Sunday 11 April 2021

Tory Sleaze and Ruling Class Solidarity

Thrift and making your own way in the world by the sweat of your brow are Tory fairy tales. What goes unsaid every time these fables are trotted out by friendly newspaper columnists and MPs addressing their monthly Conservative association meetings is how "making one's way" plays very differently when one ascends to a certain level. In the case of our old friend Dave, we read about how he's raided his piggy bank of social capital and used his offices with Dishy Rishi and Matt Hancock to open doors for the firm he was employed by (and had substantial holdings in), Greensill Capital. Things are so bad that even Sunday morning's Andrew Marr, which was to be devoted to the official mourning for Prince Philip, had to discuss the scandal at length.

Characteristic of his former sidekick, George Osborne, who used to go to ground as soon as the shit hit the fan, Dave is nowhere to be seen. Instead "friends" and "close sources" to the former prime minister have taken it upon themselves to issue the denials. Well, facts don't care about their lies. That Dave texted the chancellor to get state money into Greensill is indisputable. That Dave introduced Lex Greensill to Hancock at a private drinks, and that one of his companies subsequently won a contract for handling payments for NHS workers is completely what happened. The Graun quotes a "Hancock ally" as saying, "Matt acted in entirely the correct way – he updated officials on the business that was discussed, as is appropriate." The article notes Greensill's outfit were supplying a free service. Guess that makes everything alright then, as if providing a loss-leading service for nowt is never with a view to securing more lucrative contracts later on.

More delicious are the revelations about Dave's text exchanges with Sunak asking for loans for Greensill. When the story first aired, Dishy Rishi wasn't about to let these claims ruffle his feathers. Through intermediaries, he let the press know he did nothing improper and referred Dave to his team. Seems above board. But when the texts themselves were published, what do we see? A bit of factually accurate sleight of hand. In the exchanges we find less a polite brush off and, well, this: "Hi David, apologies for the delay. I think the proposals in the end did require a change to the Market Notice but I have pushed the team to explore an alternative with the Bank that might work." Does that look like a refusal to you, or an admission Sunak got on the Treasury's case to help out his chum? As Bridget Phillipson of the shadow treasury team rightly notes, Sunak is now on the hook for breaking the Ministerial Code. Not that Boris Johnson will care or do anything about it, but a question mark hanging over the chancellor's integrity won't hurt Labour's chances.

This kind of lobbying and arm-twisting happens all the time in the Tory party. The bonds of ruling class solidarity, the ties that bind, rely on knowing the right people, cultivating them, doing favours and, occasionally, cultivating conspiracies of silence through complicity in dark deeds. See, for example, how the compromising material Jeffrey Epstein accumulated on celebrities and politicians for insurance. But also there's something instructive about the Dave/Greensill affair and how the Conservative Party conducts itself.

In the first place, why enter politics? Most who enter parliament enjoy a nice salary uplift, but this isn't always the case and especially so on the Tory benches. Aspirant business people and successful capitalists also vie for seats and high office. They might tell themselves they're doing it for the right reasons, of wanting to give something back and help people. If this was the case, they'd do less harm attending their local Rotary Club dinner. Regardless of their rubbish justifications, the rewards of office include status, which always means a wider profile and the opening of doors money grubbing alone cannot achieve. And with it, influence. For the egoist being a player on the national stage, having one's leaks splashed over the press, getting invites for the politics shows, and being on first name terms with the ministers of the day is what a lot of politicians (and would-be MPs) crave. And, of course, the further one climbs up the greasy pole the more opportunities for the same.

Here's why there's not really any such thing as a Tory rebel. As one moves in these exalted circles, what happens to politicians after politics comes into view. Osborne and his many lucrative jobs, Dave and his extensive share options, the passage of Tony Blair into the fabulously wealthy. Politics facilitates introductions to other businesses, and in turn what businesses always want is access to politicians because they direct state spending. Lobbying is a fact of life, and politicians are very well placed to make a killing in this field when they've left their parliamentary offices for the final time. And so, though Dave has got himself into seriously choppy waters, his entirely improper attempts at influencing Sunak aren't about to put any Tory MPs off from following suit. Quite the opposite. They know if they toe the line, vote the right way, make sure they serve the interests of the fractions of business they're broadly aligned to, then they can look forward to being looked after in much the same way. Though perhaps they'll show a little more caution and discretion than Dave.

After a lifetime working in defence of his class and the state, Prince Philip appeared to render one last service by passing away when he did. The lobbying revelations vanished and he became the focus of the news, though it hasn't taken long for them to come roaring back. Yet politics has officially shut down. Ministers have taken time off and affairs of state suspended for "mourning". This includes, entirely coincidentally, not being available to answer questions about the scandal. But this final favour might rebound on the Tories' heads. Refusing to rebut, and with the big names and recognisible faces absent until after next Saturday's funeral, the story could spiral and, hopefully, see some of the sleaze finally stick to the Tories. A reminder that there are few things more repugnant than seeing the back scratching of ruling class solidarity open to public display.

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Shai Masot said...

Tories, Blairites. Blairites, Tories. What's the difference?

Not much.

Wendé Anne Maunder said...

There isn't one.

Wende Anne Maunder said...

There is no difference.

Dipper said...

This is ridiculous isn't it? Surely the time to complain about sleaze is when ex PM Cameron manages to get the rules bent for his employer. But in this case, he failed.

What, exactly, is it everyone is complaining about? That the system worked?