On some, if not all issues, Rod Liddle is a man of sound views. He loathes the nanny state; he is unconvinced that we need to crack down on freedom of speech in order to avoid giving offence to religious groups. He is a patriot. In this week’s edition of the Spectator, where other authors rant away splendidly, Liddle rails against the six-month-old government ban on smoking in all public buildings, including privately owned ones (apart from private homes), such as pubs and restaurants. He makes a good case and some of his paragraphs are cheer-out-loud material:
Of course, one shouldn’t drop a policy simply because the pubs are having a rather hard time of it as a result. But in which case, don’t bother to pretend that they’re not, that actually there are queues all down the street consisting of shiny, happy people who wish nothing more than to drink in a new, healthy, smoke-free environment. Stop lying. Say, instead, that the smoke ban is putting pubs out of business but actually we couldn’t give a toss. Truth is, the government — and the health charities — are caught by their previous, gerrymandered poll findings which purported to suggest that the entire country was in favour of a complete ban on smoking everywhere, when — and again, do a quick vox pop if you doubt this — the reverse was true. People would like to see genuinely smoke-free areas of restaurants and pubs, for sure — but only chose a complete ban on smoking when the alternative on the poll sheet was ‘or would you like your testicles sawn off?’.
Perhaps it is true, though, that because of the ban, I shall live for ever, for which many thanks, Dawn. But I doubt it; we will have recourse to one or another means of killing ourselves, such as driving a car (4,000 deaths per year), drinking more (40,000 deaths per year) or visiting a doctor (30,000 deaths per year through negligence or incompetence: never forget that figure. It exceeds the numbers killed through smoking-related illness. And it really, really hacks off the doctors).
But as always with Mr Liddle, the carelessness with which he chucks around numbers makes me wonder if any reader will want to get past his first paragraph:
I am still not sure what I hate the most about this government: its decision to invade Iraq and thus either effect or facilitate the murder of 500,000 Iraqis, or its decision to stop me from smoking in pubs and restaurants.
500,000 Iraqis? Is that correct? Liddle gives no source for this or attempts to do so later in the piece. Now Rod may be right to suggest that the overthrow of a power-mad, dangerous dictator was even worse than letting him stay in power (I occasionally wonder why a certain type of right-winger is so indulgent towards evil men like Saddam). But if he is going to make an argument with statistics as part of his core argument, it is probably not a great idea to kick off an argument with a massive figure based on, whatever.
Oh, in case anyone asks, I don’t smoke, except on National No Smoking Day.