The following article by John Tummon looks at the recent exposures of corruption in the Tory government highlighted by the cronyism for Covid-19 contracts
Government Covid cronyism extends both to the appointment to key positions in its decision-making framework and to its’ award of contracts for carrying out services and providing equipment. This has now become so overt that the mainstream media have started documenting it in prime-time TV News Bulletins and TV documentaries, as well as in the press. Even Sir Steer Calmer has berated the government for the flagrant lack of accountability and transparency.
For instance, the Guardian recently charted the web of ‘Chumocracy’ around the government’s anti-Covid response. Specifically, no formal recruitment processes preceded the appointment of Dido Harding and Kate Bingham to the two key positions of running Test and Trace and the Vaccine Taskforce. Deloitte, Serco, Randox, Ayanda Capital, Faculty, Hanbury and Public First are the major corporate beneficiaries of lucrative contracts, interlinked closely with members of the Cabinet, spouses of Harding and Bingham, and the Jockey Club. Further down the food chain are consultants and sub contractors, as well as sub-contractors’ sub-contractors. The picture emerging is of a corrupt, self-serving and interconnected ruling class profiting from this pandemic, as it rips through the population.
Technically, all this has been done under the emergency regulations granted to government early in the initial wave of the pandemic; these suspended competitive tendering. Defending himself over this against Starmer at PMQs on 18th November, Johnson blustered about his pride in the ‘contributions’ made by commercial companies in the pandemic. The government maintains that both Harding and Bingham are very well qualified and have made great successes of their roles.
Pragmatism and Ideology
This response reveals that Tory thinking and practice on the pandemic is both deeply ideological and pragmatic; it is pragmatic in that the public realm, especially the NHS, has been so cut back over the past decade that consultants and capitalist corporations almost had to be chosen to head up the state’s response to the virus, so Ministers set aside normal standards of transparency whilst hastily scrambling to secure £18 billion of supplies and services in response to the coronavirus crisis. This panic extended to ordering the infamous Nightingale Hospitals, which were never used in the first wave of the crisis. Clearly, the Tories were scared that the NHS had been so cut the bone by this government and its two predecessors that hospitals would be quickly overwhelmed by the need to find beds and ICU facilities whilst simultaneously catering for its intake of non-Covid patients.
But Johnson let the cat out of the bag; the government decision to go with the private sector was also deeply ideological: their belief in the small state, in contracting out public service provision to corporations whenever possible, played as big a role as their panicked pragmatism. They could have based their response around the expertise of Public Health professionals at both a national and local level but they chose not to.
Now the NAO (National Audit Office) has published a report which describes and assesses these choices; among its findings it reveals that, by July 31, more than 8,600 contracts with a value of £18 billion had been awarded, including £10.5 billion without any competition process, and that a “high-priority lane” was established for firms referred to the PPE team by officials, ministers’ offices, MPs, peers and senior NHS staff.
Left social media is replete with other examples of how this self-serving network has failed and continues to fail the people’s public health. Its’ inability to match Test and Trace capacity to demand is instructive, since socialist planning, not capitalist profiteering, is supposed to contain precisely this inherent weakness; indeed, capitalism’s defenders have consistently made this point for at least a century whenever socialism shows a sign of winning new adherents. Capitalism, if it is anything progressive, is supposed to be the system that matches supply and demand efficiently.
The Crisis of Democracy
All this is far from the first case of ruling class corruption making the headlines in the UK. In fact, this has been a problem for at least a decade and has contributed to the gathering crisis in Democracy. The expenses scandal, the Dominic Cummings scandal, the use of all the dark arts of Cambridge Analytica and their pals to win the Brexit vote have all caused the legitimacy of the British political system to wobble, but what potentially makes this more serious than these for the ruling class is that the fears and anxiety of the broad mass of people about Covid is bound up with it; for the ruling class, the danger is that they are firmly in the dock for corruption and profiteering over something the mass of people care dearly about: our own mortality.
18th October 2020
other articles by John Tummon