovation and yet it failed to see a new generation of weight-loss drugs coming and when it finally acknowledged the arrival of semaglutide, it expressed concerns that it could “deepen the emphasis in the popular discourse on a “personal responsibility” narrative”. As Andrew Orlowski has recounted, Nesta got the opportunity to develop a touchscreen smartphone before Apple did, but cocked it up at every turn. In their early years, they funded “a man who is building a radio-controlled Harrier jump jet, a team preparing to travel to the Arctic to film the Northern Lights in 3D and an internet project offering psychological advice online.” These days they dish out grants to the likes of Tortoise Media and Open Democracy.

Everything the state touches dissolves into the same squelchy, grey, self-serving, leftish puddle of inanity. Whatever your view of heat pumps and food taxes, they are not the products of blue sky thinking. A quarter of a century after being set up as a Dragons Den for Britain’s most brilliant minds, Nesta has become essentially a May-ite think tank.

Friday 21 June 2024

The drink-driving limit

At some point over the years, the term 'drink-driving' replaced 'drunk-driving'. It is very much illegal for anyone who is even slightly drunk to drive - and rightly so - but as in so many other areas of life, the 'public health' lobby wants to reduce the limit to zero. The BMA this week called for the limit to be nearly halved and I wrote about it for The Critic.

On Tuesday, the British Medical Association (BMA) called on the next government to slash the drink-driving limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg per 100ml. Reducing the limit would bring the UK in line with most of Europe, but it would be lower than most of North America and plenty of other countries. 

It goes without saying that driving drunk is an incredibly stupid and dangerous activity that kills around 260 people a year in Britain. Those who do it should be punished to the full extent of the law. Most countries accept that motorists can drink a small amount of alcohol and still be fit to drive. The only question is how much? In 1967, the UK erred on the side of caution by introducing a limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood which amounts to roughly a pint and a half of beer, although that will vary depending on a person’s gender and weight, and on how quickly you drink it. Few people would argue that a motorist will be incapacitated by drinking such a modest amount of alcohol, but would there be benefits from lowering the limit?

Fortunately, this is a question that can be answered with empirical evidence. In 2014, Scotland lowered the limit to 50mg of alcohol. What happened next has been evaluated in three peer-reviewed studies, one written by public health academics and two written by economists.
Find out what they concluded here.


Wednesday 12 June 2024

The hard left WHO

The WHO European Region published a new report, written mostly by British 'public health' academics. It is quite revealing. For example... 

This requires, at a minimum, that governments recognize that the primary interest of all major corporations is profit and, hence, regardless of the product they sell, their interests do not align with either public health or the broader public interest. Any policy that could impact their sales and profits is therefore a threat, and they should play no role in the development of that policy. Similarly, governments must also recognize the now overwhelming evidence (see also chapters 4, 6 and 7) that HHIs ['health-harming industries'] engage in the same political and scientific practices as tobacco companies (69) and that voluntary or multistakeholder partnership approaches do not work where conflicts of interest exist (27, 70). Instead, they must regulate other HHIs ['health-harming industries'], their products and practices, as they do tobacco.

That's just one paragraph, but there's a lot it in. 
Firstly, they are clearly not just opposed to 'health-harming industries' but to private industry in general. 

Secondly, they want to exclude all industries from the policy-making process, as already happens with the tobacco industry.

Thirdly, they want to regulate all 'health-harming industries' in the same way as they regulate tobacco. 

This is all there in black and white. It is not scaremongering or the slippery slope fallacy. It is now in an official WHO document. 

When people show you who they are, believe them.

I have written about this for The Critic.

Monday 10 June 2024

The George Orwell motherlode


As promised, there was a lot of Orwell-related activity over the weekend from the IEA.

You Do Not Exist, my book about Nineteen Eighty-Four is available to download (free) here.

You can download the whole novel plus my introduction here.

I wrote about it for the Spectator and Quillette.

And I made this little video about Orwell's London...

Friday 7 June 2024

Orwell's pessimism

It's the 75th anniversary of the UK publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four tomorrow and there is a whole load of Orwell-related stuff coming from me and the IEA. Stay tuned, but for now here's an article I've written about him for Quillette... 

Orwell may have been pleasantly surprised had he lived to see the real 1984. It is often said that his dystopian novel is a warning rather than a prophecy and Orwell himself was keen to remind people that it was “after all a parody,” but he was also quite explicit that Nineteen Eighty-Four was a conditional prophecy. Shortly after the book was published, he put out a statement saying that “something like NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR could happen. This is the direction in which the world is going at the present time.” But it didn’t and it wasn’t. By the time he died in January 1950, Europe had put the worst of the twentieth century behind it. Orwell was too pessimistic and it is worth considering why.

The central assumption at the heart of Orwell’s political writing from the mid-1930s was that capitalism was doomed and would most likely be replaced by totalitarian socialism of the sort satirised in Nineteen-Eighty Four. Despite his contempt for capitalism, Orwell saw the world caught between a rock and hard place. “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war,” he wrote in 1944. “Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war.” The only alternative, to his mind, was a planned economy that retained democracy and allowed freedom of the individual, but he became increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for his libertarian brand of what he called democratic socialism as the 1940s wore on. Indeed, he saw “no practicable way of bringing it about.”

This explains why he was so despondent about the world’s prospects in the last years of his life and why he decided to write Nineteen Eighty-Four. But he was wrong. Capitalism did survive, subsequent communist revolutions went the same way as the USSR’s, and Orwell’s version of democratic socialism was not required to prevent totalitarianism sweeping the globe. It turned out that it was not a straight choice between democratic socialism and communist (or fascist) totalitarianism. There was a third way.

It's free so do read it all.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Nicotine pouches: there may be trouble ahead

I sense the start of a moral panic about nicotine pouches. The government has made this more likely by completely ignoring them since they appeared five years ago, as I explain in The Critic.

The greater, unspoken concern is that widespread use of nicotine pouches among professional footballers could inspire children to emulate their idols. It is easy to imagine a moral panic erupting around nicotine pouches in schools much like the panic about disposable vapes. There was a harbinger of this last week with a sensationalist Channel Four documentary titled “Snus: Hooked on Nicotine”. The government has done nothing to head this off at the pass. These products have been around for five years and no attempt has been made to regulate them. So far, the industry has been successfully self-regulating by instructing retailers not to sell them to minors, adding health warnings and capping nicotine levels, but none of these are legal requirements and there is nothing to stop less scrupulous companies entering the market with extra-strong pouches, child-friendly packaging and deceptive marketing. 

I hesitate to write this in case it gives professional busybodies and Wes Streeting ideas, but there is a danger of this turning into Elf Bar II in which a failure of governance leads to a political overreaction and the rights of adults to consume a very low risk product are curtailed. Given the political class’s penchant for banning things first and asking questions later, this is a threat that users of nicotine pouches need to be alive to.


Also, if you don't subscribe to my Substack then (a) you should, it's free, and (b) read my latest post about Action on Sugar.