I’ve often wondered how Tobacco Control exerts influence. It occurred to me this morning that, in the aftermath of the UK government ditching plain packaging, we’re being shown how it’s done.
As ever with Tobacco Control, it’s the dark forces of Big Tobacco that are being fingered. And the ‘connection’ is that Crosby Textor, the consultancy that the Conservative party has begun using to shape its 2015 election strategy, also has a contract with Philip Morris. That’s been enough to associate Lynton Crosby, one of the founders of Crosby Textor, with Big Tobacco, and make him into a minion within their Evil Empire.
If you ran a pizza parlour, and you delivered a dozen Quatro Formaggio pizzas to someone who worked for Philip Morris, that would be enough to associate you and your pizza parlour with Big Tobacco, and prove your membership of the Evil Empire. Yes, it would.
Anyway, that’s the key, always-present, hallmark Big Tobacco link. After that it’s a matter of setting the media on the trail of Lynton Crosby, using your connections with the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the BBC (where Andrew Marr has been asking questions on his show), and your connections in parliament to get questions asked in the house (by the leader of the Labour opposition), and even pulling in re-enforcements from abroad.
Australia’s Health Minister has accused the UK Government of dropping plans to introduce blank cigarette packaging due to pressure from tobacco companies and one of their former lobbyists now working for the Conservatives.
Tanya Plibersek picked out Lynton Crosby – an Australian election adviser who has links to Philip Morris, one of the Big Four tobacco firms – as one of the main factors in the UK’s decision not to emulate her country in restricting cigarette packaging to single-coloured boxes emblazoned with graphic images of smoking-related diseases. “I think this does show the continued effort of big tobacco to prevent plain packaging,” Ms Plibersek said. “It’s very clear Lynton Crosby has been a key adviser in this move to dump plain packaging in the UK.”
Simultaneously you deploy ASH’s Deborah Arnott in the Mirror.
Deborah Arnott, of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “We need to know if Lynton Crosby has been briefing the media on Mr Cameron’s refusal to back a new law to stop the tobacco industry from using its pack designs to market its killer products to children.
“And we need to know why the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary don’t seem to think that the 200,000 kids a year who start to smoke deserve their protection.”
She added: “Mr Crosby’s background creates a serious conflict of interest. If he plays any part in the Government’s decision on whether to proceed with standard packs it would break the UK’s treaty promise not to let the tobacco industry interfere with health policy.”
And you get about 40 doctors to sign a letter of protest.
In short, you kick up a right little media shitstorm, conjured out of nothing (because plain packaging was always a lousy idea). And it’s all done using connections in the media and the government and the ‘charities’ to create a wholly spurious media event.
Maybe you even activate antismoking assets in the Conservative party, and get John Redwood, MP, to write a piece suggesting that smoking be made illegal, while deleting most of the resulting protest comments.
It may not actually work, but it’ll give the government enough of a bloody nose to ensure that they agree quickly the next time that Tobacco Control demands some new antismoking measure.
And at the same time, you use your connections to make sure that the ministerial misbehaviour of Tobacco Control shills like Anna Soubry doesn’t get any media airplay at all.
And in this manner you create a false media superculture whose beliefs and values are quite different (and even opposed to) Britain’s underlying real culture, which ceases to be represented or reflected or reported.
But it may not be just Tobacco Control that have Lynton Crosby in their sights. He used to work for Boris Johnson, and was the architect of his two mayoral campaign victories. And now that he’s working for the Conservative party, the Labour party will want to settle an old score. And the Conservative party is shifting its tactics, it seems.
David Cameron must have known his hiring of the man often described as an “evil genius” would draw him into the ambit of bare-knuckle politics. It’s what Crosby brings to election campaigns. Four election victories for the rightwinger John Howard, making him the second longest-serving Australian prime minister. Two victories in the London mayoral election for Boris Johnson, confounding the notion that his charge is a buffoon and London a Labour fiefdom.
The attraction is obvious, but that doesn’t diminish the significance of Crosby’s appointment. In the desperate quest for a majority, the Cameroonian project to detoxify the Tory party has been paused, perhaps abandoned. Had Steve Hilton, symbol of that makeover, expired rather than just moved on from his job as director of strategy, he would be spinning in his grave.
Crosby, bluff as a barrack room sergeant with a vocabulary to match, would shed few tears about that. “He really hates Steve Hilton,” said a source who observed him. “He thinks all that repositioning stuff and the Big Society doesn’t work. He likes things to be simple. Pick very simple themes and go for your core vote. Anything else he sees as a waste of time.”
And Crosby may well think that smokers are (or were)(or should be) Conservative core voters:
There has been speculation that the rise of Ukip, which promotes the rights of smokers, and concerns that plain packaging would lead to a rise in tobacco smuggling were two reasons why Cameron decided to abandon the plan after Crosby reputedly encouraged him to prioritise the Tories’ goals ahead of the 2015 general election.
Because the problem for the Conservative party (and also the other main parties) is that UKIP has been stealing their votes. And quite a few of those votes will be those of smokers who have been abandoned by the main parties.
Perhaps the arrival of Lynton Crosby as a Conservative party strategist signals the end of attempts to re-brand the Conservative party as a touchy-feely, environmentalist party, and signal a return to its core values and its core vote. In which case it would be a very good thing.