Commentary. From the scandal involving Owen Paterson to Boris Johnson's millions for extra-parliamentary posts, conflicts of interest abound in the Conservative party.

‘Tory sleaze’ is back with pay to play scandals at the highest levels of British government

The lucrative practice of “extramural” consultancies by those in power is by no means an exclusively Italian phenomenon. In the U.K., November saw an upsurge in such practices by Conservative MPs, who have always been accustomed to supplementing their “meager” parliamentary incomes with some energetic lobbying.

The MP Owen Paterson was suspended by a committee of inquiry into the ethical standards of MPs for using his position (paid at £82,000 per year) to lobby for his clients, a pharmaceutical company and a food company. It is illegal to receive compensation for such activities, both for members of Parliament and government.

This is a case of the good old conflict of interest: the pharmaceutical company was awarded juicy contracts (including a £133 million contract for the supply of swabs) during the pandemic emergency. In a fit of outrageousness, the Johnson government tried to save Paterson’s job by voting for an amendment against suspending him. But the ensuing wave of indignation caused the government to backtrack, and the amendment was withdrawn, while Patterson himself resigned in ignominy.

Perhaps even more nauseating is the Cox scandal, a much bigger fish than Paterson (he was Attorney General in the May government): during spring, the lawyer flew to the Caribbean, in the former colony of the Virgin Islands, one of the British tax havens and sanctuaries of money laundering, to defend the local government in a corruption case brought by his own government. He was paid about £6 million.

In short, more than a decade after the expense reimbursement scandal in 2009, we are witnessing the eternal return of “Tory sleaze”: a party paid off by billionaire swindlers who buy their seats in an unelected chamber (the Lords) with donations of £3 million, as reported by another of the “scandals” that have recently emerged, the so-called “cash for honors.”

Not to mention Johnson himself: it could be because he just has a large family, but “Boris” makes rookies like Paterson and Cox pale in comparison, having amassed various extra-parliamentary gigs for the duration of his political career, which have earned him £4 million in the last decade alone. All that money was not enough, however, to pay the bill for the renovation of the Downing Street apartment he shares with his spin doctor (and wife).

Of course, here as well, the true precursor was Tony “Weapons of Mass Destruction” Blair, the north star of all post-political men of these strange times. It’s hard to count just how many “consultancies” he offered in his long and crime-dotted career, interspersed with several world tours in which he held talks paid at hundreds of dollars per word. The same path has been trodden by his aspirational follower David Cameron, and also by the much more puritanical Theresa May. And it has been imitated by certain other smaller-fry leaders in Italy as well.

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