Political Corruption UK –Style
This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 15 2012
In the Labour landslide of 1997, little Alistair Burt lost his parliamentary seat of Bury North, which he had first won in 1983. He lost to David Chaytor who was later jailed for fiddling his expenses. Burt returned to parliament in 2001, taking over the safe Tory seat of Bedfordshire North East from Sir Nicholas Lyell.
Burt had his own problems in the expenses scandal. He seems to be rather fond of little bites. Between 2004 and 2005, he claimed more than £13,000 in hotel expenses. He regularly claimed for alcohol and snacks from mini bars of hotels such as the Savoy. In March 2004, he claimed £2 for a packet of Pringles, £3 for a bag of mixed nuts. The following month he claimed £3.55 for a ‘night beverage’ and £6 for another two bags of mixed nuts.
Burt agreed to repay a total of £229.24 for hotel sundries. “I do accept that the climate has changed, and although I thought these were perfectly fair subsistence charges I will repay them immediately,” he said. “I am genuinely sorry for any error made, in relation to any claim, which is considered excessive.” How can a man looking after 30 countries at the Foreign Office have time to fill in a form to claim a refund for peanuts?
Burt over-claimed payments for his London flat by £200 per month for five months in 2006. He apologised for what he described as an ‘oversight’. However, he said that because he had not claimed for food during the period, he should not need to repay the money. He was let off and allowed to keep the GBP 1,000. The taxpayer-funded rent at his latest flat comes to £1,890 per month. For more on Burt see:
The venal and venial fiddling by MPs revealed by the Daily Telegraph is shameful, but more worrying than politicians lining their own pockets, is the systemic undermining of democracy by lobbyists. The London Sunday Times set up a sting operation against Peter Cruddas, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, forcing his resignation. He was secretly filmed offering influence over policy in return for donations to party funds.
Voters are not getting what they voted for. They are getting what wealthy donors want. The case of NHS ‘reforms’ is a prime example. In the early 90s when Kenneth Clarke, now Justice Minister in the coalition government, was Health Minister the government was trying to privatise everything to endow the supposedly entrepreneurial sector with a licence to print money exploiting what had been regarded as public utilities. There would be no risk in their investment as guarantees against failure would be provided by the taxpayer. New Labour continued privatisation of the NHS by stealth. Health Secretary Alan Milburn became an adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm backing private health companies in Britain and works 18 days a year advising Cinven, a private equity, which owns 37 private hospitals. In January 2008, it was announced that another Labour Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, had been appointed ‘special consultant’ to the world’s largest chemists, Boots. Hewitt also became a ‘special adviser’ to Cinven.
After Labour left office, Hewitt was secretly filmed by Channel 4 News claiming she could influence policy in return for cash payments. Not one of the 20 politicians approached in the sting put the phone down. The amounts asked were so similar, wrote Philip Clothier in Prospect magazine, “£3000-£5000 a day plus — that it almost felt these politicians had agreed a rate among themselves beforehand, or at least that such a rate was now deemed commonplace in Westminster…. The more I watched and listened, the more it seemed reasonable to conclude that our candidates had fallen out of love with politics… Patricia Hewitt’s monthly diary was assessed in the numbers of days that she was away from Westminster rather than at it. She fitted her interview with us in between two votes at Westminster. .. In their attempts to show off their access to all areas, they painted an image of Westminster as one big club where the members just pretend to be different for the public’s sake.”
At the last UK election, David Cameron recognised that the public did not want any further privatisation of the NHS and neither did the medical profession and promised no further reorganisation. Private health care organisations had donated more than £750,000 to the Conservatives since David Cameron became leader. John Nash, private equity tycoon had given £21,000 to health secretary Andrew Lansley’s personal office. Despite his election promises, when Cameron became PM a Health Bill was proposed, which meant further privatisation.
Tory peer Lord Stanley Fink (Fink by name, fink by nature) replaced Cruddas as the party’s principal treasurer. Known as the ‘godfather’ of the hedge fund industry, Fink has himself donated more than £2 million to the Conservative Party. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ)found that hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms contributed more than a quarter of all the Tories’ private donations, with three of the City’s hedge fund giants, Michael Farmer, Andrew Law and Fink together contributing £636,300. The general public can have no love for predatory capitalists who left the banks in ruins and demanded taxpayer support. They would not vote for these crooks. That carries no weight with governments.