“Not Just Tobacco,” by Chris R. Tame
First published on the 20th April 2016
By the Hampden Press, London
© Chris R. Tame, Sean Gabb (Editor), 2016
PREFACE BY SEAN GABB (2016)
The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (FOREST) was an organisation set up in 1979 by the British tobacco industry for the purpose described in its name. Its first Directors were Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Foxley-Norris and Lieutenant-General Sir Geoffrey Charles Evans. Though men of some distinction, neither had experience of dealing with the corporate bureaucrats who funded their activities. Their names remained on the headed notepaper, but they were replaced in 1981 by Stephen Eyres, who had been an effective Campaigns Director at the Freedom Association. Under his leadership, FOREST settled into a well-funded and well-connected opposition to the growing clamour against the tobacco industry and its customers. His genius lay in persuading his funders that his increasingly libertarian campaign for free choice was no danger to their own wish for a compromise with the prohibitionists.
His weakness was a great and undiscriminating taste for the company of strangers. Late in 1987, he began to show the symptoms of an illness he had done nothing to avoid. By the following summer, he was incapable of managing the daily affairs of FOREST, and he appointed Chris Tame as the Campaigns Director.
Chris took on the position with much enthusiasm. He had already distinguished himself as Manager of the Alternative Bookshop in Covent Garden, and as Director of the Libertarian Alliance. He had been considering a position in the Institute of Economic Affairs, or in some other organisation that focussed on economics. The offer from Eyres seemed far better. Unlike most other libertarians and conservatives in the 1980s, Chris no longer saw traditional socialism as the main enemy. The Soviet Union was a power in evident decline. State socialism, as defined by nationalisation for the benefit of the working classes, was equally in decline. The enemies now of our traditional liberties wore business suits and looked like social democrats. They had no interest in nationalisation and little in high income taxes and welfare redistribution. Their road to power lay through the regulation of thought and lifestyle.
Many of his friends thought defending the right to smoke was at best a diversion from the real struggle. Chris saw it as central to the real struggle. The enemy was not stupid union leaders or ranting Trotskyites. It was a group that goes under many names, but that may for the moment be called the Enemy Class, and that may loosely be defined as those administrators, lawyers, experts, educators and media people whose living is connected with the State, and whose guiding principle is belief in their right and duty to tell everyone else how to live. Such people, of course, have always been with us. What made these people different was their swelling numbers, and their fondness for ideologies of control that made them a collective, though not wholly cohesive, enemy of the English liberal tradition.
Though constrained by a small budget, Chris spent the next year putting detail into a strategy that Eyres had already outlined, but for which he lacked the intellectual resources. This was to give the tobacco industry just enough short term public relations to keep its managers happy, and to make a purely token effort at populist outreach. The main effort was to be a sustained attack on the ideological bases of the Enemy Class. A month or so after taking up his position at FOREST, Chris asked me to write about the theology of free choice as it applied to tobacco. After I had delivered the manuscript, he commissioned me to ghost or edit a series of short books. These took their evidence from the debate on smoking, but they were always an attack on the Enemy Class.
Sadly, by the end of 1989, Eyres reached a crisis in his moral and physical decline. Never very scrupulous in his use of money, he had turned to outright embezzlement. I am not sure how much money he stole from the FOREST accounts, but it was more than £100,000 – money all spent on unlikely therapies, or on paying for enthusiasms that continued until just a few weeks before his death. The discovery of his crimes would always have been a problem for the organisation. The coincidental appointment of Ralph Harris to the governing board of FOREST made it into a problem for Chris.
The appearance Harris gave the world was of an affable pipe-smoker. He wrote well, and he had a way with charming money from tight-fisted businessmen. He was also a man of dark and even villainous passions. If I choose to pass over the more scandalous facts, his many adulteries had opened him to blackmail. Eyres had no inclination to spend his last months in a prison hospital, and he threatened Harris with a letter to The Guardian. The deal then worked out was that Chris should be sacked. The police would not be set on him, but the funders would be told that he was at least partly to blame for the vanished money.
