Mark Littlewood

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Background

Mark Littlewood is the Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs. In 2001 he became Campaigns Director for the human rights group Liberty, leaving in 2004 to found NO2ID. From December 2004 to May 2007, he was Head of Media for the Liberal Democrats. In 2007, he co-founded Progressive Vision, 'a classical liberal think tank' and was its Communications Director until November 2009.[1] According to Companies House, in June 2012 Progressive Vision was still registered at Littlewood's home address while he was still listed as one of its directors at that date.[2] The other registered director is co-founder Shane Frith, who has also left the organisation. Frith has been involved in several other lobby groups; currently he is the Director of the Brussels-based think tank New Direction.

Against Plain Packaging

On 27 February 2012, Littlewood was a speaker, along with Chris Snowdon, at the launch of Forest's tobacco industry funded Hands Off Our Packs campaign.[3] Littlewood is also the first of seven supporters on the campaign's website.[4]

The coordinator of Hands Off Our Packs is Angela Harbutt from Liberal Vision. She and Littlewood feature in the trailer of the campaign's Nanny Town campaign video, which also includes Sam Bowman from the Adam Smith Institute and Simon Clark, director of Forest.[5] Littlewood and Harbutt also were two of the 11 signatories of a Letter to the Editor to the Daily Telegraph in March 2011, attacking the Government's position on tobacco control and arguing against further restrictions. In fact, there are many connections between the organisations and the people involved, which are outlined here and on related Tobacco Tactics pages. An online profile announcing his lecture at the Economic Research Council back in July 2010, for instance, said of Littlewood: "He lives in Battersea, London, with his partner, Angela Harbutt."[6]

Littlewood has called the move to introduce plain packaging, the

latest ludicrous move in the unending, ceaseless, bullying war against those who choose to produce and consume tobacco (...) The idea that adult civilians are actually able to make their own rational, reasoned choices in a world of colourful pictures seems quite alien to the squadron of health groups, bureaucrats and politicians who wish to infantilise and demonise those of us who choose to enjoy tobacco".[7]

Littlewood’s BBC Interview “In Breach of BBC Guidelines”

In November 2013, Littlewood appeared on the BBC’s flagship Radio 4 programme to talk about plain packaging. [8] Littlewood was introduced as the director of the IEA and “a smoker himself".

What the BBC omitted to tell its audience is that the IEA is funded by the tobacco industry. Writing about this non-disclosure, the Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, pointed out that in the BBC’s Guidelines, the corporation gave assurances to “normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status."

Monbiot then asked: “Do the BBC's editorial guidelines count for anything? I ask because it disregards them every day, by failing to reveal the commercial interests of its contributors.” The columnist then asked Guardian readers to email the BBC to complain about the breach.[9]

In a column two weeks later, Monbiot returned to the issue, arguing that the BBC was being “used as a covert propaganda outlet by tobacco, fossil fuel and other controversial companies” and that it was “time the BBC stopped collaborating in the deception of its listeners.”[10]

As if to reiterate his point, Monbiot started a petition on the issue, arguing that “The financial interests of any contributors in the issue under discussion should be disclosed, and mentioned when they are introduced.” [11]

Against the Smoking Ban / Further Smoking Restrictions

Littlewood has also spoken out against the smoking ban / smoking restrictions:

Littlewood said of the debates:

The emergence of a Conservative-Liberal coalition government might now provide the opportunity for a politics based around individual freedom and responsibility, rather than government diktat. The new prime minister and deputy prime minister use the language of liberty, but will they have the guts and determination to actually put Big Government into reverse gear? The case for freedom was often ignored by the previous administration. This series of debates is an important contribution to ensuring that the new government listens rather more closely.[13]
  • In response to the government's announcement on restrictions of point of sale and consultation on plain packaging, Littlewood said:
It is yet another heavy-handed and costly intervention by government that will hurt businesses and, as many studies have shown, will do nothing to lower smoking prevalence. “The proposed consultation on plain packaging is a further unwelcome step. Illicit tobacco already makes up some 20% of the market in the UK and plain packaging will simply make it easier for providers of illicit tobacco to pass off their wares as legitimate. It will help create a thriving black market and will see tax revenues fall. The government announced its commitment to enterprise only last weekend; today’s announcement raises the fear that it was merely rhetoric.[14]
  • In June and October 2011, Littlewood chaired two "Voices of Freedom" debates. The event in October, on the fringe of the Conservative Conference, was called "Civil Liberties Up In Smoke: what are smokers' rights in a free society?". The speakers included Daniel Hamilton (former director of Big Brother Watch), the pro-smoking blogger Chris Snowdon and Peter Hitchens from the Mail on Sunday. [15] That same year, he also signed the petition to amend the smoking ban. [16]

The Red Tape “Tsar”

In the UK, excessive regulation is called “red tape”, while government advisers are sometimes nicknamed "Tsars". The London School of Economics defines a Tsar as "an individual from outside government (though not necessarily from outside politics) who is publicly appointed by a government minister to advise on policy development or delivery on the basis of their expertise" and in a Novemnber 2012 report emphasise that more transparancy on the asignment and the work of tsars is urgently needed.[17]
In September 2011, Littlewood, wrote on his Daily Mail blog that the "Coalition’s war on red tape is just hot air".[18] Less than two months later, Littlewood was appointed as an independent adviser to the government’s Red Tape Challenge for Disruptive Business Models. Speaking on his appointment, Littlewood said:

