Sunday, 26 June 2016

Towards independence: thoughts on the referendum

As a supporter of leaving the European Union, I did not expect to win Thursday's referendum. Or, at least, I did not expect to win until 10.15pm on Thursday night when I heard reports of an unusually high turnout from council estates, at which point I immediately put £20 on Leave at 6/1. It seemed inconceivable to me that people who had gone years without voting - or had never voted at all - would pour out of their homes to keep Britain in the EU.

And so it proved. Much has already been written about how the 'dispossessed' and the 'deprived' gave a bloody nose to their supposed betters. The left is already rewriting history to make it appear that the working class were voting against 'austerity', against Cameron, against neoliberalism - against anything but the EU. Nonsense. If that were true, we would have spent the last year with Ed Miliband as prime minister.

Occam's Razor time: the EU referendum was about the EU. Yes, immigration was a major concern of some who voted to leave and freedom of movement is one reason why some people dislike the EU. But it is deeply patronising to assume that ordinary working people do not understand - or do not care about - self-governance, sovereignty and democracy.    

The In and Out campaigns were both pretty dispiriting but I found the grassroots of the Remain side to be particularly contemptible. They fought the campaign like the left has fought every election in recent years, ie. by calling their opponents racists and making up stories about the NHS (that's the same NHS they pronounced dead in 2013). They sunk to a new low when they exploited the murder of a young woman in the final week and are currently throwing the most enormous tantrum on social media. The sight of educated men and women trying to overturn a national referendum with an online petition is pathetic beyond belief. What kind of imbecile responds to electoral defeat by fantasising about what would have happened if children had been allowed to vote? What kind of twisted individual turns on the entire elderly population?

The EU is fundamentally undemocratic and insofar as it incorporates democratic processes it does so in a way that means Britain would be ignored even if every person in the country spoke with one voice. Many of the arguments made by the Remain camp were fundamentally anti-democratic; they prefer to have an elite in charge with whom they agree than have a demos in charge with whom they do not. Since losing the referendum, their contempt for democracy and the demos has become terrifyingly  explicit. Every attempt is being made to find a way of overruling the will of the people.

The mask has slipped once and for all. If it wasn't already obvious that self-proclaimed liberals hate the working class, it is vividly clear now. The left has claimed for generations that it wants a working class revolution. Now they've got one.

It is tempting to savour the schadenfreude for a while, but the important task of turning independence into tangible gains must begin. It is all very well fighting for sovereignty, but sovereignty, like democracy, is only a means to an end, not an end in itself. There are costs and benefits to leaving the EU and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. It is important to minimise the costs, but at the moment we are hearing too much about fears and not enough about opportunities.

The markets don't like uncertainty and there is now great uncertainty about the European Union that will continue for years to come. It should be obvious from the arrogant remarks of European Commission officials in recent days that their fears about Brexit were for themselves, not us. Angela Merkel has been noticeably less aggressive, and the extent to which the EU tries to 'punish' Britain pour décourager les autres depends on how much it is prepared to cut off its nose to spite its face.

It is inevitable that some jobs will be lost as a result of Brexit. I believe, however, that many more jobs can be created if we seize the opportunity. To do that we need to have people who believe in independence running the show. David Cameron acted decisively in making a dignified exit. I'm not his biggest fan, but he took a cataclysmic personal blow with grace and honour. We need George Osborne to show similar class. It is unthinkable that the man who threatened the country with a punishment budget and who does not see the benefits of leaving the EU should be Chancellor as we make the transition.

Vote Leave do not have a manifesto. They were never supposed to have a manifesto. They are a collection of individuals with wildly differing world views. Perhaps somewhere in Whitehall there is a detailed plan on what to do in the event of Brexit, but I doubt it. For forty years, UK businesses have been buried beneath an ever-growing pile of petty regulation. Countless European directives have become enshrined in UK law, often gold-plated by our own politicians. Leaving is not enough. We need a legislative bonfire on a grand scale.

Some of the industries that will benefit from independence are obvious. Our fishing industry can be reborn, for example, and Tate and Lyle will no longer have to close down. But there are people in every walk of life who complain about the damaging effect of EU regulations on their businesses. It is doubtful that distant bureaucrats are aware of more than a fraction of it. They need to be told.

