The newspaper headline boldly announced: “Top Tory: I Am Entitled To More Than £67K Salary”.
After being caught in a cash for access sting, the former Conservative Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, made a pitiful attempt to defend his part in the scandal by declaring that he needs more than his £67K MP’s salary to live on. “I want a standard of living my background entitles me to.” That being the case and in knowing the financial settlement afforded MP’s, why did Mr Rifkind enter politics in the first place?
The millionaire Tory was not the only former Foreign Secretary to be caught-up in the scandal. Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary in the Labour administration of Tony Blair was also, along with Rifkind, caught in the sting offering to use their influence on behalf of a fake Chinese firm, charging fees of up to £8K a day. The two MP’s have been suspended from their parties. Jack Straw said he was “mortified to have fallen into this trap” as he was only trying to secure his future income after he leaves Parliament. Really!
We have been here before with MP’s and the chances are that we will revisit this scenario in the future. It calls to mind a recent undertaking by the public campaign group 38 Degrees with a focus on the current Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell. In what follows, the writer acknowledges information from 38 Degrees.
From 1994 to 1997, Stephen Dorrell was consecutively the Secretary of State for National Heritage and Secretary of State for Health in the Conservative Government of John Major. Stephen Dorrell has just taken a job with KPMG, a private company that wants to bid on a £1 billion NHS contract. But Dorrell is refusing to give up his parliamentary seat.
Mr Dorrell has admitted that his new job is “incompatible” with his role as an MP. But he is refusing to step down until May, 2015. How can that be OK? Who is his boss for the period before the General Election – KPMG or his constituents? 38 Degrees organised a petition to David Cameron in order to express public outrage against Dorrell.
As with Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, the case of Stephen Dorrell presents a serious conflict of interest and a misuse of his privileged position.
For four years, Stephen Dorrell MP was the chair of the powerful Health Select committee, helping to open up the NHS to privatisation. His new job is with a private company bidding on the NHS. One of Dorrell’s constituents had this to say about his actions: “Public trust in politicians is currently at an all-time low. Dorrell’s action in joining KPMG displays a cynical lack of integrity amongst MPs,” and makes Dorrell “unfit to continue as an MP.”
From campaigning for a law to allow voters to sack rogue MPs, through to fighting to protect the NHS from private healthcare vultures, 38 Degrees members have a history of challenging politicians who act against our democracy – and in the interests of themselves, or client groups or companies.
A number of Mr Dorrell’s extra-parliamentary business interests during the time he has been an MP have come under closer scrutiny. A shareholder in one of his deals compared the deal to “a spider eviscerating a fly it has caught, taking all the good bits, then dropping the carcass, which is the creditors, the shareholders, and of course the taxpayer.”
At the time of writing, Stephen Dorrell remains an MP and an employee of KPMG, as well as a private business man. Hard to believe, but true!
It may be that being caught up in the cash for access scandal is not the only matter about which Jack Straw should feel “mortified”. He might want to think back to the affair of Diego Garcia.
For years, the British government denied any involvement with CIA torture flights – until ministers were forced to admit that planes carrying ‘rendition’ victims had landed on Diego Garcia.
Diego Garcia is a British-owned island in the Chagos Islands archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Diego Garcia has been leased to the USA for use as a major base for the USA Air Force. We now know that the island played a central role in a number of ‘extraordinary rendition’ operations – a practice in which prisoners are flown to countries where they are then tortured. For years, the UK government denied that any British territory had been used for rendition flights, a key feature of the US-led ‘war on terror’.
In 2005 it was Jack Straw, speaking as the British government’s Foreign Secretary, who said “Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop.”
It seems that, even back then, Mr Straw was caught in a trap of his own making. Just three years later, the UK government was forced to admit that Straw’s claims were untrue. David Miliband – Foreign Secretary in 2008 – told Parliament that CIA torture flights had in fact made use of the British territory of Diego Garcia in 2002. Straw’s claims, he said, were due to “an administrative error.” Truth is stranger than fiction.
The British government has yet to come clean on the full scale of the former British colony’s involvement in the rendition and torture programme. Key evidence on rendition flights through Diego Garcia has either been withheld or destroyed. In 2014, ministers announced that “extremely heavy weather” meant that records had suffered “water damage…to the point of no longer being useful.” The government refused to explain how this had taken place during a month which turned out to have seen relatively little rain.
As with so much of the recent history of the Chagos Island, and particularly Diego Garcia, there is ample evidence of cover-up, conspiracy, hypocrisy and blatant lying from a succession of British governments. In 2004 the British-based Australian journalist, John Pilger, made a film documentary about the damning and shameful events surrounding Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islanders.
In this documentary, called “Stealing a Nation”, Pilger tells a story literally “hidden from history”. In the 1960’s and 70’s, British governments, conspiring with American officials, tricked into leaving, then expelled the entire population of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. The aim was to give the principal island of this Crown Colony, Diego Garcia, to the Americans who wanted it as a major military base. Indeed, it was principally from Diego Garcia that the US launched bombing missions on Afghanistan and Iraq.
Through deceit and subterfuge, the British government has prevented the Chagos Islanders from returning to their homeland – and the story, as with the scandals involving British MPs, goes on.
Yes, Messrs Rifkind, Straw and Dorrell, truth is stranger than fiction, whether it is the matter of British foreign policy or earning extra money as a British MP. Beware of being caught in a trap.