Tag: Sunday Times

Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

Lord Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley and Andrew Mitchell

Three former Conservative Cabinet ministers have been secretly filmed and exposed trying to sell information on Britain’s exit from the European Union. The former cabinet ministers have denied any wrongdoing despite being caught on camera offering to receive money in exchange for advising a fictitious Chinese company. 

Andrew Lansley, Peter Lilley, and Andrew Mitchell were caught trying to profit from providing “intelligence” on Brexit negotiations to a Chinese companyaccording to a joint investigation by the Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches.

The Sunday Times was tipped off by sources within Whitehall that Brexit had triggered a “lobbying frenzy,” as businesses are eager to get information about the negotiations. Undercover reporters then invited a number of former ministers to interviews for a job on the advisory board of ‘Tianfen’, a fake Chinese company.

Lansley, who served as health secretary when David Cameron was prime minister, was filmed being offered tens of thousands of pounds for information and “intelligence” on Brexit. He also said the deal could be kept secret from authorities if he was employed through his wife’s PR company, Low Europe, to avoid scrutiny.

He said: “If you have a contract with Low then basically I come with Low. So if you had a contract separately with me it would have to appear separately on the transparency register as a contract with you. But if it’s with Low then its covered by the Low contract.” 

Low says it’s core strategy “is to attract business primarily from clients who have pan-national projects in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.” Lansley is employed by the company, which has recently moved from the UK to Brussels.

On their site, Low say of Lansley: “He has extensive experience of managing reputational issues by communicating through the media; a wide knowledge of how the media works; and a large network of media contacts at the most senior levels.” However, he was clearly complacent regarding the risk of exposure via investigative journalists. 

Peter Lilley, who was the Tory party’s deputy leader between 1998 and 1999, also expressed interest in approaching key ministers for Tianfen. He told the undercover reporters that he sits on two advisory groups with influence over the Brexit process.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who was the international development secretary in Cameron’s government, was willing to give paid advice to the company for £6,000 a day and said he would work up to 10 weeks a year. The Times reported he already gets paid nearly £75,000 for his job as an MP. “My constituents don’t mind what I’m paid,” he said while being filmed.

Lansley said he was already making €5,000 a day (around £4384) by giving Brexit advice to his pharmaceutical clients. He spoke about his connections at the top of government, such as Prime Minister Theresa May and Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade.

However, he appeared to draw the line at lobbying the Government directly, saying conversations had to “follow the rules”. However,  he did offer introductions to senior Brexit figures.

Lansley said in a statement that he always kept his outside interests separate to his Lord’s duties. 

Lilley revealed his “good relationships” with Liam Fox and David Davis, and said he was happy to have chats with them on behalf of Tianfen. Last week, he denied being asked or agreeing to have private conversations with any ministers on behalf of Tianfen, and any suggestion the company would get insider information was “wholly misplaced.”

Mitchell said he could advise the owner of the company on Brexit, by drawing on his business experience and inner knowledge of government. He said last week that all of his outside interests were fully declared on the Commons register.

In total, the Times has discovered that more than 20 politicians are making money out of Brexit.

The Channel 4 documentary was initially pulled from transmission last week amid a string of complaints from the three men, prompting an emergency review involving Channel 4’s chief executive, Alex Mahon, and the director of television, Ian Katz.

Lilley accused Channel 4 of a “tawdry attempt at entrapment” and insisted he had done nothing wrong. Mitchell said he was “totally innocent” and suggested that he had launched his own investigation and alerted MI5 after suspecting the approach was fake.

The final decision to delay transmission, by Channel 4 and the Sunday Times, had been taken because of warnings about the potential impact of airing the programme on the health of Lansley, who is currently being treated for cancer.

However, by this time, the former ministers had also briefed their version of events to  the Mail on Sunday last week. That front page account outlined how the three former ministers were asked to come to the Mayfair property and were greeted by a woman named Fei Liu, who claimed she represented “Chinese millionaires.”

Sir Alistair Graham, former chair of the committee on standards in public life, said the behaviour displayed in the footage was unacceptable. “To take advantage of this difficult time and confusion to make extra money doesn’t demonstrate a great deal of concern for the public interest,” he said.

The first of the Nolan principles of public life is that “holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest” and the second is that “holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.”

Lansley has said: “I made it clear in these meetings, which took place while I was undergoing cancer treatment, that I would apply the terms of the House of Lords code in any business relationship; and that this would be written into any contract that I entered into.

“No privileged access, insider information, lobbying activity, parliamentary advice or services were offered,” he claimed.

The code of conduct for MPs clearly states that “information which members receive in confidence in the course of their parliamentary duties should be used only in connection with those duties. Such information must never be used for the purpose of financial gain”.

However, Lilley insists that he was not referring to any confidential information – and does not possess any. “That I am a member of groups with experts who express views on Brexit was relevant only to show that I am engaging in the many ways that Brexit can benefit Britain,” he told Channel 4.

He insisted: “I have not undertaken any venture which would involve me breaking the codes of conduct referenced nor the Nolan principles. I repeatedly made it crystal clear I would not use confidential information. I possess no such information. If I did I wouldn’t make it available to anyone.”

A Channel 4 spokesman said: This investigation raises important questions about transparency and accountability in public life. We are continuing to work on the film [Politicians for hire: cashing in on Brexit], which will be broadcast soon.”

Meanwhile, outraged Peter Lilley has referred Channel 4 to Ofcom, making a lengthy complaint about the planned Dispatches documentary, which you can read here.


