The Attack on Sleaze: How apartheid regime set out to woo Tories: Patricia Wynn Davies tells the story of the firm which gave MPs a South African perspective

The connections with a South African-linked lobbying firm that Neil Hamilton and Michael Colvin, another Conservative backbencher, did not declare came against a background of remarkable munificence towards Tory MPs from the former apartheid regime.

Neither Mr Hamilton nor Mr Colvin, the MP for Romsey and Waterside, registered paid-for consultancies with Strategy Network International, the firm specifically created to lobby against economic sanctions and as propagandist for Unita, the Angolan opposition group, and for the so-called 'transitional government' of Namibia set up in defiance of UN resolution 435 on Namibian independence.

In Mr Colvin's case, the omission from the Register of Members' Interests was an 'oversight'. Mr Hamilton has argued that his involvement of less than a month before becoming a Government whip was too short, because MPs are allowed four weeks to make their entries.

That can be contrasted with, for example, the relative openness of the entries by Marion Roe, Tory MP for Broxbourne, in the annual register for the year ended 8 January 1990. Included were the following overseas visits: 'February 1989, to South Africa for three days, sponsored by the South African Coal Industry; 11-18 June 1989, to Angola, funded by Unita.'

Both these trips would have been facilitated, directly or indirectly, by SNI. A major client was the South African Chamber of Mines, and the export of vast quantities of cheap South African coal was being hampered by economic sanctions.

Mr Hamilton recorded in the register a visit as a guest of the chamber of mines in February 1988, but apparently deemed his much more direct link to the lobbying firm, revealed by the Independent on Monday, as not worthy of mention.

Given Mr Colvin's close links with South Africa, his lapse of memory is equally puzzling. One of his past activities was to identify sympathetic MPs who might be interested in what came to be called the 'Bop run' - trips, generally all expenses-paid, for hand-picked Tory MPs to the unrecognised Bophuthatswana 'homeland', one of the dumping grounds for the three million black people evicted from their homes in the former South African government's 'whitening the cities' offensive.

MPs who made the journey between 1987 and 1990 include Graham Riddick, one of the MPs under investigation over the cash-for-questions affair, Andrew Hunter, Colin Shepherd, John Townend, John Watts, now minister for transport, Jack Aspinwall, Sir George Gardiner, Mrs Roe, Nicholas Winterton, Edward Leigh, a former minister, Sir Ivan Lawrence, Martin Smyth and William Ross.

A note of a delegation led by Mr Hunter records that they came 'as opponents of apartheid and with open minds'. Appearing before the Select Committee on Members' Interests in 1989, Ian Findley, who ran Bophuthatswana's London office, was asked: 'Are you satisfied that your government is getting good value for money from visits by British MPs?' He replied: 'Yes, very much so.'

There is no suggestion that the trips were not declared in the register, but allegations of a 'gravy train', paid for by the apartheid regime, abounded.

To the annoyance of the homeland authorities, the form would sometimes be a one-day stop in Bophuthatswana before MPs escaped to a beach holiday in Natal or Cape Town. The usual practice was to offer first-class travel, with the alternative of cashing in a single ticket for two club class seats, enabling MPs to take spouses. A number chose the second option.

Part of the same scene were London dinners sponsored by Unita. One MP guest-list included such figures as Robert Atkins, now minister for the environment and countryside, John Carlile, Mr Colvin and David Atkinson, who led an SNI delegation to observe the Angolan peace process in 1992, a year before the firm closed.

SNI's existence stems from the former South African government's inability to mount an overt offensive against Swapo (South West Africa People's Organisation) over Namibia.

A key figure was Sean Cleary, an erudite but shadowy former South African diplomat, who became director of the administrator-general's office in Windhoek in the early 1980s. Namibian public relations as such were handled by a consultancy run by Sir Trevor Lloyd-Hughes, who was press officer to Harold Wilson when he was prime minister.

SNI was opened in high-cost offices in Storey's Gate, Westminster, in 1985 by Patrick Watson, a former captain in the Black Watch Scottish regiment, and Steven Govier, a Westminster councillor. Sir Trevor employed both men before his contract was terminated in July 1985, having sacked Mr Govier in May of that year. Sir Trevor then mooted the possibility of legal action against the two and accused the new organisation of being controlled by Pretoria. In due course, the right-wing Monday Club activist Derek Laud, now of Ludgate Laud, joined the firm, later recommending the recruitment of Mr Hamilton and Mr Colvin as sympathetic MPs.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's most starring part
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Portfolio Analyst - Prince2

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client, a glob...

Project Co-ordinator - Birmingham - Permanant

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Head of Maths

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Head of Maths position at a prestigious ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week