Transparency Mr Cameron? Not when it comes to Lynton Crosby

by Michael Dugher

On Wednesday, David Cameron finally unveiled the long-awaited lobbying bill called “Transparency of Lobbying.” The irony of this title has not been lost given that the last week has been dominated by the continued refusal by the prime minister to shed any light on his discussions with the tobacco lobbyist and chief Tory strategist, Lynton Crosby.

David Cameron has now been asked at least twelve times whether he has ever had a conversation with Mr Crosby about cigarette packaging – and he has refused to give a straight answer every time.

In a car-crash interview with Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon on Thursday, which was reminiscent of the famous Jeremy Paxman/ Michael Howard interview when Howard refused to answer a straightforward question a total of twelve times in succession, Cameron repeatedly refused to answer the simple question: have you ever had a conversation or had discussions with Mr Crosby about tobacco and plain packaging?

Each time, Cameron responds with the carefully constructed, legalistic reply: “I have never been lobbied by Mr Crosby on anything”.  This clearly does not answer the question.

So why is David Cameron being so evasive?  It is instructive to look back at the timeline of events to see how the Prime Minister got to this embarrassing situation.  In November last year, Cameron appointed Mr Crosby as a strategy advisor.  Just a few weeks later, Mr Crosby reportedly met with the prime minister, the chancellor and the prime minister’s chief of staff at Chequers to discuss the contents of the forthcoming queen’s speech.  Then, in the queen’s speech in May, the government dropped its plans for standardised tobacco packaging.

Last week, it was also revealed that Mr Crosby even chaired a meeting late last year where members of the tobacco industry discussed how to block the government’s plan to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packets

So what was discussed at the meeting at Chequers and other meetings Cameron had with Mr Crosby before the queen’s speech?  Reports have suggested that Mr Crosby told Cameron to “get the barnacles off the boat” by concentrating on core electoral battlegrounds and abandoning certain legislation.  If Cameron actually never had a conversation about tobacco policy with Mr Crosby, he should simply say so now.

It is incredible that he is introducing a “Transparency of Lobbing” bill yet is refusing to be open with the public about what conversations he has had with a man who has the major tobacco company, Philip Morris International, as a paying client at the same time as he is undertaking work for the Conservative Party.

But it seems that the chance of getting a straightforward response is slim.  But this is not remotely new. Cameron has been very secretive about the extent of Mr Crosby’s role for months.

Numerous parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests have been dodged about what meetings Mr Crosby has had in Downing street.  Again, a stonewalling response has been given each time: “Mr Crosby is not employed by the Government”.

Last week, I submitted a written parliamentary question about Mr Crosby requesting details of the occasions that the lobbyist has been registered on the access records as a visitor to Downing street.  These records are meticulously kept and other Government departments, for example the ministry of defence, have been more than happy to provide similar information about access to Government buildings by non-governmental employees.

Given that there is a precedent for this type of question to be answered – with full dates and details – it will be interesting to see how the prime minister chooses to respond.

As David Cameron leaves Westminster this week for the summer recess, the obfuscation, the weasel words and the unanswered questions about his chief adviser and favourite fags man remain.

Cameron’s refusal to answer straightforward questions makes a mockery of his commitment to openness.  He used to say that sunlight was the best disinfectant.  Transparency?  Not it would seem when it comes to Lynton Crosby.

What we are left with is a lasting impression that this is a prime minister who promised change, but instead he chooses to stand up for the wrong people.  And what’s more – like the kid at school who has more self-confidence than ability – David Cameron never seems to learn.  We are now seeing a pattern of behaviour to his premiership.  As Ed Miliband said at PMQs last week: “It is Andy Coulson all over again”.

Michael Dugher is MP for Barnsley East, Labour vice-chair and shadow minister without portfolio

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9 Responses to “Transparency Mr Cameron? Not when it comes to Lynton Crosby”

  1. james says:

    And how’s our friend Mr Ecclestone doing these fine days?

  2. Julian Ruck says:

    When it comes to evading the truth, David Cameron should spend a day with Welsh Labour politicians. He’d be a consumate expert before his train departed back to London, I can tell you.

    He might also think about having some tea and Welshcakes with Simon Jenkins, Head of News for Welsh Labour, while he’s at it.

    No comment, no comment, no comment…… not the most illuminating of conversationalists is our Simon.

