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‘Cash-for-access culture:’ Leaked docs reveal Tory donors given access to PM’s top team

A further 18 companies were given so-called “VIP lane” access in the rush to supply the UK with an adequate amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the first Covid-19 wave, according to a campaign group.

The Good Law Project said it had been leaked information which suggested the additional firms, which are on top of the 50 acknowledged by the Government, were awarded contracts worth almost £1 billion without competition.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called for ministers to “come clean” and declare whether they had “misled Parliament” over the additional 18 contracts that Good Law says it has uncovered.

Advisory board

It comes as last summer the Financial Times revealed existence of the “advisory board” through which the most generous Tory donors gained access to ministers “a hitherto unknown group of elite donors who enjoy frequent and direct access to the most powerful people in government”

Now the Times, have gained access to leaked docs reveal Tory donors given access to Boris Johnson’s top team during pandemic as part of secret ‘advisory board’ They included ex-Putin minister’s wife, alleged rapist invited after police interview, four billionaires.

In return for a £250,000 donation to the Conservatives, multimillionaires are being ushered into the heart of government as part of a secret ‘advisory board’

The article by Gabrel Pogrund and Henry Zeffman will send shockwaves through Westminster.

The Sunday Times reports that property tycoons, hedge fund managers, and a Russian banker are among a secret club of donors to be given access to government.

The board has 14 regular members, most of whom have given at least £250,000 to the Tory Party as part of a supposedly “transactional arrangement”, the newspaper says.

The members of the board have a combined wealth of at least £30 billion when their companies and families are taken into account.

In total the group, which includes four billionaires, have donated £22 million to the Tory Party, £10 million of which came under Mr Johnson’s leadership.

Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour Party, said: “These revelations raise serious national security questions about the cash-for-access culture that Boris Johnson has created at the heart of government.

“Boris Johnson must explain what donors with links to Putin’s Russia got in return for their six-figure annual membership fee and clarify whether these meetings had any impact on government policy at the height of the pandemic.”

Pipa Crerar tweeted the article and wrote: “They suggest donors got more than ‘just’ access but contact details of ministers that some used to lobby directly on Covid strategy/ procurement help and advice applying for public appointments lucrative public contracts approved by ministers and honours signed off by PM.”

Six Tory donors given top cultural posts since Boris Johnson became PM

Boris Johnson has appointed six Tory donors to help run the country’s leading cultural institutions since entering Downing Street after an appeal to party backers to help “rebalance the representation” on public bodies.

Jon Ungoed-Thomas 

The donors, who have between them contributed more than £3m to party coffers, were appointed by the prime minister to the boards of the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate and the British Museum.

One of the latest appointments to be announced is Howard Shore as a trustee of the Tate. The investment banker has contributed £1.75m to the party as an individual and through his firm Shore Capital. Former Tory culture secretary Lord Vaizey was also appointed a trustee at the same time.

The government says such appointments are made after an open selection process in accordance with the Cabinet Office’s governance code on public appointments, but faces scrutiny over roles for individuals with ties to the party. Under the current system, the names of all candidates must be submitted to ministers, who then make the final appointment.

Peter Riddell, the former commissioner for public appointments, has warned of a “more intensive effort” to appoint political figures to public institutions.

It has emerged that Tory officials have been keen for donors to apply for public roles, circulating openings on public bodies to its donors. An email from party headquarters to donors in August 2019, the month after Johnson became PM, said: “We thought you may be interested in the latest list of public appointments. It is important Conservatives rebalance the representation at the head of these important public bodies.”

The Tory donors appointed by Johnson to leading cultural institutions include John Booth, who was made a trustee of the National Gallery in August last year. Booth has donated more than £200,000 to the Tory party.

In September businessman David Ross was reappointed as chair of the National Portrait Gallery. Ross helped arrange accommodation for a holiday in Mustique for Johnsonin December 2019 and has given more than £1m to the party. Ross sits on the gallery’s board with Tory MP Chris Grayling, whom Johnson appointed the previous year.

Other Tory donors appointed by Johnson to cultural institutions are: Lord Marland, a Tory peer who has donated more than £300,000 to the party, appointed as trustee of the British Museum; James Lambert, a businessman whose firm has donated more than £80,000 to the party, appointed as trustee of the National Gallery; and Dounia Nadar, a philanthropist who has donated more than £66,000 to the party. All three were appointed in December.

