Monday 30 June 2014

Heads The Public Sector Wins, Tails The Public Loses

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will be aware, I was out of the country on Thursday when the government finally announced its latest pretence at listening to the public over plain packaging two months late.

The previous one showed that a significant majority think the idea to be pretty silly [pdf pg 31] ...

... but since when were the public listened to in a public consultation, eh?

What happened after the original consultation was that the Department of Health ignored all those hundreds of thousands of rejections and only focussed on what they called "detailed responses" for their big announcement.
Many thousands of responses to the consultation were received, and the views expressed were highly polarised, with strong views put forward on both sides of the debate and a range of organisations generating campaigns and petitions. Of those who provided detailed feedback, some 53% were in favour of standardised packaging while 43% thought the Government should do nothing about tobacco packaging.
Lo and behold, a majority in favour! It's almost like magic, isn't it?

Of course, if you were to download the full report, the true view of the public - which was ignored in the official statement, and about which Anna Soubry claimed ignorance - is crystal clear.
In total, 665,989 campaign responses were received from 24 separate campaigns. Around two-thirds of campaign responses received were from people who are opposed to the introduction of standardised packaging (total of 427,888 responses) and one-third of campaign responses received were from people who are in support (238,101 responses) as shown in figure 5.1 (that's that pretty pie chart above - DP)
Hence the gerrymandering by only quoting the detailed responses in official communications.

However, by way of contrast, let's look at what happened when the government 'consulted the public' about banning tobacco displays in 2008.
Over 96,000 responses were received ... the largest ever response to a consultation of this kind. Responses overwhelmingly supported removing tobacco displays in shops, and tough action to restrict access to vending machines. Since the ban on tobacco advertising, retail displays in shops are the main way in which tobacco products are marketed to children
No mention of "detailed responses" back then, because the result went the 'correct' way. Or, as the Filthy Smoker observed at the time.
Of the 96,000 responses, only a handful came from private individuals. The rest came from block-voting by state-funded pressure groups and charities. 
Sure enough, SmokeFree NorthWest - with 49,507 votes - is entirely funded by the DoH. Direct Movement by the Youth Smokefree Team - with 10,757 votes - is entirely funded by SmokeFree Liverpool who are entirely funded by the DoH). SmokeFree NorthEast - with 8,128 votes - is entirely funded by...yes, the DoH. 
Weighing in with a further 1,562 votes were SmokeFree Action. 
Not so much a public consultation as a public sector consulation.
And that's not even mentioning the fact that the DoH airbrushed out 35,000 responses that they didn't like, as admirably reported by Medical News

So, what we can gather from what modern politicians laughably call public consultations is that if a postcard or quick click response is in favour of what they and their pet powerful vested interests want to do anyway, they'll shout it from the rooftops. But if it's not, it's time for plan B and to only look at the "detailed responses" which - of course - are mostly submitted by organisations whose only job is to do so on state-supplied wages. 

It stinks, as I'm sure you'll agree, and not something restricted to just this issue - this kind of abuse of democracy is happening every day in any number of different government departments, most of it beneath the radar of anyone but those who are paid to lobby Westminster. This is why, as well as adding your name to the No Prime Minister campaign if you haven't already, you should also consider adding a "detailed response" to this new second consultation. Regular readers of this blog will remember that many of us did exactly this for the original consultation back in 2012, which I'm sure had an impact in restricting the biased farce to only a narrow 53%/43% split.

Just like last time out, when I'm less busy I'll be drafting a consultation response on this site for anyone who wants to crib, or you can just go ahead and submit your own. You have a few weeks to mull over exactly how you want to word it as the process runs until August 7th, but do make sure you seriously consider doing so. The alternative is that, yet again, the state-funded public sector gets to dictate terms to the rest of us without fear of being challenged, and politicians get to find yet another way of lying to us ... as they repeatedly illustrate with their sham ploy of public consultations.

Full details are here (in many languages), with the online submission form available at this link. Do go have a look. 


July 1st Movement said...

It should be blatantly obvious by now,consultations,petitions and web based campaigns are as much use as a chocolate kettle. Freedom,liberty and justice
are low profile for the funded cliques with their Neo Marxist attitude to Representaive Democracy,their way or no way.
If Liberty seeks attention it has to kick not talk,it has to shout not whisper,it has to be vehement in it's confrontation with no place for appeasement.
Lets eject the whimpering poodles and let loose the Rotweilers

DP said...

