Tony Blair slaps down David Cameron over Lynton Crosby comparison

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Tony Blair, who sees David Cameron in a formal capacity as the Middle East envoy. Photograph: Chris Jackson/PA

Since his departure from No 10 just over six years ago, Tony Blair has gone out of his way to be polite about his successors.

But the former PM's patience finally snapped on Thursday when David Cameron sought to fend off questions about the business interests of the Tories' chief election strategist Lynton Crosby by drawing a comparison with Blair. Cameron said the former PM was a "good example" to compare to Crosby, saying "he does lobby me from time to time".

A spokesperson for Blair then hit back, saying nobody could "seriously compare" Blair's work as Middle East envoy with that of a business lobbyist. "Tony Blair does not 'lobby' David Cameron," the spokesperson said. "You cannot seriously compare Tony Blair's role as quartet representative, which requires him to talk to governments around the world about the Middle East peace process, to that of a lobbyist."

Cameron's decision to draw a comparison raised eyebrows at Westminster. Blair meets Cameron in a formal capacity as envoy for the Middle Eastern "quartet" – the EU, US, UN and Russia – in which Britain plays a role as an EU member state.

The prime minister is facing pressure after declining on at least 12 occasions – according to Labour – to say whether he discussed the government's plans to abandon plain cigarette packaging with Crosby. The firm founded by the Crosby – Crosby Textor – acts on behalf of the tobacco giant Philip Morris International.

Cameron mentioned his predecessor-but-one when ITV News's Lucy Manning asked him about how Blair ran into trouble over tobacco advertising in 1997 after the Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone donated £1m to the Labour party.

Cameron said: "Tony Blair is a good example. Tony Blair is someone who does lobby me from time to time on things like the Middle East peace process. Do I have to know who all Tony Blair's other clients are? If I did that, I don't think I've got enough paper in my office to write them on."

The prime minister gave vent to his frustration after weeks of questions about Crosby during an interview with Gary Gibbon, the Channel 4 News political editor. Gibbon challenged Cameron, who was doing interviews in a west London police station to mark the fall in crime, to explain why he keeps "denying a question that isn't asked". In answer to whether he has ever discussed plain cigarette packaging with Crosby, Cameron says he has never been lobbied by his election adviser.

Gibbon said: "The question was: did Lynton Crosby – in the room, during a strategy meeting – say: 'Actually some of these bits of legislation rather clutter up the business of government and the focus of government and maybe it would be better to focus on other things'. Do you deny those details?"

The prime minister replied: "I don't recognise the conversation that you are putting forward at all, right? I have been very careful about what I have said which is to say he hasn't lobbied me on any of these issues."

"So the decisions are my decisions, the government's decisions. You're trying to invent a set of conversations that somehow you think took place.

Gibbon said: "I was trying to throw some sunlight – the best disinfectant as you called it. So we are quite clear: he never discussed this bill with you."

The prime minister replied: "I have answered the question very very clearly. I have not been lobbied by anybody on any of these issues."

Cameron indicated that he may in the end decide to introduce plain cigarette packaging. "I think this idea does have merit and I think there may well be a time for it. But I took the decision with the health secretary that the time was not now."

Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, highlighted 12 occasions on which he has declined to answer whether he discussed plain cigarette packaging with Crosby. Trickett said: "David Cameron is taking dodging the question to a whole new level. He has now been asked at least twelve times whether he has ever had a conversation with tobacco lobbyist Lynton Crosby about tobacco policy – and at least 12 times he has refused to give a straight answer. It's astonishing that the prime minister won't be clear about what conversations he has had with a man who is being paid by a big tobacco company at the same time as he is being paid by the Conservative party.

"The prime minister needs to stop taking the public for fools, and start being straight with people. If he has never had a conversation about tobacco policy with Lynton Crosby, he should just say so. If he has, then he needs to stop dodging and admit it right now. He used to say sunlight was the best disinfectant – but this suppression of the truth is making the whole government stink."

About Post Author

Anthony-Claret Ifeanyi Onwutalobi

Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.
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