Sunday, March 21, 2010

Byers: Pants on Fire Again

It didn't take long for the BBC to pretend the Byers lobbying story wasn't really, well, you know, bad. When it broke on the Nolan Show last night, Rita Chakrabarti ended her carefully worded report by saying: "There is of course, no suggestion that Mr Byers has done anything wrong." Peter Spencer on Sky News said the same thing in one of his reports this morning.

They could not be more wrong, but as it's Labour, let's give them the benefit of the doubt, eh?

You only have to read the full gory details in the Sunday Times to know that Stephen Byers was caught out in exactly the same way as several Tory MPs in the 1990s. You'd think these greedy idiots would learn, wouldn't you? No? No, me neither. Greed always seems to win.

Stephen Byers ought to stand accused of corruption - taking money to influence government decisions. The Sunday Times doesn't quite accuse him of that, but surely that's what the implication of the story is.

He regards his greatest success, however, as his “work” for National Express when the company was in negotiation with the government over its loss-making rail franchises that cost £1.4 billion.

This is how he tells the story: “They approached me, June of last year, and said, ‘We’ve got a huge problem. We want to get out of the East Coast main line but not pay a huge penalty and we want to keep the other two franchises as long we can’.

“So between you and I, I then 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, we sort of worked together — basically, the way he was comfortable doing it and you have to keep this very confidential yourself.”

“He [Adonis] said we shouldn’t be involved in the detailed negotiation between his civil servants and National Express but we can give them a broad steer. So we basically got to a situation where we agreed with Andrew he would publicly be very critical of National Express and talk about, ‘I’m going to strip you of the franchise’ and be very gung-ho.

“And we said we will live with that and we won’t challenge you in the court, provided you then let us out by December, by the end of the year, and we can keep the other two franchises for a little longer. So, and that’s what we managed to do.”

Adonis criticised the company on July 1 and it escaped without a penalty, leaving the railway line in the hands of the taxpayer. Critics have said the exchequer is likely to lose hundreds of millions of pounds when it sells the franchise to a new operator.

National Express said it had held discussions with a number of MPs whose constituencies were along the East Coast main line and Byers had been one of them. The company said it had not paid Byers: “Any actions that Mr Byers may or may not have taken following our discussions with him were entirely of his own choice.”

A source close to Richard Bowker, who was chief executive of National Express at the tims, said Byers’s version of events told to the undercover reporter was a “close footprint” that was “pretty accurate”. He said he understood the relationship with Byers was “commercial” and that he had been acting on the company’s behalf. The source added that Byers had written to Adonis and met him after the decision was taken in July to terminate the franchise.

If Byers’s relationship with National Express was commercial, then he should have registered it with the House of Commons. He did not.


So, we need to know how much (if anything) National Express paid Byers, and why he did not register it with the Commons authorities. An oversight? Surely not, when he registers so many of this other copious outside earnings.

Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt stand accused of similar things, although slightly less blatant. All in all 15 MPs are included in the Sunday Times/Dispatches investigations. Among them was the senior Tory Sir John Butterfill. He has been caught boasting of a future peerage and how it would be helpful to his consultancy interests. Do these people never learn? His chances of going to the House of Lords were never that great, I would say. Now they are close to zero. And serve him right.

Stories like this are not just damaging to the politicians concerned, or even their own parties. They damage the body politic itself. Is it any wonder that the electorate view politicians as in it for what they can get out of it. Byers self description of being like "a cab for hire" has echoes of Ian Greer's comments twenty years ago, who famously said " You can hire Members of Parliament like taxis." What has changed in 20 years? Nothing, it would seem. Ex Ministers are just as greedy as they used to be, and decent politicians suffer the backwash.

But credit to the Labour Party spin operation. They have managed to deflect supine lobby journalists into writing about how the Prime Minister will "get tough" on the issue, conveniently ignoring the fact that his government has had 13 years to do just that. And if they had, we wouldn't be reading these stories in the Sunday Times today.

