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Thursday
Nov082012

Anna Soubry and the silent majority

Further to my previous post ...

The Mail Online reports that Commons Speaker John Bercow rebukes health minister Anna Soubry THREE times in 90 minutes.

Thirty years ago, when I was loosely involved on the fringes of student politics, Soubry was dismissed as a terrible 'wet' by the Thatcherite wing of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS).

There were a lot of unpleasant comments flying around, some of them unnecessarily personal, but she survived that baptism of fire and enjoyed a successful career in journalism before she was called to the bar and became a barrister.

Our paths have never crossed but when she was elected in 2010 her name stood out. I was impressed that unlike many of her colleagues she had already had not one but two careers before entering Parliament.

Simon Carr, the Independent's highly regarded parliamentary sketchwriter, was impressed too. In a piece entitled Westminster's movers and shakers in 2011, he wrote:

Who will be the Coalition's silent majority candidate? It won't be Nadine Dorries who has troubles of her own. Priti Patel? Possibly, but how about new-intake Anna Soubry. An ex-journalist and barrister, she has a record of unusually free speech.

It will be this person's job to popularise a "stop moaning" message: the "keep calm and carry on" candidate. The message might be more assertive as Ms Soubry has the wallop of a more famous Tory woman from an earlier era.

Soubry seems both feisty and independent-minded. Ambitious, too, which means she can't go too far off message, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that civil servants at the Department of Health will find her less malleable that most of her predecessors.

In 12 months of course I might be singing a very different tune. In the meantime I hope she will adopt a more pragmatic approach to tobacco regulation and stand up to the bully boys (and girls) of tobacco control.

How refreshing it would be to hear a health minister discuss tobacco (and food, and drink) in a way that empathises with ordinary people. The last one to do that was former Health Secretary John Reid, eight long years ago.

Update: I heard Soubry interviewed by Nicky Campbell on Five Live a few weeks ago. They seemed to know one another from her broadcasting days.

She came across very well, in a slightly head girl sort of way. Mind you, I thought the same of Caroline Flint until the Department of Health chewed her up and spat her out.

I once listened to Flint get heckled at a fringe meeting at a Labour party conference. The heckler was a tobacco control activist who didn't think the (Labour) government was going far enough in terms of banning smoking in public places. (This was in the days when a 'compromise' was on the cards.)

At the time I thought Flint held her ground quite well. She certainly wasn't pleased to be put on the spot by an aggressive anti-smoker.

Sensing an opportunity (and doing my very best to ooze charm and bonhomie) I caught her as she left and slipped her a copy of Forest's 'Fight the ban: fight for choice' leaflet.

Fat lot of good it did.

Here's hoping Anna Soubry will prove a tad more robust when tobacco control comes calling. I wish her well.

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Reader Comments (2)

It might well be worth writing to both Anna Soubry and Jeremy Hunt and remind them of the strength of feeling out here against the smoking ban. At least I think you will get a reply.

What is there to lose?

Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 15:14 | Unregistered CommenterDennis

Both Soubry and Hunt could learn a thing or two from The Netherlands where smokers have their own pubs and are not excluded from society.

According to RTL News Edith Schippers Health Minister is quoted as saying that she is following ‘a well-considered smoking strategy in which the protection of public health and measures to discourage tobacco use are balanced with the importance of individual responsibility and freedom of choice.’

Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 19:21 | Unregistered CommenterMark

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