This is the first of a series of examples highlighting the way people in power in this country have made a mockery of us all. They have shown contempt for the public and the rules and made themselves richer as a result. It will highlight current cases as well as those that have happened in the recent past, just so we don’t forget. We all need to be clear exactly what we are dealing with.
Resignation of Richard Sharp
The most recent example of “the old boys club” or “I will scratch your back if you scratch mine” is the resignation of Richard Sharp as Chairman of the BBC. A former Goldman Sachs executive, he was forced to step down from his role at the BBC after a damning independent report found he had breached the rules over a “perceived conflict of interest”.
There were always doubts over Richard Sharp’s ability to be unbiased. He had, after all, donated over £400,000 to the Conservative Party over the years and was a friend of Boris Johnson. So when Richard Sharp’s old friend, Sam Blyth, a Canadian multi-millionaire, said he had heard about poor old Boris’s money woes and said he wanted to help, Richard did what any friend would do, he arranged an introduction via the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, former private secretary to the Duke of Cambridge and one of Boris’ appointments. But some friends want favours in return and, for Richard Sharp, this was to be the Chairman of the BBC. Before handing in his application, he spoke to Boris Johnson informing him of his decision to apply for the BBC job. He made the shortlist and, by November 19th, Number 10 made it clear that he was the preferred candidate.
Richard Sharp forgot to declare what was described as a “potential perceived conflict of interest”.
He was clearly delighted when he was informed that he was the successful candidate, so much so that it is reported that he celebrated his good fortune at Chequers, with his old friend Boris Johnson and his new best friend Sam Blyth.
COVID the virus that kept on giving
No apologies for stepping back a few years in order to highlight the scandal over the way Government PPE contracts were managed at the time. In many respects, this is a perfect example of how the loosening of the rules opened the door for government money to be syphoned through to friends and family of some Tory politicians, and is one of the most egregious examples of cronyism that has come to light.
We saw that a firm owned by Matt Hancock’s family, (his sister, his mother, and brother-in-law) and in which he was gifted 20% shares, was awarded contracts to the value of £300,000 by NHS Wales. Although it was argued that Matt Hancock had no role in the way NHS Wales handed out contracts, he failed to declare that this same company was also put on the framework agreement for NHS England. This is a process that normally involves in-depth evaluation. The ‘independent’ advisor ruled that Matt Hancock should have declared his link to the firm when it won the NHS framework contract in 2019 and that “there had been a minor breach to the ministerial code”. He also commented that Mr Hancock’s sister and brother-in-law would have been “well aware” that Matt Hancock was the UK Health Secretary. Of course, it all proved too much for even a pillar of the establishment such as Lord Geidt, (Christopher Edward Wollaston MacKenzie Geidt, Baron Geidt, Chairman of the Council of King’s College London, and Private Secretary to the late Queen Elizabeth 11 from 2007 to 2017). He followed his predecessor by resigning less than a year into the role. He did not provide a reason for his resignation.
However, it was left to the Good Law Project to show just how corrupt these processes were by bringing cases to the High Court. It was found that, not only had Matt Hancock acted unlawfully in failing to publish details of dozens of contracts awarded without competition for goods and services such as personal protective equipment (PPE), it also ruled that the Government’s operation of a fast-track VIP lane for awarding lucrative PPE contracts, worth billions of pounds, to those with political connections was also unlawful. And yet just three days later, Boris Johnson stood up in the House of Commons and reassured MPs and the public that all Covid-related contracts were “on the record”.
Revealed: the Tories are still receiving funds from Russian-backed donors
More than a year on since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, The Good Law Project has revealed that the Conservative Party is still receiving large donations from individuals and companies with links to Russia. Their investigation found that, since the start of the war in 2022, the Conservatives have accepted at least £243,000 from Russia-associated donors, including at least £61,000 flowing into Tory coffers in 2023 alone.
This includes Aquind, a British cabling company controlled by Russian-born oil tycoon Viktor Fedotov, which has donated £42,000 to the Conservative Party in the past 14 months, including a £10,000 cash donation to Liam Fox MP, reported in January this year. Fedotov’s ties to Russia have been well documented, with reports suggesting he made at least £72m from an offshore financial structure that appears to have funnelled money from Russian companies. Alexander Temerko, a major Tory donor and an Aquind director, has donated a further £10,000 to the Tories during the same period. Temerko has donated over £700,000 in total. Aquind is seeking approval for a controversial undersea power interconnector between Portsmouth and Normandy in France. After a recent High Court case, the £1.2bn project has been referred back for approval by the UK’s Business Secretary.
Labour is not without its problems
In 2022, Wes Streeting, the Shadow Minister of Health, accepted a £155,000 donation from hedge fund manager, John Armitage. Mr. Armitage’s fund owns shares worth more than half a billion dollars in UnitedHealth. UnitedHealth is America’s largest health insurer. It has spent millions of dollars lobbying US politicians against healthcare reform through seven different lobbying firms. This includes lobbying against the Affordable Insulin Now Act, which would guarantee supplies of insulin to diabetics who depend on it to survive. It is one of the largest profiteers from NHS outsourcing and one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of future privatisation.
It is therefore also unspeakably disappointing to see that three Labour MPs have received hundreds of thousands of pounds in donations from a firm, MPM Connect, that cannot be traced. MPM Connect has no internet presence and is owned by two low-profile millionaires, Peter Hearn and Simon Murphy. MPM started donating to Yvette Cooper, Wes Streeting and Dan Jarvis in February 2020. Since then, it has given nearly £345,000. The company’s accounts offer very few clues as to what the company does, although it does note that for the year ending December 2021, “the number of employees during the year was NIL”. The only explanation offered is that they are “investors in the employment sector“. It would be interesting to know the terms under which they accepted a total of £340,000 from MPM Connect; just what MPM Connect expects in return; and whether its “investments in the employment sector” include further NHS outsourcing.
It is pretty obvious that accepting donations from private companies interested in NHS outsourcing creates an apparent conflict of interest and undermines public confidence in Labour’s commitment to rebuilding a publicly owned and provided NHS.