We know the score with politicians – it’s the civil service that needs sorting out

It’s scandalous that civil servants have been allowed to moonlight for private firms, writes Mary Dejevsky

Thursday 15 April 2021 21:30
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<p>Former prime minister David Cameron is facing questions about his lobbying role for financial services company Greensill Capital</p>

Former prime minister David Cameron is facing questions about his lobbying role for financial services company Greensill Capital

A

s former prime minister David Cameron said, he accepted that “communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels”. A letter, he volunteered, might have been more appropriate. But he knows, as surely everyone else knows, that working through “the most formal of channels” and the ability to type or dictate a letter are not why Greensill Capital, or any other company, would want him as an adviser. It’s those phone numbers, those email addresses, that personal access, that ability to navigate the system, that set his price. And so it has long been the case.

I have to admit to slight surprise at the indulgence, nay generosity that has marked so much of the discussion about the Greensill affair, or so it seems to me. Lobbying has become a scourge in London and in Brussels. When I reported from Washington 20 years ago, the lobbying industry – the so-called K Street corridor – seemed to be little short of legalised corruption. But maybe that’s my Protestant upbringing. When former politicians sell their services for access to the government of the day, under whatever constraints of cooling-off periods, registration, regulation or whatever, I am just not shocked any more.

I am not even that shocked that Lex Greensill, founder of the now insolvent Greensill Capital, had a desk for a while at the Cabinet Office and a government business card, though the terms of his employment, the nature of his responsibilities and any remuneration were never published. But private business people advising government has not been news for a while, nor is it necessarily a bad thing (though opaqueness is).

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