Cameron challenged over Lynton Crosby's business links after plain cigarette packaging is shelved

Labour and Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston argue that the Tory strategist, whose company has close links to the tobacco industry, is to blame for the decision.

Rarely has there been a clearer example of successful lobbying than the government's decision to abandon the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes. The measure was overwhelmingly supported by the public (by 59%-25%) and by GPs but the tobacco industry's political muscle proved decisive. 

In reponse, Labour is again challenging David Cameron to say what conversations he has had with Tory campaign strategist Lynton Crosby on the subject. Diane Abbott, the shadow public health minister, has just issued the statement below.

The Tories used to say there were in favour of this policy, that children should be protected. But now, not long after employing Lynton Crosby, a strategist linked to lobbying in the tobacco industry, David Cameron is backing down.

People will rightly wonder if the Government is breaking its promise, despite the medical evidence and the wishes of British families, in order to please its friends in big business. David Cameron needs to explain why he’s doing it, when he decided, whether Lynton Crosby had any input into the decision, and whether he was aware of Lynton Crosby’s alleged business interests when he appointed him.

As I've previously reported, Crosby's PR and lobbying firm Crosby Textor has long-standing links with the tobacco industry. The company was on a retainer with British American Tobacco when cigarette companies fought the introduction of plain packaging by the Australian government and Crosby was federal director of the Liberal Party when it accepted large donations from the industry. Crosby Textor Fullbrook, the UK arm of the firm, has represented tobacco companies since the 1980s. 

The independent-minded Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP who has long campaigned for the policy, is another who detects the hand of Crosby at work. As she suggested this morning, the abandoment of plain packaging is strong evidence that Cameron has been swayed by Crosby's call to scrape the "barnacles off the boat". By this, the hard-nosed Australian means dispensing with such effette measures (minimum alcohol pricing similarly falls into this category) and focusing on the "core concerns" of the economy, immigration and welfare reform. 

To date, Cameron has merely said that Crosby has "never lobbied" him but has refused to confirm whether the pair discussed the issue of plain packaging. Expect Labour's health team to take every opportunity to challenge him to give a definitive answer. 

Lynton Crosby, who was recently appointed as the Conservatives' election campaign manager after running Boris Johnson's re-election campaign.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.