Overview:

We might have a tendency to look to other countries and look down on their corrupt practices. Those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When other governments are involved in nefarious acts of nepotism that line the pockets of their administration or those of their cronies and friends, we call them out for being corrupt. South America, Africa, Asia: corrupt governments!

But when this happens in broad daylight, under our noses, in our own countries (reporting from the UK), we sometimes forget to be so forthright.

The British government, that being the ruling Conservative Party government, is corrupt.

The latest and incredibly egregious example of this concerns emergency contracts given out during the COVID pandemic.

Initially, the lockdown restrictions were delayed a week to allow for the Cheltenham horse racing festival to take place. Why? Because the then Health Secretary Matt Hancock had interests in the business of horse racing, so a 250,000 person super-spreader event was allowed to continue. It appeared that corruption would figure quite prominently in the whole pandemic, from start to finish.

The pandemic provided fertile ground for corruption to grow and fester. In the rushed panic of the opening months, the government scrapped a large amount of protocol—those checks and balances—otherwise in place to regulate the process of the government giving out huge contracts. This was an emergency and things needed to happen fast. Things like huge wads of cash swapping hands.

A “VIP lane” was created to bypass regulation, which ended up making entities that worked through the VIP lane ten times more likely to receive a government contract than businesses that applied in the normal, rules-based way.

This led to a number of contracts being given out to fast-tracked applications by shady entities who had no previous expertise in areas like PPE—the protective clothing and equipment needed during the pandemic. Matt Hancock’s former neighbor and pub landlord received a contract worth £30m to produce vials, despite the man having had no previous experience in producing medical supplies.

This and many other dubious contracts were given out and now the chickens are coming home to roost. Most notably, we are now being faced with the scandal of the Tory peer Lady Mone of the House of Lords. She, working with her now husband, referred a company PPE Medpro to the VIP lane. She has now gone on a leave of absence after a Guardian investigation this week found that Mone subsequently appeared to receive £29 million originating from its profits. As the report states:

Lady Mone’s support helped the company, PPE Medpro, secure a place in a “VIP lane” the government used during the coronavirus pandemic to prioritise companies that had political connections. It then secured contracts worth more than £200m.

Documents seen by the Guardian indicate tens of millions of pounds of PPE Medpro’s profits were later transferred to a secret offshore trust of which Mone and her adult children were the beneficiaries.

That £29 million came from the at least £65 million her husband, Douglas Barrowman, received from PPE Medpro. A 2020 wedding between the two on the Isle of Man (where the offshore account was based), involving sprawling properties and expensive yachts, has not given the couple, or the Tory Party, good optics. (The linked article is great investigative journalism that shows how important it is to keep such reportage alive and well.)

A quiet reminder: This is corruption.

Yesterday, Angela Rayner, deputy leader for the opposition Labour Party, eviscerated the government’s record in the House of Commons.

YouTube video

Some of the remarkable statistics to come out of this are:

  • 1 in 5 (yes, 20%!) of such government contracts have been “flagged for corruption.”
  • PPE Medpro is the “tip of the iceberg.”
  • Not a single company referred to the VIP lane was done so by a politician of any other party than the Conservative Party.
  • Contracts that critics know of that were given to Tory Party cronies and contacts presently value £3.5 billion, but the implication is that there is much more to come out.

The pandemic provided fertile ground for corruption to grow and fester… This was an emergency and things needed to happen fast. Things like huge wads of cash swapping hands.

The National Audit Office has recently produced a report detailing the shortcomings of the government’s actions and processes that they implemented during this period.

It appears that “shortcomings” may be another convenient synonym for “corruption,” and if not directly that, then “opportunities for corrupt individuals to take advantage.”

It is about time the UK media came clean about our own government because it’s rather unbecoming to throw stones when living in glass houses.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...