Labour shadow minister Jon Trickett has demanded the government take action over what he claims is a “cosy Whitehall club”.
Trickett has written to Cabinet Office minister Damian Green following reports one of David Cameron’s closest aides, who now works for a tobacco company, had promoted a new product from the Marlboro manufacturer Philip Morris at this year’s Tory party conference.
Kate Marley, who was a special adviser to the former PM, took up her new role in July this year with the Cabinet Office’s blessing, on the condition she should not use privileged information gleaned from her position and should not lobby the government on behalf of Philip Morris for two years.
Trickett wrote: “Three months later it’s been reported that Ms Marley was at the Conservative Party Conference staffing a Philip Morris ‘Smoke-Free’ stall, effectively lobbying the government on behalf of the tobacco company.
“This country has witnessed a long-term decline of public trust in politics and politicians. Any perceptions of huge firms gaining undue influence over policy-making only increases the British public’s scepticism towards our country’s system of government.
“The British public wisely believe there is often no smoke without fire. The possibility of Phillip Morris gaining undue influence must be investigated.”
He also criticised the systems currently in place to ensure Parliamentary rules around the future employment of senior civil servants and political staff are not broken, and the fact that some Conservative conference fringe events often take place behind closed doors.
Trickett has asked Green, the de facto deputy prime minister, to confirm no meetings have taken place between Marley and government representatives.
He told HuffPost UK: “The rules are not fit for purpose, but there is no sign the government is going to make them tougher any time soon.
“There appears to be a real unwillingness to apply even the most meagre standards – this case is an example of how the Tories changed the rules in an attempt to ensure many SpADs aren’t even covered by the body meant to regulate it.
“Labour will break open the cosy club of Whitehall to build a government that works for the many, not the few.”
A National Audit Office investigation earlier this year revealed Business Appointment Rules, which exist to mitigate risks including abuse of office, profiteering and undue influence, are not being consistently applied.
All current and former civil servants must consider whether they need to make an application under the rules before accepting a new role in another sector. The rules are developed and owned by the Cabinet Office and approved by the prime minister.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: ”This government is the most transparent ever and we publish details of ministers’ meetings with external organisations on a quarterly basis.”