What we need in the coming months, I would suggest, is a national appeal to businesses large and small - but particularly small, since big business tends to like regulation - to nominate EU regulations that need to be repealed. The coalition government made a half-arsed attempt to do something similar in 2010, but it came to nothing. This time needs to be different - and I believe it will be. So many EU regulations do not benefit us at all. They were not designed to benefit Britain, rather they were designed to benefit other European countries or the special interest groups that the EU funds so generously with our money.

We also need our civil servants to rediscover the art of making trade deals. The EU is pitifully slow at making trade deals and, as a result, has very few of them. This is not surprising given the competing interests of member states. Remainers cheered when Obama said Britain would be at the back of queue when it came to trade deals, but how many of them support the only EU-US trade deal on the table - TTIP? Thanks to the usual idiotic squeals from pressure groups - including the bizarre claim that it will lead to the NHS being privatised - TTIP will be heavily watered down if it is ever signed at all.

Britain may yet get a deal with the US before the EU does. Even if it does not, there are many dozens of major global economies to approach. Let's get cracking. The battle for independence is won. The battle for a better Britain is just beginning.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Ignore the children

In a list of freedoms I would go to the wall for, the freedom of children to order takeaway food to the school gates is pretty low down. When I was a lad, I don’t remember anybody ordering takeaways from school, but then I was lucky enough to do my A-levels before the government forced dinner ladies to serve Jamie Oliver’s horrible food.

According to the attention-seeking campaign group the Royal Society for Public Health, school takeaways are now an issue and should be banned. ‘Public health group wants to ban something’ is a dog-bites-man story and so the RSPH have spiced things up by publishing a survey of teenagers which shows partial support for their cause, hence the Guardian headline ‘Ban takeaway deliveries to schools to stem obesity, children urge’.

Most of the teenagers in the RSPH's online poll said they had used their mobile phone to order a takeaway, 25 per cent said they had done so at school and 50 per cent of them said that takeaway shops should not be allowed to deliver to schools. You don’t need to be a statistician to see that 50 per cent support in a yes/no question is not the strongest mandate, but the RSPH presumably thinks that the opinions of a few 13-18 year olds makes their case inarguable. ‘We might be nannying fuss-buckets who want to ban everything,’ they seem to be saying, ‘but it’s not just us! The kids are on our side. Like Jason, they want to be tied to the mast to save them from temptation.’

Let me get this straight. Children have enough wisdom to make public policy but not enough wisdom to choose what to have for lunch? I don’t really care whether sixth-formers are allowed to order takeaway food on their mobile phones, but I care even less about how they answer a few leading questions from a special interest group. Teenagers use emoticons and watch the Twilight saga. I don’t care what they think about politics. We, as a society, don't care what they think about politics, which is why they won’t be voting in the referendum today. Most of them will have disowned the flat-pack left-authoritarian views that have been hammered into them at school by the time they start their second job. Stop exploiting them when they’re too young to have formed a considered opinion.

There’s a lot of this exploitation about in the world of ‘public health’. Once a year, the ghastly charity-quango Action on Smoking and Health buses a group of children down to British American Tobacco’s headquarters to protest against the use of child labour. As if that were not ironic enough, the neo-temperance group Alcohol Concern run a ‘youth advertising council’ made up of teenagers who are shown endless alcohol advertisements and told to make idiotic complaints like this to the Advertising Standards Authority. Given that Alcohol Concern claim that kids who are ‘exposed’ to alcohol advertising are more likely to drink heavily, it is difficult to see how they can think this ethical. Perhaps they don’t believe their own hype.

Underlying it all is the assumption that a message is more powerful if it comes from the mouth of babes. It is not. If you ask a stupid question to someone who doesn’t pay taxes and has limited life experience, you’ll get a stupid answer. The RSPH’s focus group said that there should be free Wi-Fi in parks. I don’t know if that is even possible, but aren’t parks supposed to be places to exercise? Maybe the kids want to go there to order a takeaway?

