News broke yesterday that two former cabinet members, Labour’s Jack Straw and Tory Malcolm Rifkind, have accepted money from corporations in order to influence legislation in their favour. Caught on camera, their boasts are crass and disgrace both the men and their office. But just how dirty is Westminster?
The ‘Cash for Access’ Scandal
Rifkind and Straw were secretly filmed by Channel 4’s Dispatches team and the Telegraph offering their services to a fake corporation. Both MPs offered to influence legislation in favour of the business, in return for cash. Straw brags that he is ‘aware that I bring my name’ in return for £5,000 a day. He also boasts that he previously used his influence to change legislation on behalf of a Chinese corporation.
Rifkind meanwhile was able to secure a contract for privatised NHS services for a company, despite a rival bid that was £7m cheaper.
Unaware that he is being filmed, and that the company representative he is speaking to is actually a journalist, Rifkind laughs when asked if he has time to commit to lobbying in the interests of the pretend company:
“You’d be surprised how much free time I have. I spend a lot of time reading, I spend a lot of time walking. Because I’m not a minister, or full-time working for one person.”
The MP for Kensington and Chelsea apparently forgets he is supposed to work full-time for his electorate of over 62,000 people. In fact, he is paid a basic salary of £67,000 a year to do so. On top of this, Rifkind has claimed expenses of more than £100,000 for every year on record. At the same time, the veteran Tory pulls in £240,000 a year on private sector consultancy work – which means lobbying for the interests of those businesses happy to pay him for the pleasure.
The Tories have suspended Rifkind while the case is investigated, and both men have had their parliamentary whip removed (meaning they can’t act as enforcers for the time-being). Both men are protesting their innocence.
Sadly, the behaviour of Rifkind and Straw is not aberrant, but rather typical of high profile politicians in Westminster today.
Prime Minister David Cameron is a lineal descendant of King William IV, great grandson of a 1st Baronet, grandson of a 2nd baronet, son of a stockbroker and an aristocrat. He was gifted with an Eton and Oxford education, and one might argue his career in politics, through sheer privilege of birth. He enjoys the benefits of a family fortune made in tax havens.
On becoming Chancellor in 2010, he quickly ‘flipped’ his first and second homes to claim over £100k of taxpayer money for interest payments on a mortgage for his £455k Cheshire pad. He later sold the home for over £1m having made improvements partly funded by taxes. He also claimed taxpayer money to cover payments on a horse paddock for the property.
When Osborne undersold the Royal Mail for less than half its value, meaning investors could buy the stock at knock down prices and sell it on almost immediately at a profit, one of the chief beneficiaries was his Best Man Peter Davies – who made £18m in a few short days.
The Work and Pensions Secretary
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith lives rent free in a £2m country estate owned by his aristocratic father in law. Whilst claiming he could live happily on the £53 a week some unemployed job seekers receive, he has claimed £39 on expenses for his breakfast.
In the Betsy Gate scandal of 2001, it was revealed that the tax payer was paying £15,000 a year for Duncan-Smith’s wife to become his ‘diary secretary’. There is ample evidence that Betsy didn’t perform any such role worthy of the salary, which was hardly likely to register in the bank accounts of the daughter of the moneyed 5th Baron Cottesloe of Swanbourne and Harwick.
Duncan Smith currently costs the tax payer a whopping £134, 565 in salary and expenses.
The Health Secretary
Jeremy Hunt, busy dismantling and flogging off the NHS, is also up to his eyes in corruption. Despite calls for his resignation after colluding with the Murdochs to give them a monopoly TV and Press in the UK in 2012, Cameron chose instead to promote him to Secretary of State for Health. And who has Hunt appointed as the new Chief of NHS England? Simon Stevens – former Chief of US private healthcare giant United Health and the man who started the NHS down the road of ‘competition’ under New Labour.
The Business Secretary
Vince Cable, sold to the nation as the lovable granddad that would put compassion back into the government’s economic strategy is nothing of the sort. Cable is being hauled before MPs for questioning after dramatically undervaluing the Royal Mail at privatisation – resulting in a £750m loss to the taxpayer, thanks to a deal he cooked up with the Banks keen to profit from it. Mark my words, when this parliament is through – Vince will be consulting for one of those Banks.
