The scandal-hit baroness was elevated for years by the party now backtracking over the PPE firm linked to her that won millions in pandemic contracts
Michelle Mone is today’s tabloid baddie.
The baroness stands accused of earning a fortune from two 2020 contracts that went to PPE Medpro worth £203 million to supply masks and medical gowns during the pandemic.
The claim is that the company, which was only a few weeks old when it landed its first contract, was lobbied for by Conservative peer Mone herself. If true, this might constitute an abuse of power, given that she enjoys a seat in the House of Lords.
It has been alleged that millions of pounds worth of the medical gowns were never even used, even though PPE Medpro claims it delivered the contract to its terms and supplied equipment “fully in accordance” with the contracts.
It has also recently been revealed that a company linked to Mone’s husband donated £171,480 to the Conservative Party. The payments were made through UK firm Lancaster Knox LLP, which forms part of the Doug Barrowman Knox Group. The donations were made before he and Mone were alleged to have benefited from the PPE deal struck during the pandemic.
In response, the Government has announced it is suing PPE Medpro, which won contracts through the so-called ‘VIP lane’ of suppliers, claiming that the gowns supplied “did not comply with the specification in the contract”.
Mone’s reputation stands in tatters. But she isn’t the only villain in all of this.
The baroness is the product of a Conservatism that has uplifted and honoured her up until this point of hubris. She was steadfastly very much the epitome of a modern day Tory, and the Government suing the firm linked to her shouldn’t mask what’s really under all that political greasepaint.
When that is removed, it is clear that – in truth – Mone represents stolid Conservative values.
First, she is the epitome of the Conservative ‘rags to riches’ promise. Born in the east end of Glasgow, her story is one of being raised in a one-bedroom house with no bath and becoming a millionaire through hard work and perseverance. It is the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ political trajectory that she shares with the likes of Nadine Dorries, Sajid Javid and Gillian Keegan.
Although just one in 100 Conservative MPs have come from a working-class job, Mone’s rise from The Barras to the Baronetcy is held up as heady proof that Thatcher’s promise holds true. The self-same entrepreneurial spirit that saw Mone make her millions out of lingerie was lauded until it made the Conservative Government look bad.
Mone’s story is representative of a Conservative ethos that has all too clearly been recently revealed: that political connections are not there to debate ethical principles and work together for society. They are there for profit. Her messages to Michael Gove – WhatsApp discussions the Government once refused to admit even existed – were just a fraction of the secret lobbying endemic in Westminster.
Connections matter. Yes Gove, poor man, claimed he was “bullied” into giving her company a contract. But don’t forget that – as reported by this newspaper – more than half a billion pounds in Government PPE deals went to Conservative backers. Remember too that companies which were referred by Conservative MPs and peers to the expedited ‘VIP lane’ have since seen their profits quadruple. When it comes to Conservatives profiting from the pandemic, Mone is not alone.
But Mone’s own place and behaviour in the Lords also reflects a wider pattern that seems noticeable among some Conservative peers.
The baroness, who joined the second chamber in 2015, has not taken part in a vote since last April and has not spoken in a debate since March 2020. She has now taken a ‘leave of absence’ from the Lords – a seeming technicality given her attendance rating – but hers was always a lukewarm commitment to public service that exposes the upper house for what it has become.
Take Lord Evgeny Lebedev, co-owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent newspapers. He was appointed to the Lords by Boris Johnson in December 2020, but has since turned up to just 1% of sessions. Similarly, Lord Bamford, the JCB owner and Conservative Party donor, attended only 32 times between April 2015 and March 2022. Indeed, of the 1,042 peers who have sat in the House of Lords since April 2015, 142 (13.6%) attended the Palace of Westminster on 25 days or less, with 58 having never attended during that period.
Under the Conservatives, the House of Lords has become more sclerotic, not less. The fact that this roughly 800-member club has seen appointments such as Johnson’s brother, Lord Johnson of Marylebone, has already raised concerns. And that, of all upper houses in the world, only the Chinese National People’s Congress is bigger shows just how much it’s been packed by donors and sycophants.
Mone’s place there – or her absence – is reflective of a wider decay of an institution whose average age is 71. No wonder Labour wants to get rid of it.
Then there are her opaque business interests in the Middle East. Whether working with the Sultan of Oman or trying to sell apartments in Dubai using crypto-currency, Mone reflects a wider Conservative obsession with the oil-rich states.
‘Follow the money’ might be an investigative journalist’s mantra, but it is also a Conservative’s own. From scandals such as the Conservative Party chair Ben Elliot failing to disclose client ties with Middle East envoys, to Middle East-based magnates being revealed as major party donors, and the UK Government being paid more than £300 million by Saudi military for weapons systems training, there are countless political scandals linking Conservative politics to the Gulf states. These are the result of stronger post-Brexit ties with countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia driven forward by a Tory Party desperately seeking economic allies, regardless of their human rights records.
Finally, there is Michelle Mone’s own poor character. There was the Met Police investigation, for instance, into allegations that she sent a racist message after a banker of Indian heritage Richard Lynton-Jones complained to the police. During a disagreement following a fatal yacht collision in 2019, Mone told him in a WhatsApp message that he was “a waste of a man’s white skin”. She settled for £50,000.
There was also the time she replaced Rod Stewart’s wife with his ex, choosing Rachel Hunter as the face of her bra company Ultimo, ditching model Penny Lancaster. The singer branded Mone “a manipulative cow”. Mone said she had done it “for the publicity”.
Then, in 2016, she faced her fourth employment tribunal over claims of bullying and failure to pay wages, her company having lost or settled the previous three. Mone had bugged employees’ offices and listened to the recordings for evidence of disloyalty.
Mone’s behaviour – evident in her litigious threats to reporters covering the PPE scandal – appears to show a person who seems to care little for the feelings of others. And, in this way, given all the scandals of bullying by Conservative ministers – with Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Gavin Williamson all exposed as martinets – she seems to fit right in.
Mone then does seem to be driven forward by a desire for power not principle, whatever the cost. And just over her shoulder, stood the Conservative Party – facilitating, or at the least not condemning, her behaviour all the way.