Shortly before David Cameron became prime minister, he predicted that big business lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”.
Indeed, as a former lobbyist himself, Cameron was very well acquainted with how it all works. He once described lobbying as an “issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”. Quite!
Cameron, now an ex-PM and MP, did not imagine that he would be at the heart of one such scandal. This is – as he has been at pains to stress – since he didn’t break any official rules!
Cameron is now so astonished over the furore to have erupted around his persistent lobbying for the finance firm of Greensill Capital (now in administration), that he has been reduced to saying that there are “lessons'' to be learnt.
No doubt the chief lesson that Cameron has learnt is: don’t get caught!
Friends in high places
A mass of evidence has come out showing how Cameron repeatedly pushed his old pal Chancellor Sunak last year to find a way of including Greensill Capital – which was then deep in the mire – in the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
Cameron sent a river of text messages to all manner of top and not-so-top civil servants, in a clear attempt to use his links and former position to wangle a bending of the rules.
Of course, the fact that Cameron had extensive shares in Greensill Capital must have been playing heavily on his mind.
Then again, Greensill Capital and its boss, Rex Greensill, have had longtime ties with Cameron. When Cameron was PM, Rex Greensill was appointed to be what he later described (according to his business card) as a ‘senior adviser’, giving him huge access to Whitehall.
After Cameron left office, he in turn became a ‘senior adviser’ to Greensill Capital, working a massive 25 days a year. In return, he was given stock options in the company, potentially worth tens of millions of pounds.
This revolving door soon produced results. At a private drink with Health Secretary Hancock in 2019, it now appears that Cameron angled for some government largesse to drop into the pockets of Greensill Capital. Sure enough, a huge NHS contract worth £1.26 billion came its way.
We shouldn’t be at all surprised by this. The government’s ‘chumocracy’ has, over recent years (and especially since the onset of COVID-19), provided a huge source of state contracts for friends of the Tories. This has included £11 billion just on coronavirus contracts, usually pushed through without oversight or tendering.
In fact the ‘revolving door’ of the state and big business has a long and extensive history.
Consider one Bill Crothers, who worked as a senior civil servant in charge of spending government money. He helped bring Rex Greensill into Whitehall, before leaving state employment in 2015. A year later he joined… Greensill Capital!
Then we have the more famous case of David Hartnett. He was head of tax at HMRC, during which time he was rightly attacked for concocting deals to get Starbucks and Vodafone off huge tax bills. Later he went to work for accountancy firm Deloitte, whose customers include… Vodafone.
Hector Sants went from being head of the Financial Services Authority, charged with regulating the banks, to a nice job at Barclays. Pure coincidence they would say.
All this reflects the huge web of corruption that links the whole establishment – MPs, officials, bankers, and company bosses – together.
Even Boris Johnson has played a part. Recent claims point to ‘Bonking Boris’ (as he is known at Westminster) having a four-year ‘relationship’ with one Jennifer Arcuri whilst he was Mayor of London. At the same time, Arcuri managed to benefit from £126,000 in City Hall contracts. Co-incidence again?
This is unbelievable. Cameron took Lex Greensill to a ‘private drink’ with Matt Hancock and together they lobbied him to introduce a payment scheme which later rolled out within the NHS. Greensill also met Dido Harding and NHS chief exec Simon Stevens. https://t.co/9TdHlvQLfy— Tim Walker (@ThatTimWalker) April 10, 2021
Most of the dodgy dealing between the state and big business never comes to light. It is all kept between themselves as a cosy relationship. Most of this involves the Tories, of course; they are the traditional party of big business after all.
However, the careerist elements that infested New Labour have also done well, starting with Mr Moneybags himself, Tony Blair.
Remember also one Sally Morgan, who was at the heart of government during the Blair years. She ended up as a director of scandal hit Carillion, as they took the money and ran.
Cameron is not an exception, but the rule: the rule of capitalist exploitation and greed, all at our expense. Now that he has been exposed, he will perhaps have to be sacrificed to protect the system for the rest.
Slap on the wrist
Johnson now hopes to defuse the Cameron scandal by setting up an inquiry. But the ‘independent review’ will have no powers of sanction, and is only mandated to investigate ‘what happened’.
Many have correctly suggested that this so-called inquiry is just a sham, designed to kick the whole thing into the proverbial long grass.
Cameron thought that he was already off the hook when the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, one Harry Rich (his real name it appears), said in March that it was all ok, because Cameron was not a lobbyist.
No one was ever going to fall for this. Hence, with more texts and ‘private drinks’ emerging by the day, Johnson has come under pressure to act.
However, no-one should hold out any hope that this inquiry will resolve anything – none of the previous such efforts have. Remember the MPs expenses scandal? Well, they are all still doing very well.
The inquiry is being headed by one Nigel Boardman, an apt name if any. He is already an adviser to the Business Department and is – what a surprise – the son of a Tory cabinet minister.
Boardman is also a senior consultant and former partner at law firm Slaughter & May, which has been onboard to help advise the government over doling out the COVID-19 dosh to big business. No wonder many are questioning the ‘independence’ of this review!
This is the person appointed by Johnson to undertake the review of David Cameron’s behaviour in relation to Greensill. I leave it to you to judge his suitability. https://t.co/Zz3L96IDCS— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) April 12, 2021
This cesspit of corruption comes at a cost: a draining of the public finances, which we pay for. Whilst the Tories are busy cutting funding to essential public services, these same ladies and gentlemen are all too happy to line themselves and their friends up to dip into the public purse.
Nearly two centuries ago, Karl Marx described how big business and government were in bed with each other, acting to defend the interests of the establishment. Corruption and rule bending was par for the course. The only thing to have changed since then has been the degree and sheer nerve of it all.
This is why the system cannot be reformed or cleaned up. Any new measures will just be circumvented and side-stepped, as they always have in the past. Cameron may get off with a slap on the wrist, nothing more. The revolving door will continue to turn.
We therefore need to consign this whole rotten system to the rubbish bin. This requires a fight for socialism.