Tag Archives: tobacco

The influence of ‘big tobacco’ isn’t limited to think tanks: former minister Priti Patel was a lobbyist

Priti Patel: A former lobbyist for ‘big tobacco’.

Following the revelation that the Institute of Economic Affairs think tank is a lobbyist for British American Tobacco and for companies producing food that harms health – and also a major donor to the Conservative Party – does anybody remember this?

Priti Patel, the former International Development Secretary who was forced to resign after apparently conducting her own foreign policy in Israel, also lobbied for BAT, albeit in her former employment for a PR firm:

The employment minister, Priti Patel, was part of a team of spin doctors paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to help a tobacco giant counter negative publicity, including that surrounding its joint venture with one of the world’s most brutal military regimes.

Documents unearthed by the Observer shine new light on Patel’s work for Shandwick, a lobbying and PR firm that worked for British American Tobacco (BAT) in the early years of this century.

The documents, released by BAT following a legal action, show that Patel was one of seven employees used by Shandwick on the account. One of her jobs was to lobby MEPs against the introduction of the EU tobacco control directive, which was introduced shortly after the new millennium.

In 2001, Shandwick drew up plans to invoice BAT for 279 hours of its work a month, of which Patel’s contribution amounted to 100 hours. BAT was charged £165 an hour for Patel’s services. The entire team was on a monthly retainer of nearly £40,000 – a total of almost £500,000 a year.

Firms like BAT are major donors to the Conservative Party, while people like the IEA and Ms Patel were instrumental in pushing their agendas onto politicians – and onto the public through political discussion shows like the BBC’s Question Time.

These people betray the public trust because they present the desires of corporate bosses as the needs of the nation. And then you wonder why the environment is going to ruin…

Source: Minister worked as spin doctor for tobacco giant that paid workers £15 a month | Business | The Guardian

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Anti-NHS think tank that funds the Tories – hugely – is itself funded by ‘Big Tobacco’

Kate Andrews: This woman – and the IEA think tank she represents – is bad for your health.

Think about the British Medical Journal‘s findings: Tobacco and food firms whose products are harmful to health have been secretly funding the Conservative Party, through the think tank known as the Institute for Economic Affairs.

So next time the odious Kate Andrews appears on Question Time, or Politics Live, or The Andrew Marr Show saying the NHS should be scrapped, bear in mind she’s speaking for British American Tobacco…

And she’s giving the Conservative government instructions.

A secretive think tank which called for the NHS to be scrapped while its heads pour millions into the Conservative Party – and its MPs’ – coffers is being funded by big tobacco, an investigation has found.

British American Tobacco is one of the groups funding the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a free market think tank which is notoriously close-lipped about its donors.

The IEA has been an outspoken critic of public health measures for tackling smoking, obesity and harmful drinking, and past funders include organisations affiliated with gambling, alcohol, sugar and soft drinks industries.

Health experts said the findings, in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), raise the prospect of a future Conservative leader aligning with big business at the expense of the public’s health.

Source: Big tobacco secretly bankrolling anti-NHS think tank whose bosses donate thousands to Tory leadership contenders, an investigation reveals | The Independent

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Squirm, Cameron – we want answers about the NHS!

141026NHS

The image above shows a letter from shadow health secretary Andy Burnham to our comedy Prime Minister David Cameron, demanding answers to the questions he dodged during PMQs on Wednesday. The date shows it was written immediately after the incident.

It would not have been necessary if Cameron had bothered to answer the question, rather than indulge in a pointless relativistic attack on the Labour-run NHS Wales instead.

We are sick of these distraction techniques. We understand them and they merely strengthen our long-held conclusion that Cameron is at worst a liar and at best a dissembler, who would not let the facts pass his lips under any circumstances.

Look at the evidence:

Those are just a few examples from the last two weeks!

Mr Burnham’s questions are relevant; the public deserves answers on them.

Why have 16 leading health organisations representing doctors, nurses and patients warned that health and social care services in England are at “breaking point”?

Why can’t he confirm that:

  • National Health Service (England) currently has the highest waiting lists for six years;
  • It has the highest number of people waiting more than four hours in Accident & Emergency for 10 years;
  • It has missed its cancer treatment target for the first time ever; and
  • Millions of people there cannot get to see their GP?

Does he, or does he not, agree with his unnamed Cabinet colleague that his former boss Andrew Lansley’s hugely expensive – and unexpected – £3bn top-down reorganisation of the NHS was a huge mistake?

And why won’t he support a plan to fund one-week cancer testing by levying a tax on tobacco companies? Would the answer have anything to do with the other business interests of his campaign manager Lynton Crosby?

