Friday 17 April 2009

A man for all sleazons

This may seem an odd time to talk about the Tories when attention is concentrated much more on Labour's misdoings, but I think a comparison is instructive. What is going on in Labour at the moment has been called a tsunami, but, if that's a tsunami, I cannot think what word could be used to describe the continuing tale of Tory corruption and nastiness. A little while ago Mark Pack asked if anyone believed that the Tory party had really changed. I certainly don't. There is a wave of new Tories coming to the fore who cut their teeth on Thatcherite moralism (which carries its own acute dangers), but they don't appear to have much in common with other elements of the Tory party that David Cameron has been vainly trying to make presentable. I'm sure that there are in this country a lot of decent, hardworking and well minded people, who simply have different opinions from me about levels of tax and benefit (they want both lower), the right way to run the economy (they want more laissez faire - or is it less nowadays?), the European Union (I want it better run, they want to be out of it) and so on. One of the biggest problems in this country's political landscape currently is that so few of those people are represented by decent hard working and well minded politicians. The swamp of corruption in the Conservative party that Thatcher bequeathed to Major and that finished him off does not seem ever to have left them. In fact it seems to have allied itself to a meanness of spirit and simple nastiness that gives the Conservative party at large a peculiarly charmless character.

I've spent a little while collecting examples, and I present here a simple list. I had assumed that at some point the list would end, when all the sleaze and the nastiness had been squeezed out of the Tory party. But the worrying thing is that it doesn't end, it just keeps on going. I may well have missed some out; I'm sure my readers will enlighten me.

We'll start with the man at the top, Lord Ashcroft. (Yes, he is at the top, whatever David Cameron thinks.) When Ashcroft was made a lord it was after a promise from the Tories that he would be domiciled in the UK and be a UK taxpayer. That was in 2000. For nearly a decade he has simply ignored that promise. He has recently, and grudgingly, let it be known that he pays tax in the UK. That is a different thing from being a UK taxpayer, and Lord Ashcroft is not ignorant of the difference in meaning between the two forms. So basically we get this recurring theme of one rule for the Conservatives and one rule for everybody else. As the self appointed guardians of the country's moral fibre, they lecture the rest of us endlessly about morality, telling the truth, keeping promises etc. But when it comes to the Conservatives, it's OK for them to break promises.

Then there is the issue of the origin of the money that he is giving to the Conservatives, which is - at long last - under investigation by Parliamentary authorities. The Channel 4 Dispatches team demonstrated that the money is transmitted to the official donor Bearwood via a long and circuitous chain of companies. If there were no need for deception, there would be no need for the chain. And if it were all above board, Lord Ashcroft could simply demonstrate where it comes from openly and transparently. He refuses to do so.

And at the cheaper end of the scale in 2000, we have Conservative MEP Robert Goodwill (now an MP for a Yorkshire seat) when he divulged a particular scam: he would buy flights to Brussels for £250 and claim the allowance for a full-priced ticket of £500. He said in defence of this: "I can pocket the difference and, as a capitalist, also as a British Conservative, I see it as a challenge to buy cheap tickets and make some profit on the system." (The Times, 28 February 2000)

Moving on to 2002, Michael Trend was forced to resign as the Tory MP for Windsor in 2002 after it emerged that he had claimed £90,000 for a fictional second home. He lived in his constituency but told parliament his 'main home' was a friend's address in London, allowing him to claim additional costs allowance on the Windsor property. When it emerged that he had broken the rules, Trend was forced to stand down as an MP. Fraud.

Returning to the lordly theme, we move on to Lord Laidlaw. This is a simpler case. In 2003 Lord Laidlaw gave a written undertaking that if he were made a lord, he would be domiciled in the UK and be a UK taxpayer. He was duly made a lord. He still lives in Monaco and pays taxes there. A promise was made and a promise is broken every day he continues to refuse to honour it. That's just cheap. But we have not had one word of condemnation from David Cameron. Not only that but they continued to take large quantities of money from him for a long time after he broke his promise.

2006 - James Gray, MP for Wiltshire north, while his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, left her for the woman he had been having an affair with for some time. Said lover was then in 2008, according to the Daily Mail, installed as his office manager. They call themselves the party of the family.

