PIGS TO THE TROUGH: Beyond cronyism, The UK is a Kleptocracy masquerading as a democracy

'Pigs to the trough, Feeding time'. Grateful reference and use of pig Ugly by Ferguson

They’ve got the keys to the Treasury and they’re stealing all they can.

Kleptocracy is a government whose corrupt leaders use political power to appropriate the wealth of their nation, typically by embessling or misappropriating government funds at the expense of the wider population.

Michael Gove broke the law over Covid contract for friends of Dominic Cummings, court rules

The High Court has ruled that the government’s award of a coronavirus contract to a market research company whose bosses were friends of government adviser Dominic Cummings was unlawful.

Justice O’Farrell found that the Cabinet Office’s contract with PR firm Public First was “unlawful” and “gave rise to apparent bias”.

Anti-corruption campaign group the Good Law Project won its case against Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office over the payment of more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to Public First at the outset of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020.

Mr Gove gave the contract to a small firm whose husband and wife owners had “long-standing personal relationships” with both him and Dominic Cummings, the former special advisor to the Prime Minister.

Lawyers representing the Good Law Project said Mr Cummings – then serving as the prime minister’s senior adviser – had wanted the company to be given work related to focus groups and communications support services.

On 3 March 2020, the Cabinet Office shook hands with Public First, a small privately held polling company. There was no formal contract, prior advertisement, or competitive tender process. It just made what procurement lawyers call a ‘direct award’. It formalised it retrospectively on 5 June 2020 and publicised it a week later.

The court found that the failure to consider any other research agency “would lead a fair-minded and informed observer to conclude that there was a real possibility, or a real danger, that the decision maker was biased”.

The directors and owners of Public First are Ms Rachel Wolf and Mr James Frayne. They have close connections with both the Minister for the Cabinet Office (the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP) and his long time colleague and Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister who works in the Cabinet Office (Mr Dominic Cummings).

Apparent bias and was unlawful.

After considering rival arguments in a virtual hearing in February, Mrs Justice O’Farrell has now issued her ruling: “The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.”

Following the ruling, the director of the Good Law Project, barrister Jolyon Maugham, said: “Government has claimed there was no favouritism in the awarding of contracts. But the High Court has held an informed observer would conclude otherwise.”

He added: “This is not government for the public good – it is government for the good of friends of the Conservative Party.

“We just don’t understand how the prime minister can run a cabinet that acts without proper regard for the law or value for public money.”

But a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the court’s ruling that we were entitled to award the contract on grounds of extreme urgency in response to an unprecedented global pandemic.

“The judge recognised the very complex circumstances at the height of the pandemic and that failure to provide effective communications would have put public health at risk.

“The judgment makes clear that there was no suggestion of actual bias and that the decision to award the contract was not due to any personal or professional connections.

“Procedural issues raised in this judgment have already been addressed through the implementation of the independent Boardman review of procurement processes.”

A spokesperson for Public First said: “We’re deeply proud of the work we did in the early stages of the pandemic, which helped save lives.

“The judge rejected most of the Good Law Project’s claims, not finding actual bias in the awarding of this work, nor any problems with the pace or scale of the award.

“Rather, the judge found that weak internal processes gave rise to the appearance of bias. The judge made no criticism whatsoever of Public First anywhere in the judgment.”

One of Public First’s directors, Rachel Wolf, used to be an adviser to Gove and co-wrote the Conservative Party’s election manifesto in 2019. The firm’s other director is James Frayne, whose work alongside Cummings dates back 20 years and who was also hired by Gove when he was education secretary.

You can read the judgment here.

The UK is is a Kleptocracy masquerading as a democracy

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock
The chairman of the healthcare company awarded over 5million is the former business partner of the Health and Social Care Secretary’s mother and stepfather

Last month Matt Hancock was found guilty of a similar position when a judge ruled he’d acted unlawfully in delaying the publication of contracts carried out during the pandemic.

In December 2020 it was shown a firm with links to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock’s family has been awarded a £5.5 million contract for COVID-19 mobile testing

Details of the deal, published in December, showed the company, based in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, was awarded a contract for £5,462,150 to supply the testing units to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Beginning on 15 September, the company has been expected to provide articulated mobile testing units to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). The contract will run for a year – ending on 14 September 2021.

The chairman of EMS Healthcare, who has been a director of the company since 2013, is Iain Johnston – a former business partner of Shirley and Robert Carter, Hancock’s mother and stepfatherRead more…

It represents a further blow to Boris Johnson after allegations that he has presided over a government of “Kleptocracy” which saw contracts running into billions of pounds awarded without competitive tender to companies and individuals with links to the Conservative Party.

The ‘My Little Crony’ map shows a web of contracts between the UK Government, the Conservative Party, MPs and family members (Picture: My Little Crony / Sophie Hill)

The My Little Crony map
The ‘My Little Crony’ map shows a web of contacts between the UK Government, the Conservative Party, MPs and family members ‘My Little Crony’

The more the Tories’ cronyism is indulged, the more their sense of entitlement grows and the more people accept it as the norm.

The figures are staggering. So far, it is estimated that the government, without a transparent tendering process, handed out £18bn in coronavirus-related contracts during the first six months of the pandemic alone. Of this, £1.5bn can be traced to companies or individuals with connections to the Conservative party.

Within those billions, there is more shocking detail. A spider’s web of unqualified Tory donors, university friends, neighbours and local pub owners has been entrusted with everything from the provision of PPE to the manufacturing of medical equipment. The tendering process seems to have been jettisoned for random phone calls and texts from opportunists, with ministers too lazy to go through due process and too arrogant to care. 

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