The IEA has sought to educate people over recent months about the burden which red tape and regulation places on businesses in the United Kingdom. Holding back enterprise through unnecessary bureaucratic intervention lowers employment and stifles economic growth.[19]

Questions were raised over Littlewood's independence. His position as a Red Tape advisor is unpaid, so his government work is effectively being subsidised by the IEA. In March 2012, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Smoking and Health asked Vince Cable, the Trade and Industry Minister, for “reassurances” that Littlewood would not be advising on tobacco-related matters because of his “clear conflict of interest”. The committee chairman, Stephen Williams MP, said in a letter, quoted in the Independent[20] :

He clearly has a pro-tobacco agenda and has campaigned for a number of years against regulation of the tobacco industry. He could not, therefore, fulfil the remit of an independent adviser to the Government.

In a statement to the Independent newspaper, the Department for Business said that Littlewood would not be involved in any tobacco-related matter.

On 24 March 2012, Vince Cable confirmed this in a letter. Cable wrote to Stephen Williams, the chair of the APPG, confirming

that Mark Littlewood is an independent advisor to the team running the Disruptive Business Models theme of the Red Tape Challenge … Tobacco-related matters are not part of the Disruptive Business Models theme.[21]

Mark Littlewood has complained about the use of the headline 'Red Tape Tsar' and wishes to emphasize that his position could not be described as such.

Funding

Despite previous requests for the IEA's funding sources being denied, in 2013 it was revealed that the IEA has received funding from the tobacco industry.

In their response to a series of questions from the CEO of Action for Smoking and Health (ASH London), British American Tobacco stated that they paid the Institute the “normal annual corporate membership fee” of £10,000 in 2011, and £20,000 in 2012. In addition to that the company paid £1,056 for IEA hosting an event in 2011.[22] In response to further questions, the Group Head of Corporate Affairs revealed that BAT and the Institute are currently negotiating increased funding:

British American Tobacco is supporting the Institute of Economic Affairs through payment of the annual membership fee. We are planning to increase our contribution in 2013 and 2014, although the amount has not been formally agreed.[23]

Tobacco Industry Events

Littlewood spoke at the Global Tobacco Networking Forum in Antwerp in June 2012, [24] and South Africa in 2013 [25].

Notes

  1. Institute of Economic Affairs, Website, Accessed June 2011
  2. Companies House, Company appointments for Progressive Vision Limited, Reg. nr. 06401466, accessed June 2012
  3. Simon Clark, Invitation to a Party, Taking Liberties Blog, 23 February 2012
  4. Hands Off Our Packs, Supporters, Website, Accessed 23 February
  5. Hands Off Our Packs, Nanny Town Trailer, 5 March 2011, accessed June 2012, 417 views since the launch
  6. Economic Research Council, 13th July: Mark Littlewood, Director General of the IEA, undated, accessed June 2012
  7. Mark Littlewood, "Australia's new plain packaging law for cigarettes may have got Andrew Lansley off the hook", Daily Mail, 22 November 2011
  8. BBC, Today Programme, 28 November 2013
  9. George Monbiot, Heard a thinktank on the BBC? You haven't heard the whole story, The Guardian, 29 November 2013
  10. George Monbiot, The BBC must declare the interests of its contributors, or lose our trust, The Guardian, 12 December 2013
  11. Change Petition, Always disclose the financial interests of the people you interview in the issues they are discussing, Undated
  12. James Wilmore, Pro-smoking group taking pub campaign to LibDem conference, The Publican, 17 September 2009
  13. The Free Society, The Battle Against Big Government Join the Debate, 19 May 2010
  14. Mark Littlewood, "Announcement a victory for ‘enemies of enterprise’", IEA Website, 9 March 2011, accessed January 2012
  15. Simon Clark, Warning: expletives deleted 6 October 2011
  16. Simon Clark, Smoking ban review more popular than gay marriage proposal!, 30 August 2011,
  17. Dr Ruth Levitt and William Solesbury, Policy tsars: here to stay but more transparency needed, London School of Economics, Nov 2012, accessed March 2013
  18. Mark Littlewood, "The Coalition’s war on red tape is just hot air", Daily Mail, 29 September 2011
  19. Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA’s Director General becomes independent adviser to No 10, Press Release, 26 November 2011
  20. Steve Connor, The PM, his pro-smoking aide, and a dirty war over cigarette packaging, The Independent, 13 March 2012
  21. Vince Cable, Letter to Stephen Williams MP, 24 March 2012
  22. Simon Millson, Letter to Deborah Arnott CEO of ASH, 20 May 2013
  23. Simon Millson, Letter to Deborah Arnott CEO of ASH, 18 June 2013
  24. GTNF ANTWERP 2012: Look who is talking and what they are talking about, GTNF 2012 website, accessed 20 February 2012
  25. Global Tobacco Networking Forum, Global Tobacco Networking Forum website, accessed September 2013