Instead of making it a crime to deliver takeaway food to schools, I’ve got a better alternative. Let’s ban children from using mobile phones at school. How about that for an idea, kids?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Guest post: State government not seeing the light on vaping

Australian anti-wowser Terry Barnes recently wrote an article about e-cigarettes for the Herald-Sun which is behind a paywall. I'm reprinting it here with his permission...

As its disregard for public opinion and due process over East West Link, sky rail and the CFA’s enterprise bargaining agreement show, the Andrews Government does things its way.

The government’s modus operandi is now very well established. Consult minimally or not at all, make decisions affecting significantly the lives of Victorians, then announce them to a supposedly grateful state as “fair and reasonable” — because the government itself says so. Public opinion and evidence to the contrary are brushed aside, as the government knows best.

While not on the scale of its high-handed treatment of CFA volunteers, the government is currently following that MO as a nanny state regulator by introducing new tobacco control legislation last month. As well as having a further go at smoking and smokers, however, this new legislation worryingly cracks down on what the government portrays as a new health danger: using electronic cigarettes (ECs) vaporising flavoured water-based solutions, or “vaping”.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy says the government “is taking a precautionary response, by regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products” to “protect kids from e-cigarettes”. Beyond that, however, she says “all existing bans and restrictions on the sale, use and promotion of tobacco products will also apply to all e-cigarettes in Victoria”, whether or not they contain nicotine — and most don’t, as the sale of ECs containing nicotine is illegal. While Nanny Jill believes she’s acting responsibly by lumping vaping with smoking, the government conveniently ignores a growing weight of authoritative scientific evidence and expert opinion on ECs’ harm reduction and quitting value for smokers and bystanders, indicating that while their steamy vapour may be an intrusive nuisance to others, it has almost negligible health risks compared with smoking.

What does the damage in traditional cigarettes is not the nicotine — relatively harmless in moderation — but the blue smoke itself, a cocktail of tars, trace metals and toxic chemicals. EC vapour doesn’t contain anything like the same chemical mix. What looks like steam mostly is.
While citing the views of government agency VicHealth and the Cancer Council of Victoria, Ms Hennessy hasn’t mentioned two recent British reports assessing ECs as invaluable quitting aids for smokers and at least 95 per cent safer than combustible tobacco.

One was published last year by tobacco control experts for Public Health England, a government health agency. The other, released in April, is a compelling study by the UK Royal College of Physicians, one of the most respected medical organisations in the world. Both conclude ECs have health and lifesaving potential that can’t be dismissed and question claims ECs “renormalise” smoking, or give young people a new gateway to a tobacco habit. But their conclusions are dismissed by Australian public health authorities like VicHealth and anti-smoking crusaders like academic Simon Chapman.

In other words, science and experts are far from decided on vaping and restricting people’s behaviour and choices by the Andrews Government should be based on more definitive evidence.

Instead, Ms Hennessy’s legislation follows Queensland’s lead in virtually suppressing the easy availability of potentially safer, harm-reducing vaping while deadly coffin sticks remain readily available. While Australia restricts and bans, however, vaping gets the benefit of the doubt in the UK: indeed, British Prime Minister and reformed smoker David Cameron, and the National Health Service, embrace it as a smoking-combating innovation.

What’s more, a national policy review of e-cigarette regulation is under way and due to report to federal and state governments later this year. So why the rush for Victoria to legislate now?
Nanny state legislation of any kind must always be scrutinised very closely, as once passed it’s rarely wound back. So instead of simply ticking and flicking the government’s rushed crackdown on e-cigarettes and vaping, parliament instead should facilitate informed public debate on the legislation. Ms Hennessy’s claims about the need to treat ECs the same as burned tobacco must be tested openly and genuine, and inclusive consultation with experts, consumers and the Victorian public should take place.

With Labor lacking an Upper House majority, non-government parties should ensure a full inquiry. Opposition health spokeswoman and Upper House leader Mary Wooldridge should insist on such an inquiry before the Coalition takes a position on this Bill.

If this legislation passes unchallenged, its heavy-handed regulation, intended to protect people’s health, could harm them by making smoking more acceptable than potentially far safer alternatives.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The pub champion?

