Further evidence of Tory splits over the introduction of Plain Packaging for cigarettes has emerged as Conservatives lined up to attack their health minister Jane Ellison, who pushed the measure through. It is understood that the plans were not signed off by the Treasury, but were backed by the Prime Minister David Cameron who considers it to be “feel good politics”.
Last week Breitbart London reported that Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had spoken openly of his unwillingness to back the proposal when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons. ““It’s very important to look at the evidence of those experiments and see what the evidence shows. Also some concerns have been expressed about whether it’s going to make the counterfeiting of cigarettes easier and increasing trade, which deprives us of a lot of revenue,” he told the BBC’s Five Live.
But now more Conservatives are being quoted off the record expressing far more damning views. In his Sun on Sunday column yesterday, Westminster blogger Guido Fawkes reported that Conservatives are furious with Ellison: ““Four letter word, starts in S and ends in T” was the ringing endorsement of one colleague. “She is not a conservative” claims another, whilst another simply added “She’s a wrong ‘un’.”
“Guido hears that Ellison may not have the last laugh. Not only will there be a huge rebellion on the right, plans for a very well funded campaign to unseat her in her marginal south-west London seat of Battersea are already afoot.”
Meanwhile Nigel Evans MP took to the pages of Breitbart London to brand plain packaging “deeply un-conservative.”
“Plain packaging for cigarettes is plain bonkers and simply will not work, costing jobs and hampering the smaller newsagents around the country. I am convinced that in an attempt to pander to the politically correct lobby we are shooting ourselves in the foot and going against the core Tory ideals that are at the root of my party and are the reason I joined it 40 years ago,” he wrote.
He was joined by Iain Dale, a former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate and current presenter on LBC who, in an article entitled “So you support plain packaging. Call yourself a Conservative?” wrote “I’m not really sure how any politician can introduce plain paper packaging on cigarette packets and maintain with a straight face that they are still Conservatives. What’s next? Plain packaging on cans of lager? Mars Bars? Packets of crisps? It’s the nanny state writ large. If cigarettes are so terrible then ban them altogether. That’s the only logical thing to do.
The former Conservative Member of the Scottish Parliament Brian Monteith was so disillusioned by the introduction of the measure that he declared, in an article for the Edinburgh Evening News, that the Tories had now lost his vote.
“I wrote last week about how Labour is taking us down this road of lifestyle socialism where every facet of our life is controlled, and hoped that the Conservatives might not be drinking in the same pub,” he said.
“This week, with their proposals to abolish the branding of tobacco companies – infringing their intellectual property rights – the Tories showed they have been supping in the Last Chance Saloon. And now their chance of my vote is gone.”
But perhaps most surprising of all was the revelation by Simon Clark, director of smokers’ rights group Forest, that Ellison had not sought the go-ahead for the policy from the Treasury, despite the costs of the policy running into the billions.
“I can now reveal – from a good source – that the announcement by public health minister Jane Ellison surprised even George Osborne who wasn’t consulted,” said Clark.
“If that’s true it’s extraordinary, given how much revenue the Government could potentially lose to illicit traders, not to mention the cost of fighting the tobacco companies in court.
“Another source reports that the decision to go ahead with plain packaging was taken by the PM who considers it “feel good politics”.”
Yet the question remains: feel good for whom? Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman of conservative think tank The Bow Group, has toldBreitbart London that policies such as plain packaging, which are clearly designed to appeal to centre left voters, are leaving the Conservative grassroots disillusioned.
“There was a huge amount of energy among Conservatives going into the 2010 general election. A genuine feeling that a change could be made to reverse the 13 years of debt ridden, nannying, profligate, cultural Marxism and statism that had defined the Labour years.
“None of that energy is present in the Conservative Party going into the upcoming general election. That’s because this government has been more heir to Blair, than end to Blair.
“Plain packaging of cigarettes is the perhaps the perfect example, to cap 5 years of dilution and reversal of conservative values. No conservative would ever support a state so interfering that it sees fit to censor a packet of cigarettes, nor so patronising as to assume it’s citizens wouldn’t know what’s inside anyway.”