The Boris Johnson Loan Scandal Shows how Cronyism Corrupts Public Life
BBC Chairman Richard Sharp’s hidden involvement in arranging a £800,000 loan for the former PM exposes the gilded upper circles of politics and media in the UK, writes Adam Bienkov
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“There are rules in this country, and these rules exist for a good reason”, BBC Chairman Richard Sharp told MPs today as he defended his decision to help arrange a huge loan for then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, at the same time as seeking the top job at the corporation.
Remarkably, Sharp insisted that his involvement in securing the loan, via his friend and multi-millionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blyth, was entirely above board and an example of good governance. In reality, it was the complete opposite.
In helping to arrange the loan, Sharp not only created a substantial conflict of interest around his own future appointment at the BBC, but he also went onto keep that conflict hidden from the public and Parliament for more than two years afterwards.
In doing so, he not only brought into question the impartiality of the BBC, but also that of the Civil Service, whose head, Simon Case, he had consulted about the £800,000 loan – the significance of which Sharp today sought to downplay.
However, even without the loan’s existence, Sharp’s position at he BBC would already have been deeply compromised.
As a major donor to the Conservative Party and former advisor to both Johnson and Rishi Sunak, he was never in a position to responsibly oversee impartiality at the corporation.
And while some of his predecessors as BBC Chairman also had political affiliations, most were also experienced media figures with relevant experience at the corporation. Sharp, by contrast, appears to have little relevant experience beyond his deep connections to Johnson and the Conservative Party.
Since securing the job, with the help of Downing Street, Sharp has also appeared to extend his role, placing himself on the appointments panel for the BBC’s Head of News, to the extreme frustration of actual journalists at the corporation.
Quizzed by MPs today, Sharp dismissed his involvement with Johnson’s loan as being merely the result of an “after-dinner party comment” between friends. But this comment, in itself, merely amplifies the corrosive nature of this story: far from being an example of good governance and due process, the Sharp saga is almost the definition of cronyism in public life.
Through leveraging their social and political connections, each player in the story was able to secure political or financial advantage for themselves – the likes of which are simply unavailable to anyone who doesn’t exist within such gilded circles.
Without these connections, Sharp would likely never have been able to secure his place at the BBC and Johnson would never have been in a position to accept such large funds from his undeclared beneficiary.
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Unfortunately, like so much that happened during Boris Johnson’s time in office, none of the participants in this story appear to have suffered any real-life consequences for it.
Sharp today insisted that he had done nothing wrong and would remain at the BBC, despite having failed to declare any of what had occurred to Parliament before his appointment was approved by MPs.
Similarly, Johnson has dismissed the story, telling reporters that it was merely an example of the BBC “disappearing up its own fundament”.
In reality, it is the perfect example of how cronyism so deeply corrupts public life in the UK – and how it is so often allowed to continue without any real consequences for those who benefit from it the most.