Anything that might embarrass the Lord Chancellor?
In September 2012, David Cameron chose to appoint Chris Grayling as the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It provides –
Qualifications for office of Lord Chancellor
2 Lord Chancellor to be qualified by experience
(1) A person may not be recommended for appointment as Lord Chancellor unless he appears to the Prime Minister to be qualified by experience
(2) The Prime Minister may take into account any of these—
….(a) experience as a Minister of the Crown;
….(b) experience as a member of either House of Parliament;
….(c) experience as a qualifying practitioner;
….(d) experience as a teacher of law in a university;
….(e) other experience that the Prime Minister considers relevant.
Here’s just some of what David Cameron had to go on when he decided that, of all those qualified under the Act to become Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain and Secretary of State for Justice, Christopher Stephen Grayling was the man for the job.
I remember being interviewed at the House of Lords before becoming a Recorder. Candidates for judicial office were always interviewed by an official from the Lord Chancellor’s department. The final question usually ran, “Is there anything about you which, if it were to become public, might embarrass the lord chancellor? An apocryphal story’s told that after reflection, one hopeful replied: “Tell me, how easily is the lord chancellor embarrassed?”
The system’s changed – I don’t know if the question is still asked. Now the Lord Chancellor’s changed, it’s probably a redundant question anyway.
I’ve omitted reference to his expenses, and to the “Gay B & B gaffe” and some other things I’m sure you can think of.
But worth mentioning is his reference to Moss Side when after a day spent in Manchester with the police, he included this in a speech
‘Even as someone well aware of the gang problem in our society, it was a shocking and enlightening experience. What was going on there at the time was nothing short of an urban war…the Wire has become a part of real life in our country too’
It caused uproar. Police later said that
“Grayling did not witness any serious crime.”
Most of what follows stands on its own, without needing any comment.
I should just add, that despite being born in London and growing up in Buckinghamshire, Wikipedia reveals that he supports Manchester United and Lancashire CCC, and he once hit a four off the Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee. Some of you will regard at least 1 of those 3 facts as an aggravating factor. As a Manc I can tell you, we’re used to the jokes about our supporters. But if anyone has any bright ideas for a Stretford End ditty, let me know.
1. MISLEADING CRIME STATISTICS: here and here
On what ‘mandatory’ means
More about Workfare here, here and here.
22 February 2013
The Public Accounts Committee publishes its 33rd Report which examined the performance of the Work Programme.
The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Account said:
“The Work Programme is absolutely crucial for helping people, especially the most vulnerable, get into and stay in work. However its performance so far has been extremely poor.
“None of the providers managed to meet their minimum performance targets.
“When the Department eventually published the first lot of performance data, 18 months into the Programme, it lacked context or explanation and was four months later than promised. The Department did, however, published unvalidated data from a trade body representing the providers. This is just not on.
Chris Grayling, as ever, goes on the attack, as described in this article by George Eaton
Is Chris Grayling running scared of Margaret Hodge?
Justice Secretary accuses the chair of the Public Accounts Committee of “political grandstanding” after her committee described the performance of the Work Programme as “extremely poor”.
Margaret Hodge, the redoubtable chair of the Public Accounts Committee, appears to have touched a nerve. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live Pienaar’s Politics last night, the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, accused the Labour MP of “political grandstanding” and of failing to take “a proper and dispassionate view of her job”.
It’s unusual, perhaps even unprecedented, to hear such strident criticism of a select committee chair from a minister, so what could have provoked Grayling’s ire? The answer is last month’s Public Accounts Committee report on the Work Programme, for which he was responsible while employment minister. The scheme’s performance was described by the committee (which has a Conservative majority) as “extremely poor”, with only 3.6 per cent of claimants moved off benefits and into sustained employment.
The government points out that the orginal performance targets were set when growth was expected to be significantly higher than it is now. But given that the IMF, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and others argue that the excessive pace of austerity is at least partly to blame for this, it’s not clear why it regards this a legitimate excuse.
Rather than impugning Hodge’s integrity, Grayling would do better to develop a Work Programme that actually works.