There's an interesting article in the Morning Advertiser today about CAMRA's misguided idea of preventing pubs being sold as anything other than pubs. As I have argued before, the Assets of Community Value scheme addresses the symptom rather than the cause of the pub industry's malaise.

Initially intended to protect historic pubs, CAMRA now wants all pubs included in the scheme, starting with Otley, West Yorkshire where nearly every pub has been listed regardless of the views of their owners.

One such owner is the author of today's article. I was particularly struck by this reference to Greg Mulholland, the Lib Dem MP who poses as the pub champion (literally)...

Linda & I are co-owners of the Old Cock pub in Otley. When we purchased the building in 2007 it needed a complete renovation. Our application for Change of Use to transform the building into a pub was refused twice by Leeds City Council, but with our determination to create the pub we took it to a National Planning Appeal and 18 months later Leeds City Council were overruled.

During this time we had a £200k mortgage to pay and had to employ expensive professional help to fight the Council.

Our local MP Greg Mulholland was unwilling to help as supporting the opening of a new pub was in conflict with his public efforts to save existing pubs. With hard work and securing finance against our home and another business we proudly opened in September 2010.

In January of 2015, without consultation and against our will, led by Mulholland, Otley Pub Club nominated, then successfully listed, 19 out of 20 pubs in Otley as Assets of Community Value.

It's important to remember that the decline in pub numbers is not all about closures. It's also about whether new pubs can open. If, as CAMRA claim, pubs are in decline because greedy PubCos keep selling off viable pubs to developers, it should provide an opportunity for new pubs to open. I don't believe this claim - or, at least, it is only a small part of the picture - because the statistics do not support it. The root cause is a lack of demand thanks to the smoking ban and taxation, but if, as CAMRA insist, demand exists then we should be seeing new pubs open up to meet it. How telling it is that local councils make this difficult and the 'pub champion' is not interested in helping.

This pub in question here is five years old and is in a building that is 261 years old. It is nevertheless being protected like a historic monument. Is that a problem? Well, yes it is...

The restrictive covenant on our title deeds limits future lending against our property. Banks are reluctant to lend against a building that actually cannot be sold for 6 months. This renders us trapped with a loan secured on our home and few alternatives available to us. We are now handicapped in raising additional funds, to sustain our business or for refurbishment. This increases our business risk and potentially the employment we offer to 10 local people.

Industry experts have reported that an ACV listing can negatively affect pub values by up to 30% indicating that our business and property have decreased in value. Certainly, we would not have purchased our building with a restrictive covenant in place and Otley would not have The Old Cock today. We know, if we come to sell, other possible investors may be deterred. Simply put, when we invest our money in a business we need to know we have options should it fail or our personal circumstances change, for example, through unexpected illness etc. Be that an alternative proposition or selling. Thus an ACV becomes a disincentive to individuals who may be attracted to purchasing and running a pub. Waiting around for six months whilst Leeds City Council and a community group decide what is happening to our own personal investment is an unattractive prospect.

So many unintended consequences. Unintended, but not unforeseeable.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Jamie Vardy on caffeine and nicotine

From The Telegraph

England and Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy has been photographed holding a can of Red Bull and a can of snus. Outrage has ensued at The Telegraph...

Just two days before scoring against Wales during a last-minute 2-1 victory, Vardy was pictured leaving the team's five star hotel in Chantilly holding a can of Red Bull, the energy drink, and a tin of Thunder "snus" tobacco - both of which, scientists warn, have dreadful health effects.

Laughing the face of this mortal threat to his health, the notoriously skinny Premier League winner was forced to defend himself...

"It’s just something I’ve always done and they’ve been checked with the medical team, and there’s nothing wrong with them,” said Vardy, in a frank interview after Thursday's match.

“I wouldn’t call it a diet, the Red Bull was just to wake me up in the morning. It’s just standard me, a bit of Red Bull. It’s not a regular thing whereby I have a Red Bull every morning. It’s just something I felt I needed that day.”

Naturally, the Telegraph's Sarah Knapton—for it is she—went through her phone book to get some outraged quotes from scientists...

