Tobacco Stain

Remember that jovial London summit starring Bill Clinton and Tony Blair just after Blair's election triumph?

It was a showcase of all that New Labour had learned from New Democrats, and vice versa. Momentum. Optimism. How to shuck the image of leftist tax-and-spend politics. How to ingest the right's success at reducing the welfare state, and transmute it into Thatcher/Reaganism with a more human face.

It was the biggest moment for hands across the sea since Thatcher and Reagan themselves collaborated to save the world from socialism.

But it now appears that Blair & Co. learned one political lesson too many from Clinton & Co. Namely, favors to big-money funders. The result could be a tragic setback for efforts to save Europe from the scourge of tobacco.

Mr. Blair is on the griddle for trying to justify a whopping $1.69 million campaign donation from the head of Formula One auto racing. After taking power, the Blair government proposed to exempt Formula One racing from the European Union's planned strict ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship. Worse still, Blair's money raisers apparently sought a further donation.

Despite its tweedledee tweedledumb aspects, this is a very serious matter. It involves millions of Europeans being subjected to smoking propaganda. And not just as they watch motor races. There is talk of a compromise that would allow EU members to exempt other sports from the tobacco sponsorship ban. That would make a bad decision worse.

EU ministers meet to ponder the subject Dec. 4. Instead of watering down the proposed ban, they ought to hold firm. Formula One's contribution is, basically, tobacco money, once-removed. Mr. Blair's reformist government ought not to be swayed by such tainted funding.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.