It was announced around 10.00pm this evening that Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The three former Labour Government Cabinet Ministers caught on camera in a classic sting by Channel 4 and The Sunday Times, touting for trade and listing their past successes in bending law and regulations in the interests of clients who paid them for their services.
Stephen Byers, self-described as a £5,000 s day taxi cab for hire’ (you pay, he takes you places other cabs can’t go), said that he had got Lord Adonis to allow National Express to get out from under its franchise for the East Coast mainline rail service on favourable terms.
Today, as all three Ministers hardly drew breath between bouts of rubbishing their own words, Lord Adonis angrily defended himself against the strangely metallic Byers’ narrative. He said that it was ‘…untrue that National Express were allowed by the Government to avoid any of their rail contract obligations when the company’s East Coast subsidiary announced its intention to default on its franchise on July 1 last year’.
This defence, however, makes no mention of a surprise decision by Adonis at the time – which was not to remove from the defaulting National Express the rights to continue with its other two rail franchises: East Anglia and c2c.
At the time, Lord Adonis had publicly threatened to do this. But when the tine for action came, without explanation, he did not carry it through. Instead he allowed National Express to default on the loss-making East Coast mainline, while retaining its two profitable franchises.
This decision was criticised for setting a precedent for rail franchisees, encouraging them to default on poorer performing routes while creaming off profits on others.
It would be reasonable to describe, as Byers did, the position of National Express as getting out of the East Coast mainline franchise in more favourable terms than had been feared. But by ignoring any mention, in his defence today, of the other two franchises that the company was unexpectedly allowed to keep, Lord Adonis was raising no hares and banking on people forgetting the details of the case.
Byers also claimed that he had got Lord Mandelson to delay planned legislation on food labelling, in the interests of Tesco, which was paying him to work on its behalf. Mandelson’s track record of helping friends makes his denials less than plausible.
Patricia Hewitt said both that she had got a person on to a Government Advisory Committee for a client who was paying her £3,000 a day; and suggested that if the ‘lobby company’ she was talking to had a client who wanted a regulation dropped, that this was something ‘we can package up’ for a Minister.
Hoon, who seems to be a late starter in the game, had little to offer in terms of previous scores but indicated that he wanted to leverage his knowledge and contacts to make money. What he offered to do was the most modest of the three carpetbaggers: that if circumstances were appropriate, he ‘would be prepared to lead a delegation into a meeting with a Minister’. He was, however, once Defence Minister and he is well aware, as the rest of us should be, that the ‘defence industry’ – aka ‘arms sales’ – is the murkiest and most profitable of the lot for the sticky fingered.
Then there was Blair’s former ‘gatekeeper’, Sally Morgan, on a vigorous trolley dash to collect as much moolah as possible. This is the woman who, with fatboy Charlie Falconer, allegedly (and who doesn’t believe it) strong-armed poor Lord Goldsmith into finding a convenient interpretation of law to allow Blair to take this nation into an illegal war.
Alistair (flipper) Darling asked why on earth companies should employ lobbyists anyway, saying that any company with an issue should ‘just come in to the relevant Government department and put their case’. Oh yeah?
The problem with all of this is not the box-load of rotten eggs it rightly dribbles down the tattered clothing ofand the Labour party, it is the light it sheds on the influences on the making, the not-making and the amending of laws.
Sally Morgan’s action, with Lord Falconer, in ‘persuading’ Lord Goldsmith to change his mind on the illegality of going to war with Iraq was the last bar to the fortune Blair has since made on the back of that war – and directly from Iraqi oil.
The food labelling laws Byers claimed to have got Mandelson to delay in Tesco’s interests were designed to protect the rest of us. The regulations Hewitt can ‘package up’ for dumping are measures to protect operational integrity in their fields.
The common law of politics is, with any legislation strange in omission or commission, cherchez la wonga.
Bring on ‘the electronic town hall’
The only protection against undue influence and corruption driving the legislative process is decision taking by referenda. That could now be done.At least any attempt to buy the favours of the populace could not be covert – it would have to be large, public and transparent.
Bring on the ‘electronic town hall’.