2008 - Giles Chichester steps down as leader of the Conservative group in Europe (but does not have the party whip withdrawn) after it emerged that he had paid more than £440,000 of allowances into a company of which he was a director. Chichester denies any intentional wrongdoing and said the payments were simply "a whoops a daisy moment" - a whoops a daisy moment that lasted several years.

And on the same theme we have Den Dover, Conservative MEP for North West England. You have to admire them - when they cheat they cheat big. He had £758146 paid to company run by wife and daughter. And apparently he still hasn't paid it back. He had the whip withdrawn. But that's not the point (and this is a recurring theme). When he was practising his large scale cheating, he was not only in the Conservative party, he was one of its highest representatives.

Then we have Derek Conway, famously paying his son over £40000 to do research for him, while said son was a full time student at Newcastle University. The whip was ostensibly withdrawn, but apparently said whip still advises Conway how to vote.

And they don't mind where they get their money from. I quote New Northumbria, who I think is quoting someone else, "Alan Duncan, the shadow business secretary, also faces questions over a donation of almost £160,000 from Ian Taylor, an oil magnate whose company was fined for trading in Iraq in defiance of sanctions. The donation was registered with the Electoral Commission as a gift to the Tory party. But a spokesman for his firm said he had made donations to Duncan’s private office."

For a bit of light relief from corruption, let's go back to the nastiness front for a moment. Alun Cairns, South West Wales AM, doesn't like Italians much. He thought "greasy wops" was an acceptable way to describe them.

Back to sleaze. I was going to leave Caroline Spelman out, till it became obvious that she was trying to cover up something much more persistent than a mistake. Nanny being paid for out of public funds, and a party aide being paid for out of public funds. Over a considerable period of time.

Back to nastiness. Nigel Hastilow, while the Conservative candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, said Powell was right. he got thrown out, but the point is that he'd already risen to being a PPC when he made those comments.

Jacqui Lait. It seems almost pointless to pick out any one MP in the expenses scandal, but Jacqui Lait puts even Geoff Hoon's chutzpah to shame. £100000 for a second home when her constituency is half an hour's drive from the office. At least she didn't try to justify it like Eric Pickles did.

Back to the nastiness again. Philip Lardner rose as far as being Tory PPC for North Ayrshire and Arran before saying that Ian Smith was a great man and Edward Heath a rat. OK, he was suspended, but how did he get there in the first place?

Probably the piece de resistance in the nastiness stakes, Ian Oakley. The Conservative PPC for Watford for three years ran a sustained deliberate and vicious campaign of harassment and intimidation against local Liberal Democrats. When he was charged the Conservatives said goodbye to him and then refused to comment on the basis that he was no longer a member of the party. But he was when he was carrying out his persistent and vicious campaign. 68 offences were taken into account. Another 75 have not been cleared up, which means either that he was even worse than he has confessed or he had help. But David Cameron has never apologised for that whole sick episode.he was recently put on the spot in Watford and demonstrated the fine political art of using the word sorry without actually apologising.

Spongerjibe. Tory candidate Glenn Broadbent types in Facebook, apparently before engaging his brain, "Proud to be English and sick of paying tax to support lazy people, imported spongers and subsidising the Scots and Welsh". They made him say sorry, but now we know what he really thinks.

Nadine Dorries. What she did was not exceptional by cesspit standards - she fell foul of rules about making a clear separation between Parliamentary commentary and party political material. I mention it only to illustrate the attitude that is so prevalent. She was censured by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner on three counts. But she now says of this incident that she was "completely cleared". As Mark Pack says in his account of this episode, "'Completely cleared' or found to have breached the rules three times? It’s so easy to confuse the two."

And let us not forget that David Cameron himself is not above, er, mistakes in this regard. Until he was found out and stopped, he used Parliamentary facilities to host fund raising events for the Conservative Party. Cheap stuff, to be honest, certainly by the standards of some of his party chums mentioned above, but what is significant is this easy assumption the Conservatives fall into that if it belongs to Parliament it belongs to them.

