Greensill Capital: how the old boy cartel works

By David Osland

An Old Etonian former Tory prime minister discreetly texts the former head boy of Winchester who currently serves as Tory chancellor, seeking special treatment for a company that has given him tens of millions of pounds-worth of share options.

In response to the public outcry, an Old Etonian current Tory prime minister appoints the Ampleforth-educated ex-merchant banker son of a former Tory cabinet minister to investigate the matter.

Such are the ties of social privilege and political consanguinity surrounding the dramatis personae in the Greensill Capital affair.

And to be fair, it may yet be that Nigel Boardman’s probe into the doings of David Cameron and Rishi Sunak will prove a veritable model of avidity in its endeavours to throw the spotlight on wrongdoing.

It’s just that the dreary old passive voice ‘mistakes were made/no rules were broken’ defence has already been advanced, and the entire history of chaps scrutinising chaps throws up few examples of the book being thrown at malfeasance.

Given that Boris Johnson is off the hook for handing a sexual partner £126,000 and palming the bill off on the public as ‘tech lessons’, the betting has to be that Dodgy Dave will live to dodge another day.

Lobbying serves a legitimate function in a democracy. Trade associations and individual companies should of course have the right to make representations on the arcanae of their day to day activities, especially when bureaucrats propose regulatory change.

What they should not have the right to do is seek favours unavailable to others by virtue of personal connections at the top of society, especially when vast sums of cash are at stake. Or, as the euphemism runs in this instance, go for ‘private drinks’ with cabinet ministers.

It is disingenuous to blur the boundaries between the two, as defenders of the system are trying to do on this one.

Meanwhile, the revelations grow more sordid by the day. We now learn that the government’s head of procurement, in addition to picking up his £149,000 a year wedge, was simultaneously working for a firm that hoped to pick up government contracts.

The glaring conflict of interest here is readily apparent even to those of us who only got a state education.

However clumsily, Labour has just about managed to turn the Greensill imbroglio to agitational advantage.

But its response has been hindered by its reluctance to frame developments in class terms, even though what we see obviously goes beyond the realms of individual misbehaviour.

In short, it is no longer clear who or what poses any real constraint to the old boy cartel.

David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time leftwing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland.

Image: Boris Johnson, David Cameron. Source: FlickrLord Coe, Boris Johnson, David Cameron – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012. Author: World Economic Forum Cropped by User:Andrew Dalby, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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