‘The best things in life are free
But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees
Now give me money (that’s what I want)
That’s what I want (that’s what I want)
That’s what I want (that’s what I want) yeah
That’s what I want…’
Beatles ‘Money (That’s What I Want’ (originally by Barrett Strong))
Just what is it about Tories and money, but not forgetting Lord Peter Mandelson who has never been uncomfortable about having loads of it himself, even declaring that the ‘New’ Labour government he helped to run was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.
But to return to the Tories. Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who walked away from Downing Street as one of the aftershocks of the 2016 EU Referendum, has been in the headlines recently and starred in an excellent BBC Panorama programme on 9 August which revealed that he had made about $10m (£7m) from Greensill Capital before the finance firm he lobbied for collapsed. His spokesperson was quick to ‘clear up’ the matter by saying that he did not “receive anything like the figures quoted” and insisted what he was paid was a “private matter”. So that’s all right then!
His dealings with Greensill first came under scrutiny earlier this year, when he was revealed to have directly lobbied senior Whitehall officials and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak to help rescue Greensill. This manifestation of greed, cronyism, sleaze and dodgy lobbying will rumble on no doubt alongside more recent revelations about money, and the influencing of government policy by donors, as recently revealed in the Financial Times. Thanks to the diligent work of journalists George Parker, Sebastian Payne, Tom Burgis, Kadhim Shubber, Jim Pickard and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe their disturbing findings were published in the Financial Times Magazine (Inside Boris Johnson’s money network) on 30 July 2021 at: https://www.ft.com/content/8c6041ff-a223-43e9-9e45-53c3f7cf47f7
Describing Johnson’s personal finances as ‘shambolic’ it goes onto describe a secretive donor club which is transforming the Tory party’s finances. The article describes the top donors as “Thatcherite free marketers”, who “have no qualms about giving Boris a piece of their mind. when it comes to seeking to influence government policy.”
It points out that Johnson is widely seen by senior Tories as poor at raising money. Although his father Stanley worked for the European Commission and World Bank, the family’s finances were chaotic and the article reminds us that Johnson went to Eton College on a scholarship. “He was surrounded by really rich people, when his family was relatively poor,” says one former colleague. Not a promising start, but he knows where and how to go to get bailed out it seems.
Remember last year’s so called ‘Wallpapergate’ scandal which left him scratching around for funds to pay for the £90,000 redecoration of his Downing Street flat (at No 11 Downing Street). Some of the cost was paid by the Conservative Party before being covered by Tory donor Lord Brownlow, see: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9629889/Boris-Johnson-CLEARED-breaking-ministerial-code-Wallpapergate.html
However, it would appear that Johnson is struggling to get by on his annual salary entitlement as prime minister of £157,372 (which includes his salary as a MP reports the Financial Times). Meanwhile it’s worth remembering that the National Living Wage hourly rate for those aged 23 and over is £8.91 and the £20 temporary increase in the Universal Credit during the pandemic is due to be taken away at the end of September.
Not struggling for cash, however, is the party Johnson leads. According to the House of Commons Library https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/general-election-2019-which-party-received-the-most-donations/ during the 2019 General Election period parties received a total of £30.7 million in registered donations. Just under two-thirds (63%) of this was donated to the Conservative Party. The party is brimming with cash, thanks to the efforts of the secret donors’ network revealed by the Financial Times and headed up by one Ben Elliot, chosen by Johnson as the party’s co-chair, who leads the so called ‘advisory board’. Elliot is also well connected, being the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, and a poker-playing chum of the wealthy Goldsmith family. It is reported that Elliot may have a tier of elite Tory donors, some of whom pay £250,000 a year to be members of ‘the board’. What is more worrying is that according to media reports the party has received nearly £18 million from donors with property interests in the past two years.
The figures from the Electoral Commission – the UK watchdog for election and party finances – are particularly controversial given the political backlash over the Tory government’s planning reforms, which critics say could benefit housing developers.
The Scottish newspaper ‘The Nationalist’ https://www.thenational.scot/news/19481092.boris-johnson-backlash-property-donors-provide-funds-tory-party/ revealed that “analysis from the Financial Times found donations made by individuals and companies in the property sector account for a quarter of total donations made to the Tory party since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.
“The newspaper revealed that at least £17.9m has been given to the Conservative Party from property sector donors since July 24, 2019. The analysis includes all company donors and those who have given more than £100,000 but excludes hundreds of individuals who gave smaller amounts, meaning the true figure could be higher.”
Commenting on the donations from property firms, it reported that Transparency International had said: “While we have seen insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt any direct quid pro quo arrangements of donations for decisions, this dependence creates a real risk of aggregative corruption, whereby the actions and judgements of ministers are incentivised by their party’s financial ties to interest groups in this policy area.”
The Government’s controversial planning reforms currently before Parliament, which propose designating “growth areas” where developers are given automatic outline permission, are seen by some commentators as having contributed to the government shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election on 17 June. Just how much Tory Party top funders have over influencing government policies must be of major concern in a ‘democratic society’. Taken with Johnson’s dislike for transparency of both his and his party’s finances and the government’s determination to undermine our civil rights in a number of areas including voting rights, reducing the Electoral Commission’s powers to investigate possible abuses of political finance laws, and other constitutional reforms including a bill to restrict judicial reviews, means our democracy is under serious threat. Restricting the scope of judicial reviews for example would make it much harder for people to challenge mistakes made by governments or other public bodies when they overstep their limits, thus undermining the rule of law and principles of fairness and accountability.
I started this article with David Cameron and I’ll finish with him, reminding us of a speech he made as Leader of the Opposition in February 2010.
“I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest. It’s an issue that… has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”