Dear Mr Puddlecote

Today is National Smoking Day - Ist July.

Just had the second cigarette of my three a year habit.

The sooner our beloved government gives up persecuting smokers the sooner I can give up smoking ...


Dick_Puddlecote said...

Is it? I've not heard so much as a whisper about it! Perhaps even the antis are getting bored. ;)

nisakiman said...

Well they're hardly likely to promote 'National Smoking Day', are they, DP? Although to be honest, I've never heard of it, either. Every day is 'National Smoking Day' for me, anyway.

It would be rather nice to have a day to celebrate the tobacco plant, though, and all the benefits that it can bestow. It might serve to slow down the juggernaut of TC if they have to actually look for some real science to refute the upsides of tobacco. Not that they'd find any...

Clive Bates said...

Something similar is apparent with consultations on e-cigarettes and snus. The 2010 MHRA consultation (MLX364) showed overwhelming opposition (at least as measured in number of responses) visible in support for 'Option 3' here:

But the report of the consultation laughably does not even provide totals that would show this, but manages to conclude that the 'right people' are onside:

"The response to consultation suggests there is clear support for MHRA regulation, including from medical professional bodies, royal colleges, NHS bodies, public health bodies and trading standards."

Turning to the 2010 EU consultation on the TPD:

They asked if the scope of the directive should be extended to included nicotine containing products (e-cigs etc) and whether the ban on snus should be lifted. They work hard to conceal the fact that the overwhelming response was 'no' and 'yes' respectively. See 6.1 and 6.2 in the write up and bear in mind that 96% of responses came from citizens rather than NGOs, industry, government etc.

In fact you need to go to a more detailed document to find out the actual numbers buried in tables:

91.9% of those responding to the question (75.6% of all responses) favoured no change in the scope of the directive (i.e. not including NCPs),which they duly ignored and brought them into the proposed text to be regulated as a medicines (something extremely damaging that they didn't even ask about).

With snus, a mere 84.34% of those responding to the question (69.96% total responses) disagreed with the problem definition. And 83.15% of those responding (68.96% total) supported lifting the ban on snus, which they duly ignored without even blinking.

dodderer1 said...

As long as they consult and engage,they can then totally ignore
Stakeholder engagement

During the course of 18 months, the MHRA met with a range of
stakeholders. This included importers of electronic cigarettes and the
Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA). Meetings were
also held with interests across government to establish a common
position. This included those with an interest as regulators, like the
Health and Safety Executive and local authority Trading Standards, as
well as the Department of Health, the Behavioural Insights Team at
Number 10 and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The
MHRA has worked closely with NICE on the development of its draft
guideline on smoking harm reduction, published in June 2013. The Agency
has also met with key players in the public health community, such as
leading researchers in the smoking field, Action on Smoking and Health
(ASH) and the British Medical Association (BMA), and sought views of
medical royal colleges and the NHS.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Haha! I misread (spinning too many plates at the moment).

Clive Bates said...

It did stave off an immediate ban, but it did not alter course or cause any serious reflection. After the MLX 364 consultation, the DH assigned MHRA to examine the issue (presumably on the principle that to a hammer every problem look like a nail). Instead of going out for a wider consultation on a full range of real world options, it convened a group of like-minded health and medical grandees to make recommendations as an ad hoc formation of the Committee on Human Medicines (clue in title) - unsurprisingly they came back with the ideas they favoured. Although it took until June 2013 for DH/MHRA to reaffirm its position in favour of medicines regulation, the intervening ~3 years did not allow time to formulate alternative proposals or conduct any sort of consultation.

The other troubling aspect of the MHRA consultation was ridiculous framing bias. The three options consulted on were:

i. Regulate e-cigarettes as medicines - withdraw products without authorisation in 21 days

ii. Regulate as e-cigarettes as medicines - withdraw products without authorisation in 1 year

iii. “Do nothing and allow these unregulated products containing nicotine that have not been assessed for safety, quality and efficacy to remain on the market.”

Framing of the option iii made it sound irresponsible even though there is a significant body of applicable consumer protection regulation. There are also several other options
(eg, making specific safety regulations or product standards) that were not included.