Sunday, 7 February 2016
Vaping in Wales - Time To Change Tactics ?
Those of you who have been following the fight to save Vaping in Wales will be aware of the battle that Welsh advocates have been waging to save vaping from being banned in enclosed public spaces over the past two years.
Throughout those two years we have been meeting with as many Welsh Politicians as we can and engaging with the science and the scientists responsible for that science. Indeed we counted on, and received, strong support from the likes of Cancer Research UK, Royal College of Physicians, ASH Wales, British Lung Association, Tenovus and the British Heart Foundation.
Despite this, the Public Health (Wales) Bill and it's incorporated sections to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces, still managed to pass through both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the scrutiny process executed by the Health & Social Care Committee. The reason it got through Stage 1 was because the Labour AMs closed ranks and used their majority on the HSCC to force the issue through. Stage 2 garnered the same result despite admirable and convincing arguments against the ban tabled by the likes of Kirsty Williams, Darren Millar and Lindsay Whittle. Though at Stage 2, vapers will have been extremely disappointed to see Plaid Cymru's Elin Jones have a change of heart (for whatever reason) and support Mark Drakeford's ideological and evidence-free proposals to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces.
Now Stage 3 (the final process) is in progress. Whilst technically ANY Assembly Member can now table amendments to the Bill, it has to be said that Labour have sufficient numbers to effectively veto any changes.
So it would seem that all is lost and the battle is over. But is it ? My answer to that is NO !!
You see, the Welsh Assembly now has just FOUR weeks of business left during which they must get Stage 3 completed and voted through. After that period the Assembly goes into recess because in May ALL of those AMs must seek re-election.
Now many of you will be thinking 'So what ? The election is far too late to change anything'. But this is where you are wrong. This is also where vapers need to start thinking about a change in tactics.
Three of the main Welsh parties - Labour, Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats - are holding the whip to their AMs. That is, all Labour AMs are being instructed to support the proposals currently on the table, whilst all Conservative and Liberal Democrats AMs are being instructed to oppose the current proposals. Plaid Cymru are the only party that is (currently) allowing a free vote on the matter.
So we Vapers now need to change our tactics and use the forthcoming Welsh election to our advantage.
We have already seen that vapers can change the outcome of elections through the actions of advocacy groups in the USA such as SFATA. They have successfully mounted campaigns that have unseated anti-vaping Senators. This is a tactic they continue to employ with considerable success.
We need to emulate this tactic in Wales. You see, several prominent Labour AMs are sitting on very small majorities in their constituencies and even a small shift in the voting base can unseat these people. Furthermore, Labour had their noses severely bloodied in last year's General Election when two seats they strongly expected to win were lost to the Conservatives. This happened in the Cardiff North constituency and the Gower constituency. Labour also failed to win the majority of their other targetted marginal seats. Consequently, Labour are running scared in the Welsh Election (regardless of anything they may say to the contrary) because they are well aware of the threat. Add in to the mix that UKIP are fielding candidates in the Welsh Election for the very first time and you can understand Labour's jitters. After all, contrary to what Labour will tell you, UKIP's strong performance in Wales last May was due to their taking of LABOUR votes in the Valleys, not Conservative ones.
Over the next few days, I plan to start analysing the potential for tactical voting across all of the constituencies and regions that will form the battle grounds in the Welsh election campaign. I plan to engage with Vapers In Power (who are also planning to field several candidates) to work out the best way of targetting the success and liberty that Vapers across Wales deserve.
Whilst the definitive list of Candidates for each Constituency and Region are not yet available, I can give you a few examples of where Vapers votes can have a significant amount of influence.
Cardiff West: This is the Constituency currently held by the Health Minister Mark Drakeford. This would be a significant and substantial scalp for Vapers were Mark Drakeford - the man who wants to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces - to be unseated. It may surprise you all to find that at the last Assembly Elections, Drakeford only had a majority of just over 5000 votes. In a constituency with as dense a population as Cardiff West, that is NOT a significant majority. As the lists come out over the next week or so, I will be seeking out his opposition to learn their position on eCigs.
Ceredigion: This seat is currently held by Plaid Cymru's Elin Jones. Until recently, Elin was a strong supporter of our opposition to the eCig ban. Then, at Stage 2 of the HSCC scrutiny, Elin suddenly changed sides and supported Mark Drakeford. This surprised and angered a great deal of Welsh vapers as her support for Drakeford meant that his hated Bill got an easy ride through Stage 2. Surprisingly, Elin Jones majority at the last Assembly Elections was just over 1000 votes. This means she is extremely vulnerable to losing her seat in May.
Cardiff North: Another Labour seat, held by Julie Morgan, which the Labour party will be very nervous about. Labour targetted Cardiff North in last years General Election - and lost it to the Conservatives. The Cons will be targetting this seat again in May and a have serious chance of achieving their aim of winning the seat.
Other marginals at the last Assembly Elections that were won by Labour are: Cardiff Central and Llanelli. However, I listed the three examples above as they are the most significant seats involved insofar as Vapers being able to make a big statement. The only way we are going to jolt Welsh Labour out of their arrogance and unswerving support for Drakeford's madness over eCigs is to demonstrate that we have the ability to remove them from power. Nothing focusses the mind of a politician more than the potential to lose his job because he blindly followed the party whip - regardless of his own personal feelings on the subject.
I happen to know that several Labour AMs do NOT support Drakeford's proposals to ban eCigs from public enclosed spaces, but they think loyalty to their party is more important. They forget that it is us VOTERS that they are there to serve. If they refuse to listen to us now, then let's force them to listen by showing how much of their destiny is held in OUR hands.
My next blog will be a detailed breakdown of each marginal constituency held by Labour (and any other AM who supports Drakeford's plans) and who the main opposition is. It will demonstrate which Labour AMs are most vulnerable and where we can focus our efforts to change the political landscape in Wales. The only reason I am doing this is because LABOUR REFUSE TO LISTEN.
They would not listen to us before, but now is our chance to MAKE them listen :-)