I came across this piece by Peter Osborne in the (UK) Daily Telegraph. He does a great knife job on the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) group. This was the same group which was caught up a couple of years ago effectively faking signatures on petitions, hoping no one would notice.
The sad thing is that the theme of this article applies in spades to Australia.
Here is some of his story:
ASH is not – like other lobbying groups such as the wonderful Campaign for Real Ale – an emanation of wider civil society. It certainly acts as if it were independent of government, but this is at least in part an illusion. Action on Smoking and Health is what the writer Christopher Snowdon has called, in his superb IEA pamphlet Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why, a “state-funded activist group”.
This means it is a curious phenomenon. So far as I can tell it enjoys very little public support, and certainly very little public (as opposed to state) funding. As Snowden notes, “Once it became clear that ASH would never become the mass movement its founders envisaged, its staff focused on networking with the political and media elite in London.”
This technique worked well. For the past quarter century, the British government has paid ASH (and other anti-smoking organisations) to lobby the government. As a result, it has appeared for many years as if mass public opinion was pressing for smokers to be turned into pariahs, when in reality the real pressure was coming from a handful of bureaucrats in the Department of Health.
Politicians of Right and Left have been transfixed by these anti-smoking campaigns. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has shown hardly any appetite to challenge the conventional wisdom of his own department, while Luciana Berger, the shadow health minister, is a breathless proselytiser for the anti-smoking lobby. No mainstream politician has dared to challenge the consensus, and only Rothmans-puffing Nigel Farage of Ukip really gets the point.
I believe something is changing in Britain. George Osborne’s Budget, with its tax cut for beer and bingo and permission for people to take charge of their own savings, has caught a wider mood of national rebellion against bossy government. I noticed that when Question Time debated smoking in cars a few weeks ago the biggest round of applause was against the anti-smokers.
This new politics of personal maturity is a problem for Ed Miliband. As Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin show in their important new study of Ukip, Labour has abandoned that sector of the population which used to be known as the working class. Mr Miliband’s Labour instead is in danger of becoming the party of the public-sector workers, the health and safety experts, the Brussels bureaucrats, the quangos and the wider political directorate.
This means that he is in danger of turning into the moral and intellectual heir of Douglas Jay, the post-war cabinet minister who informed the electorate that “the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves”.
This gives the Conservatives an opportunity. They should, of course, acknowledge that the anti-smoking lobby has achieved good things. But it is time for ministers to wake up and ask exactly who it is that ASH and other anti-smoking organisations represent, and why and on what basis the state is paying for them. It’s time to loosen the laws against smoking in pubs. It’s time to treat smokers as grown-ups and not pariahs. It’s time to remember what it means to be a Conservative.