Socialist Worker

Corruption and sleaze hard-wired into Johnson and Tories

by Isabel Ringrose and Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2752

James Dyson

James Dyson (Pic: Eva Rinalidi on Flickr)


Behind the rows between the Tories, there’s very real ­evidence that being friends with the ­government is good for business.

Texts published by the BBC showed that Boris Johnson personally assured billionaire Sir James Dyson that he would “fix” a tax issue. This meant Dyson’s employees would not have to pay extra tax if they came to Britain during the pandemic.

As a result the government has launched an internal inquiry into how this message was leaked.

But Johnson then responded by claiming “if you think that there’s anything remotely dodgy, or rum, or weird or sleazy” about the deal “you’re out of your mind”.

And it was “completely the right thing to do”.

The Labour Party has accused Johnson of being personally involved in “sleaze” after texts were leaked by his former aide Dominic Cummings.

Labour has called for an urgent investigation into the prime minister’s conduct by the Liaison Committee of senior MPs. Yet the head of the committee Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said ministers should not be “locked away in ivory towers”.

He added people should not be unable to contact them and should be able to carry out conversations in private.

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Meanwhile, Johnson’s special envoy to the Gulf quit last week, after two months in the job. Lord Udny-Lister is the prime minister’s ­longest‑­standing aide.

As Johnson’s deputy London mayor and as mere “Sir” Edward Lister between 2011 and 2016, he helped to approve £4 billion of ­property schemes for developers he went on to work for.

In 2018, he brokered China’s deal to buy the Royal Mint site in London in his capacity as a ­non‑executive director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), then run by Johnson. At the time, he was paid by two other firms

connected to the deal. One was the property consultancy advising China and buying the site on its behalf.

The other was Delancey, the property ­company run by Jamie Ritblat, a Tory donor, who owned the site.

Last year, at the height of the ­pandemic, Udny-Lister invited Ritblat to advise him on strategy in the construction sector.

Commercial

Minutes of a meeting in which Delancey’s commercial interests were discussed state that ­Udny-Lister had “previously ­undertaken advisory work” for the company.

In fact, he was paid by the ­company and remains on its ­payroll, according to the House of Lords ­register of interests.

Udny-Lister, known in Conservative circles as “Steady Eddie”, has retired to spend more time with his money.

While at the FCO, Udny-Lister was the director of a company aiming to build the “next Dubai” in Libya.

The disclosure casts light on Johnson’s remark that a group of “wonderful guys” from Britain planned to turn Sirte, the Libyan coastal city, into the “next Dubai”.

And that the only thing they needed to do was “clear the dead bodies away and then they’ll be there”.


Thousands spent ‘renovating’ flat while millions are overcrowded

Boris Johnson has renovated his flat in Number 11 Downing Street at reported costs of up to £200,000 that could land both him and his party in legal trouble.

Prime ministers get up to £30,000 a year of public money to pay for housing maintenance.

But Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings alleged he planned to have donors “secretly pay” for the work on his flat.

Johnson lives in a four‑bedroom flat with his fiancee and son—despite those on benefits having their payments slashed if they have “extra” bedrooms.

Posho magazine Tatler reported that work was completed in early March to turn the flat from former prime minister Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare” into a “high society haven”.

Downing Street spokespersons gave assurances Johnson has done nothing wrong. They said he had “acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law’ throughout.

Last Friday Cabinet Office Minister Lord True said, “Any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the prime minister personally.”

But reports say, despite Johnson’s £150,000 salary, the Conservative Party received a £58,000 donation for the flat.

Registered

Tory peer Lord Brownlow donated the whole amount last year “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed ‘Downing Street Trust’—of which I have been made chairman”.

The trust, which Johnson was trying to set up, should be registered with the Electoral Commission.

And political parties have to report donations and loans to the commission if they surpass £7,500. MPs must also declare any donations to the Commons Register of Members’ Financial Interests within at least 28 days.

Cummings said this was “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended”.

He added, “I would be happy to tell the cabinet secretary or Electoral Commission what I know concerning this matter.”

The Electoral Commission is now establishing if the donations are within its remit to investigate.

Whether the commission launches a formal investigation or not, Cummings’ planned appearance to a parliamentary select committee next month may provide more details.

The prime minister living in scandalous luxury as households are overcrowded—proving deadly in the pandemic—shows it’s one rule for them, another for us.


Labour’s feeble response fails to trouble the Tories

The Labour Party’s response to the slew of corruption scandals and revelations has failed to trouble either Boris Johnson or the Tories.

With just over a week before elections in England, Scotland and Wales, the Tories are sitting comfortably ahead of Labour in the polls. This is despite more than a year of catastrophe and scandal.

Right wing Labour MPs are frustrated that Starmer has not made Labour more popular than it was under left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn. Some have even gone as far as to criticise Starmer for refusing to challenge the Tories.

Now Starmer and his leading MPs have accused the government of being mired in “Tory sleaze”. Starmer even suggested that it could a “sackable offence” for a minister not to declare meetings with bosses.

It seemed to be a shift from the days when Starmer refused to call for Tory minister Robert Jenrick to be sacked for apparently granting favours to billionaire Richard Desmond.

Profit

Yet instead of blasting the Tories for helping bosses profit from the pandemic, Labour criticised them for not doing it “responsibly”.

Rather than fuelling the anger at the Tories, Labour called for several inquiries and appearances in parliament “so the stench can be dispelled”.

In an interview on Monday, Labour shadow minister Kate Green said there needed to be more inquiries to make sure bosses could lobby the government with “transparency” and “accountability”.

But this has done nothing to inspire the ordinary people Labour hopes will vote for it in elections.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner was asked on Sunday why Labour was doing poorly in the polls. She replied, “The most important thing I have to say about Labour is many people are starting to realise that Labour has changed.”

Starmer’s Labour is desperate to prove that it can be a “responsible” government. And this means refusing to do anything that could threaten the interests of big business—even as it faces disaster in elections.


Cummings and Tories’ war

Many of the leaks about Boris Johnson’s corruption and failures apparently come from his former top adviser Dominic Cummings.

Cummings is reportedly preparing to blame Johnson for the government’s disastrous handling of the pandemic when he appears at a hearing in front of MPs next month.

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He is set to claim that he advised Johnson to impose lockdown restrictions sooner, but that he was ignored.

Cummings has also said that Johnson had fallen “far below” levels of “competence” and that, “urgent parliamentary inquiry into the government’s conduct over the Covid crisis” is needed.

An “ally” of Cummings told the right wing Times newspaper, “He was pushing the prime minister hard to lock down sooner in the autumn and he has lots of evidence that shows that his decision to delay led to devastating consequences.”

In fact, Cummings is also said to have been an early supporter of the “herd immunity” strategy—letting the virus run rampant so that businesses could stay open.

Warring

His approach in February last year was reportedly, “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.

Cummings now denies this.

But for months he was at the top of a government that repeatedly put profit ahead of ordinary people’s lives.

None of the warring Tories can be trusted.

Nick Clark 


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