Jolyon Maugham’s brainchild The Good Law Project is once again patting itself on the back; this time for “challenging the culture of cronyism” by suing the government for “awarding lucrative PPE contracts […] to companies with political connections”, and pushing legal action against the Cabinet Office. “Allowing those in power to continue to benefit from rampant cronyism,” they claim, “is simply not an option.” How noble.
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” is a famous injunction to those who wish to change the world. The Good Law Project’s campaign against cronyism appears to be for other organisations, not their own management team. Last October, Rachel Smethers – daughter of the campaign’s director and co-founder Sam Smethers – joined the group as its Head of Communications, having previously worked in Parliament as an advisor to Harriet Harman (as shown above). We have not found an advertisement for the position from the organisation which campaigns so hard for open competition before the awarding of contracts…
Guido is sure The Good Law Project’s financial backers would expect the appointment to have been made strictly on merit, and as per the organisation’s Code of Conduct Rachel will have declared to the campaign director, her mother, their relationship:
Perform duties and conduct private affairs in a manner that avoids possible conflicts of interest with the work of Good Law Project.
Declare any financial, personal, family (or close intimate relationship) interest in matters which may impact on the work of Good Law Project.
Though given that Rachel’s mother Sam also once worked for Harriet Harman, it does all seem a bit incestuous. Cronyism in job contracts appears to be an option for Jolyon’s political connections.
Guido’s been speaking to numerous Tory MPs and other prominent candidates up and down the country, and is yet to find one who says the current cronyism/sleaze/flat refurbishment media storm come up on the doorstep, nor in their MP constituency post bags. No doubt to the Lobby and Labour’s irritation.
A few have asked “why the hell did Boris pick a fight with Cummings?” It’s remarkable – assuming they are telling the truth – how much of a disconnect there seems to be on this story between the Westminster bubble and the outside world. One prominent red wall candidate told Guido:
“I’m as interested in politics as the next politician, but even I’m finding it difficult to follow and understand what the actual issue is. Not surprised that nobody up here is paying any attention. Could be wrong, but it feels like another example of Westminster and MSM being completely disconnected”.
The proof in the pudding will obviously be the May elections.
Nevertheless, might Tory MPs be getting increasingly frustrated with the distraction? While there will be outliers willing to give a headline-grabbing gobby quote, it’s worth revisiting Charles Walker’s Newsnight rant from two days ago, where he not only defended the PM with vigour, he will have been echoing the views of the 1922 executive in his role as vice-chair. In normal times, today’s PMQs would give Tory MPs the opportunity to show a rallying behind the PM. The maintained social distancing rules will quash that opportunity however.
This morning the BBC reveal texts between the PM and James Dyson, in which Boris promised to “fix” a tax issue to prevent Dyson’s employees having to pay extra if they came here to make Covid ventilators during what was a national emergency. The Treasury changed the rules to mean any days worked by foreign employees towards the national Covid effort wouldn’t be counted by HMRC between March and June 2020. Only an hysterical partisan would take issue with this, here’s Labour’s line this morning;
“These are jaw-dropping revelations. Boris Johnson is now front and centre of the biggest lobbying scandal in a generation, and Tory sleaze has reached the heart of Downing Street.”
A gigantic volte-face given Labour repeatedly praised the ventilator response – a response the tax changes aimed to bolster. The changes were openly put to parliament and applied to non-tax-resident doctors and engineers who would otherwise have had negative tax implications for helping in the fight against Covid. VAT and customs duties on vital medical equipment were also waived. In April 2020, Rachel Reeves said the government needed to “strain every sinew and utilise untapped resources in UK manufacturing, to deliver essential equipment to frontline workers”. A week later, Starmer praised everyone involved in the effort to get ventilators:
The Ventilator Challenge is an example of how UK manufacturers, a world class workforce and @unitetheunion have come together to provide our NHS with the vital equipment it urgently needs. Well done to everyone involved. https://t.co/7u9vhQrDVc— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) March 30, 2020
Just last month, Anneliese Dodds admitted the government had worked with manufacturers to deliver the “seemingly impossible, to record time” on ventilator production. Something their holier-than-thou anti-‘crony’ position would have prevented.
This latest accusation of sleaze is a misstep by Labour. As Tony Blair told Today this morning, “I find it hard to get worked up about this… there’s got to be a certain degree of understanding.”
Most people will think it was good of Dyson to put up £20 million and hundreds of his staff on to the project at short notice and no cost to the taxpayer. They will think it fair that those who came to our aid were not punished by the taxman for helping. There are some genuine questions about cronyism to be answered when it comes to the supply of PPE, some of which may well be answered with criminal charges. If Labour starts making weak accusations that don’t stack up they will start sounding like the boy who cried wolf…
Given the past week of rows caused by Labour’s government sleaze accusations, Guido presumed that they’d try extra hard to be cleaner than clean this week. Today Labour launches an “independent” commission on “Rebuilding our High Streets”, promising to bring together experts to “offer independent advice to the Party”. What they don’t mention is the Commission is stuffed full of lobbyists and Labour cronies…
Among its membership, the supposedly-independent commission boasts:
Its membership also comprises lobbyists, including on policy areas the committee’s set to cover:
Gilby, Lillis and Birley also have histories of lobbying. Do as Labour says, not as they do…
While the Tories are in the hot seat in Westminster over the Greensill scandal, Labour are also turning fire north of the border – at Nicola Sturgeon. This week it emerged SNP minister Fergus Ewing had a secret and undocumented meeting with Greensill and Gupta, the latter eventually garnering more than half-a-billion pounds in taxpayer guarantees from the SNP government. Guess who’s once again facing questions over when she knew about a controversial meeting. Sturgeon’s memory is notoriously shaky…
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray has now accused SNP cronyism of being the “next Greensill scandal”
“The SNP government is embroiled in its own complex web of connections between senior Scottish ministers, Sanjeev Gupta and his financial backer Lex Greensill.”
As Murray points out, the governing party north of the border – accused of poor use of taxpayers money with Gupta – is also under investigation by the police for a £600,000 black hole in their election finances. Given the reluctance by the London-based media to focus on the Salmond/Sturgeon row, Guido doesn’t hold out hope for the same media scrutiny of this aspect of the cronyism row…
Cries of “crony government contracts” are in the news again. When it comes to cronyism the Welsh government’s political corruption is as constant as it is under-reported. For example, on 10th April 2020, the Welsh Labour government concluded the award of a contract with Consultant Connect worth £650,000 to provide “additional support to primary care for the many elective care issues that GPs have to deal with which has increased significantly during COVID-19”. The details of this valuable contract were then not published until 18th June 2020. That’s one tick in the box for any contract corruption conspiracists…
At the time the contract was awarded, the Chairman of Consultant Connect was, and still is, Greg Jackson who is – shockingly – a long-time Labour supporter:
Guido doesn’t see anything wrong with the Welsh Government awarding this contract to Jackson’s Consultant Connect. All governments across the world in spring last year were scrambling to put support mechanisms in place, whether it was securing PPE or, in this case, support GPs. Labour and their Welsh administration could find themselves on shaky ground if they don’t rein in their conspiratorial MP ranks…