This was one of the few Harris plots that failed, and, while Eyres was paid off most generously to console him for blindness and the amputation of his toes, Chris was appointed Director of FOREST in January 1990. He was forty, and in charge of an organisation that he hoped he could use to make a difference. Harris thought otherwise. He never forgave Chris for besting him. If for other reasons, the tobacco people agreed. The Eyres scandal had undermined their willingness to let FOREST go about its work with only loose supervision. Over the next few years, the budget was repeatedly cut. Chris was forced to give up most of his ideological project, putting his time instead into fighting discrimination against smokers in their places of work. Early in 1995, he was released from his contract. I attended his leaving party. Harris made a farewell speech of lush praise, and had already put the word round to stop Chris from finding work anywhere else.
The text here republished was written after Chris had left FOREST. His leaving package included some tapering consultancy of which this was one of the last items. He was never a fluent writer, and the failure of his professional hopes, and the gathering disintegration of his marriage, had left him depressed. He asked David Botsford for help. But David was falling into a depression of his own. Work on the book went slowly. A few weeks before the deadline, Chris asked me to help.
Reading the complete text for the first time in twenty years, I can often see my work. There are many passages that I remember having written, and several more that sound like me. But the text is properly described as the work of Chris Tame. He provided both tone and overall structure. Sat at home in Charlton, I would put together the Tame and Botsford fragments, filling out the blanks, until I had a draft of one of the sections. I would e-mail it to Chris as a plaintext. He would print it and write all over it, and provide another half dozen clippings, and post it to David, who would then type it into WordPerfect 5.1, and post me the disk for approval and amendments. We met several times in Central London to discuss the analytical approach we were trying to develop. Our last review meeting was in a coffee bar in Southampton Row. In all but matters of style and grammar, we deferred to Chris. After I had printed and read the consolidated text, I spoke to David on the telephone. We agreed that Chris had overseen the production of something important that would have an impact on the debate over lifestyle regulation.
Harris disagreed. By now, he was in unchallenged control of FOREST, and this was not something he wanted his FOREST to publish. I am told his first act when shown the manuscript was to cross out my name – he never much liked me, though why is no longer relevant. This done, he cut half the evidence and neutered the analysis. As I could only bring myself to skim the version that he allowed through the press, I cannot say in detail what was published. But no one thought it very important, and it had no impact.
It is now twenty years later. Harris is dead. So is Chris. So is David. As the only man left who had any share in its production, and since I am taking the trouble to publish it and offer it for sale, I feel obliged to say what I think of the complete version of the text. Do I still think it as good as its three authors did over the coffee cups in Southampton Row? Or has it, after so long, become as dated as some turgid report of its day from the Adam Smith Institute?
I do not think the factual claims we discuss have dated. The mass of news clippings that Chris provided are all a generation old. Almost any one of them could go, without looking out of place, into a newspaper published tomorrow.
“Eating too many pickled onions increases the risk of throat cancer and a preference for taking very hot soup or drinks as well will increase the risk further.” (The Independent, 29 May 1992)
“Nearly 35,000 children a week drink more alcohol than the safe limit for adults, survey findings show … as the Drinkwise campaign was launched … ‘It is estimated from this survey that 130,000 children under the age of 16 claim to be drinking alcohol regularly in pubs’, the [Health Education Authority] says.” (The Guardian, 12 June, 1990)
“Frying or barbecuing meat, chicken or fish produces potentially cancer‑causing substances [according to the] US National Cancer Institute.” (The Irish Times, 27 March, 1991)
The claims have not dated. Nor have the responses we made in the text, or referred to in the notes. This gives our work a value none of us imagined in 1996. If someone tells you, with high authority, that the world will end next Tuesday, you may or may not be persuaded. If you learn that he made the same prediction for last Tuesday, and the Tuesday before that, and for any number of other Tuesdays stretching back into the more or less distant past, you will need to be in the grip of some unusual passion not to regard him as insane or a fraud. The obesity time bomb has still not exploded. Mad Cow Disease has not yet rotted our minds. The young men of 1996 who were said to be destroying themselves with cheap lager do not seem to be falling dead in middle age. If for no other reason, what we wrote in 1996 is worth reading today for its deflating effect on the latest scare stories.
