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Sensemaker: Cameron’s demise

Sensemaker: Cameron’s demise

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The Bank of England predicts that Britain’s economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by December.
  • Japan approved a plan to release contaminated water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.
  • The Catholic Church warned that Haiti is in a “descent into hell” after seven of its clerics were abducted.

Cameron’s demise

David Cameron would never have had fans who queued up to burnish his rather lousy legacy as UK prime minister. But his venality since leaving office has proved to be rather shocking. It takes something for a government to open an investigation into a former PM, but that is where we are. An independent-ish lawyer has been asked to look – among other things – into his (largely unsuccessful) lobbying for Greensill Capital, the now-collapsed supply chain finance company for which he acted as an “adviser” from 2018 until its recent collapse.

The big revelations of the past few weeks have been:

  • First, the extent to which Greensill was given inexplicable access to Whitehall during Cameron’s premiership – an issue about which Cameron pleads ignorance. 
  • Second, that Cameron used his connections to lobby MPs he felt he got elected (including the chancellor) and his former staff (including a special adviser in Downing Street) to try to get cash to Greensill during the pandemic.
  • Third, that Cameron lobbied Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, on behalf of Greensill well after it was clear that he was responsible for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (The WSJ has a stunning photo of Cameron in the desert. In a suit.)
  • Fourth, that Cameron is a bad lobbyist. What was the best case scenario from texting his mates? He was asking his pals in government to risk looking corrupt – and to make decisions they would struggle to defend in a judicial review. 
  • Fifth, that Greensill Capital was involved in some extremely odd practices: lending to companies against income from hypothetical future customers. (There is no suggestion Cameron was expected to understand the business.)
  • Sixth, that Cameron says he should have done his lobbying through official channels. I’m not sure he’s understood the issue – which is about the conduct of former PMs, not the choice of medium.

To date, the government has refused to release the messages sent by Cameron under the UK’s transparency laws: they are arguing Cameron could successfully sue them for breach of confidence if they did. This is, of course, nonsense. But it will take time to overrule this crackers claim: someone will need to get the government into a courtroom.

But it highlights one of the many big obvious holes in the UK’s anti-corruption mechanisms: thin transparency regulation. The Information Commissioners are under-resourced and need sharper teeth to go after vexatious departments advancing nonsense claims. And section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act – the bit that might allow us to prosecute ministers and officials for not disclosing or altering information about lobbyists – is unusable. A prosecution has to happen within six months of the offence when offences typically don’t come to the Information Commissioners’ attention for much longer. There’s only been one successful prosecution under section 77.

You want to sort lobbying out? Fix that. 


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Shirley Williams
Shirley Williams, one of the four founders of the UK’s breakaway Social Democratic Party, has died at 90. She set up that party, splitting from Labour, in 1981, causing an earthquake. A stalwart of the Lib Dems, the party that eventually emerged from her political entrepreneurship, she was a cheery, popular politician. But she also deserves to be remembered as the first modern education secretary. The round of reforms which are still continuing started under her. The introduction of the GCSE – the most successful of all recent English school reforms – happened a decade after she left office, but on foundations she laid. 


New things technology, science, engineering

New corona weapons 
Some good news: Regeneron, a US company, has come up with an antibody cocktail that gives protection against the coronavirus. These drugs are important for protecting people whose immune systems do not respond to the vaccines. According to the NYT ($): “Those who got an injection of Regeneron’s drug were 81 percent less likely to get sick with Covid compared to volunteers who got a placebo.”


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

South London outbreak
Britain’s long (ending) lockdown and vaccination rush has moved the country to the lowest transmission rates in Europe. But a huge surge in testing is being rolled out across two London boroughs – Lambeth and Wandsworth – in an attempt to crush an outbreak of a few dozen examples of the South African variant of the no-longer-so-novel coronavirus. People over the age of 11 who live in, work in or travel through the boroughs are asked to get tested. These two boroughs have roughly 650,000 residents between them. 


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Aviation
Only 38 per cent of business people expect to return to the same volume of flying as before the pandemic, the Guardian reports. The poll, covering seven countries, speaks to the second biggest issue in economics right now. After the pandemic is dealt with (the biggest issue) how will the world that is left be different? In France, there is some effort to force the issue: no domestic flights will be allowed if a sub-2.5-hour train service already exists. 


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Call centres
Companies are using artificial intelligence to remind human staff members how to be empathetic to customers, an analysis piece in the FT (£) explains. But call centres are run as hyper-efficient institutions – to a point where there is absolutely no capacity for the employees to be people: “I have gone through being fed up and angry…now I have developed a sort of voluntary disassociation.” Maybe give people a break rather than using AI to rehumanise your dehumanised employees? 

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook
@xtophercook

Photographs Getty Images


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