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The Politically Connected Profiteers of the Pandemic

Euan Cook reports how some members of parliament have exploited lucrative second jobs and breached parliamentary lobbying rules, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Johnson’s notion that Britain is a shining beacon of integrity amongst the globe’s more developed countries is a complete farce. Robert Barrington reports that Britain ranks eleventh on the Transparency International corruption perceptions index, with MPs exploiting profitable second jobs and lobbying on the behalf of their financial interests.


The first area to interrogate is the government’s unreadiness and ‘back-alley’ dealings throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which have highlighted serious inequalities regarding how wealth is distributed in Parliament. Lord Deighton helped secure roughly 1,200 central contracts throughout the Covid-19 pandemic — together, worth nearly $22 billion. Contracts came from politically-connected companies, with no prior experience and histories of controversy, including scandals ranging from tax evasion to overt human rights abuses.

"I genuinely believe that the UK is not remotely a corrupt country and I genuinely think that our institutions are not corrupt” - Boris Johnson, BBC News.


The Pandemic Contracts

The National Audit Office reported that ex-Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, secretly authorised a ‘V.I.P. lane' for these favourable companies who were 10 times more likely to win contracts. This comes as no surprise given that Hancock secured more than 15% of Topwood Ltd, where his sister owns a larger proportion of shares and is a director of the company. The Health Service Journal reported that Hancock did not declare his association with the firm until recently.

These contracts did not prioritise the effectiveness of PPE, but rather ensured the ‘right’ ministers secured their desired payslips. Avanda Capital, for example, was awarded nearly $340 million to supply PPE. However, 50 million masks worth more than $200 million were ineffective, a disaster that mirrors the government’s order of 400,000 unusable gowns from Turkey.

Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has agreed that “it was important [...] to be on the front foot about [corruption]”, further stating that Hancock, in particular, “has to answer the questions […] He can’t pretend that the responsibility lies elsewhere.” Instead of the nation’s health being upheld as a priority, Deighton and Hancock are prime examples of contracts being secured on the grounds of cronyism.



Lucrative Second Jobs

MPs are also allowed to work a second job alongside ministerial duties if they publicly declare any additional income over 15% of their salary. These jobs can range anywhere from serving as an NHS surgeon to serving as a lawyer.

Currently, more than a quarter of Tory MPs have second jobs, including activities concerning gambling and private healthcare. These jobs generate more than £4 million in extra earnings per year on top of their £81,932 annual salary. Andrew Mitchell, for example, earned £182,600 for 34.5 days of work in a variety of financial advisory roles for firms, including Investec and EY.

Equally, Sir Geoffrey Cox earned approximately £900,000 last year through his work as a lawyer. Questions have been raised, however, as Cox advised a corruption inquiry in the British Virgin Islands whilst carrying out ministerial work and even voting from the Caribbean. The equilibrium between public service and promoting financial gain has been tipped in favour of the rich, abandoning over half of UK constituents who opposed MPs having second jobs.

While work shadowing schemes for MPs could immensely enrich parliament’s understanding of the outside world, second jobs with no social value instead allow MPs to venture for a lucrative profit and even breach lobbying rules.


The Paterson Scandal

Lobbying refers to an individual or group attempting to persuade a public figure, such as a government official, to support a policy or campaign. The November 2021, Owen Paterson scandal saw Paterson exploit his consultancy position to lobby for two firms, Randox Laboratories and Lynn’s Country Foods.

They both paid Paterson more than £100,000 a year, respectively £8,333 a month for 16 hours’ work and £2,000 every other month for 4 hours’ work. Not only did Paterson actively approach and meet officials at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), but Paterson also used government time and stationery to aid his lobbying ‘campaign’, which he has since apologised for.

However, Paterson refuses to apologise for lobbying, which he believed amounted to, at worst, “whistle-blowing”. Randox’s contact with the FSA was to warn them of illegal antibiotics that had been found in milk available in supermarkets. Although alerting institutions of “a serious wrong or substantial injustice” is an exemption to lobbying rules, Paterson’s failings come at a ‘incidental’ financial benefit for himself. £100,000 per annum, to be precise.

Instead of challenging this injustice, a number of MPs, including Boris Johnson, voted against a proposed 30-day suspension for Paterson for this “egregious” breach, highlighting a larger issue of whitewashing within Parliament.



The Heart of Corruption

The UK’s very own prime minister is no exemption to Britain’s history of corruption, despite stating that he is confident in the government’s absolute integrity. In 2019, Johnson failed to declare a financial interest in a Somerset property in time, following his late declaration of £52,000 in book royalty payments in 2018. This only scratches the surface of his dodgy accounting and dealings, including his failure to successfully lead Britain through a deadly pandemic without a heavy death toll.

'Sleaze' remains a somewhat amorphous concept in politics, especially when politicians have hesitated to exclaim “corruption” due to legal sensitivity. Yet, if this Conservative government is not called out for multiple breaches of ministerial code, we could slip back into, what Professor Mark Knights calls, “a Walpolean era where patronage, patrimony and partisanship prevail.” The profiteers of British politics are certainly close to acquittal and may even succeed in evading accountability if they are not challenged.


 

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