Related 

A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves

 


 

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Lies, Damn Lies and the Welfare Debate – Emily Thornberry

proper Blond

Originally published in the Huff Post on 13 July, 2015

Next week the Government plans to bring forward a new Bill on welfare reform – the latest salvo in the Tories’ ongoing war of attrition on our welfare state and the principles that underpin it.

Softening up the ground for this next round of cuts, which will go further and deeper than anything we’ve seen so far, was a column written jointly by George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith and published in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago.

The piece, which reads like a greatest hits compilation of clichéd Tory platitudes on welfare spending, was so shot through with errors, misleading implications and flat-out lies that it set the tone for the most ill-informed debate in recent memory.

So in the interest of setting the record straight, I’ve picked out my top eight tall Tory tales (there are many more than eight, but as space is limited I’ve kept myself to the worst offenders) and put them together with the actual facts. Without a willing handmaiden in the Murdoch press empire to help me, I’m relying on you to spread the word:

Lie number one:
“This country accounts for 7% of all welfare spending in the world, although we have just 1% of its population and produce 4% of its GDP.”

Even if you accept that these figures are accurate (and there’s no reason why you should – Osborne and Duncan Smith did not provide a source and I haven’t been able to find one) the implication – that we are spending more than we should because our welfare budget is out of proportion to our share of the global population – is ridiculous because it does not compare like with like.

To say that we spend more on welfare per head than, say, Somalia or Zimbabwe tells you nothing more than the fact that we have an advanced, industrialised economy, a domestic tax base, an established democracy and a modern welfare state, which many countries do not.

A much more valuable comparison would be between the UK and other industrialised democracies, for example within Europe. A comparison with the rest of Europe puts us below the average in terms of welfare spending as a proportion of GDP.

Lie number two:
Under Labour “Britain’s welfare bill was fast becoming completely unsustainable.”

Taking as a measure of “sustainability” the amount we spend on social security as a proportion of GDP (the most widely used measure), welfare spending stayed virtually flat during Labour’s time in office. Between 1998-99 and 2008-09 welfare spending represented on average 10.7% of GDP, never deviating more than 0.2% from this figure in any given year.

When the global financial crisis hit the proportion rose to 13% – a significant rise which nonetheless was neither surprising nor particularly concerning, given the historic tendency for welfare spending to rise during a depressed economy and fall back down to normal levels with the return of economic growth.

It’s also a bit rich for the Tories to preach about an increasing welfare budget when the bulk of social security expenditure in the UK goes to pensioners, an area where the Tories have increased spending, not cut it.

Lie number three:
“Not that any of this debt-fuelled largesse improved lives.”

Maybe not the lives of anybody the authors knew, but the truth is that, largely thanks to the support Labour provided to low-income working families through tax credits (which Osborne is about to gut), child poverty fell by a third under Labour – equivalent to more than a million children lifted out of poverty.

IDS may be busy redefining poverty so he can pretend it doesn’t exist, but I think most people can still understand that poverty is real, that it isn’t a good thing and that a person moving out of poverty would normally consider the change an improvement in their life.

Lie number four:
“The welfare system we inherited in 2010 trapped people in dependency and actively discouraged claimants from seeking work. All too often, those who worked hard and did the right thing were punished – while those who did the wrong thing were rewarded.”

Presumably what the authors mean by “doing the right thing” is working. But despite their best efforts to draw an artificial dividing line between “work” and “welfare”, the reality is that most people of working age who claim some kind of benefit do work. For example, more than two thirds of people claiming tax credits are employed, and tax credits account for around 50% of all spending on working-age welfare. Meanwhile, benefits specifically for people who are out of work, like Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support, make up just 3% of such spending.

The fact of the matter is that when governments fail – as the Tories have done – to tackle the root causes of working peoples’ need for welfare support, like low pay and high rents, the number of working people relying on benefits increases. For example, the proportion of housing benefit claimants who are employed has doubled since the Tories took office in 2010.

Lie number five:
“The new benefit cap of £26,000 a year means that no household can receive more in out-of-work benefits than the average working family earns, a simple matter of fairness.”

The Tories’ cap has nothing to do with fairness, as demonstrated by the fact that their new Bill abolishes the cap’s link with average earnings and gives Ministers carte blanche to lower the cap arbitrarily, at any time and for any reason.

Their cap also takes an across-the-board approach, affecting many more people who aren’t able to work – including people with disabilities, single mothers with young children and people with full-time caring responsibilities for sick or severely disabled relatives – than people who are.

Lie number six:
“We also took action to cap the rise in benefits so it was in line with the incomes of those in work.”

They did no such thing. Since 1980, the main out-of-work benefits have risen in line with prices, rather than earnings. So Jobseeker’s Allowance fell from being worth a fifth of average earnings in 1980 to a tenth in 2010.

Lie number seven:
“In 1980, working age welfare accounted for 8% of all public spending. In 1990, when Margaret Thatcher left office, it was still under 10%. But by 2010 it had risen to nearly 13% of public spending.”

Similar to lie number two, but since the lie is repeated (or, to put it more charitably, the highly selective and misleading half-truth) the truth might as well be repeated too. As noted, welfare reform stayed virtually flat under Labour until a sudden increase was brought about as a result of a recession – just as had happened in the early 1990s under John Major’s Government.

Lie number eight:
“This government was elected with a mandate to implement further savings from the £220 billion welfare budget.”

They most certainly were not. The Tories ran on a manifesto promising £12billion worth of welfare cuts, a figure which no-one took seriously in large part because they failed to specify where the savings would come from.

Happy myth-busting, readers!

Emily Thornberry.

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See also:

The reasons why we can’t afford not to have a welfare state are not ideological: they are practical – A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

The welfare state: from hung, drawn and quartered to Tory privatisation

The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer.

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone