Prime minister Boris Johnson brazenly declared at the COP26 summit that the UK is not corrupt. If his statement is applied instead to the political party he heads, it can be seen for what it is: an outright lie.
Over some months, The Canary alongside other independent media and mainstream press have reported evidence of widespread Tory cronyism, particularly in regard to pandemic contracts. More recently there have been revelations of unethical practices relating to cash for peerages, MPs’ expenses, and second jobs. And then there’s the issue of dodgy donations from Russian oligarchs to the Conservative Party.
Combine these various strands and, as will be shown, the picture presented is that of a political party that’s utterly corrupt.
1. Cash for peerages
On 7 November, openDemocracy and the Sunday Times exposed what was dubbed a ‘cash for peerages’ scandal. Out of 16 party treasurers, all but one were offered seats in the House of Lords. That was after they had given at least £3m to the Conservative Party:
🔴 After our investigation with the @thesundaytimes discovered that Tory treasurers who donate £3m are almost always offered peerages, opposition MPs have called on Scotland Yard to investigate.
More in this *thread* 👇
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— openDemocracy (@openDemocracy) November 8, 2021
Following its publication, SNP MPs formally reported the scandal to the police:
— Peter Geoghegan (@PeterKGeoghegan) November 8, 2021
In a letter to Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick, Pete Wishart said:
In total, 22 of the Conservative Party’s biggest financial contributors have been made members of the House of Lords in the past 11 years.
Previously, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has stated that such donations made “in the hope or expectation of being granted an honour” could not be considered offences. However it is an offence if a donation is made in exchange for an honour.
In any case, the police have now said there are not sufficient grounds to investigate the matter further.
2. Unethical expenses claims
Details of what can only be described as highly unethical expenses claims by MPs have also been reported. They include MPs claiming for rent in London on their expenses while earning money by letting out their London homes.
16 MPs, 14 of whom are Tories – including Philip Davies, Anne Marie Morris, Greg Knight, Robert Goodwill, Liam Fox, John Whittingdale, Laurence Robertson, Damian Collins, and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown – all made such claims. Included in the list are four Tory government ministers: Ben Wallace, John Glen, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and Victoria Atkins.
Former attorney general Geoffrey Cox MP claimed £1,900 a month for his flat while claiming rental income from his home.
3. Second jobs
Another example of money-grabbing is that of MPs taking on second, very lucrative jobs:
These are 30 Conservative MP's who earn up to £400,000 each on 2nd Jobs as well as the £82,000 we pay them pic.twitter.com/eTZEVx1Xqa
— Patricia Clarke (@Patrici89225734) November 10, 2021
MPs named by openDemocracy included Owen Paterson, who resigned after it was revealed he made around half a million pounds from lobbying activities, including for Tory donor Randox, that broke parliamentary rules.
Other high earner MPs included John Hayes, Theresa May, John Redwood, Bill Wiggin, and Sajid Javid.
Labour MP Richard Burgon commented:
Being an MP is not only a privilege but it is also a well-paid and full-time job. It’s totally wrong that some MPs are lining their pockets by moonlighting in other roles and it is sickening that this was being done during a public health crisis.
It’s understood Geoffrey Cox is on track to earn more than £1m for his legal work. This includes – ironically – representing the British Virgin Islands in an inquiry about corruption. Additionally, the Guardian reported that Cox may have earned at least £6m from a number of second jobs while serving as an MP. Furthermore, it’s understood he missed at least 12 parliamentary votes on days when he instead engaged in legal work on behalf of the British Virgin Islands.
4. Pandemic cronyism
The pandemic brought forth several instances of Tory corruption and cronyism.
In October, Byline Times reported that twelve companies with links to the Conservative Party that were awarded coronavirus-related contracts had increased profits by 57.1%. That equates to around £121.7m. And “of the 12 firms that have filed their accounts for the relevant period, they have recorded total profits of almost £334.7 million”. Profits for one firm, Ayanda Capital, increased by 2,600%. In July 2020, The Canary reported on links between Ayanda and the government’s board of trade.
Back in March, Byline Times provided details of 15 firms that were linked to millions of pounds of donations to the Conservative Party. The firms were given over a billion pounds in government contracts.
Notable examples include:
- Global Access Diagnostics was awarded two coronavirus contracts worth £1.15bn. Also, Ali Siddiqui, one of its directors, “appears to have donated £8,000 to the Prime Minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, in 2017”, according to Byline Times.
- Meller Designs, whose co-owner donated over £60k to the Conservatives, won £163m worth of contracts during the pandemic.
- Clipper Logistics, whose founder Steve Parkin gave £730k to the Conservatives, was awarded an initial £1.3m contract to supply PPE to the NHS, with the original contract now worth £11m.
- During lockdown, Computacenter received in excess of £240m to provide tablets and laptops to children for home-based learning. The firm was founded by Philip Hulme, whose wife gave £100k to the Conservatives.
- Globus Shetland gave £375,522 to the Conservative Party and was awarded £94m to supply respirators.
- EMS Healthcare was awarded a contract to supply articulated mobile testing units. EMS’s chair, Iain Johnston, is a former business partner of Robert and Shirley Carter, who are former health secretary Matt Hancock’s stepfather and mother.
More firms that donated to the Conservative Party and were subsequently awarded government contracts were listed by Byline Times in June.
Leaked documents seen by the Good Law Project also revealed that “Cabinet Office contacts and others were helping ‘VIPs’ sell PPE to Government outside normal procurement channels” at inflated prices.
The Canary subsequently published a series of emails that referred to the ‘VIP lanes’, and noted that:
Ayanda, which was linked to secretary of state for international trade Liz Truss, tried to escalate its bid to ‘ministerial level’. The company later supplied between £156-£177m worth of unusable face masks to the NHS frontline.
5. More cronyism
In September 2020, The Canary reported on more examples of Tory cronyism regarding pandemic-related contracts. Some money went to dormant companies and firms that had no history of PPE provision. A number of companies were reportedly linked to the fundamentalist Christians Exclusive Brethren (EB).
Among other examples:
- Topham Guerin Ltd (TG) was awarded a coronavirus-related contract worth £3m. New Zealanders Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, who run TG, were contracted to manage the Conservative Party’s digital campaign during the 2019 general election. TG was responsible for the rebranding of a Conservative Party Twitter account as a so-called fact-checking service during that general election. TG also set up a website and falsely presented it as the Labour Party’s manifesto.
- Public First, headed by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, was given £956k for “advice on Covid-19 and reorganising the health and care system”. Wolf helped write the 2019 Tory manifesto, while Frayne worked with Cummings at the Department for Education.
- The main coronavirus Test and Trace contract went to Sitel and Serco. Serco’s CEO Rupert Soames is the brother of former Tory MP Nicholas Soames. And Dido Harding, former head of the disastrous Test and Trace project, is a Tory peer.
- NHS Wales reportedly awarded Topwood “£300,000 worth of contracts”. It was revealed that Hancock had at least a 15% share in Topwood, a company owned by his sister Emily Gilruth. Companies House records showed that Topwood shares were divided between Hancock, his sister, and her husband.
In December 2020, The Canary reported that, according to the NYT, around $11bn pandemic-related contracts went to companies headed by ‘friends or associates of Conservative Party politicians’, or which have no experience of PPE manufacturing or procurement.
6. Oligarchs’ links to Tories
Tory corruption isn’t just limited to pandemic cronyism, expense scandals, and second jobs. In July 2020, The Canary reported that Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis received donations of £25k from Lubov Chernukhin and £23k from Ukrainian-born oligarch Alexander Temerko.
In October 2020, The Canary reported how:
Leaked files show that Russian oligarch and Putin ally Suleyman Kerimov donated millions of pounds to the husband of major Tory donor Lubov Chernukhin. The payments were made via a family-owned offshore company.
Chernukhin donated 43 separate sums, mostly to Conservative Party central office. The total came to over £from April 2012 to July 2019.
The Canary added that Chernukhin also paid £160k for a tennis game with Johnson and former prime minister David Cameron, £30k for dinner with Gavin Williamson and £135k to attend a “ladies’ night dinner” with then prime minister Theresa May. She further donated money to Tory MPs Theresa Villiers and Mark Pritchard.
Also in October 2020, The Canary reported that Temerko made 69 donations to Tory MPs and Conservative Party central office. The total he donated from February 2012 to March 2019 came to nearly £700k.
According to the BBC, other Russian donors to the Conservatives included banker George Piskov and Alexander Knaster (who has donated £400k to the party since 2010). The Canary also reported how Johnson is closely associated with Evening Standard co-owner Yvegeny Lebedev, whose father worked for the KGB (Russian secret service). Johnson is known to have attended parties at Lebedev’s luxury Italian villa, where reportedly “nothing is off the menu”.
openDemocracy claimed in 2019 that since 2010 the Tories received in excess of £3.5m from Russian funders.
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