It’s all too sleazy for those at the top

Greensill just the latest example of cronyism at Westminster

Greensill just the latest example of cronyism at Westminster

With Boris Johnson agreeing to a public inquiry into David Cameron’s lobbying of government ministers and civil servants on behalf of collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital and its founder Lex Greensill, there is a chill air blowing through Westminster.

It smells strongly of someone being thrown to the wolves to save others from, at best, severe embarrassment, and at worst, further accusations of corruption through cronyism. And if that someone is not the former Prime Minister, it certainly won’t be the current resident of Number 10 or his closest allies. Cameron had been employed as a special advisor to Greensill and was paid partly in share options. After a monthlong silence, which followed numerous damaging stories about his lobbying efforts on behalf of Greensill – including messages to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and others – the former Prime Minister finally issued a written statement acknowledging mistakes had been made while at the same time seeking to distance himself from the most damaging allegations.

These involved decisions that threaten thousands of jobs and have already cost several hundred following the collapse of Greensill. In his statement, Cameron also laid responsibility for bringing in Lex Greensill to work with the Government in 2011 squarely at the feet of former cabinet secretary, the late Jeremy Heywood, who died in 2018. However, that does not explain why Greensill had an office at Downing Street and described himself as a “senior advisor” to the then Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Further facts continue to emerge, which the inquiry may decide to include in their deliberations, including the revelation that one of Britain’s most senior civil servants started working as an advisor to Greensill with the approval of the Cabinet Office while still serving in Whitehall. Bill Crothers began advising Greensill when he was the Government’s chief commercial officer and left the job to become a director of Greensill.

He has denied any wrongdoing and said that such outside roles were “not uncommon,” a claim to set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street. The issue will rumble on, some in high places will twist and turn, even wriggle and squirm, whilst as per usual others will offer no comment. “Chumocracy” sounds so sociable, even cosy, a political “that’s what friends are for”. But isn’t “chumocracy” in reality just another word for sleaze?

What our surveys show

Despite the carefully constructed explanations, justifications, excuses and buck-passing, our readers simply aren’t buying it. An overwhelming 70% of those surveyed said it was “inappropriate” for David Cameron to have lobbied the Government to extend support to the Greensill Capital group. In fact, there were more “don’t knows” at 16% than the combined 9% who thought Cameron’s actions “appropriate” and 5% who said they were “neither appropriate nor inappropriate”. And never mind there being “something rotten in the State of Denmark,” as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet, those we surveyed reckon that if not rotten there’s something seriously wrong down Westminster way.

A huge majority, 83%, believe rules should be changed so former ministers are banned for a significant period from lobbying the Government for commercial gain. Just 13% thought the opposite. And which of the five former Prime Ministers still living is deemed to have acted with the most integrity since leaving office? Sharing top spot, both on 28%, were Gordon Brown and John Major. Theresa May came in next at 21%, followed by Tony Blair with 19%. Down at the bottom, unsurprisingly right now, was David Cameron with a miserable 4%.

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