Source: New Statesman
Good morning. What’s everyone in Westminster talking about today? For the MPs and staff who haven’t clocked off for Easter recess, all of the talk is about the unfolding Greensill scandal, and the possible impact it could have on the Conservatives.
This is a vast story with multiple angles to mine in the coming weeks and months. There is the huge potential real-world impact of Greensill’s collapse on Liberty Steel workers, and the opaque financial arrangements between the two companies, into which the business select committee is thought to be preparing an inquiry (the treasury select committee rejected a call for an inquiry last week). There is also the question of Lex Greensill and Greensill Capital’s extensive government access during the Cameron era (he was reportedly given a desk and pass in the Cabinet Office a decade ago, and access to at least 11 government departments), and the former Prime Minister’s subsequent hiring as a lobbyist for the firm, which the Committee on Standards in Public Life has privately indicated that it will probe as part of its review into standards in public life, due to report in the autumn.
Labour has piled on much of the pressure that is resulting in the probes and inquiries mentioned above. But it is also hoping to focus minds on the implications of the Greensill story for the current day, calling for a probe into how Greensill qualified for a recent loan from the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (“CLBILS”). It raises questions about whether the British Business Bank broke the rules, or whether the rules were simply inadequate, ultimately bringing the Greensill story to the door of the current Conservative government and to Rishi Sunak.
But by far the “sexiest” aspect of this story is the involvement of David Cameron, with yet another revelation from the FT today that the former Prime Minister went on a camping trip in Saudi Arabia with Lex Greensill and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. There is no suggestion that the former Prime Minister broke any rules in his recent lobbying activity when he texted Rishi Sunak to lobby for Greensill, but the links between Cameron and Greensill have prompted concerns over transparency from across the political spectrum, including from former Cameron-era cabinet minister Eric Pickles, who has called for a “review of lobbying” in the wake of the revelations, noting that: “Prime ministers and ex-prime ministers are powerful people. It is important that the system is resistant to powerful people.”
The most accessible and immediately interesting area of the Greensill revelations so far is the extent of personal and professional networks and perfectly legal lobbying in our political ecosystem, well-known to those within Westminster but a matter of probable shock to the wider public. Labour’s challenge is to pin down both current and former Conservative governments on specific wrongdoing or incompetence. But one possible outcome of this story is an unflattering picture of the links between business and politics that damages not just the Conservatives, but the political class in general. Labour’s challenge is clearly to paint this as a distinctly Conservative problem and Labour as the great reformer, rather than a problem with a disconnected political elite in general.