3. ATLANTIC BRIDGE
feat. URSULA BRENNAN (a bit later on)
Liam Fox broke ministerial code, official report to say
Mr Fox resigned on Friday after a week of pressure over his links to a friend
Some relevant quotes from that interview –
When asked to explain his role:
CG: “I had little involvement in Atlantic Bridge, I was merely one of a number of politicians on its advisory board, but I mean it wasn’t a formal entity, but look, let’s be clear, Adam was an employee of the Atlantic Bridge, there’s no question about that, the Atlantic Bridge has now been wound up, Adam Werritty is now an independent businessman…”
KJ: It was a formal entity, it was a registered charity
On Sri Lanka, and the meeting:
CG: “Well, my understanding is they both went to a lecture given by the Sri Lankan President.”
KJ: “No, not true.”
JC: “No. We’ve got the pictures, and we’ve seen it, the video footage shows. Do you think it’s acceptable?”
CG: “They met him at that event.”
KJ: “He [Werritty] arranged the meeting.”
JC: “Should he arrange, should friends arrange meetings for a defence secretary?”
CG: “Well, Liam of course had a long involvement with Sri Lanka going back to the days when…”
JC: “You’re dodging the questions here, Christopher Grayling…”
On the tax status of the charity
KJ: “you’ve been using taxpayer’s money to subsidise Conservative party activity…tax relief has been paid
CG: Well hang on, that’s a very serious allegation you’ve actually got no evidence for…
KJ: It’s a charity therefore it gets charity relief
CG: Well the Smith Institute…
From the Daily Mail 13 October 2011
FROM A GUARDIAN ARTICLE –
Last week those interests came back to haunt not just Fox.. but also many Tory members of the cabinet, whose extensive links to the Atlantic Bridge are now under scrutiny.
The organisation’s website – and that of its sister charity across the Atlantic – has been dismantled. But old caches of the site reveal that, while shadow ministers, George Osborne, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling and William Hague were all on its advisory council alongside Fox, its UK chairman.
All four stood down as awkward questions over its political activities, which contravened charity laws, resulted in the organisation being wound up.
The source of much information in this section is Stephen Newton’s website. Many thanks are due to him.
THE CHARITY COMMISSION PAGE HERE
COMMENT ON THE TAX POSITION FOLLOWED HERE
HMRC SUBSEQUENTLY DELIVERED A TAX BILL TO ATLANTIC BRIDGE – FT.COM
In the US: – Charity Commission orders Atlantic Bridge to ‘cease its current activities immediately’
An organisation set up by the shadow defence secretary Liam Fox and linked to a string of other Conservative front benchers is under investigation by US tax authorities, Scrapbook can reveal. Atlantic Bridge, whose political activities have been subject to an official probe in the UK since October 2009, has been referred to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by the Charity Commission. The investigation comes as an embarrassment to members of its advisory council, which include George Osborne, Michael Gove, William Hague and Chris Grayling.
The sham charity was set up with the ‘simple aim of “Strengthening the Special Relationship” exemplified by the Reagan-Thatcher partnership of the 1980s’ despite regulation clearly prohibiting party political activity. Hosting a book launch for William Hague and providing a $2,500 hotel room for a visiting US senator number amongst controversial activities which have drawn the attention of regulators on both sides of the pond.
The ruse used by Atlantic Bridge to fend off the authorities is to configure itself as two separate charities: one in the US and one in the UK, which was previously registered at Portcullis House. Problems in the UK are referred to the US jurisdiction and vice-versa despite accounts indicating that ”the two entities have been set up to mutually support each others aims”. The organisations are referred to by executives as a single entity and have executive and advisory councils and an honorary patron (Margaret Thatcher) in common.
