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Sir Humphrey is now in drag

The civil service's actions on the plain cigarette packs consultation have been nothing short of a disgrace

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There is a lack of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of plain packs
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David Atherton
On 25 February 2013 16:32

“Drip, drip, drip. Day after day an insidious poison is fed into the nation's veins, spreading anger and cynicism about everything in the public sector”, so wrote Polly Toynbee of the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA), in 2009. “Nothing works, billions are wasted, public servants of every kind are pointless jobsworths feathering their nests and twiddling their thumbs” – this was her characterisation of the TPA’s outlook; though you may agree, the statement stands up well, even out of context.

Lord Digby-Jones, from his time as a Trade Minister, said of the Civil Service: "Frankly the job could be done with half as many; it could be more productive, more efficient, it could deliver a lot more value for money for the taxpayer... I was amazed, quite frankly, at how many people deserved the sack and yet that was the one threat that they never ever worked under, because it doesn't exist."

Even Tony Blair claimed he bore "scars on his back" from battling the Civil Service on the issue of public sector reform after only two years in office. David Cameron can better that; after only a year in office, the Prime Minister revealed his frustration with Whitehall in a speech to the Conservative Party Spring Conference, announcing the Government's intention to take on "bureaucrats in government departments" who he described as "enemies of enterprise".

Another infamous run-in with the civil service involved Steve Hilton, Cameron’s former director of strategy, who resigned in disgust after a row involving top mandarin Bob Kerslake. Hilton’s desire to reduce civil service numbers, by means of outsourcing sections of its policy work to think tanks and the private sector, brought him into contact with Sir Bob, the Head of the Civil Service. Nicknamed by Hilton as “Bungalow Bob”, I presume because he had nothing upstairs, Kerslake was further described as “a second-rate human resources department."

Last but not least, I am sure we all have our own examples of the government-employed using what little power they have on us.

But now, Sir Humphrey Appleby of the hit TV series ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ has put on a dress and a pair of sling-back shoes and morphed into Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer and head paper pusher at the Department of Health (DH).

Supposedly neutral on policy, Davies and Andrew Black (Programme Manager of Tobacco Control) have in fact failed to display a shred of impartiality on the impending plain cigarette packs “consultation.” For those of you who have just resurfaced from your coma, the consultation is effectively another way of putting the banning of branded cigarette packets with the addition of some medical pornography so extreme that sitting in church on Sunday morning reading Asian Babes would seem more appropriate.

In what has been a dirty campaign (mainly on the part of Dame Sally Davies’s department and allies, who have never really recovered from being whitewashed in the public response – 500,000 versus 235,000), the latest reveals more evidence of closed, clandestine meetings in smoke-filled free rooms.

You see, it turns out the DH commissioned two anti-smoking zealots, Professors Gerald Hastings and Linda Bauld, from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies to review the “proof.”  They may as well have just commissioned Lord Rennard to write a paper on keeping your hands on the table at Lib Dem HQ.

What’s more, the DH paid out £468,462.06 of taxpayer’s money to Smoke Free South West alone on advertising to encourage the public to lobby for plain packs.

Most worrying though was that the DH and the DH-funded Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) were allegedly inflating the 235,000 positive responses. Deborah Arnott of ASH was in correspondence with Tabitha Brufal, Deputy Director, Tobacco and Health Improvement Policy, Department of Health. Here’s what she had to say:

“I understand that you have been copied into an email from a junior member of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (UKCTCS) which was circulated to the UKCTCS list encouraging sign up to the various websites supporting plain packs stating that “You can only vote once on each petition, but I would seriously doubt that there will be cross checking between charity petitions so it may be worth signing all of them to get your money’s worth.”

Fiddling the figures were they?

Then you have the contention that Andrew Black of the DH was in contact with fellow Australian and anti-smoking Professor Simon Chapman. And the fact that the DH extended the plain packaging consultation by four weeks at the request of the Australian government. The reason being, according to a Freedom of Information request from the 5th July, it wanted its submission to be signed off by its Minister of Health, The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, but she was on a "short absence".

On the 23rd January this year Dame Sally Davies was giving evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Asked about the effectiveness of the Australian Plain Packs campaign, which started fifty four days previously, she said that the "early signs" from Australia are that plain packaging is "successful in reducing cigarette smoking". Asked for the provenance of her claim, she replied: "I had dinner with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health of Australia on Monday evening."

"Is that scientific evidence?" asked a member of the committee. "No, I didn't claim it as evidence. I am very careful to wait until it has been properly evaluated, peer reviewed and published. I said there was early evidence. She said, that the purchasing [of cigarettes] looked as if it was responding [to plain packaging]. I am only reporting to you what I have understood as early evidence."

Seeing a vague pattern here? Biased evidence, collusion with other governments, the leaking of confidential information, and the possible misuse of public money/fraudulent skewering of public consultations. This is a disgrace.

Yes, Prime Minister has always been viewed as more of a documentary rather than satire; the inner workings of a government department which I have a deep knowledge of could easily be the blueprint for much of what passes for government elsewhere.

Seventy three MPs have written an open letter to Health Secretary asking for plain packaging to be abandoned. The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest) has a page where you too can voice your objection with your MP. I hope you get a minute to write.

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

Read more on: pro-plain packaging campaign, why plain packaging for tobacco wouldn't work, should tobacco have plain packaging?, plain packaging for tobacco, david atherton, david atherton and smoking, tobacco control, tobacco, department of health, Polly Toynbee, Steve Hilton, and Andrew Black
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