Conservative sleaze. Does anyone care?

April 19, 2021 11:07 AM
Originally published by Babergh South Suffolk Liberal Democrats

n88c (Photo by Salahuddin Apu on Unsplash)Back in the late 1990s, after 15 years in government the Conservative government led by John Major was subsumed by an avalanche of allegations of sleaze. There were a number of financial issues in these but most of the allegations related to sexual impropriety much of which today is no longer considered worthy of comment.

These stories helped trash the reputation of the Conservative Party and subsequently led to a Labour landslide and a big expansion in Liberal Democrat held seats

A decade of Labour government later a well known aspiring politician said "We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way." He predicted that "the far-too-cosy relationship between politics and money" was "the next big scandal waiting to happen". That politician was David Cameron, ironically given what has unfolded in the past few weeks

The current allegations are much more serious than those of the 1990s and seem to be part of a much wider lowering of standards of probity in public life.

The fact we know that current Tory cabinet ministers were in regular touch - texting or sharing a pint - with their former boss David Cameron, as he used his status as an ex-PM and the privileged access it gave him to pitch on behalf of his new employer, Lex Greensill. How Ministers can say he did nothing wrong beggars belief. The fact that his activities appear to be inside rules on lobbying, rules incidentally created by none other than Mr Cameron himself, cannot hide the fact that such behaviour is unethical. The fact it happened behind closed doors with no transparency is surely unacceptable. When you also read that Mr Greenshill had Downing Street business cards and at least two senior Civil Servants (whose salaries are paid by us taxpayers) were simultaneously moonlighting for Greensill, it seems extraordinary that that these things are regarded as 'within the rules'.

If this was an isolated incident it would be shocking but it does seem to fit a wider trend

  • The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, rushed through an "unlawful" planning decision benefiting property developer and Tory donor Richard Desmond, saving the former porn publisher £45m in local taxes.
  • A fast-track for those with friends in high places, allowing the well-connected to jump the queue when the PPE procurement contracts were handed out early in the Covid crisis, so that companies with no relevant experience - but a bulging contacts book - landed contracts worth hundreds of millions.
  • Jennifer Arcuri, Johnson's former lover, receiving £126,000 in public money, some of it from London's City Hall while Johnson was mayor.
  • Priti Patel breaking the ministerial code, yet holding on to her job while the official who reached that verdict is out of his

The Prime Minister, a rival since their days at Eton ,is no longer a good friend of Mr Cameron and one suspects would welcome inquiries blaming him and the Civil Service as a way of diverting attention from him and his party . Nigel Boardman, the man appointed by Mr. Johnson to rule over the Greensill lobbying scandal, happens to sit is on the board of a private bank that has close ties with the Conservative party and has a number of former civil servants in its ranks, so one is left wondering how forensic he will really be

Given that five months have passed since the resignation of Sir Alex Allan as the invigilator of the ministerial code in protest at Mr Johnson's refusal to accept his findings about bullying by Priti Patel and the post still remains vacant tells you all you need to know about how much priority the prime minister gives to policing the integrity of his government. As the old expression has it " A fish rots from its head"

And Yet.

If opinion polls are to be believed the voters don't yet seem much bothered by these behaviours despite the tax payer money wasted and trust betrayed. Maybe it takes time for the implications of the current behaviours to sink in. After so many years of Conservative government they have no one else to blame for poor standards of behaviour.