2007 - 2021

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:

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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Comments (21)

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  1. Ann Rayner says:

    As a former special needs teacher in both Scotland and England and whose last job was on project to improve access to information in places like museums, galleries and visitor centres, I learned that, according to official statistics, around 20% of population are not fully literate in that they can have problems understanding information (such as is supplied on medication), filling up forms, and dealing with questions asked by authorities, such as the DWP.
    This is not something which can be changed by setting higher and higher targets for literacy or numeracy in schools. No matter what is done, there will always be nearly half the population who are below average on intelligence however that is measured, and a significant number who struggle in these areas.
    The situation is not helped when children come to school cold, inadequately clothed and hungry due to the rise in poverty caused by the Westminster government.
    Offord’s claim that one in six of the working population are lacking the necessary literary skills and around half the numeracy skills, should be blamed on Conservative policies caused by political dogma over more than a decade. The loss of many manual jobs to automation has not helped not has the stress to families caused by an unjust and miserly welfare system and loss of early years support for the vulnerable.

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      “there will always be nearly half the population who are below average on intelligence”

      It’s what the Tories bank on Ann. “Democracy” in the “UK” is now all about who can best unite the stupid and since The Express, The Sun & The Mail have got them in their back pocket it’s difficult to see there ever being anything other than a Tory dictatorship.

      1. John Learmonth says:

        Really Tom?
        I’ll think you’ll find that the well educated, well to do middle classes throughout the UK have always voted Tory. The less well educated voted Labour and now SNP.
        This all changed at the last election when working class people (thats the half of the population you consider to be stupid) voted Tory (in England and SNP in Scotland)as their traditional party became more concerned about Palestine than with Gateshead/Burnley/Glasgow.
        Funny how well to do lefties once admired the working class (when they voted the right way) but now their just a bunch of thick Gammons in thrall to the tabloids.

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          You’re harking back to pre-Murdoch days John. When was the last time the “UK” had a govt that wasn’t chosen by Murdoch? All people deserve a vote regardless of how thick they are but what they don’t deserve is to be deluged with Tory propaganda and lies. If you think Brexit and the continued support for the ultra-corrupt Tory govt is driven by anything other than stupidity you must be in the same union jack waving state of denial as the Brexiteers. Read John Munro’s post below.

          PS That word gammon AGAIN.

          1. John Learmonth says:

            Tom,
            I’m not influenced by the Murdoch press (I don’t read it) and I’m sure your not but why would anybody else? Are you claiming the masses suffer from false consciouness and need to be guided by an enlightened elite out of their ignorance? That never worked out well in the past did it.
            Sorry for mentioning Gammon (yet again) but I do like my pig based products…oink oink

          2. Tom Ultuous says:

            John, most people have nothing to say. They regurgitate shite they’ve read in their newspaper because they’re afraid of silence. The person they’re talking to is often of the same ilk. They in turn regurgitate it. The thick swim with the tide and say what they think you want to hear. That’s how immigration became the opium of the people. It starts off with scummy tabloid articles about how immigration is putting strain on housing, health and education and it snowballs from there, Nothing about how the Tories were using the extra taxes generated by the immigrants to fund tax cuts for the rich rather than using them to increase the capacity of housing, health and education.

            Are you denying the existence of thick people? Surely only the thick can believe Brexit is about making their lives better.

          3. John Learmonth says:

            Tom,
            The problem with viewing people as ‘thick’and hence their opinions should be ignored is that some people will view you as ‘thick’.

          4. Tom Ultuous says:

            I don’t recall saying their opinions should be ignored. I said they’re due a vote but what they don’t deserve is to be deluged with Tory propaganda and lies. People can view me as thick if they want but I certainly wouldn’t be investing in their intelligence.

            I think I get it John. From previous posts I suspect you’re one of the loyalist mob, probably in favour of Brexit and you’d be quite content to be ruled over forever by the Westminster clown. Don’t take it personal. It’s all just luck.

          5. Mons Meg says:

            I suspect that what’s reported in the tabloids (and their online equivalents) merely confirms the existing prejudices of their readers. That’s how and why everything ‘sells’.

            I’ve never yet been convinced of the claim that ‘social influencers’ influence rather than pander to the tastes of their audiences. For example, I like reading Žižek because he echoes my kind of language; others read Chris Deerin, say, or Mike Small because they echo theirs.

            The potential dangers of ‘echo chambers’ have received a lot of attention recently. C Thi Nguyen compares echo chambers to ‘cults’, arguing that their existence can in part explain what appears to be an increasing shrillness and disregard in our political discourse.