“The country and the NHS deserve better,” wrote Mr Burnham. “Rather than indulging in smears and diversionary tactics you would be better advised to spend your time addressing the fact that [the] NHS… is at breaking point under your government.

“Until you focus on saving rather than smearing the NHS, the public will be understandably confronted with the sad truth that all this government offers is five more years of crisis in the health service.”

Perhaps Mr Cameron needs to be reminded of the information in this BBC report from 2011 – before his government made such a mess of the service – showing that public approval of the National Health Service was at its highest point ever and questioning why he (Cameron) felt the need to change it.

“If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it,” as the saying goes.

Now the NHS is broke, thanks to the Tory (and Liberal Democrat, let’s not forget) scheme to siphon off our tax money into the hands of private health ‘providers’.

And the nation is still broke, despite years of unnecessary Tory and Liberal Democrat austerity that have brought hardship to millions and caused the deaths of tens of thousands, thanks to the Coalition scheme to put people to work for a pittance and let business bosses keep the profits.

With a general election just a few months away, more than 60 million of us are looking to David Cameron for an explanation, only to find…

He has nothing to say.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Who will (unofficially) sponsor David Cameron’s next Prime Ministerial statements?

130819lobbying

Tobacco, fracking or private health companies seem the most likely choices.

The Conservative-led Coalition has become an excellent practitioner of bait-and-switch fraud, it seems. First it ‘baits’ the general public by promising a new law, reforming part of society that is seen to have fallen below the standards expected here in the UK. Then it ‘switches’ the legislation into something else entirely.

So it is with plans for a new law to end lobbying scandals. It won’t do anything of the sort. In fact, it is likely to lessen the legal burdens on lobbyists.

However, it will impose onerous new burdens on trade unions and charities, in what the Trade Union Congress has described as “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship”.

(This is not to say that the TUC believes the UK government is similar to an authoritarian dictatorship. View it instead as the TUC saying this is what the UK government has become under the Coalition)

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill apparently features a new, looser definition of ‘campaigning’ that risks including all activities that could be seen as critical of the government of the day – and if any government was likely to crack down on such activities, on any day, it’s this one!

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said this was not the aim, and that the plan was to ensure lobbyists’ allegiances are known, ascertain how much money is spent on third-party political campaigning and ensure trade unions know who their members are. His words may have been sponsored by CTF Partners (look them up).

The proposals are likely to introduce a statutory register of consultant lobbyists, but only firms which say it is their main business need register, only firms which meet ministers and senior civil servants need declare whom they represent, and in-house lobbyists are also exempt – so, from 988 meetings between the Department for Business and lobbyists in 2012, only two were with consultant lobbyists who would have had to declare the meetings under the new law.

An Independent article stated that the plans lack credibility and are regarded as “a bad joke” inside the UK’s £2 billion lobbying industry – so much so that the chairman of Parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee recalled its members before the end of the summer recess, to hold evidence sessions on what he has described as a “dog’s breakfast”.

Graham Allen MP (Labour) told the paper, “This flawed legislation will mean we’ll all be back in a year facing another scandal.”

And lobbyists themselves said the industry could gain nothing from flawed legislation. Iain Anderson, chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) and director of the lobbying company Cicero, said: “This law will only undermine public confidence.”

The planned legislation would also set a cap on the amount any organisation other than political parties could spend during elections, and would end self-certification of union membership numbers for all but the smallest unions, with records checked by an independent officer.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said in the BBC article that “this rushed Bill has nothing to do with cleaning up lobbying or getting big money out of politics. Instead it is a crude and politically partisan attack on trade unions, particularly those who affiliate to the Labour Party”. Bait-and-switch, see?

But she said the plan was much worse than that: “Its chilling effect will be to shut down dissent for the year before an election. No organisation that criticises a government policy will be able to overdraw their limited ration of dissent without fearing a visit from the police.”

Mr Cameron, now revealed as a corporate mouthpiece after his U-turn on plans for plain packaging on cigarettes (his election strategist Lynton Crosby also works for a major tobacco corporation), his support for fracking (several leading Tories stand to benefit if the process becomes widespread) and his government’s privatisation of the National Health Service, amazingly promised to crack down on lobbying in the Coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats after he, himself, described it as the “next big political scandal”.

If fears are borne out, the new law would have a direct effect on Vox Political and blogs like it. Rest assured that VP will continue criticising government policy and demanding better from the opposition.

They can’t say we overspend – we don’t have any budget at all.

My e-petition calling for MPs to be banned from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest is here, and is nearly at the point where a reply will be required from the relevant government department. Please support it with your signature, if you haven’t already done so.

Lies, lobbying, Lynton – and a last insult before the long summer break

Taking instructions: Who's on the line, Lynton? Your boss David Cameron, your bosses at Philip Morris, or one of your many other clients?

