What did you do in autumn 2020, as the UK prepared to return to Covid lockdown?
You may have taken a solitary walk through a park as part of your government-sanctioned daily exercise.
You may have been on your way to a shift as a key worker in our hospitals, supermarkets or schools.
Perhaps you caught a glimpse through a window of an elderly family member in a care home.
Or maybe you were one of three million volunteers in mutual aid groups, giving support to people in your local community.
While we were all struggling, Baroness Michelle Mone, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, was reportedly pocketing £29m from the profits of a PPE business, and was planning her honeymoon at a luxury resort in the Maldives.
Lady Mone and her husband, Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, have no medical expertise. But after their lobbying, the company PPE Medpro secured a place in a “VIP lane” that the government used during the pandemic for companies with political connections.
Medpro secured contracts to produce PPE, worth more than £200m, despite some of the equipment never being used.
Mone and her husband then, it is claimed, benefited from part of the company’s profits for themselves and Mone’s children.
These extraordinary allegations not only need to be investigated – they warrant a thorough and forensic investigation, and an immediate withdrawal of the Conservative whip from Baroness Mone while it is in progress.
And if they continue to go unanswered, they will send Rishi Sunak’s claim that his government will have ‘integrity, professionalism, accountability at all levels’ up in flames along with £4bn of useless PPE.
Mone has not been found guilty of anything yet.
But the need to get to the bottom of the accusations against her is underlined by what we already know about the actions of some of her Conservative colleagues.
Let me go through a few examples.
Former health secretary, now wannabe celebrity Matt Hancock was found to have technically breached the ministerial code by failing to declare a 20% stake in a company that won an NHS contract in 2019 – which was run by his own sister and brother. law.
Not only did Rishi Sunak welcome Williamson back into the fold with open arms, but as the shocking evidence of bullying piled up, he stood right by his side.
The health minister for much of the pandemic, Lord Bethell, met the company Randox on five occasions (despite declaring only one), after extensive lobbying by then MP Owen Paterson.
Paterson had another job as a paid consultant for Randox, earning £100,000 a year.
A company run by a person who previously worked with Michael Gove, and another with Dominic Cummings, was awarded an £840,000 contract, without an open tender process, to test the effectiveness of the Government’s Covid information campaigns.
While the public stood outside their homes every night applauding the NHS, it seems some government partners snuck in, ransacked the place and crawled out the back with their pockets full.
As the Covid inquiry continues to take evidence, the government will undoubtedly argue that this “VIP lane” was necessary because Covid-19 was an unprecedented event and the need for PPE was urgent.
The pandemic was certainly unprecedented and urgent – but that should never be an excuse to ignore crucial standards and ethics.
Obviously, some processes needed to be expedited – but no singular and urgent crisis benefits from a procurement policy that appears to favor contracts for girlfriends, often yielding useless equipment.
And for these friends to profit financially from a health crisis that killed hundreds of thousands and upended our entire economy and society adds a bucket of salt to the wounds of every NHS worker who is currently distraught over unfair pay and a health system stretched to the breaking point.
Some might say that activity like this is a consequence of having a uniquely cavalier Prime Minister in Boris Johnson – and he certainly was.
But to suggest that Sunak offers a sea change would be completely misleading – on the contrary, he has brought more of the same.
Former housing secretary Robert Jenrick overruled the planning inspectorate to approve a new housing development, proposed by a Tory party donor. Where is Jenrick now? Back in Sunak’s ministerial team as immigration minister.
Suella Braverman was forced to resign as Home Secretary in October after she sent an official document from her personal email to another MP, in a serious breach of ministerial rules. Just six days later, she was back in the same role.
Dominic Raab faces three formal complaints about bullying but he remains in his post as deputy prime minister – an embarrassing distraction at best, an insult to alleged victims at worst.
And need I mention Sir Gavin Williamson, who had already been sacked from government by two former prime ministers?
Not only did Rishi Sunak welcome Williamson back into the fold with open arms, but as the shocking evidence of bullying piled up, he stood right beside him, before Williamson bowed to the inevitable and resigned.
Five months after Lord Geidt left the role, this government still has no ethics adviser, no clear timetable for recruiting a new one, and no offer of new powers to give the role credibility – so no wonder he is struggling to fill it.
That is because integrity, professionalism and accountability have proven to be simply words for this government, not actions.
And the only way they can be restored is through a general election – now.
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