You Scratch My Back


First a quick refresher from the inestimable Dominic Cummings:

“Current existing systems massively reward high status, well connected people”

We may indeed have much to thank Lex (Luther?) Greensill for employing one David Cameron. Because the aforesaid top toff ex PM has been caught with his proverbial trousers down, and this has encouraged the mainstream British media to use the ever decreasing resources at their disposal to dig deep into our currently, perfectly legal, “you scratch my back” culture in Westminster and Whitehall.

The latest to be exposed by upturning a well-hidden stone is Mr Bill Crothers (pictured), who worked in Whitehall for eight years, latterly as head of government procurement, and began advising Greensill Capital in September 2015 while still employed in the civil service. When asked about this, the now upstanding Crothers pointed out that he had done nothing wrong under the rules of the game and hence everything was tickety-boo (amusing factoid: there is a children’s’ clothing store in Chipping Norton called Tickety-Boo. Why am I not surprised?).

Crothers is of course right and that’s the whole point. The UK has developed a system where it is deemed perfectly respectable and ethically right to slip seamlessly from high ranking parliamentary and civil service posts into businesses and other organisations who are desperate to have these erstwhile worthies lobby the current worthies on their behalf. What could possibly give capitalism a worse name? Advising unsavoury overseas governments on lucrative contracts?

Oh, wait Tony Blair has already covered that one.

Our current befuddled PM has lolloped into action and appointed top ex-corporate finance lawyer, Nigel Boardman, to head an inquiry into the Greensill lobbying situation. Labour has already dubbed this a whitewash and I am inclined to agree. Lawyers, unlike judges, are not paid to make decisions. They are paid to do the bidding of their client.

Sir Humphrey would approve.

Instead of a whitewash we need a White Paper. I said in the previous City Grump, legislation should be proposed which makes it illegal for any politician or civil servant for 5 years after he/she has stepped down from office, either to have direct contact or give advice to those who do contact the civil service or Members of Parliament. Capitalism in the UK can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the financially-rewarding back scratching that is a daily feature of life at the top of the UK.

Indeed, in another life, a speech from the lips of David Cameron , eleven years ago, couldn’t have put it better:

“We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism.” And, “I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people’s worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works.”

Repentance time for “dodgy Dave”?

The City Grump has spent some 40 years in the City of London. He started as a stockbroker’s analyst but after some years he decided he was too grumpy to continue with the sell side of things so he moved to the buy side and became a fund manager for the next 20 years, selling his own business in the 1990s. Post the millennium, he found himself in turn chairing a stockbroker, a financial PR company, and an Exchange. He still keeps his hand in, chairing a brace of VCTs and investing personally in startups. The City Grump’s publications are available here.

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