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The Tory party ethical guide to definitely not owning a house    

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Troublemaker looks at the week's news including Tory ethics and sleaze and the dangerous cost of higher bills
Issue 2836
Sir Laurie Magnus new ethics Tsar

The ethical Etonian Sir Laurie Magnus

Rishi Sunak has appointed Sir Laurie Magnus as his ethics adviser. Educated at Eton and Oxford university, Magnus is an ­investment banker who has held several directorships in financial services. The two previous holders of the post quit. Lord Christopher Geidt, who served as Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser, resigned in June 2022.  This came after he said it was “reasonable” to ­conclude the then prime minister had breached the ministerial code over Covid-19 lockdown parties.

Geidt sat on the Sultan of Oman’s Privy Council. He never declared that to Britain’s parliament despite making advisory trips to the Gulf state in 2018–19 while sitting in the House of Lords. His ­predecessor, Sir Alex Allan, left in 2020 after Johnson rejected his finding that the then home secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants.

Magnus will not begin his own inquiries into the conduct of Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, over a series of bullying allegations. Nor will he look at Suella Braverman, the home secretary, over claims of ignoring legal advice over asylum.

Meanwhile A company linked to the husband of Tory peer Baroness Michelle Mone paid nearly £10 million for a house in one of London’s most elite areas. It was months after a medical goods supplier with connections to the couple won more than £200 million worth of government contracts. A company called Chester Ventures, incorporated in the Isle of Man paid £9.25 million for 4 Chester Square in Belgravia, according to Land Registry documents.

A spokesperson for the Knox group of companies, founded and chaired by Mone’s husband Douglas Barrowman, confirmed that “Chester Ventures is a ­property development company within the group.” Mone faces allegations about her links to PPE Medpro. That company that won government contracts to supply personal protective equipment during the ­Covid-19 pandemic without a competitive tender after she lobbied ministers.

The government is ­attempting to get money back on one of the deals claiming the medical gowns supplied “did not comply with the ­specification in the contract”. PPE Medpro said it would “rigorously” defend the claim. The government says along with the £122 million contract, it has so far spent £7 million on storage costs for the kit. Each week it costs over £61,000 to store the gowns.

It estimates the cost to dispose of the gowns would be £4.7 million. Mone announced in December that she was taking a leave of absence from the House of Lords to “clear her name”.

The crisis in Britain’s A&E departments has been linked to more than 15,000 deaths in six months. Expert analysis shows that the number of avoidable deaths has been three times as high as it would have been if hospital waits for emergency treatment had stayed at pre-pandemic levels. Internal NHS data obtained by The Independent news website shows that the number of patients forced to wait for more than 12 hours in A&E has quadrupled since April 2019.

The war in Ukraine meant that 2022 was a very good year for arms manufacturers. Shares in Britain’s largest military company, BAE Systems, were up 57 percent. Meanwhile those in QinetiQ, another British military contractor rose 37 percent. That’s a better return than the average for shares which finished 2022 at the same figure it began the year. In the US the share price of Northrop Grumman has increased 40 percent, Raytheon is up by nearly 17 percent, while Lockheed Martin has surged by 37 percent.

Oil giants back to grab profits in Libya

British oil giants BP and Shell are returning to Libya, the oil-rich north African country, just over a decade after British forces helped to plunge it into chaos through military intervention.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) has agreed that BP can start drilling for and producing natural gas. BP, on whose board sits former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers, controls exploration areas in Libya equivalent to nearly three times the size of Wales.

British officials have long sought to profit from oil in Libya, which contains 48 billion barrels of reserves. These are the largest oil resources in Africa. BP’s assets were nationalised by Muammar Gaddafi soon after he came to power in 1969. After years of tensions between the two countries, prime minister Tony Blair met Gaddafi in 2004 and agreed the so-called “Deal in the Desert”. It included a £700 million exploration and production agreement between BP and Libya’s NOC.

More British arms to go to Saudi Arabia  

Britain and Saudi Arabia signed a military agreement on 13 December after Saudi officials quietly slipped into the country. It will mean more arms sales and more slaughter in Yemen. Armed forces minister James Heappey told parliament on 20 December, that the plan “reflects the strong defence relationship” between Britain and Saudi Arabia. “The Plan will not be published.”

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade is taking the British government to court to demand an end to its complicity in the war in Yemen. The war has raged for eight years and led to the deaths of over 370,000 people, according to the UN. Britain has supplied over £23 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict began.

Soaring fuel bills mean people are using more dangerous methods to heat and light their homes.

Fire authorities have urged householders to take care when using candles, wood burners and electric heaters to cut energy bills after a spate of recent house fires.

Flat fires in Uxbridge and Harwich last month were caused by candles. Fire chiefs in Cumbria, Hereford and Worcester reported more fires as householders used unswept chimneys and candles. In November in Wakefield, a blaze was caused by a tumble dryer being used overnight to save money.

The National Fire Chiefs Council has said accidental fires in the home caused by candles in England totalled 940 in the year ending March 2022—before the main price rises. This was the highest recorded in more than ten years. About a third of these fires resulted in death or injury.

Ofgem figures show the average annual electricity bill was £1,297 a year, compared with £815 last year. The average annual gas bill went from £602 to £1,336, an 86 percent rise. People are taking matters into their own hands. Energy operators have said there has been a 400 percent rise in incidents of people interfering with gas and electricity meters between 2017 and 2021.

Unfair to worker for a sandwich

A BMW assembly line worker has won more than £16,000 after being sacked for collecting sandwiches from his car during his break. Ryan Parkinson successfully sued his employer GI Group, a recruitment company which provides temporary labour to BMW’s Oxford factory. He won on grounds of unfair dismissal after his supervisor claimed that he had left the site on two occasions without permission.

Parkinson argued that he had only gone to the car park to collect his sandwiches, an area that he considered part of the factory site.

Things they say

‘From a cost of living perspective, 2022 was a truly horrendous year—far worse than any year in the pandemic or financial crisis’

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank

‘We’re not going back to the 1970s where the trade union barons thought that they ran the government. We’re not going to be held to ransom’

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace on ongoing strikes

‘We want the strikes to come to an end, we want people to agree a fair pay settlement but what we can’t do is allow for double-digit pay rises going forward’

A No 10 spokesperson says a “fair agreement” should not involve actual pay rises

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