About six months ago, David Cameron predicted that the lobbying world would provide the next big political scandal. He wasn't wrong, was he? Which is why he has ordered his frontbench colleagues to be so careful in their dealings with lobbyists.

And so the reputation of politics and politicians sinks to an even greater depth. Quite where it will be by 6th May is anyone's guess. Good luck to those who have to pick up the pieces afterwards. I'm almost beginning to thank my lucky stars I won't be one of them. Because I wonder if it is actually possible.

25 comments:

Bugger said...

I am thinking very seriously of emigrating to Central America.

I think the corruption and certainly the donkey headed stupidity of the local politicians there is, on the whole of a higher order of rectitude

londonmuslim said...

The Labour Friends of Israel will miss him

Tristan said...

Hello Ian... The bias in the BBC has been really bugging me this week with their pro UAF spin and attempts to distance Brown from the consequences of all his failures. Argh! But with this latest scandal, I agree that charges should be brought. It is starting to feel like we're living in the Russia. I'm interested to know more about this 'girls gang' involving the former HS and Harperson... I wonder how much they knew about what they were doing and whether or not they got a slice of the pie. I assume we wont find out now they story has broke but it would be good to know.

Paul Halsall said...

I have to agree - watching Byers on TV was just about the most revolting thing I have ever seen exposed directly in politics. Far worse than the Hamilton case.

Dick the Prick said...

It's the pure accepted conspiracy of it all that makes it all so disgusting. Hmm...another nail in the coffin of Ruin.

Liz said...

but just how will liebour spin this after it airs on Ch 4 Dispatches, or has Ch 4 been bullied into pulling the programme?
The whole damn lot should be banged up and made to pay back the proceeds of crime, which I think is a Law Liebour has introduced along with the 1,300 other new crimes they have invented

J_T said...

Hey Tristan, console yourself with the fact that the 2 newspapers with the highest readership (The Sun and The Times) are trotting out anti-Brown stories every day. The Telegraph, The Express, Evening Standard and others are doing the same thing. The TV media follow up on these scandal stories. The Conservatives have the media sown up.

You will also notice how every news item has a bit on the end along the lines of "The Tories say [insert damning condemnation here]"

You will also notice how the BBC shelved a damaging Panorama programme on the Ashcroft affair.
James Landale, news editor at BBC news went to Eton and is Cameron's mate.
Nick Ronbinson was a member of the Conservative party at University.
Andrew Neil is Conservative through and through and edited the Times for years.
David Dimbleby was a member of the Bullingdon club.
All this definitely proves the BBC is anti-Tory right?

So it is not all bad is it?

kasou said...

And where does Mandelson figure in this...why no 'Ashcroft' hunt for the perverted LORD.....???

Dave H said...

The story of the four MPs refusing to stand in the dock came across appallingly.

I don't know much about Parliamentary Privilige, but to me it always brought on an image of MPs freedom to denounce the rich and powerful without fear of legal consequences.

It was a special licence granted so they could act boldly to protect fundamental rights such as freedom of speech.

I didn't know it extended as far as keeping them out of the dock when they're been accused of greed-inspired misconduct. That sounds more like:

"We're MPs. We're above the law. The dock is for little people."

Not an inspiring performance at all.

caroploz@gmail.com said...

This appalling behaviour by our politicians continues.The nauseating mantra "we have done nothing illegal"belies the fact that there is not a moral thought in these MPs heads

418 said...

"This lot should be prosecuted for Attempting to Obtain a Pecuniary Advantage by Deception contrary to the Theft Act 1968. Make your contribution to the debate by reporting these felonies under the "Theft" category online to the Met at:

https://online.met.police.uk/

The more complaints the Met receives, the more likely they are to do something about all this. The maximum sentence is 5 years."

~ dixit Blanche of Castille at http://newportcity.blogspot.com/2010/03/scum-sucking-labour-pigs-pay-5000-day.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+TheLoneVoice+(The+Lone+Voice)

Not a sheep said...

