Sunday, 20 February 2022 — True Publica
In the space of little more than two years, Boris Johnson has wrecked any notion of decency or moral authority in the seat of power. As if illegally proroguing parliament, lying to the Queen and the House of Commons or enabling corruption with VIP lanes for cronies wasn’t bad enough – now we have something even more scandalous as if that was possible. A shadow government of ultra-wealthy donors is shaping public health and economic policy.
The Sunday Times front-page exclusive this week is a real eye-opener even for the most experienced follower of the political machinations of this government. We all know that Boris Johnson’s government is slowly being immersed in money derived from dark sources, but this new revelation smacks of something else, something much darker.
The article reveals a type of culture you would expect in the USA or worse. Exposed is a donor-driven ‘advisory board’ of ultra-wealthy individuals and CEO’s of corporations who are actively affecting political policy at the heart of our so-called democracy – inside Downing Street.
A £250,000 donation, ensures consideration is given to see if an individual can join. Once in – and as a member of the advisory board they are granted unprecedented privileged access to the prime minister, ministers and advisers at the very top of government.
Donors, whose business interests cover everything from construction to big tobacco have their questions answered as to their concerns. They were – according to The Times, “alarmed by the effect of Covid-19 on their businesses.” Alarmingly, given announcements this week by the government to relax Covid restrictions, these donors were demanding – ” the relaxation of measures designed to stop transmission.”
Everything that was demanded, so the article says – headed straight up to the PM
One long-standing adviser and confidant of Johnson became the first senior Tory to acknowledge the existence of the board, saying he attended it “when asked” and as the “PM’s adviser.”
Until this article, virtually nothing was publicly known about the ‘advisory board’ and because it is an outside body – transparency rules were dodged. No notes are supposed to be taken but a leak of thousands of documents reveal its mechanics and outcomes.
In total, the combined wealth of the board members, their companies and their families exceed £30 billion. They have donated £22 million to the Conservatives, including almost £10 million under Johnson.
Many have enjoyed, according to The Times – “rolling access to the prime minister, ministers, and advisers within No 10.”
Alarmingly, board members have been granted the contact details of ministers and advisers and some have used them to lobby the government directly on Covid-19 strategy and procurement.
It has also come to light that some have received help and advice applying for public appointments. It won’t be of any surprise that others have received lucrative public contracts approved by ministers and honours signed off by Johnson, while they were members of the board.
There is no other word for this – it’s corruption, pure and simple. But worse, they have effectively become an unelected ‘shadow cabinet.’
Of the advisory board, members include a super-rich entrepreneur facing trial for rape and sexual assault. Another is a former banker who is the wife of President Putin’s former deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin. And one who was even blocked by the honours committee before Johnson over his firm’s alleged role in the Libor scandal. He is now a Lord.
Foreign tycoons who do business in the UK are listed. One is Sir Ehud Sheleg, 66, an Israeli-born art dealer and a donor. “Johnson asked him to stay on as treasurer, a role he took up in 2018. According to emails from within the treasurer’s department of Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), it was Sheleg’s idea to set up the advisory board.” This a man involved in all sorts of skullduggery, which even leads The Times of Israel to headline with – “The sleaze engulfing Westminster makes our Knesset look relatively principled.” Israel is ranked in the most Corrupt Countries of the World Index between Botswana and Costa Rica – 28 places behind Britain.
For their £250,000 starting donations, advisory board members were asked: “for their ideas on the party and the government’s policy and political direction as a whole.” Brexit was mentioned in one leak.
When donors were asked to join the board, the Tory chairman’s pitch was simple. One summarised it as: “You are going to give us the money, and the advice, we need to stay in power.” Another source characterised it as “about making sure the Tories continue being in power, whatever we need to do — how to raise more money, how to get the message spread, how to ensure policies get designed that are business-friendly”.
Overall, the strategy of wooing wealthy donors by promising direct access to the very top of British political life paid off. A record-breaking 63 per cent of the total raised by all political parties ended up in Tory coffers.
Once an election was out of the way and a strong Tory majority secured, Board members started to lobby for their own personal or business interests with a number of donors using meetings to argue for an end to Covid-19 restrictions.
Others wanted financial aid and support for their sectors or even their own specific companies.
And as has been said, none of these meetings have been formally minuted or indeed attended by civil servants, so there is, apparently, no official record of the advice or lobbying which took place.
The Times article then goes on to report on aspects of this government we already know. Dodgy dealings, Covid related contracts, lobbying for tax policy affecting high net-worth individuals and so on. It is clear, corruption is endemic in certain Tory circles.
The full extent of such access may never be known – but, whichever way you look at this, this new knowledge about the inner workings of Boris Johnson’s government is an accelerated form of ‘cash-for access’. Cash for access scandals going back a decade refers to scandals involving the clandestine receipt of money for delivering meetings with senior office-holders. It appears no one has learned anything other than making it more corrupt.
Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chair, said: “These revelations raise serious national security questions about the cash for access culture that Boris Johnson has created at the heart of government. The prime minister appointed Ben Elliot as co-chair of the Conservative Party, he sanctioned the creation of a secret club of super-rich donors that gets privileged access to ministers, and he has chosen time and again to turn a blind eye to unacceptable conflicts of interest. This is on him.“
The question remains. We have a government immersed in corruption that is now heavily influenced by the super-rich. Public health and economic policy are clearly being affected by the money these people throw at Johnson. But just how low will Johnson go to protect his personal interest whilst throwing the national interest under a bus?