            We’ve an obligation to attempt to break out of any echo chambers in which we happen to find ourselves and to convince others to get out of theirs. This has been the perennial role of Socratic dialogue and other critical theory as revolutionary praxis. Nguyen urges us to attempt to ‘escape the echo chamber’ but emphasises that doing so might not be easy: echo chambers continue to resound with confirmations of what we believe from those whom we trust and with whom we share a kinship, while we resist persuasion by countervailing evidence because we distrust ‘outsiders’ as sources of information.

          6. Tom Ultuous says:

            I like the echo chambers analogy Colin.

  2. James Mills says:

    It is as difficult to satirise the present Tory Government as it is to shame them ! After each new low one thinks that they have reached bottom in their corrupt and anti-democratic crusade , then they manage to surprise you again !

    What next ?

    Perhaps Ruth Davidson being appointed as a Welfare Czar with particular responsibility for cases arising from The Rape Clause ?

  3. Duncan Strachan says:

    Bang on.

  4. John Mooney says:

    The tories really are Scum,but the terrible truth is that they know it but don’t give a shit,in their World everyone who is not one them are the scum,but the most disgusting coterie of this malignant lot are the so called “Scottish” tories,dross and the baroness epitomise the septic stench of this crew of Uriah Heeps in all their slithering abasement to their so called “Leaders”,Sic a parcel of Rogues on a nation!

  5. John Monro says:

    Mike, another outstanding contribution to the study of corruption in the UK – but as John Mooney writes “They don’t give a shit”. Supported by the corrupt media, the increasingly corrupt BBC and a wealthy and corrupt business elite, they feel invulnerable. They gerrymander electorates, give money to marginal Tory constituencies, pack the House of Lords, basically taking lessons and money every day from Republicans in the US on how to achieve in the UK the permanent corporate state. And why worry too much if the Tories do eventually fail; an effete and emasculated Labour party headed by Starmer, who’s the human embodiment of a Rorshach Test – an image in which you can describe any reality you care to and not be contradicted – will never rock the boat too hard and who, with his shameful association with the maltreatment of Julian Assange, will likely please our American masters quite nicely, thank you.

  6. Graeme Purves says:

    Mmmm… Should we be thinking in terms of a New Town Nomenklatura?

    1. Mons Meg says:

      Most definitely. And while we distract ourselves with the bread and circuses of Scottish nationalism, the haute bourgeoisie quietly gets on with exercising power through the whole matrix of official and social relations.

      But, of course, the bourgeois hegemony will be swept away when the Scottish government becomes independent of Westminster. And pigs might fly and bluebirds sing in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        Yawn. Trolls are so predictable and boring. ‘Nothing new or interesting to say. ‘Like a broken record.

        1. Mons Meg says:

          ‘Sticks and stones…’ Graeme, my man, ‘Sticks and stones…’

        2. John Mooney says:

          Graeme best ignore the perenial the pub bore alias mons meg,the ToomTabard of these articles.

          1. Mons Meg says:

            Ditto.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    Difficult to imagine, as a whole, a greater bunch of idlers and scroungers than the Lords, even when they are not being discovered in outright lawbreaking.
    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/prince-philip-house-of-lords-attendance-allowance-b1830109.html
    The nature of British establishment cant is its projection of its vices on to others (the masses, select foreigners etc), therefore they fear that the label of ‘idlers’ will be justly applied to the elites. I expect this is why we rarely see fly-on-the-wall coverage of corporate executives doing their jobs, as it would largely involved playing golf or casual computer games, in between conspiring to commit corporate crimes around large liquid lunches, whilst their (possibly sexually-harassed) underlings get on with running their companies. The current bunch of top political office-holders are hardly shining examples of diligence, and when cameras do catch them in the office, it’s as likely for a quick fumble as catching up on paperwork. There are always a few exceptions, but as so many MPs have other jobs, they cannot find their elected roles too demanding.

    Rather than patriots, these people seem to view the country as a host, and draining it of lifeblood something of a sport. Something the Conservatives in particular have in common with Russian oligarchs, it seems.

    I’ve started reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, which makes some interesting points about how gamers seek meaning and satisfaction that they often cannot find in their everyday lives, choosing forms of hard work. “Games teach us how to create opportunities for freely chosen, challenging work that keeps us at the limits of our abilities, and those lessons can be transferred to real life.” (p36) Of course, some of us are playing the game of life at a much easier level than others, not that the empty ‘levelling up’ rhetoric of this government seriously addresses this, otherwise they would have to admit that sinecures and privileges and luxurious excess were maybe bad things that encouraged greater wrongdoings.

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