The government says the selection process for public bodies is open and rigorous, but Tory officials have been keen to support its financial backers seeking public roles. The Observer revealed this month how officials were keen to help one of its biggest donors Mohamed Amersi in his ultimately unsuccessful bid to become chair of the National Lottery Community Fund.

One email stated: “I know you work with the public appointments team. Can we see that he is at least considered for the role.” Amersi has told the Observer he was shortlisted on his merits for the job and was not aware of any help from the Conservative party.

The committee on standards in public life has called for stronger powers for the commissioner for public appointments to ensure the right balance between ministerial patronage and appointments on merit. There are concerns about appointments which are unregulated or don’t go through a rigorous and transparent selection process. The high court ruled last week that the government acted unlawfully and breached equality rules in appointing Baroness Dido Harding as interim chair of the National Institute for Health Protection in August 2020 during the pandemic.

The role of non-executive directors in government departments is unregulated and is overseen by the lead non-executive director Lord Nash, a Tory peer who, with his wife, has contributed more than £500,000 to the Conservative party. Tory donors who are non-executive directors include Dominic Johnson, a Tory donor and chief executive of Somerset Capital Management, a firm co-founded by the Brexit minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, at the Department for International Trade; Ben Goldsmith, brother of Lord Goldsmith, the international environment minister, at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and Ranjit Baxi, a businessman in the recycling industry, at the Department for Transport.

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and chair of the parliamentary committee on standards, said sweeping reforms were required across several areas of public life to restore public confidence, including appointments.

He said: “We need root and branch reform of the public appointments system and also the revolving door between government and industry, the governance of all party parliamentary groups and lobbying.”

A government spokesperson said: “The government encourages applications to public appointments from talented individuals from a wide range of backgrounds across the UK. All public appointments are made objectively based on merit.

“The governance code is clear that ‘political activity should not affect any judgment of merit nor be a bar to appointment’ and must be declared.”

Boris Johnson’s stonewalling on Partygate won’t impress voters

In an excruciating BBC interview with Sophie Raworth on Sunday morning, the prime minister refused to answer questions on rule-breaking Downing Street parties a whopping 17 times in just 11 minutes.

Meanwhile expect more “diversionary” policy announcements – Owl

Editor’s Letter: 

Johnson was asked what happened, whether parties took place at his flat, whether he was ashamed of his actions and whether he was burying his head in the sand about the issue. He dodged the questions, oscillating between attempting several subject changes and simply refusing to answer.

The PM also wouldn’t commit to resigning if he is found to have broken lockdown laws by the police.

Politicians are known for obfuscating in interviews and avoiding tough topics – often by answering something that they wish they’d been asked instead – but the prime minister’s squirming and swerving of Raworth’s questions looks particularly shifty at a time when he desperately needs to restore some trust in his leadership.

The Partygate saga has dragged on for months, spun out by a lack of responsibility taken by implicated parties, delays in the release of Sue Gray’s abbreviated report, outright lies and attempts to minimise, dismiss and distract. There have been very few resignations from people involved – notable examples include Allegra Stratton, moving from laughter at the mock press conference to tears in front of the TV cameras, and former mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey.

Nine out of 10 Independent readers told us at the end of January they think Boris Johnson should resign, after he admitted to attending a gathering in the garden of Downing Street during the first lockdown in May 2020. The excuse that he thought it was a work event went down like a concrete pool float at the time, and is unlikely to have aged any better since.

As Sunday’s disastrous interview shows, Johnson is still on the ropes. His evasive interview probably won’t endear him to the public, many of whom already feel that they’ve been gaslit over Partygate. Voters haven’t forgotten – or forgiven – and behaving as though they will is a serious miscalculation.

Today’s sing along – all together now

🎶Oh the Grand old Duke of York, he had 12 million quid, he gave it to someone he didn’t know for something he never did🎵

“Once upon a time, Britons would have been astonished and appalled to find scandal simultaneously bespoiling their royal family, prime minister and largest police force. We are less shockable now. There’s a good reason, which is that there is much less naive reverence for institutions than there was in the past. There’s also a bad reason for our diminished capacity to be scandalised by scandal. We have become wearily accustomed to seeing the public trust betrayed. Where once jaws would have dropped, grotesque misconduct in public life often provokes no more than a fleeting furore or a resigned shrug. That makes us part of the problem, too. When we expect to be let down, we settle for further decay. The British won’t get better service from their institutions until they start demanding it and so insistently that they can’t be ignored.” [Concluding paragraph : Britain has had royal, political and policing scandals before, but never all three at once – Andrew Rawnsley]