TThe gradual and reluctant departure of Donald Trump removes a man who played a vital role in the UK government. It served as a lightning rod and a useful distraction, diverting the attention of our own rulers by being more heinous, more scandalous, and more incompetent than they could ever handle. No matter how low they sank, they could always point across the Atlantic to someone who had sunk further. Trump absorbed a lot of emotional energy that way, absorbing anger that might otherwise have been directed closer to home. But now that its slow retreat from the center of global consciousness is underway, its usefulness as a decoy is diminishing. Once Trump is no longer getting all the attention, our gaze will be able to focus more constantly on our own masters. And it’s not a pretty sight.
Because even though Boris Johnson never told anyone to inject bleach, his administration’s handling of the pandemic has been disastrously bad from any point of view except direct comparison to Trump’s. Either due to late decision-making, including a delay to the first block that is estimated to have a cost 25,000 livesand a second imposed five weeks after the the experts had warned a circuit interruption was urgently required; send infected people to nursing homes without testing; the puzzling decision to allow mass gatherings to take place and allow air travelers to continue arriving without the most basic controls once they have landed; or the serial failures to establish a functional test-and-trace system, the record is abysmal, confirmed by the fact that Britain has the highest death toll in Europe.
Along with uselessness has come insensitivity. Again, he was never as blunt as Trump, but the options speak for themselves. This is a government that has had to be dragged, twice, into extending free school meals to poor and hungry children when they need them, acting only after a professional footballer has provided them with moral instruction. Now we learn that the price of Britain’s public finance problem, which is real, must be paid by public sector workers in the form of a wage freeze. It is true that NHS staff should be exempted, but still it is the teachers and key municipal workers, whose requisiteness has been confirmed again during this crisis, who must once again bear the brunt of austerity. And in the meantime, the government leads us into another economic hurricane, one that will inflict much more damage than Covid, in the form of Brexit that awaits us once the clock strikes midnight to usher in the new year.
While Trump delighted in breaking the rules, our own government has been doing the same in its own low-key and rather more British way. There was, for example, a time when breaking the ministerial code led to automatic resignation or firing, but Priti Patel remains in office.
Still, perhaps the most egregious behavior, yet to be fully assimilated, is in the realm of what craves to be called corruption. This week’s report from the National Audit Office on how billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money were spent in the first phase of the crisis, either by struggling to acquire personal protective equipment or on the advice of consultants , is in turn damning and amazing. It found that £ 17.3 billion had been awarded in “direct awards” – contracts secured without competitive bidding.
That raises questions about waste, as huge sums were paid to entrepreneurs with no track record in producing PPE. We already knew of the notorious 155 million pounds spent on unusable face masks. Now we can add the example of Saiger, a Miami jewelry company that pocketed £ 250 million in PPE contracts, paying £ 21 million of that, promising £ 16 million more. to a consultant who helped negotiate the purchase of the equipment. Was there really no other way for the government to seize that team without paying £ 37 million of your taxes and mine to an intermediary?
But an even more troubling word than “waste” appears multiple times in the NAO report, and that word is “bias.” The report confirms the existence of a “high priority lane”, a VIP channel, in the hiring process. Any potential vendor well-connected enough to get a recommendation from a minister’s office, a parliamentarian, a peer, or a government official was immediately sent to the first-class queue. Those companies were more than 10 times more likely to win a contract than standard class suckers. How exactly did these vendors get into the VIP lane? Unfortunately, we don’t know. The NAO sighs that “leads were registered” for less than half of the nearly 500 companies that went through the elite channel. “Sometimes a clear document trail was missing to support key acquisition decisions.”
It doesn’t end there. The Good Law Project, the campaign attorneys who were the first to discover the existence of the VIP lanes, has found other revealing papers. These show that the government would ask questions about value for money only when a bidding company demanded more than 25% above the average paid to other suppliers. Looking at the evidence of massive cost overruns by key vendors passing through the high priority lane, the Good Law Project wonders if those blessed with access to the VIP lane were once again blessed with “lucrative pricing inside information.” After all, it would be very useful to know that you can demand £ 1.24 for one item when everyone else charges £ 1, no questions asked.
In a crisis that has squeezed so many, and cost people their jobs, their livelihoods, their businesses, as well as their loved ones and their lives, it is disconcerting to hear from those for whom Covid has been a monetary bonanza. . And yet, there seems to be a curious pattern here. It could be Ayanda Capital, that supplier of useless masks. When asked if it might be relevant that the man who negotiated the deal for Ayanda was also a government business adviser, Ayanda’s chief executive told the BBC: “It’s a coincidence. “
Just like it’s a coincidence that a lobbying company, Hanbury Strategy, founded by a longtime friend of Dominic Cummings, landed contracts worth £ 640,000 without competitive bidding. Not to mention the £ 550,000 that went, also without competition, to Public First, the political consultancy whose two directors are former colleagues of Cummings patron Michael Gove. Just like it’s a coincidence that Kate Bingham, the ‘vaccine czar’, is shelling out £ 670,000 of our money to a public relations consulting firm whose company secretary appears to be a longtime business partner of Cummings’ father-in-law. weather.
None of this is as flowery, or as blatant, as the abuse of power we saw unfold in the Trump White House. But that difference can blind us to what is right before our eyes. The Good Law Project Jolyon Maugham says there is a reflexive urge to say, “This is England, this is not happening here. But that’s a terrible complacency. “When Trump leaves the stage, we can no longer be complacent. It can happen here, and it has.
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