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Peter Oborne’s Diary October 2021: The Capture of UK Politics by Big Money

Exclusive to print for a month, Peter Oborne shares his observations of the political media class. For the latest diary subscribe to the November Digital Edition

October 2021The Capture of UK Politics By Big Money

Exclusive to print for a month, Peter Oborne shares his observations of the political media class. For the latest diary subscribe to the November Digital Edition

On the Payroll

OLIVER DOWDEN, THE NEW CONSERVATIVE CHAIRMAN, faces an urgent and destructive problem: his co-chairman Ben Elliott. Dowden needs rid of Elliott, who has already done great damage to the party and threatens to do much more. 

Elliott had no serious political experience before becoming treasurer for his close friend Lord Zac Goldsmith’s Islamophobic London mayoral campaign. His credentials for the job of party chair lay in his experience as a fixer for the super-rich. His company, Quintessentially, makes its money by brokering billionaires into the highest levels of British society. Elliott now does something very similar for the Conservative Party. 

Pay enough and you can have dinner with Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak. Johnson’s decision to appoint Elliott as party chairman was a powerful and unambiguous statement that donors are more important than members. As the Pandora Papers demonstrate, he has shown rotten judgment over accepting donations and the presence of Elliott as chairman of the Conservative Party is proof of the capture of British politics by big money. 

Reality Czech Required 

WHICH BRINGS ME ONTO THE BBC, which alongside with the Guardian, led the investigation into the Pandora Papers in the UK. 

BBC reporters were enthusiastic about reporting foreign beneficiaries from secret offshore accounts. When it came to Conservative donors, the corporation became craven.

The day after the news broke that several donors were implicated, Boris Johnson gave a 20-minute interview to Nick Robinson on the Today programme. Incredibly, Robinson did not even raise the issue. In telling contrast, the BBC sent a reporter to Czechoslovakia to ambush the Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, with questions about his failure to declare investments in an offshore investment company used to purchase two villas for £12 million in the south of France. The readiness to tackle a foreign leader, while giving deferential treatment to the British Prime Minister, once again raises serious questions about the independence of the BBC. 

I will fight to the death for the BBC, which is one of our greatest national assets, but it’s badly let down by its news service. Again and again, it refuses to hold the Johnson Government to account over corruption allegations and the epidemic of ministerial lying. The latest example is particularly grim. 

Oligarchy Openness

LAST MONTH, THE UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSED A LAW aimed at reducing the influence of the super-rich in politics.

The bill requires citizens to register as oligarchs if they own significant financial assets and media outlets, while prohibiting wealthy individuals from funding political parties. I have long believed that it is time we considered something similar here in Britain. The Pandora papers show that the sooner it’s introduced the better.

Problems In Lebanon

IT IS NOT JUST BRITAIN THAT HAS BEEN SUFFERING a petrol shortage. Outside my hotel in Beirut last month, the queue for petrol stretched as far as the eye could see. I walked along it talking to the drivers, some of whom had been waiting for as long as 10 hours. Many told me they had lost their jobs and life savings thanks to soaraway inflation and financial collapse. Those who had stayed in work have seen the value of their salaries slashed by 90%. 

Grotesque financial mismanagement and corruption by the country’s billionaires, who have run Lebanon since the 1980s, is responsible for the latest shambles, and no one should be surprised to learn that the new Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, and the central bank governor, Riad Salameh, have both been named in the Pandora Papers as hiding their wealth in tax havens. Many do not like it, but Hezbollah has been the only force for stability. With the state powerless or indifferent, it has acted on its own to defy the US sanctions regime and bring in desperately needed oil from Iran through Syria. Opinion polls show that its vote is holding up strongly ahead of next year’s elections.

Hard Act to Follow

THE GREAT FOOTBALL MANAGER ALEX FERGUSON is famously left-wing, but he becomes more like Margaret Thatcher every day. 

She made life impossible for successors and so does Ferguson, the latest example being his indiscreet and disloyal criticism of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s handling of Cristiano Ronaldo. Just as the Conservatives spent 13 years in the wilderness after Thatcher’s departure, I wonder whether Manchester United can ever recover its greatness with Ferguson a meddling presence undermining anyone who becomes manager of the team he curated with such distinction.

Sense of Service

NOT LONG BEFORE HE DIED, I asked Peter Carington about the Military Cross he earned as a tank commander during World War Two, an episode he didn’t even mention in his autobiography. He dismissed his award as “pot luck”. 

Everyone I ever spoke to who fought in the war was the same. Perhaps it is inevitable after a long period of relative peace, but I think we have lost a sense of duty, of humility and the sacrifices made by others. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel attended the Annual Service of Commemoration at Westminster Abbey for those who fought and died in the battle of Britain 80 years ago. After the service, she tweeted a picture of herself. She looked elegant and well-dressed; it was a fetching picture beyond doubt – but the service was not about her: it was about the very brave people who died in the fight against fascism.

For the latest Oborne diary subscribe to the November Digital Edition

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