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Thursday, July 18, 2013 

The Crosby show.

Where once everything seemed to lead back to the Simpsons, now everything seems to just as often lead back to The Thick of It.  With David Cameron whining to Nick Robinson about how he seemed to be falling in with the Labour campaign to link Tory adviser Lynton Crosby with the decision to drop plain packaging for tobacco, something described as "looking like a smear campaign" by Michael Green Grant Shapps, I couldn't help but be reminded of Jamie's response to Clive when he said "he would never forgive" what Malcolm did to him.  "This isn't fucking Eastenders ... we're all in the same plague pit, there's no clean hands."

Indeed, in the irony stakes, the whinging from the Tories about Labour daring to suggest there might at least be a conflict of interest in Crosby's lobbying firm representing Philip Morris is off the charts.  In what have almost certainly been Crosby advised ploys, over the last couple of weeks we've first seen Cameron present Len McCluskey as being only slightly less evil than a 70s BBC TV presenter, and the unions in general as little better than enemies of the people, while last weekend there was clearly an orchestrated attempt to "get" former health secretary Andy Burnham over the mediocrities in the NHS laid bare in the report by Bruce Keogh.  Fed to the likes of the Mail was the deeply misleading, not in the final report figure of 20,000 excess deaths (other papers went with 13,000) at the 14 trusts examined, with the blame pointed squarely at Burnham and Labour for having allowed the situation to develop.  This was then followed by Jeremy Hunt describing the report as "Labour's darkest day", while yesterday's Mail again splashed with an attack on the party.

Frankly, who knows what it was that led to the coalition backing down on plain packaging for fags and a minimum price for alcohol, although you suspect on the latter at least it was because it would have been extremely unpopular and also wouldn't have worked.  There's also a decent explanation for delaying action on tobacco for now: that it's prudent to wait and see whether it has an impact in Australia.  Of course, this government like its predecessor doesn't give a fig for evidence when it comes to going against expert advice on drugs they decide simply must be banned, so it's not entirely convincing, but all the same, it just about stands up to scrutiny.

Cameron's problem is that he keeps placing his trust in people who have what might be known as previous.  First it was Andy Coulson, and there's still the potential for massive trouble for the prime minister if his former spin doctor is found guilty of perjury, amongst the other charges he's contesting, now it's a man who was at the helm when the Australian PM John Howard claimed asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard.  His advice during the 2005 Tory campaign resulted in the much mocked "are you thinking what we're thinking" campaign, while his work for Boris Johnson's Mayoral campaign has been undermined somewhat by accusations he ranted about "fucking Muslims"

Regardless of the reality, and Cameron still hasn't explicitly denied that he discussed tobacco packaging with Crosby, just that Crosby didn't "lobby him" about it or anything else, that your chief adviser also works for tobacco companies fails the smell test.  It might not be Bernie Ecclestone giving Labour £1m and then finding to his surprise that Formula 1 would be exempt from the ban on fag advertising, but it's of a piece with Cameron's apparent lack of curiosity about those he surrounds himself with.  Yesterday's lobbying bill isn't going to alter that.

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