It seems a recent press release and an article by the Atlantic Bridge CEO backing David Cameron was the last straw for the Charity Commission. Correspondence between blogger Stephen Newton and the UK regulator seen by Scrapbook indicates Atlantic Bridge is now under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service:
As you will appreciate the Atlantic Bridge Inc is registered in the United States as a 501(c)(3) organisation with the IRS and therefore does not fall within the Commission’s jurisdiction. We have therefore notified the IRS of this information* – Charity Commission
As a 501(c)(3) organisation, the US-arm, Atlantic Bridge Inc, is “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office”. One can only look askance at the following statement:
“Americans should look forward to May 6, after which Cameron and his government will likely assume power. He will be good for America and better for the Special Relationship.” – Atlantic Bridge CEO Amanda Bowman
For Conservative shadow cabinet ministers, sitting on the management structures of an organisation responsible for rubbishing the NHS in US healthcare debates is reckless enough. It is apparently the case, however, that this body is also responsible for flying senior Conservatives and their US friends across the Atlantic at the expense of the British Treasury and UK taxpayers. As Newton (whose excellent articles on Atlantic Bridge are available available on his blog) writes:
As a higher rate taxpayer, a £1,000 trip to see comedian James Hirsen in LA, for example, would be covered by a £600 donation. The remaining £400 would then be claimed from British taxpayers. It sounds like an invitation to take part in well planned, systematic corruption. The taxes this organisation has avoided paying could have been used to fund schools and hospitals. Perhaps hacks following Messrs Fox, Osborne, Hague and Grayling on the campaign trail should pose the following question: How much tax has your organisation dodged?
In a clear act of cowardice, the Conservative Party has moved to scapegoat Ursula Brennan, permanent under secretary at the Ministry of Defence, in order to protect the prime minister from scrutiny in the wake of Dr Liam Fox’s resignation. But I can now reveal that David Cameron’s office has been fully aware of Dr Fox’s involvement with the Atlantic Bridge since at least January 2010.
Earlier this week Sir George Young, the leader of the Commons, claimed that Ursula Brennan had been aware of concerns about Dr Fox’s behaviour in the summer but ‘did not take further action’ and went on to tell MPs: ‘It should have been escalated to the cabinet secretary who would then have notified the prime minister. Had that happened in this case, this probably would have been addressed at a much earlier stage.’ This was a cowardly act by Young, who knows Brennan cannot defend herself.
If it is the case that Ursula Brennan should have rung the alarm bell over Liam Fox’s activities in the summer, then it must also be the case that David Cameron’s own office should have taken action in January 2010, when I wrote to the then leader of the opposition. I made Cameron aware of the three concurrent investigations that I had triggered into Atlantic Bridge; with the Charity Commission, HM Revenue and Customs and, in the USA, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
8 months after being ‘scape-goated’: from the MoD to the MoJ in a ‘managed move’ that avoided an ‘open recruitment process’ –
Interview: Ursula Brennan
By Matt Ross on 4 April, 2013 8:30 am / 5 comments
The Ministry of Justice is at the forefront of the coalition’s moves towards both outsourcing of service provision, and payment by results – meaning that life isn’t always easy for its chief, Ursula Brennan. Matt Ross meets her
…it was only in 2011 that she, as the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, had persuaded the MoJ’s then-chief Suma Chakrabarti to part with his own change management specialist, Jonathan Slater, to help her push through major defence reforms. “Yes, I talked to Suma and pinched him,” she confirms: Brennan knew Slater from her own previous stint at the MoJ, when she helped set the department up in 2007-8.
Nonetheless, Brennan did not stay at the MoD to see the change programme through: in October 2011 defence secretary Liam Fox resigned over the Adam Werrity affair – and eight months later she also left, moving sideways to the Ministry of Justice. The government’s lead non-executive director, Lord Browne, has since revealed that some MoJ non-execs were irritated by Brennan’s appointment. Because it was a ‘managed move’ rather than the result of an open recruitment process, she explains, the non-execs hadn’t been involved in parts of the process such as setting the job criteria.
The MoJ chief is plainly uncomfortable on the topic, but keen to emphasise that the tensions have been resolved. “Some of them felt unhappy that they hadn’t had further formal engagement in the process,” she says. “But that hasn’t made it difficult to work with them, because they – like the management team – are really focused on helping the MoJ deliver change. And the non-execs here are really closely engaged with us: they don’t just sit on the board, but also come to a lot of the other business that we do. We engage with them quite a lot informally, as well as through the formal process.”
Full interview [which includes her being questioned about the ALS contract] – available here
The credit for uncovering the Atlantic Bridge scandal and bringing it to the attention of the Charity Commission belongs entirely to Stephen Newton.
I have shamelessly used much of his material. I’m very grateful to him.