    Julian Ruck

  3. james says:

    Cameron’s right – the coalition are on the right side of the argument on all the main issues – thus Miliband has to major on this while there’s no guarantee in putting his own house in order. The problem is that people prefer, by default, a party funded by big business with the right answers than one joined at the hip of the unions. The fact that they’re `propped up` by a party that struggles to find donors is a fillip to that coalition.

  4. bob says:

    What about transparency about what happened in the NHS and its political masters between ’97 and 2010. The other ‘death secretary’s’ have been remarkably quiet about what happened during their periods in office. Only Reid has said anything but the sound of silence from Hewitt, Millburn, Dobson et al is deafening. Transparency, hahaha, the labour party does not do transparency.

    When you have Labour MPs advertising as ‘cabs for hire’ business men offering 1 million pounds just at the point when tobacco advertising was being discussed in relation to sport and a prime minister refusing to interviewed under caution about cash for honours’ and the same former PM trying desperately to censor the Chilcott report. We really must not forget the unresolved death of Dr David Kelly and the circumstances of his demise.

    This really is the highpoint of cant and hipocracy for Labour to be asking about Linton Crosby. Remember the old saying of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’

  5. Ex-Labour says:

    Transparency Mr Dugher? Not when it comes to Unite.

    Transparency Mr Dugher ? Note when it comes to EU selections.

    Transparency Mr Dugher ? Not when it comes to JML “tax efficient” donations.

    Transparency Mr Dugher ? ………need I go on……FFS.

    People in glass houses shouln’t throw stones.

  6. Alan Thrower says:

    Who really cares about Crosby? A massive majority of the country has never heard of him, while a massive majority is opposed to minimum alcohol pricing and plain packaging. Why is Labour wasting time on this? It’s a pointless exercise which gives a message to working class people that Labour want to control them. I had high hopes for Miliband but he’s starting to look ridiculous. Of all policies to attack the Tories with before recess he chose this instead of massaged unemployment figures and damaging cuts. Horrible to witness Miliband being trounced at PMQ’s on Wednesday, and for something which will have been forgotten by the time parliament reconvenes. It is time Labour got a grip and stopped being lazy and arrogant.

  7. Lynne says:

    Whatever, David Cameron made the right decision to drop plain packs and minimum price for alcohol. The public never asked for, or wanted this anyway. Why does the Labour party persist in treating adults like children?

  8. Mike Hodges says:

    Sometimes I get the impression that the Labour Party is actually a party of suppression and Stalinist like control. They appear to want total control of the lives of the masses, something which isn’t very popular (surprise, surprise). Why should anyone want minimum alcohol pricing? Or plain packaging for fags? People will still drink and smoke. These measures are just petty attempts to influence people into being “good” when most people just want to stick up their finger at the establishment. I’d rather have the freedom to choose what I do instead of being commanded by the latest Czar. The Tories, Labour, Libdems, UKIP and the Greens (especially the Greens) need to understand that people, and it’s not just me, are sick of being told what to do, what to eat, what to drink etc etc.

  9. Robin Thorpe says:

    @Mike, Lynne & Alan, I’m sorry but I have to disagree with you both here. Both minimum alcohol pricing and plain tobacco packaging are part of a public health policy framework that prioritises the societal health over individual choice. This is a good thing because it puts the interests of people before the interests of corporate organisations.
    It does not prevent an adult smoking or drinking; but it might prevent children from being attracted to smoking and it will probably cause some people to drink less. These would be good outcomes. The NHS spends a lot of money on treating people with diseases caused by smoking and drinking.
    I don’t get the impression that the Labour Party wants to control people’s lives. I do think however, that regulation of substances that are harmful to health is necessary.
    The wearing of seat-belts is a good example of this; people now think nothing of buckling up before driving away. In the 1970s the clunk-click adverts never achieved more than 40% compliance. Post 1983 regulation compliance was 90%.
    Another good example of public health policy achieving positive outcomes is the smoking ban. In Scotland, the first country in the UK to ban smoking in public places, evidence has shown that incidences of smoking related heart attacks are already reduced.
    The Conservative party are attempting to reduce regulation across society. These two public health issues are the tip of the iceberg. Permitting lax regulation on these issues strengthens the Tory argument against state “interference”.
    Unfortunately, rather than have confidence in the facts Miliband et al have attempted to embarrass Cameron and cast him as untrustworthy because of his relationship with a consultant. As others have pointed out, pot and kettle.

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