On Wednesday Parliament will vote on the highly contentious issue which will see plain cigarette packaging introduced. The law, which has been pushed through the House of Commons without a debate, was given the green light in the Republic of Ireland last week.
David Cameron faces an uneasy test as many Conservative backbenchers, perhaps 100 MPs or more, are planning to defy the whip. Their reason? Counterfeit cigarettes will infiltrate the British isles, which poses a much bigger risk to the UK than current cigarette packaging. The Australians, who have already introduced plain packaging, have experienced an 11.5% increase of counterfeit cigarettes in 2012 (14.3% rise in 2014). Nevertheless, many people will be interested to see where the rebel backbenchers interests lay, is it with the cigarette cartel? Cigarette businesses are notorious for lobbying, so could this be an ulterior motive? It is difficult to look beyond what some would dub as conspiracy.
However, moving beyond the grey zone I believe that the Conservative backbenchers who plan to rebel are not doing so for health reasons or due to lobbying interests. No, I believe that backbenchers, such as Nick de Bois, are looking to make a bold statement to the Prime Minister. Many have been against Cameron from day-one, others have been swept into the circle along the way. The real cause for rebellion is due to Cameron’s underhand tactics, which have also been exposed over his refusal to dual Miliband in a two-way TV debate. The backbenchers, many of whom herald from the 1922 Committee, want to apply pressure on their leader who has approached his stewardship with a soft-conservative style, to the fury of many MPs and members in the right side of the party. It is their belief that Cameron wants to avoid ‘a big row weeks before the election’, which would weaken his grip on the party and would test his strength. In other words, they are testing Cameron in the hope of bringing him away from the centre-ground (to stave of the UKIP offensive). The whole issue, therefore, has become highly politicised, bordering on toxic. We lose sight of the real issue, health and prevention, to one of a proxy-war weeks before the May 7th election.
MPs have every right to rebel, but they must publicise their interest for doing so. It is common knowledge that the law will be approved, there is already a cross-party consensus, bypassing the rebel faction (but it will rile Cameron surely). As a smoker myself I am neither for or against plain packaging. I can see the pros and cons of both sides, but if forced I would have to vote in approval of introducing plain packaging, a decision ruled by my head and not my heart (literally). I hope the rebel backbenches will do the same on Wednesday.
By James Metcalfe, Editor of Daily Political View.