The BBC have very quickly turned this into a pro-Labour Cabinet story - 'Ministers have condemned ex-cabinet colleagues who were secretly filmed apparently offering to try to influence government policy in return for cash.' but I did like this quote from the BBC article 'Lord Mandelson said he had "no recollection" of talking to Mr Byers about the issue. '

sarah said...

"But credit to the Labour Party spin operation. They have managed to deflect supine lobby journalists into writing about how the Prime Minister will "get tough" on the issue, conveniently ignoring the fact that his government has had 13 years to do just that."

Hhhmm is this the same PM who has proved to be amongst the most blatantly dishonest of all the politicians? How can Brown preach probity when he ADMITTED he lied to Chilcott? Breathtaking.

cherami said...

Peter Spencer is an embarrassment. I am truly surprised Sky keep him on.

Cynic said...

Oddly the Government has legislated to implement the UN Charter on Corruption that makes 'pedalling influence' a criminal offence. Unfortunately they haven't done so for the UK. Strange that innit

Cynic said...

'Lord Mandelson said he had "no recollection" of talking to Mr Byers about the issue. '

Dementia - it's a terrible scourge

Peter said...

I wonder what the next scandal is going to be.

One hopes that it will be the scandal of the sorts of folk who have priviledged access to politicians and the like thanks to the giving away of House of Commons passes to all and sundry....

Victor, NW Kent said...

Butterfill - wasn't he the MP who claimed £17,000 for his servants quarters? A waste of space MP and it is hard to believe that he will have any influence on the next government. However, with his form he might fit in very well in the present House of Lords.

Houdini said...

Stephen Byers was caught out in exactly the same way as several Tory MPs in the 1990s.

Cash for questions was not the same as money to influence Government policy.

And you moan about Chakrabatti?

David Lindsay said...

What "influence", exactly, have these embittered, retiring has-beens, that anyone might consider stumping up hard cash in order to buy it? At least more than anything else, they are guilty of having allowed their vanity to be flattered.

Unsworth said...

@ J T

"You will also notice how the BBC shelved a damaging Panorama programme on the Ashcroft affair.
James Landale, news editor at BBC news went to Eton and is Cameron's mate.
Nick Ronbinson was a member of the Conservative party at University.
Andrew Neil is Conservative through and through and edited the Times for years.
David Dimbleby was a member of the Bullingdon club.


BBC shelved the programme? Maybe they lost their bottle after their lawyers checked it out.

Landale's a pal of Cameron? So never to be listened to?

Robinson has changed sides since his university days?

Everything Andrew Neil says is therefore a catalogue of lies?

Dimbleby used to get pissed at University so he's a devout Tory?


In a word, bollocks.

calgacus said...

Glad to see you're taking Byers and Brown to task over this Iain(though Byers is of course a Blairite who criticised Brown over the 10p tax rate).

Now where's your condemnation of Conservative MP John Butterfill offering to take money to influence a Cameron government's policy and boasting about how he was one of the four MPs who persuaded Cameron to stand as Conservative party leader?

Both the main parties are up to their necks in this shameful behaviour.

Duncan McFarlane

calgacus said...

oh you did mention him - sorry - sloppy skim reading on my part -
Duncan

J_T said...

@Unsworth, no , what is bollocks is that the media as a whole (which is what we should be talking about) is biased in favour of the Labour party. That is the real bollocks.

It is massively biased towards the Tories.

As for the people I mentioned, your case wasn't very convincing that they are pro-Labour and anti-tory.

Bugger said...

J_T

If you think there is no pro Labour bias in the Press and the BBC you should get your tail up to Scotland and see the pro Labour Pravdaesque bias of all the MSM here.

It is beyond belief and has entered the joke territory, way beyond what happens in China.

The West of Scotland Labour gand are up their collective eyes in slease, corruption, association with gagstas and in one particular and serious case,possibly stretching all the way up to touch Oor Jimmy, cocaine addiction. From the local 4th estate, the newsprint equivalent of kittens playing in a basket. The BBC is so far up Labours cloaca all you can see is their toenails.

Media anti Labour bias, don't make me boak.