Professor Roger Scruton, darling of the moral right, asked one of the world’s biggest tobacco companies for £5,500 a month to help place pro-smoking articles in some of Britain’s most influential newspapers and magazines.
The controversial conservative academic offered to use his Fleet Street contacts to get pieces published in his own name and those of others on “major topics of current concern” to the tobacco industry.
In a leaked email to Japan Tobacco International seeking a £1,000 rise on his existing £4,500 monthly fee, Prof Scruton argued that in a business “largely conducted by shysters and sharks” he represented value for money.
“We would aim to place an article every two months in one or other of the WSJ [Wall Street Journal], the Times, the Telegraph, the Spectator, the Financial Times, the Economist, the Independent or the New Statesman,” says the note, sent last October under the name of Sophie, his wife and business partner.
“While one or more of these articles might be written by RS, we would do our best to get other journalists to join in.”
He advised Japan Tobacco to shift the onus onto health risks posed by other products.
“For example, fast-food of the McDonald’s variety, which seems to be addictive, is aimed at the young, is a serious risk to health, with a worse effect on life-expectancy than cigarettes, and, unlike cigarettes, has a seriously corrosive effect on social relations and family life,” he wrote.
The proposal was one of a series made by Prof Scruton, editor of the Salisbury Review and once a regular on Radio 4’s Moral Maze, in a long email.
He suggested assisting the multinational – the world’s third-largest cigarette combine and manufacturer of brands such as Camel and Winston – on everything from education and licensing to dealing with the World Health Organisation.
“We have found that our workload has increased during the course of the last year. We will need a part-time office assistant for the day-to-day stuff,” said the email.
“In the light of this we were wondering whether you would consider putting up the fee from £4,500 monthly to £5,500 – on the assumption that we try our hardest to justify this amount and that you have the right to revise it downwards if dissatisfied.”
Denounced by the left as a reactionary and apologist for the political right, the visiting professor at the philosophy department of London’s Birkbeck College was distinctly unphilosophical yesterday when asked about the leaked email.
“The whole thing is quite immoral – the stealing of private correspondence and making it public,” protested Prof Scruton.
He said he had addressed conferences organised by the tobacco industry for a decade, never making a secret of his relationship with the companies.
He has advised Japan Tobacco for about two years through Horsell’s Farm Enterprises, a company operated by him and his wife from their Wiltshire farmhouse which can arrange hedge-laying as well as advice on how to fight anti-smoking legislation.
The academic is a columnist for the FT, a newspaper listed in his memo, and also one of the main clients of Horsell’s, an enterprise he called a “postmodern rural consultancy”.
“We have never concealed the fact that we work for Japan Tobacco,” he said, complaining that the company never adopted his October proposals.
Prof Scruton added that no articles were written as a result.
He had previously written a pamphlet for the Institute of Economic Affairs attacking WHO moves to curtail tobacco and newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in June 2001.
An article published in September 1998 by Prof Scruton in the Wall Street Journal referred to him as a “philosopher living in England”, making no mention of any financial link with the tobacco industry.
Prof Scruton has denounced single mothers, homosexuals, socialists, feminists, popular culture while defending Enoch Powell and fox hunting .
Clive Bates, director of the ASH anti-smoking campaign, said last night: “Scruton likes to pass himself off as the leading intellectual of the right, but it seems he’s just a grimy hack for the tobacco industry.”
He added that the deal with the tobacco industry made the academic neither intellectual nor independent.
Asked if he saw himself as one of the “shysters and sharks”, Prof Scruton said: “No, on the contrary, but that’s what I think of public affairs generally. What I meant was the kind of fees they demand. What we do is a small cottage industry.”