Smoking Ban Opposition Shows Just How Out Of Touch Tory Leadership Hopefuls Really Are

Braverman, Mordaunt and Badenoch are all opposed to the ban.
Braverman, Mordaunt and Badenoch are all opposed to the ban. Getty Images

Rishi Sunak won the backing of the House of Commons for his phased smoking ban last night - at the expense of his own rapidly-diminishing authority.

Although the result - 383 to 67 - was comprehensive, the failure of so many Tory MPs to vote for the measure demonstrated once again how little they fear their boss.

Even more significant was the identity of those who proudly rebelled against the PM’s flagship public health policy.

Kemi Badenoch, Suella Braverman, Priti Patel, Robert Jenrick and Penny Mordaunt all failed to troop through the ‘aye’ lobby alongside Sunak.

Keen-eyed Westminster-watchers will quickly notice what those five share a burning desire to replace the prime minister as Tory leader in the wake of the party’s widely-expected defeat at the upcoming general election.

But their desire to burnish their Tory credentials by not supporting what many in the party see as a deeply un-Conservative policy also had the side effect of demonstrating how out of touch they are with the British public.

A poll by the More in Common think-tank last year showed that 64% of voters back Sunak’s plan to prevent anyone born after 2008 from being able to buy tobacco products.

Even more significantly, the policy is especially popular with those who voted Tory in 2019, with 71% of them in favour of it.

A separate poll by YouGov on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) showed that 71% of voters - including 72% of those intending to vote Tory at the next election - support a smoke-free Britain.

Tory peer and former MP Gavin Barwell, who was Theresa May’s chief of staff, accused the leadership hopefuls of being “focused on the views of a deeply unrepresentative group of activists, not the wider coalition they would need to build” to win an election.

He added: “Their cognitive dissonance is also striking. They complain (rightly) about the high tax burden. The NHS is the largest area of spending. But they oppose any measures to make people healthier and thereby reduce demand.”

Badenoch, Braverman et al have also handed Labour a gift for when the Tory leadership race finally begins.

They would be entitled to ask, given how wildly out of touch they are with the public on such a key reform, why they should ever be trusted to lead the country.