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.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.