The scandal of the Prime Minister’s lockdown rule breaking continues to show that those in charge of the government do not believe the same rules apply to them. Westminster is still waiting for the Damocles Sword that is the Sue Gray report to be released, but it looks like someone (Cressida Dick) may have got to the sword and ensured it’s as blunt as possible before it drops on Boris Johnson. More on that later.
In Parliament the Committee on Standards had a lively meeting discussing the lack of transparency in donations to MPs, with Private Eye’s Ian Hislop getting into a philosophical argument with Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin on the current lack of standards in public life.
It’s clear that the rules on lobbying are too vague, the transparency standards too low. As someone who has been looking at government contracts related to the COVID-19 pandemic for over 18 months now, I can tell you that while the government might talk up its world beating transparency, the reality, especially when it comes to the influence bought by money and proximity to government, is only world beating in the levels of corruption it facilitates.
I looked at recent Electoral Commission data on donations to political parties since the 2019 election for a report on the Top 10 party donors, and the fact is that it’s totally legal to give as much money as you want to a political party. As Ian Hislop said in the Standards Committee hearing, we are kidding ourselves if we choose to believe that someone gives a party a million quid without expecting anything in return.
Dick to the rescue as Johnson plays for time
Sadly Sue Gray, as a serious civil servant and not a shitposter, is not on Twitter, thereby leaving a convenient content vacuum for others to occupy.
Personally I’m getting a bit bored of talking about how the PM was “ambushed by a cake”, and why his birthday party didn’t actually break any rules because well everybody was breaking the rules weren’t they, or some other excuse. The party was even reported in the Times and nobody seemed to notice at the time.
However, the government has purposefully drawn out this farce by insisting that nothing can be done until the Sue Gray report, and that in turn should probably wait for the Metropolitan Police to investigate whether any laws were broken.
To nobody’s surprise, it was reported on Friday that the Met were seeking to limit what Gray could say in her report, lest it prejudice the findings of its own inquiries. There may be good legal reasons why the Met would ask for this, but the optics of it looks pretty bad for the police.
It’s quite remarkable how Dick has kept her job through scandals ranging from the police murder of Jean Charles de Menezes to the police murder of Sarah Everard, so it’s not surprising that many people think she owes her continued job security to some kind of political capital.
As the BBC reported in 2021, “Dame Cressida left the police in 2015 to work at the Foreign Office, in an unspecified job shrouded in secrecy, but returned two years later when she assumed the mantle of Met commissioner.” In an amazing coincidence, Boris Johnson was also Foreign Minister from 2016-18.
One Tory MP lamented that the latest revelations might reduce the public’s confidence in the police. You might say ‘what confidence?’ but perhaps this MP represents a constituency in which no crimes ever happen?
Get back to work, the party’s over
In its ongoing efforts to move the conversation onto something else, the government relaxed Covid restrictions this week, and is reportedly considering a u-turn on its planned 1.25% tax hike on wages. More leaked emails suggesting the PM had personally authorised an airlift of animals from Kabul during the Afghanistan withdrawal were dismissed as “total rhubarb” by Johnson, the kind of stupidly jocular language that always gives you the sense he’s lying.
The government has also continued to promote its ‘Jobs Plan’ in which ministers want to increase the number of people in work by 500,000 by June. 75.5% of people were in work in December, 1.1% lower than before the pandemic, according to the ONS. According to the BBC, “From Thursday, people will have to look outside their sectors after just four weeks, rather than three months. If they fail to make “reasonable efforts” to get a job, or turn down employment, they could see their benefit payment reduced.”
We also learned this week that the Department for Work and Pensions refused a request by The Guardian to publish their own evaluation of the effectiveness of benefit sanctions commissioned in 2019. A five year study of benefit sanctions published in 2018 concluded that “Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes”. Perhaps the DWP’s study simply wasn’t politically useful for the Tories.
So are the British public concerned enough about the ongoing levels of corruption to demonstrate about them? There’s a march planned in London on February 5, so we might get our answer then.
John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward
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