Bankrupt Britain and the Offord Affair
It’s routine and monotonous to write about and point at corruption in British politics. It’s become mundane to experience astonishing levels of corruption and sleaze but the examples keep coming. This week saw a new low, a nadir in even the Conservatives contempt for democracy. Downing Street announced that Malcolm Offord, a financier who has donated almost £150,000 to the Tories has been made a life peer and given a ministerial job as a junior minister in the Scotland Office. As the Mirror succinctly put it: “Banker Malcolm Offord will be entitled to sit in the House of Lords and make laws for the rest of his life, despite never having been elected.”
This isn’t new.
In December Boris Johnson ‘ennobled’ 54 people, 13 of which had either funded the Tories or had an employment or personal connection to himself. The Lords is groaning at the seams with pals and cronies, including his brother, the Tory donor Peter Cruddas, plus four people who worked at the Telegraph with Johnson and four who worked with him at City Hall when he was Mayor of London. The latest crop of peerages has taken the House of Lords to more than 830, despite a cross-party agreement three years ago that numbers should overtime be reduced to 600.
It’s all completely shameless.
But readers with long memories will remember Offord’s astroturf ‘No Borders’ campaign from 2014 which posed as a grassroots group but had loads of money. As National Collective pointed out at the time No Borders begin life with a warchest of £140,000 – despite the group having absolutely no profile prior to their launch (the group had only 457 Facebook ‘likes’ and 121 Twitter followers at the time of its launch).
No Borders – and Offord – portrayed themselves as the real deal – just spontaneous interested non-political actors. Their site said at the time: “It’s a people’s campaign voiced by ordinary Scots. They are people who see a bright future in an evolving UK. And they reject the physical and psychological borders that Separation would create. They’re proud to be Scottish. And they’re also proud to be British.”
Offord claimed No Borders was intended to be an open forum for ordinary people: “There are no politicians; there are no celebrities. It’s a mechanism, on a non-party-political basis, to begin to use non-political language, just to voice some of the reasons why we want to keep the union. That doesn’t mean to say that the union is perfect in any way: it has to evolve.”
But No Borders was – like a precursor to the Vote Leave dark money scandal – a well-heeled vehicle that was anything but non-party political. It was in fact funded by the PR company Acanchi Ltd – of which Offord was also a director. The reality was the No campaign didn’t have a grassroots movement so they had to create one. The reality is that the people that sang about No Borders brought you Brexit.
As Fraser Dick wrote at the time: “As well as his donations to the Conservative Party, Offord is an advisory board member to the right-wing think-tank established by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan-Smith, the Centre for Social Justice. The contents of ‘Bankrupt Britain’, a paper written by Offord and published on the ConservativeHome website, suggest Offord would back Duncan-Smith’s vindictive and humiliating welfare reforms that have pushed tens of thousands of Scots to beg for handouts at foodbanks. The paper ‘Bankrupt Britain’, written in 2009, lays out a blueprint for austerity – calling on public spending to be reduced by a third, and claims that the entrenchment of poverty in Britain is due to the high amount of unmarried mothers.”
In it, Offord writes: “The proportion of families headed by an unmarried mother is among the highest in Europe, and teenage pregnancies account for 7.1 per cent of all births in England compared to an average of 3 per cent in Western Europe.31 One-in-six of the working-age population lack basic literacy skills and around half lack basic numeracy skills.”
The entire plan of ‘Bankrupt Britain’ is a sort of hyper-austerity, a suggestion of a programme of cuts the like of which Britain has never seen. He talks of the need to “Reform the bloated benefits system of this country to reduce the burden on the state”. He writes: “The most difficult issue facing any government is, therefore, to re-design the welfare system so that it looks after the weak and vulnerable, whilst getting everyone else back into training and then into work. In other words, let us reform the welfare state into an engine of economic growth.”
So here he is, the candidate defeated in an election only a few months ago – parachuted into the Lords and injected into a Ministerial position. He has a programme for a far-right reform of the welfare state – and arrives unelected into permanent power.
The State of Sleaze
The dark irony of someone who is obsessed by the burden of the lazy and undeserving poor picking up a lucrative seat in the House of Lords will be lost on few.
But if the Offord Affair shows us anything it is that Britain is truly bankrupt, just not in the way his hysterical paper suggested. The state of sleaze now has an oddly precise figure. Want a seat in government? That will cost you £147,500.
There is a danger to this. As respect drains out of public life and the actual function of democracy is corrupted the Tories are building a reputation for contempt.
None of this is possible without the appeasers and the apologists, the hosts and chairs, the fluffers and those who have abandoned basic journalism.
Here’s Hamish Mcdonnell at The Times taking at face-value some ridiculous claims back in 2014 (‘£50,000 boost for No Borders’) – the dog on the street could see that No Borders was about as grassroots as B&Q. “Senior figures in the group have bristled in the past at being described as a group funded by millionaire Tory donors, and wanted to show their funding base was broader” he writes in apparent seriousness.
Here’s Gavin Esler fronting an extraordinary bit of unquestioning footage on No Borders for the BBC that they rolled for 24 hours:
— Ross Colquhoun (@rosscolquhoun) September 30, 2021
Here’s Chris Deerin, part-rakeish rock star, part-bibliophile; effortlessly traversing the worlds of think-tankery and client journalism – “here’s my band now here’s my revered colleague who advocates dismantling the welfare state”. Only in the fetid corridors of establishment Scotland could such behaviour and contradictions be observed in silence, all smoothed-over by the oleaginous path of lobbyists and columnists in the Old Boys Network of the New Town. Where once the old guard of Labor and the Scottish media formed a political class now the new guard do the same, well away from London.
Offord’s re-arrival, his ascent to the Lords and to public office without election is the apogee of a politics that declares businessmen should run the country, and they do. There is an absolutely perfect line of continuity between Bankrupt Britain and Britannia Unchained. The images Offord evokes in his paper chime exactly with the image of “idlers” condemned as “among the worst in the world” by present cabinet ministers Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and Liz Truss in the 2012 tract Britannia Unchained.
There is also absolute continuity too with the role played by the media in Unquestioning these people – and then presenting them to the public through the filter of public broadcasting or the broadsheets. The difference is that people are now incredulous, having lived through seven years of incomprehensible British misrule and corporate capture.
A Long List of Foreigners
Offord’s backstory – and his efforts in 2014 are well remembered. His tactics included cinema adverts that ran into trouble when they tried to claim that a Yes vote would result in Scottish people being unable to access medical services in England.
The Vote No Borders advert featured two actors discussing the implications of independence. One of them claimed Scots would need to join a “long list of foreigners waiting to be seen” at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
The hospital quickly distanced itself from the message and they had to be withdrawn.
A spokesman for the hospital said: “Great Ormond Street hospital was not consulted about this advertising, and we in no way endorse its messages or that of any other political campaign group.
“We have contacted the Vote No Borders group to request that the advert is removed from cinemas as soon as possible.
“We would like to reassure Scottish families that we already have reciprocal health care agreements with numerous countries, and we regularly treat patients from across Europe because of our very specialist expertise.”
At the time it was just lost in the general deluge of disinformation that came out of the No campaign. Now it can be seen as just part of the propaganda of a profoundly anti-democratic movement in support of a profoundly anti-democratic state.
All of the Better Together chickens are coming home to roost. In 2014 the Unionist campaign attempted to promote Britain as a progressive democratic force. Now Unionism is haunted by its own lies and failure but it has also just abandoned any pretense, it’s completely brazen in flaunting its own corruption and morbidity. This is a democracy for sale and now we know the price.
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