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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

 

i Editor's Letter: Still all to play for at our live iDebate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering