Just weeks before the UK general election in 2010, 4 former UK Labour Cabinet Ministers were caught trying to sell political influence to a phoney lobbying company.
Ex-Transport Minister Stephen Byers boasted that he’d already saved “hundreds of millions” for one company by getting his successor, Lord Adonis, to skew the market for rail services. He also said he’d boosted the finances of supermarket company Tesco by getting Peter Mandelson, an unelected pal of Tony Blair who is Secretary of State for Business to change regulations. Mandelson, consistently lampooned in the UK press as a greedy swindler was twice sacked from government for dishonesty and corruption before getting his current appointments. He has been made a ‘Lord’ and holds several lucrative government posts.
Unfortunately for Byers, Former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon the lobbying company – Anderson Perry Associates (APA) – was actually a front for a sting set up by a Channel Four TV producer.
Hewitt offered to help clients shape legislation for £3,000 a day. ($4500). She said “If you’ve got a client who needs a particular regulation removed, we can often package that up [for a Minister]”.
Hoon offered to introduce clients to Ministers, also for £3000 a day, saying he wanted to use his government contacts as “something that frankly makes money”.
A Labour Member of Parliament, Margaret Moran, was also caught. Her boast was that she could get special favours for paying clients by using her “girls’ gang” – government colleagues – including Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman, on behalf of clients. Harman is Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and House of Commons and UK Minister for Women and Equality. Smith and Blears were forced to resign after being caught fiddling their expenses. Smith was found to have fraudlently obtained over £100,000 of taxpayers money, using it to pay for everything from her mortgage to porn films for her husband.
As well as greedy, the politicians are monumentally foolish. Saying he saved hundreds of millions of pounds for rail company National Express, Byers told APA: “Between you and I, I spoke to Andrew Adonis, the Transport Secretary, and said ‘Andrew, look, they’ve got a huge problem. Is there a way out of this?’ And then we sort of worked together, basically the way he was comfortable doing it – you have to keep this very confidential.”
He also helped Tesco after a call from Lucy Neville-Rolfe, head of corporate and legal affairs. She complained about proposed new food labelling regulations. Byers said he rang Mandelson and asked: “Peter, did you know [Environment Secretary] Hilary Benn’s….going to introduce a regulation which [will be a] huge nightmare in every supermarket.” Byers claimed “Peter got it delayed and then got it amended.”
He then offered access to Prime Minister Tony Blair: “I see Tony Blair every month and you’ll probably find a lot of your clients really quite like him. If there’s an event…we could have a word with Tony, say come along for a drink.”
A flood of denials followed the revelations. The British government said the four were “mortified by how stupid they have been. There is no suggestion that they have broken the rules in any way, and they would rebut any such suggestion”.
Byers’ denial said: “I attended an informal meeting to discuss a potential job opportunity. During the course of a casual conversation I made some exaggerated claims. Having reflected on my comments, I knew that I should immediately put the record straight. I did so the following morning by making it clear that I have never lobbied Ministers on behalf of commercial interests. I later withdrew my name from consideration. I have always fully disclosed my outside interests. The set-up was a massive deception, which the Tory Party described last weekend as entrapment.”
Lord Adonis’ spokesman could not deny he’d discussed the rail franchise with Byers but said: “There’s no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that Byers came to any arrangement with Andrew Adonis on any matter relating to National Express.”
Next up, Tesco denied ever “engaging” Byers to deal with food labelling regulations.
And Peter ‘Voldemort’ Mandelson’s denial exhibited his usual insouciance. He simply said he had “no recollection” of talking to Byers about the issue.
Interestingly, Conservative politicians were also approached and were not taken in by APA. Conservative officials warned their politicians not to talk to the ‘company’.