[Reflections on the party political conference season - part one]
For me, the conference season began with a fringe meeting ('Politics and Prohibition') at the Lib Dem conference in sunny Bournemouth. The libertarian-minded Liberals who attended were, I'm sure, unrepresentative of the party as a whole, but the wide-ranging discussion (from drinking to prostitution) was entertaining and stimulating.
Liverpool council's proposal to give films which depict smoking an 18 certificate was greeted with rather more contempt than would have been the case if it had been presented in the main conference hall. Bravely commending the policy to the house was Liverpool councillor Colin Eldridge who brandished research from the pen of the ubiquitous Stanton Glantz.
Colin seemed sincere enough but he is naive if he really can't see the wider implications of the Orwellian smokefree movies policy. An ex-smoker himself, Colin blamed watching The A-Team as a youngster for his subsequent cigar habit so perhaps he is more impressionable than most and I did get the sense that he was being used by an anti-smoking lobby which has identified Liverpool as a potential San Francisco of Britain (the city was set to go it alone with a smoking ban as far back as 2004).
Colin claimed that the demand to reclassify films which 'exposed' children to the sight of people smoking came not from the council but from normal teenagers (as supposedly represented by the D-MYST group). This inspired the best comment of the day from someone on the floor:
We're doomed, aren't we? If children are demanding that films be classified 18 just because people are smoking in them, then what hope is there for the future?
I must be getting terribly cynical because the idea that children really were the driving force behind this policy hadn't even occurred to me. (And they're not, of course. The Department of Health-funded D-MYST group is a classic example of astro-turfing).
It's hardly a novel observation to say that the Liberal Democrats are divided between the Classical Liberal right and the Social Democratic left. I don't know how the party will ever overcome this fundamental split but it does at least make for a lively debate. The panel at this particular event - hosted by Liberal Vision - was naturally slanted in favour of liberal Liberals, including Charlotte Gore, Mark Littlewood and Belinda Brookes-Gordon. I wish them well in their attempt to get their party back. Still, rather them than me.
And like Dick Puddlecote, I'll be recalling the scenes inside and outside the Marriott Highcliff Hotel next time I hear the Lib Dems talking about cracking down on smoking and binge-drinking.