When we submit a motion for debate at Gateshead Council supporting something positive that the Coalition has done, Labour often move an amendment which wrecks the motion and makes claims of the Lib-Dems-eat-your-babies-for-breakfast variety. A couple of times recently, they used "information" they happily acquired from the Taxpayers' Alliance website to back up their claims that the Coalition spreads famine, pestilence and plague. Their opposition for opposition sake recently led them to attack the Coalition's decision to bring in free school meals for infant aged children. During the debate on our motion welcoming free school meals last autumn, they attacked the Lib Dems for taking away child benefit from the wealthiest parents and for raising the same benefit for other parents below the rate of inflation. Sadly for Gateshead Labour's sanity, a couple of days later, Ed Balls, in one of those rare moments when he could actually remember what he was talking about, announced that were Labour to win the General Election, child benefit rises would be below the rate of inflation!
But yesterday, sanity did prevail. For the full council meeting, we submitted a motion welcoming the announcement that there will be a free vote in the Commons on plain packaging of cigarettes and calling on the borough's MPs to vote for the change. On Wednesday, we had a message from the Labour Leader Mick Henry asking if the motion could be a joint one. We were happy enough to do that as long as we moved it. That meant I was able to hand them the task of seconding the motion. Whilst it saved me the task of writing a formal speech, I still spoke in the debate, welcoming the move but pointing out it was only one step along the road towards tackling smoking.
My colleague, John McClurey, moved the motion. He is a retailer but has extensive experience in tackling smoking and is a spokesman for anti-smoking campaigners. He brought along a number of plain packaged cigarette boxes to show people what they would look like. Many contain uncomfortable pictures of the effects of smoking.
The only fly in the ointment was Labour's Cllr Steven Ronchetti. The last time he spoke in council on smoking he attacked the smoking ban for what he perceived as the negative effects on pubs (he is a publican!) He said that though he would be voting for the motion, he wanted plain packaging to be delayed until after legal challenges had been completed in Australia. He seemed to be well briefed.