Prof Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, said "there has never been any evidence that energy drinks improve performance", adding also that "there is evidence tobacco used like this can trigger oral cavity cancer".
The professor said: "Jamie Vardy is a trained athlete so at the moment he can probably get away with the extra calories and caffeine that is in Red Bull. But he will have to be careful when he stops playing. Then it could start to have an impact."

There's the same amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee as there is in a can of Red Bull. Careful there, Jamie!

We have come across Naveed Sattar before. In January, he was busy denying the health benefits of moderate drinking and telling the press that "we need more teetotallers". When asked about Vardy's consumption of a can of Red Bull, he wasted no time in bringing alcohol up again...

"It's like George Best. He could handle drinking so much alcohol when he was playing but it was when he stopped that the problems began."

Occasional can of Red Bull and chronic alcoholism. It's all the same, innit?

Meanwhile, Prof Tom Sanders, Head of Nutritional Sciences Research Division at Kings College: "He may be a good footballer but snus gives you oral cancer and any sports related health claim for Red Bull is bulls****. I thought there was a ban on tobacco promotion in sport."

We've come across Tom Sanders before as well, talking sense about nutritional junk science. His claim that "snus gives you oral cancer" shows what happens when experts step outside their field of expertise because snus does not cause oral cancer. The fact that both Sanders and Sattar believe it does is probably a hangover from the great Skoal Bandits scare of the 1980s which I blogged about recently.

As for the insinuation that Vardy is breaking the law by "promoting" tobacco, where to begin? He was photographed by paparazzi coming out of his hotel and then interrogated by a nosy journalist. He wasn't doing a commercial for Red Bull and snus, although I'm sure Thunder snus are grateful for the free publicity the Telegraph has given them.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Gerard Hastings in the spotlight

The Times continues to dig into the motley crew who drew up the new alcohol guidelines. Today, it's 'Mad' Gerard Hastings in the spotlight...

Safe-drinking adviser had temperance link

An academic who played a key role in drawing up the controversial new safe drinking limits did not declare his links to a group funded by the temperance movement.

...Professor Hastings of Stirling University completed a register of interests form for the Department of Health but did not reveal that he held a paid position as an expert advisor to the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS).

The institute, a registered charity that says it promotes scientific understanding of alcohol consumption and its consequences receives most of its income from the Alliance House Foundation which states its aim as spreading 'the principle of total abstinence from alcoholic drinks.'

None of this will be news to those of you who read my article about the CMO's meetings in February, but this is The Times we're talking about so Hastings had to respond - and what a poor response it was...

"I didn't declare the IAS link and probably should have done; mea culpa. I just assumed this was all in the public domain as it's been on the IAS website since 2011."

Hmm. That's not how it works, is it Gerard? I think you know that.

He said that he could not answer any questions on the links between IAS and the temperance movement because "I know nothing about it".
What does he know about? That's a serious question. Hastings' link to the temperance lobby and his failure to understand how a declaration of interests works are amusing pieces of trivia, but the real question is why this man was on the committee in the first place.

Hastings' alleged field of expertise is marketing. He hates advertising and fundamentally misunderstands how it works, but even if he had some genuine expertise on the subject it would not qualify him to assess epidemiological evidence or do anything else useful at the Chief Medical Officer's meetings.

Being a fanatical anti-capitalist, Hastings hates the alcohol industry (see some of his mental slides below) but that is hardly a qualification for sitting on a scientific committee. It should, in fact, be a disqualification.

The same could be said of Katherine Brown, director of the sneakily named Institute of Alcohol Studies whose 'studies' have never portrayed alcohol in a positive - or even neutral - light in the thirty years since they stopped being the UK Temperance Alliance.

The Times is right to keep picking at this scab. It seems that Sally Davies invited several people onto the committee for no other reason than that they hate alcohol and/or the alcohol industry. It's no wonder that a Mickey Mouse committee came up with a Mickey Mouse report.

Don't decriminalise, legalise

The Royal Society of Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health have called for the possession of drugs for personal use to be decriminalised. This is being widely reported as a call to legalise drugs. It's not, but it should be. At the Telegraph I explain what I would do. Have a read.