The Coalitions chance to improve the UK's health has gone up in smoke

Plus: Politics in the civil service? Never. And tempers are rising along with pay

Share

Twenty years ago, my mother was moving house and I was doing a little spring cleaning before the new owners moved in, so I decided to clean the ceiling in the living room. It was a mistake. My mother smoked very heavily and the ceiling above her normal armchair was ochre.

As I wiped, the brown nicotinic tar ran down my arm and dribbled on to my face. It was enough to put me off for life, so despite the ranting of the right-wing ideologues in cahoots with the working men’s clubs, I was defiant in 2006 when it came to the contentious free vote on banning smoking in public places.

The result was a massive majority of 384 to 184, with the opponents mostly Tories (though Cameron didn’t bother to vote). It was the most important thing I have done for the health of the Rhondda, where more people have suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease thanks to smoking than due to the mines.

So the leaked announcement that the Government has gone cold on plain packaging for cigarette packets is beyond infuriating. Let’s be clear. The tobacco industry relies on recruiting 340,000 young people into the ranks of smokers every year, and 14 per cent of teenage girls and 10 per cent of boys smoke because brand marketing persuades teenagers that smoking Marlboro is “cool”.

But we all know smoking kills. We know that the poor are far more likely to smoke than the wealthy, and the Government’s own peer-reviewed report found that standardised packaging “would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, it would increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages, and it would reduce the use of design techniques that may mislead consumers about the harmfulness of tobacco products”.

Why the change of heart? Conservative governments used to take public health seriously. They introduced the Clean Air Act and made motorcycle crash helmets and the use of rear seat belts mandatory. Even the Cameron government proclaimed itself in favour of the politics of “nudge”, gently persuading people to make better, healthier decisions on drinking and smoking. But now Lynton Crosby, whose PR company has been on the tobacco payroll here and in Australia, rules the Tory roost, so big money has won the day. One Tory MP, Mark Field, even maintains that a ban would hurt the economy. There we have it. Letting the poor smoke their way to an early death is the Government’s growth strategy.

Can Magnitsky get more farcical?

The Russian state has a penchant for deadpan irony, but this week it has surpassed itself by putting not just a dead man on trial, but a dead man who was murdered by the state, who was in prison only because he had revealed corruption by, with and in the Russian state. All that was missing was for the “judge” to arraign the man, Sergei Magnitsky (who was understandably not in the dock), for corruptly organising his own murder.

Tell me something new, I hear you say. Well, depressingly, our Government has connived with this cruel charade. Last year, the Commons agreed a unanimous motion to ban from the UK anyone involved in Magnitsky’s murder or the corruption he exposed. At the time, the government minister Alistair Burt, like a fretful poodle, begged the House to wait and see if the US passed such a “Magnitsky law”. Then Barack Obama signed the act into US law, so the Tory MP Dominic Raab and I were delighted when Mark Harper, left, the immigration minister, answered a written question from Raab in April, saying: “The Home Office is already aware of the individuals and has taken the necessary measures to prevent them being issued visas for travel to the UK.”

Hurrah, we have a Magnitsky law in all but name, much as Harper’s predecessor had previously hinted to me. But with glib disregard for the court case going on this week, Harper wrote to “correct” Hansard. Apparently “any application for a visa to come to the UK will be considered on the individual merits of the case”. A completely craven, Kremlin-courting climb-down. The words of Kafka in The Trial spring to mind: “It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”

Politics in the civil service? Never

Do you remember David Cameron and Nick Clegg in opposition, how they would inveigh against politicising the civil service? Maybe you have a copy of the Conservative manifesto, which proclaims: “We will put a limit on the number of special advisers and protect the impartiality of the civil service.” Or maybe you remember Francis Maude citing the number of Gordon Brown’s special advisers as proof that “the culture of spin was alive and well”. Or Clegg complaining that special advisers were “political jobs” that should not be paid for by the taxpayer? Well, blow me down with a Dyson Airblade, but over the past year Government special advisers have numbered between 81 and 85, breaking all records. I can only assume that taking on Andy Coulson as a Spad was such a success.

Tempers rise along with pay

You will have noticed that I haven’t said anything about the one issue every journalist has been talking about all week and most MPs have been studiously ignoring – our pay. That’s because I said two things when I first stood in 2000 – first, that I would never vote for a pay increase above the increase in the pension; and second, that MPs should be banned from setting their own terms and conditions. I still stand by that. Of course Ipsa must reflect what is happening to other people’s pay. But I’ve never taken part in an Ipsa consultation and I’m not going to start now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album