The Home Secretary
Theresa May’s husband is a director/shareholder in G4S. May has faced several conflict of interest allegations during her tenure. One of the worst was the case of G4S winning a £200m contract to run Lincolnshire police operations. G4S had recruited law firm White and Cade to support their bid. In a stunning coincidence, May invited Tom Winsor, a lawyer from the same firm, to conduct ‘an independent review of police reform’ in the run up to the bid – giving the lawyer access to privy information and contacts.
The Culture Secretary and Equalities Minister
Maria Miller is Culture Secretary and Equalities Minister for the UK government. Between 2005 and 2009 she claimed £46,000 in fraudulent expenses on the mortgage on a family home that she later sold for £1.2m – and used her position to bully a commissioner in efforts to keep the whole thing quiet. Her punishment? Giving back £5,000 and a 32 second apology in the House of Commons.
After opening up much of the nation’s law, policing and justice services to private security companies such as G4S while Home Secretary – former Labour MP John Reid became a Group Consultant for…G4S.
And here we have Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary who sealed the papers that could see him convicted of war crimes sealed away for 70 years – now selling himself for £5,000 a day to change the law to favour of Chinese companies.
They’re all in it Together
Like all these MPs before them, Straw and Rifkind want to be let off the hook. Rifkind states that it is ‘unrealistic’ to expect him to live on £67,000 a year salary plus expenses, while his government forces people onto workfare for £53 per week.
It really does flag up the massive double standards between MPs caught with their fingers in the jar, and what happens to regular people.
In contrast, when 22 year old Sacha Hall helped herself to several bags of waste food left out by Tesco after its refrigerators failed – she was immediately arrested, charged with handling stolen goods, and taken to court and given a 12 month conditional discharge. Tesco even admitted there was no value to the food as it was heading to the landfill.
Linda Wootton, 49, was on 10 medications a day after a double lung and heart transplant. She was weak and suffered regular bouts of blackouts. She was put through the Atos Work Capability Assessment and as she lay in a hospital bed dying, she received confirmation she was ‘fit to work’. She died just nine days later. Her husband Peter said:
“I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own bodily fluids. It took half an hour for her to die; a woman who is apparently fit for work”.
Brian McArdle, 57, had been left paralysed down one side, blind in one eye, unable to speak properly and barely able to eat and dress himself after a stroke on Boxing Day 2011. Despite this, he was deemed ‘fit to work’ by Atos. He died of a heart attack the day after his benefit payments were stopped. His thirteen year old son Kieran told the Daily Record:
“Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go…He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man, but even an idiot could have seen my dad wasn’t fit for work.
Colin Traynor, 29, suffered from epilepsy. He was deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos and forced to enter a lengthy, bureaucratic process to appeal the decision – during which his benefits would be frozen. He did not live to see the result of his appeal. Five weeks after his death, his family received the news that his appeal was successful. Too late for Colin. His father Ray said:
“I firmly believe – 100% believe – that the system this government introduced has killed my son.”
While harassing sick and disabled people, literally to death for a few pounds – these MPs are attempting to blackmail the taxpayer: give us more money or we’ll not serve your interests.
We have a political system which helps those who help themselves to public money. Corporations and Cabinet members are in cahoots to asset strip the state – the schools, the hospitals, the libraries, the community centres, the playgrounds, the parks, the housing, even the roads and bridges. They want to commercialise the whole lot – all those things that we built and paid for as a nation, they want to sell and profit from as a tiny elite. We build it, we pay for it, they sell it to their mates at knock down prices and rent it back to us at exorbitant rates.
They are acting in their own interests, not the public interest.
In light of the scale of corruption around us, some argue holding these politicians to account is a waste of time. The opposite is true. It is precisely because parliament is so crooked that we need to be utterly relentless in chasing down every last crooked one of them – and as their numbers deplete, we have a better chance of changing the whole shoddy system itself.