Taking instructions: What’s that on the line, Lynton? Your boss David Cameron, your bosses at Philip Morris, or one of your many other clients? Or maybe your job?

How nice to see that concerns raised on this blog about the undue influence exerted on MPs by their other interests have been raised in Parliament, along with a Bill to publicise attempts to influence MPs by lobbying organisations.

What a shame that the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill was introduced on the last day before the Parliamentary summer recess in order to prevent anyone complaining about what it contains, is a load of self-serving rubbish that isn’t worth the paper it has been written on – and as such is a symptom, not only of the state of the current government, but of modern UK politics in general (I blame whoever runs the Politics, Philosophy and Economics course at Oxford).

As Unlock Democracy – the campaigning group for democracy, rights and freedoms – puts it, the new bill “is not a statutory register of lobbyists, which the government committed itself to in its coalition agreement; it is a statutory register of lobbying consultants. That simple change has, at a stroke, exempted more than 80 per cent of the £2 billion lobbying industry from having to comply with the register.”

This means the bill does not address the problem of lobbying at all. UD director Alexandra Runswick said: “The problem with lobbying is not the respectable lobbying consultants who abide by a code of practice and already work in a relatively transparent way; the problem is the more underhand activity, whether it is employed by consultants, think tanks, law firms, in-house lobbyists or private individuals.

“By establishing such a gaping loophole, the government will simply drive business away from lobbying consultants and into the arms of less reputable agencies.

“This bill is the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The organisation has published its own draft bill, that seeks, in the words of Green MP Caroline Lucas, “to deliver real transparency over who is lobbying whom, what’s being spent and who lobbyists are working for – if a special adviser is also working for a tobacco company we need to know about it.” Step forward, Lynton Crosby – the next big scandal.

Mr Crosby, who is David Cameron’s election strategist, works for a company of ‘campaign specialists’ called Crosby Textor, that advised private healthcare providers on how to exploit perceived “failings” in the NHS, according to The Guardian, and of course also works for tobacco giant Philip Morris International.

This is, of course, a huge conflict of interest and Messrs Cameron and Crosby had only themselves to blame when a political row erupted after the government suddenly dropped its much-publicised plans to remove all branding from cigarette packets.

Hugo Rifkind sent up the situation on Radio 4’s The News Quiz (Friday, July 19): “Lynton Crosby… is a strategist for the Conservative Party, and also a lobbyist on behalf of tobacco companies, and there’s an outrageous suggestion that this whole thing about plain packaging on cigarette packets could be somehow linked to his other role… Lynton Crosby is obviously a fine, upstanding man, he has obviously done nothing wrong. Obviously he has completely compartmentalised these two parts of his life and I’m really amazed we’re even talking about it.”

In an interview, David Cameron said he made the decision to U-turn on cigarette packaging at the kitchen table in his Downing Street flat.

But the flat is accepted as being territory that is not recognised as a place for meetings with anybody – lobbyists included – and the comedy Prime Minister did not say whether Mr Crosby was in the room (or had been) when he made that decision.

So what we see is a weak show of willingness to legislate, completely undermined by a strong demonstration of the hold that corporate lobbyists have over their servants in politics – including, in this case, the British Prime Minister. It seems he is working for them, not you.

Michael Meacher’s blog provides a handy list of other inadequacies in the Lobbying Bill:

It allows professional lobbying firms to keep their clients secret, provided they limit their meetings to special advisers and mid-rank officials; they will only have to reveal their clients if they meet ministers or permanent secretaries.

The register of lobbyists it will set up will exclude companies whose lobbying activities constitutes only a small part of the business.

It also discriminates against trade unions even though they are campaigning organisations, not lobbyists.

The bill limits the amount trade unions and other registered ‘third parties’ can contribute directly to general election campaigns by three-fifths, from £988,000 to £390,000. And it proposes that unions will be forced to undergo annual audits on the size of their membership.

Neither measure has anything to do with the bill’s main purpose and both should be struck from it before it is allowed onto the statute book.

And, as Mr Meacher notes, there is “not a word about the £25bn a year the Tory party get from hedge funds and the banks which makes them the biggest lobbyists of all”.

Perhaps those who drafted this nonsense (it is sponsored by Andrew Lansley, who was responsible for that other great travesty, the Health and Social Care Act 2012), should take time during the summer recess to consider withdrawing it altogether and replacing it with something fit for purpose.

With this government, that would be a refreshing change.

The petition for REAL MP accountability – proposing that they be banned from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest – is at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44971

(The first Vox Political collection, Strong Words and Hard Times, is now available and may be ordered from this website)