Mr Speaker granted Angela Rayner an Urgent Question to interrogate the Government about the multi-billions of Covid PPE. This concerned £10 billion in general fraud, and the particular millions squirrelled away by ‘Baroness Bra’ in the Lords (£29 million is alleged to have gone into an offshore Trust owned by Lady Mone, the profit from a £203 million PPE contract).
At a time when parliamentary rhetoric is ebbing low, when Transport minister Mark Harper feels free to tell a sparse, early Thursday House that there is a range of stakeholder options he is working through, that he has set out his ambitions, that he wants to pay tribute to doughty champions, stalwart champions, true champions and tireless campaigners, that it is inappropriate to comment further . . . Guido has only praise for the SNP’s Brendan O’Hara for his description of the PPE scandal as “a dripping roast of sleaze”.
People say it’s easy to criticise, but that is far from true. “A dripping roast of sleaze” makes a powerful visual case at once gorgeous and disgusting. The gleaming carcass, slippery with fat, is something that we instinctively want but know in our better nature that we should not have. O’Hara might have considered more straightforward censure of the fraudsters and incompetents in the Covid contracting process with words like suppurating, pustulent or feculent. But that would have absolved us, his guilty listeners. O’Hara’s phrase implicated us all. He skewered us. Thinking of that “dripping roast of sleaze” – which of us wasn’t reminded of the impulse to hop on a plane to China and come back with a container of masks, or gowns or dental floss that could be delivered as masks or gowns?
And for those of us who resisted the impulse to gorge on the roast and smear its fat all over our faces – we who didn’t do that, we feel we deserve justice (or vengeance, if that’s on offer, at all).
In asking her question, Angela Rayner – Speak for England, Angela! – was hobbled by the parliamentary rule that forbids particular peers being criticised unless they are named on the face of the instrument. She couldn’t have a crack at Lady Mone. She played a little scorn over the “mediation process” that is preventing the release of documents, and the fact that £200 million was a small part of the ten billion quid of fraudulent supplies taken in by the Government. She was cheated of her denunciation, such are the rules.
Christopher Chope pointed out that if we hadn’t wasted untold billions on our Covid responses we wouldn’t be up the fiscal creek.
And Minister Neil O’Brien, in a phrase worthy of Mark Harper, characterised the delivery of £125 million worth of unusable gowns as “under-performing contracts”. Paid for in advance. No penalty for “underperformance”. Billions.
We must have been mad. Actually, looking back, we probably were.