Another example is their "creative" use of Parliamentary funds to campaign in Cornwall by making Mark Prisk, the MP for Hertford and Stortford, the "shadow minister for Cornwall" and using Parliamentary funds to pay for his campaigning trips there. There is no minister for him to shadow. He was apparently born in Cornwall. OK, if the Tories want a Cornish man to campaign there, fine. But could they not get one of their billionaire donors to pay for it, instead of getting the taxpayers to?

Then we have vote fraud. Conservative activist John Hall was convicted of vote fraud carried out in Hampshire during the 2007 election. For the 2005 election Tory activists used empty houses in a voting scam. 6 Slough Conservatives committed electoral fraud in the 2007 elections. It happens in all parties sometimes, but so many?

And we go on. Daniel Smy, former deputy chairman of South Dorset Conservative Association, found guilty of theft and forgery in 2009.

Then from the Leicester Mercury, "Robert Fraser, county councillor for Groby and Ratby, said Romanians would "stick a knife in you as soon as look at you", and that some Europeans "make the Irish look like complete amateurs". What makes it worse is that Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell doesn't think that's racist.

And another example which I can't put better than Antony Hook did, so I'll quote him:
"Guess which party has a Councillor in Kent who said this: "white skin like the British", "you are English, you’re entitled to f*** all"? BNP? National Front? British Union of Fascists?.... Let me introduce you to Conservative Councillor from Dover, Roger Walkden." Apparently Councillor Walkden was joking...

I think that's as far as I want to go at the moment. But, sad to say, I don't think this story is going to stop.

Just for the record, here are a few that I do not count under the categories of corruption or nastiness, which people may remember and wonder why they haven't been included.

Andrew Pelling - lost the Conservative whip after allegations that he beat his pregnant wife. He was arrested but not charged. Subsequently he took leave of absence to be treated for depression and has announced that he will not stand for election again. At best this is a story of a man who cannot cope and who deserves our sympathy - on the premiss that the allegations about wife beating are unsubstantiated. Or it's a case of nastiness but unproven.

Bob Spink is evidence of the very rightward leaning Europhobic end of the party. He left in 2008 to join UKIP - I have the impression jumped before he was pushed. He now doesn't like UKIP, apparently denies that he ever joined them, and sits as an independent. The fact that he's been shoved out in the boy Cameron's attempt to whitewash the party doesn't make a great deal of difference - he was clearly perfectly comfortable in the Conservative Party till 2008.

George Osborne and that meeting with Deripaska. I don't believe that anything untoward happened here. I think the most we can convict Osborne of is naivete. But, unfortunately, stunning naivete.

The councillors Bourne - Conservative councillors in Wolverhampton, and on the board of governors of the local C of E school, while selling sex at home on the side. It was a big scandal at the time. As a liberal, I see nothing wrong with what people do in their own time as long as it doesn't hurt other people. They would be open to the charge of hypocrisy if they pontificated about family values while doing what they do - but there is no evidence of them doing that.


Henry Lawson said...

Why don’t you just come out of the cupboard and declare your true political allegiance - an apologist for the left; we could all live with that instead of your selective rantings against all things conservative under the feigned disguise of concern which doesn’t seem to even contemplate any malfeasance on the part of Labor or the Labor wannabes the Liberal Democrats. I look at Ashcroft and I see someone who has put his money where his mouth is - Crime Stoppers in the UK; endless charities and foundations together with university education endowments. Have you ever had a look at his website or would that be too much like a 'fair go'? Your mean spirited personal tirade says more about you that it does about him. You clearly have too much time on your hands - get a real job.

Rob Parsons said...

Dear Henry

If you bothered to read yourself, you would see that I am a Liberal Democrat and proud of it. I'm not leftwing. It's only blinkered people who see everything in terms of left and right only.

I notice that you have nothing to say about the rest of this lengthy list of Conservative wrongdoing. Is your position that we shouldn't talk about that sort of thing because it's not fair?

As for Ashcroft, I didn't say he wasn't charitable or patriotic or anything else. That's not the issue. What I did was point out that there are questions about his status as a taxpayer and the status of the funds that he transmits to the Conservative party. He could easily clear both questions up by answering them directly. He has consistently refused to do so. The Conservative party is trying to portray itself as morally upright. Given that these questions concern a broken promise and the legality of the funding they receive from him, they need to be answered. The only mean spirit is in continuing to refuse to answer them.