Author Archives: Adam Belcher

A smoking ban isn’t “unconservative” – but it is illiberal

Oxford University Liberal Democrats graduate and worst prime minister ever, Liz Truss, raised eyebrows last week by describing the government’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill as “unconservative”. This is rather odd, because the Conservative instinct has always been to ban the things they don’t like. They didn’t like the idea that children might find out that gay people exist, so they banned teachers from talking about them. They didn’t like that people in Scotland might be able to self-identify as trans, so they banned the Scottish government from allowing it. And, most pertinent to what I am writing about now, they don’t like (most) recreational substances, so for the past several decades they’ve wedded themselves to the disastrous so-called War on Drugs.

Conservatives have a very shallow understanding of what freedom is, and when a conservative starts talking about freedom, alarm bells should start ringing. What these rebel Tories mean by freedom is the freedom for people like them to continue doing the things that people like them have traditionally done, such as hunting foxes, making racist jokes, or in this particular case, smoking tobacco. It generally does not include things that people who are not like them want to do, such as protesting peacefully, being transgender, or smoking cannabis. Unfortunately for them, Rishi Sunak has realised that he’s only got a few months left in Downing Street to scrape together some sort of meagre legacy, and so now Truss and her friends are experiencing the cognitive dissonance that comes from a conservative government approaching smoking in a conservative way.

So no, Liz, our esteemed former comrade, a smoking ban is not un-conservative. Banning a health risk and deploying our overstretched police in a futile forever-war against it is actually a very conservative thing to do (and also a very Labour thing to do, but that’s neither here nor there). Conservatives have never understood true freedom; that is the liberal domain. Which is why-…. Wait, what do you mean, the Lib Dems voted for this?!

Let’s backtrack a bit. I was raised with a pretty simple message: drugs are bad and I shouldn’t do them. I’ve still never done them. However, when I was seventeen, I discovered that some of my friends had smoked cannabis. The idea that they could be treated as criminals for this disturbed me, and it was a big moment in my teenage journey towards embracing liberalism. I joined the Liberal Democrats a few months later, and I’ve enthusiastically supported our position on cannabis ever since. Friends in the party have been campaigning for legalisation for far longer than I have.

To be very clear, the failure of the parliamentary party to oppose this smoking ban has possibly fatally undermined our campaign on cannabis. Watching the leadership tying itself in knots trying to explain how these positions somehow aren’t incompatible by means of weapons-grade centrist nuance was embarrassing.

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