I am less happy with some of our analysis. We believed that the purpose of the various scares was to lead us into a total state based on health fascism, and that this purpose would be achieved without firm ideological opposition. But there has been no firm ideological opposition. Since we wrote, the British libertarian movement has pretty well died. Before illness claimed him, Eyres was a man of ability. Harris, whatever can be said against him, bordered on greatness, and his peerage was one of Margaret Thatcher’s less risible creations. Since 1996, British libertarianism had decayed into an organised mediocrity, enlivened by a set of bizarre personality cults. Yet the continued freshness of the evidence we accumulated falsifies our prediction. Scare stories can only be recycled as they have been when they remain unaddressed.
Undoubtedly, England has become a more authoritarian country than it was in 1996. Speech is less free. The rule of law has been weakened. Another generation of having news and entertainment and education in the grip of the Enemy Class has left an English people still more degraded and hysterical than it was a year before Diana had her car crash. But Mars Bars and bacon remain openly on sale. Coffee is still untaxed and has no statutory warnings all over its packaging. Cigarettes are more expensive than they were, and they can be smoked in fewer places. But the Puritan State we predicted seems, in its full imposition, as distant now as it was then.
Something we failed to predict was how the Enemy Class would behave once it was fully in power. No doubt, it still has members who dream of putting everyone on a diet of raw porridge and boiled potatoes, and are willing to lock anyone away who gives them a funny look. I was once in a radio debate with a health bureaucrat who wanted to deny cigarettes to terminal cancer patients. Her argument was that a hospital was supposed to be a place of healing, and that smoking had no place there.
In the main, however, the Enemy Class in power is less like a plague bacillus than a parasite. Its members have salaries and status. If there are many more of them today than in 1996, they are more interested in controlling whatever moves than in stopping it from moving. They want to educate us about the dangers of passive drinking. They want voluntary agreements on how things can be described and where they can be sold. They want to commission endless further research by their friends. With few exceptions, they do not really want to ban anything. I repeat that nearly all the things attacked in 1996 remain openly available.
Another failure was our dismissal of big business. I did not write this passage in the text, but I did agree with it:
The[…] tendency [of corporate bureaucrats] is to engage in what can only be called pre-emptive cringing. They lean over backwards to be “reasonable.” Instead of confronting, refuting and defeating their enemies, they produce platitudes. They have no conception of the nature of the opposition they face from enemies determined to cripple or destroy them. They “compromise” when compromise only encourages their opponents, and opens the door to the next restriction. They rely on PR hacks who have little understanding of the power of political ideologies and no idea how to combat them. They think things can be sorted out with behind-the-scenes “deals” with politicians – who cannot be trusted and will succumb to whosoever exerts the most pressure.
All three of us were feeling bitter about the failure of these people to see our merits and shower us with even half the money Steven Eyres spent on amyl nitrate. Well, they were right. Compromise worked – or it has so far. They bribed. They wheedled. They selectively gave in. They employed Enemy Class consultants and learned how to turn away wrath by learning to speak the language of that class. They recognised the changing nature of that class in power from total state revolutionaries to rent-seeking apparatchiks, and made all necessary adaptations. They faced the resulting increase in costs just as they might any increase in their material costs. They even took take advantage of the new order that was ushered fully into being with Tony Blair’s first election victory. Advertising bans were made into opportunities for cartelising cost. Regulations were turned into the means of preserving market share against competition from outside.
And that was it. Business went on as usual. Old products were improved, new products introduced. Prices of nearly everything continued to fall in real terms. Better technology aside, we live in a world not radically different from that of 1996. Indeed, the past twenty years seem to me a kind of endless present – the same hysterical preaching of threats and calls to action, the same lack of really decisive action. We may be sinking, but we have not yet broken in half, and the deck chairs have not substantially moved.
I think, even so, we were right in our claim that the function of all these revolving health scares was to make people into a flock of terrified sheep. If we can be alarmed into diets that make Orthodox Judaism look sensible, or if we can be made to believe that too much washing will give us cancer, or that every male over the age of five is a potential paedophile, or that leaving a few lights on will make our planet into a copy of Venus – why, no one will complain about the salaries and pensions lavished on our new masters, or about the generally more authoritarian state we nowadays endure. If we exaggerated the effect of the scares on their formal targets, there is no doubt of how they helped legitimise the emergence of a new and generally more authoritarian ruling class. Revealing the methods used may not in itself undo this legitimisation. But the ammunition it provides remains useful for a broader attack.
Aware, then, of its virtues and its faults, I commend the present text. If it can have any part of the effect its authors hoped it would, I shall not have published in vain.