For those who aren’t aware, the UK is facing a political corruption scandal of proportions unheard of since the 1990s, a time of near-constant ‘sleaze’.
It started with reports in mid-March involving former Prime Minister David Cameron and his close friend, the Australian financier Lex Greensill, and how last year Cameron attempted to influence the current government to help Greensill’s struggling financial services company through an emergency government loan. However, it’s come to engulf not only the aforementioned former PM, but also current Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, whom Cameron attempted to personally lobby, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and a number of senior civil servants — among them the esteemed late Cabinet Secretary (Head of the Civil Service), Sir Jeremy Heywood.
To provide a brief timeline of events, Cameron first became an advisor to Greensill Capital in 2018, around two years after leaving office (after which point the two-year ban on former senior ministers becoming lobbyists had elapsed for him), and around a year later the issues that many have with their relationship began. First with a ‘private drink’ between Cameron and Matt Hancock about a potential rollout within the NHS of Greensill’s wage advance app, then a trip to Saudi Arabia where Cameron and Greensill met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (less than 18 months after he had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi), a meeting that calls Cameron’s moral judgement into serious question for many.
It was a couple of months later that the world was brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was accompanied by the Cameron turning his lobbying on Greensill’s behalf up a gear. This started with a series of calls to senior officials within the Bank of England, which led to a meeting between the Deputy Governor of the Bank, Cameron, Greensill, and a few others in an effort to gain a loan under the £330bn Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) package that Rishi Sunak had announced earlier that day (17 March 2020). This was ultimately unsuccessful as Greensill’s company did not qualify for the loan.
Cameron was however unwilling to give up, and in early April texted Sunak in an attempt to reverse the decision and Sunak, in his own words, “pushed [his] team to explore an alternative with the Bank that might work”. This was however again unsuccessful, and Greensill Capital was refused a CCFF loan, but did qualify for less significant financial support under the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loans Scheme (CLBILS). One personal call later between Cameron and junior Treasury minister John Glen, and Cameron seemingly gave up (though he seemingly tried similar tactics with the German government in November only to not even be granted a meeting).
So where are we now? Greensill Capital filed for insolvency in March 2021, former senior civil servant Bill Crothers has been found to have worked as an advisor to Greensill Capital while serving as the Civil Service’s de facto Head of Procurement, and most importantly, a number of inquiries into the whole scandal have been opened. Of course, it’s still to be seen how much impact these inquiries will actually have.
The issue at hand in all of this is one of how much influence former politicians ought to have over government and how lucrative lobbying can be for said politicians: an issue certainly not exclusive to the UK. Reports seem to show that Cameron held upwards of $60m in share options in Greensill’s company, which is far more than he ever could have made in office. The whole scandal has understandably led to widespread public outrage since it was originally reported in the The Sunday Times and The FT, and has pretty much destroyed Cameron’s already poor public image, giving far more weight to former Labour MP Dennis Skinner’s nickname for Cameron: ‘Dodgy Dave’.