Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Ex-politicians calling on the bank of favours

former british prime minister david cameron leaves his home in london
Former British prime minister David Cameron insisted his lobbying was in the public interest

A whiff of corruption hangs over public life in Britain

By Alper Ali Riza

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown was absolutely right to observe last week that public office should not be a platform for private gain.

Why is a man of integrity like Gordon Brown no longer in active politics? Also with the break-up of the UK now in prospect after the Scottish National Party won a majority for another independence referendum, the UK needs a political heavyweight like Gordon Brown to put the case for preserving the Union.

More urgently the country needs people like him to clear up the whiff of corruption hovering over public life in Britain. What he implied by his intervention was that if you aspire to high political office in order to make “loads of money” after relinquishing power, your decisions while in office may be corrupted if motivated by future gain – what the American novelist Tom Wolfe called the bank of favours in his novel Bonfire of the Vanities.

The so called “killings” of Tony Blair, and now those of David Cameron, are to do with inappropriate gain by the misuse of influence acquired while in power.

The rubric “killings of Tony Blair” comes from a documentary by George Galloway, the pro-Palestinian former Labour Member of Parliament and RT broadcaster, that castigates Tony Blair by playing on the two meanings of “killings” in English usage: the literal meaning of causing loss of life, and its idiomatic use of making a lot of money.

Tony Blair embarked on regime change in Iraq and David Cameron on regime change in Libya. Thousands of innocent people perished and thousands were injured and maimed and displaced by decisions made by these low quality characters.

In the case of Libya, Cameron worked closely with Nicholas Sarkozy who was president of France at the time. Unlike Blair and Cameron, Sarkozy was actually convicted of corruption after leaving office.

He was sentenced to one year imprisonment and two years suspended for engaging in a “pact of corruption.” Sarkozy used his position of influence as a former president of France to put in a good word on behalf of a judge to get him promoted for a job in Monaco in exchange for leaking legal information about a case in which Sarkozy was involved.

Tony Blair was not so stupid. As prime minister he came to believe that he was wasting valuable time being a politician when he could have been making pots of money in the private sector. Some politicians derive enormous satisfaction from being in public service but some do not; all that is required of those who wish to relinquish power and start making serious money is to resist the temptation of banking favours while in power and a minimum of vulgar profiteering after leaving office.

Tony Blair made a lot of money after leaving office on the back of the influence he acquired as prime minister. Cameron’s killings were on a smaller scale but just as vulgar.

In giving evidence to the parliamentary finance committee last week, he regretted the incontinent texting he engaged in last year to senior government ministers and civil servants. He lobbied on behalf of a company in which he had a financial interest and from which he received a salary that on his own admission was much more than the £150K a year he received as prime minister. His purpose he said was to get the government to finance his employer’s projects.

While he regretted lobbying by texting, he claimed he did nothing wrong. He said he genuinely believed the project he was promoting was in the public interest and that there was no bias in favour of the company of which he was an employee and shareholder. In law an appearance of bias occurs when a judge has a financial interest in the outcome of a case. He has to recuse himself from hearing the case because any fair-minded member of the public may reasonably suspect the judge of bias in favour of the party in which he has a financial interest.

Of course the position of a former prime minister lobbying the government is not the same as that of a judge. But the underlying rationale is the same: neither has an open mind.

Cameron told the finance committee that at the time he lobbied government ministers and civil servants he did not know that his employer was in serious financial difficulties. He agreed that if he engaged in lobbying because of the financial interest he had in the company he would have been out of order, but he insisted that his lobbying was done in the public interest – which stretches credulity to its limit.

The suspicion is that either he turned a blind eye or failed to do due diligence on his employer because as a loyal employee he did not have an open mind. The government ministers and civil servants he lobbied were not persuaded because they had done due diligence and refused his blandishments as his employer was on the verge of insolvency: it has now filed for bankruptcy.

The killer question, however, came from the Labour party’s Angela Eagle who is a ferocious cross examiner. How many times were you afforded use of your employer’s jet to fly to your third home in Cornwall she asked. Cameron’s reply was as evasive as it was foolish. He kept no record he replied. Too clever by half for if it were only a few times he would have remembered without a record.

The other interesting fact about Cameron’s texts is that he did not send any to Boris Johnson. It is an open secret that they never got on and that they fell out big time over Brexit. Johnson himself has been accused of all sorts of shenanigans, although I do not myself believe the redecoration of Downing Street was corrupt.

Johnson moved into Downing Street with his girlfriend. She is relatively young and a political operative in the Conservative Party in her own right. She had just had a baby and the flat above Downing Street needed to accommodate the arrival of both a young mother and her baby.

Also, Johnson does not strike one as the type of man who would concern himself much about redecorating a temporary flat above Downing Street. He is said to be chaotic and seems past caring as it suits his image. His claim that all he did was pay for the redecoration is credible, but I would not bet on it.

 

Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a retired part time judge

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