Thursday, July 18, 2013

 

David Cameron accused of 'weasel words' in Lynton Crosby row

|Blog ---
David Cameron has refused to say whether he discussed plain cigarette packaging with Lynton Crosby, the Conservative election strategist at the centre of controversy over his links to the tobacco industry.

The Prime Minister faced repeated questioning over the issue as Labour called for an inquiry into whether Mr Crosby's activities breached ministerial standards.

The Tory chairman, Grant Shapps, flatly denied that Mr Crosby had ever even spoken to Mr Cameron about cigarette packaging, but Mr Cameron declined to be so clear when asked about the issue himself.

Mr Crosby, the Australian political consultant, has been hired to advise the Tories on their campaign to win a majority in the 2015 general election.

He masterminded Boris Johnson’s two successful bids for the London Mayoralty and has been credited with sharpening the Conservatives’ focus since he started working for the party nationally in January.

Reports have suggested that Mr Crosby told Mr Cameron to “get the barnacles off the boat” by concentrating on core electoral battlegrounds and abandoning legislation on peripheral and unpopular issues.
However, he is now under scrutiny after it emerged that his company, Crosby Textor, has had clients including the tobacco company, Philip Morris International, which has opposed plans for cigarettes to be sold in plain packages. 

The government has now decided to not to introduce a policy on plain cigarette packaging, arguing that there is not enough evidence that such a plan would work. 

The Prime Minister insisted he had “never been lobbied” by Mr Crosby on any subject. 

But Labour said the careful answer amounted to "weasel words" and claimed Mr Crosby had told Mr Cameron to ditch plain packaging in “a devastating conflict of interest”. 

Ed Miliband declared that the Prime Minister could not deny that he “had a conversation with” Mr Crosby about the policy. 

The Labour leader wrote to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, calling on him to investigate whether there had been “a back door breach” of the ministerial code which seeks to prevent conflicts of interest between the government and businesses. 

After the clash with Mr Miliband in the Commons, the controversy followed Mr Cameron to Downing Street where he had been holding talks with the Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta. 

Standing alongside Mr Letta at a press conference in Number 10, Mr Cameron appeared increasingly frustrated at being asked again to give a straight answer on whether he had ever discussed plain packaging with Mr Crosby. 

“On the issue of Lynton Crosby, this is a complete red herring which is raised by the Labour Party because they are in political trouble,” Mr Cameron said. 

“This is complete nonsense from start to finish. 

“As I said, I have never been lobbied by Lynton Crosby about anything. It is not his job to advise on any policies or policy areas. He is paid by the Conservative Party as a campaign adviser.” 

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