There’s something rotten in the state of Britain. In 1963, Cabinet Minister John Profumo resigned after lying about an extra-marital affair with Christine Keeler. That was sleaze.
I agree with former Tory Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who said about Coalition minister Chris Huhne’s affair, “What goes on in people’s private lives is a subject that fascinates the tabloid press but is irrelevant to the job they are trying to do.” Mind you, that was before Huhne was imprisoned for perverting the course of justice. What we’re seeing now goes far beyond sleaze. We’re witnessing an executive spiralling out of control. We’re grown-ups. We know relationships sometimes break up. No one should be stigmatised for that. But our Prime Minister has a serial history of getting women pregnant while he’s married to someone else. The failure to manage contraception is a worrying trait for someone with his finger on the nuclear button. Which takes us to Jennifer Arcuri, one of his girlfriends while married to his second wife. Johnson denied the affair. She admitted it. He spent taxpayer money taking her on three top-level trade missions, despite her businesses not meeting the criteria.
Wallpapergate and Cash-for-Curtains are not matters of taste. Frankly, I don’t give a damn about snobbery over the “John Lewis furniture nightmare.” My wife and I had our wedding list there. But I literally cannot imagine paying £840 for a roll of wallpaper. The failure to redecorate a flat within the £30,000 taxpayer funded budget is shocking. Johnson is the First Lord of the Treasury. He is ultimately in charge of our public finances. This is about whether he’s broken the law. Did he fail to declare a donation of £58,000? He says he’s repaid the money now. But it’s no defence in law to say, “I gave it back after I was caught”. There’s his undeclared conversations about sorting out a billionaire’s “tax problems”. Imagine being able to text the PM to “sort out” your tax bill. His ravenous pursuit of all seven deadly sins sets the tone for this government. David Cameron – another former Bullingdon Boy – is up to his eyes in a financial scandal “as close to fraud as you could imagine”. Cameron stood to make £60 million. Rishi Sunak has questions to answer. We taxpayers may get stung for £5 billion!
Greensill also offered nurses pay-day loans, profiting by packaging them up into securities, just like the sub-prime mortgages that caused the financial crash. The last thing NHS workers need is more debt. They deserve a pay rise!
Matt Hancock’s implicated with VIP lanes. He owns shares in his sister’s waste disposal company, Topwood Limited. Topwood was awarded a Framework Deal to provide NHS services just months after he became Health Secretary in July 2018. Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, secured a £12,000 donation from billionaire pornographer Richard Desmond. This was, of course, nothing to do with Jenrick’s personal intervention to rush through a planning deal so Desmond could dodge an infrastructure levy bill of £45 million from Tower Hamlets council. After all, if you were taking a back-hander to let someone off £45m, you’d want more than 12 grand.
Remember Hanbury? The lobbying firm run by Dominic Cummings’s mates, handed £900,000 for opinion polling on the pandemic. Remember Ayanda, the company linked to Liz Truss, fast tracked through VIP lanes, who supplied £155 million worth of unusable face masks for NHS frontline staff? Remember Alex Bourne, who ran Hancock’s local pub? Who despite having no prior experience, was given an NHS contract worth £millions after sending Hancock a WhatsApp message. I could go on, but there’s a word limit on this column.
A report into racism has been condemned for misrepresenting the experts it quoted. Sir Alex Allan, the PM’s advisor on ministerial standards resigned after Priti Patel’s bullying. Dominic Cummings, Lee Cain, a whole cascade of advisors resigning and turning against Johnson. It’s less like Hamlet and more like the final act of Macbeth, with the crazed ruler off the leash, deserted by his lackies, indulging in angry tirades to “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” and then actually letting the bodies pile high in their thousands. If we see any losses for the Tories next week, the sharks will circle for a leadership bid. Johnson’s biggest mistake is believing voters have “priced in” his immorality. That he’s “non-stick”. Here’s another metaphor for you: the straw that broke the camel’s back. When Tory stalwarts like the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Oborne say, “Downing Street has become a moral cesspit” and Boris Johnson is “proven to be a repeated and habitual liar”, we know the Rubicon has been crossed. I don’t believe for a second that every Tory politician is sleazy or every Labour politician is a saint. When you’re casting your vote on Thursday, ignore the hype. Look at values. Look at policies. Look at integrity. Ask your candidates on social media: will they condemn the sleaze that is rotting inside our national government?
Originally Published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 3 May 2021