Ministerial resignations should be the least of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic procurement corruption scandal. Ministers, MPs and their corrupt mates who benefited from these contracts should be in the dock and looking at lengthy periods of imprisonment. This blog was ahead of mainstream media in breaking details of some of these contracts which simply beggared belief, like the £250 million contract for PPE awarded to Ayanda Capital.
The truly terrifying thing is that the corrupt award of these contracts to Tory contacts with zero experience of medical procurement, or even of basic shipping logistics, has not been found to be illegal. In March 2020 the Cabinet Office declared that the Covid emergency allowed procurement safeguards to be suspended under the Public Contract Regulations 2015 section 32 (2) (C) – “direct award due to extreme urgency”. To the Tories, that simply removed all tendering, pre-qualification and price checks and allowed them to just give out massive contracts on the old boy, you scratch my back, system, totaling tens of billions of pounds. The use of inexperienced companies – plumbing suppliers, American jewellers and private investment firms being just a few examples – to provide vital PPE must have been a factor in consequent shortages and excessive deaths, particularly of healthcare staff.
I understand emergencies. If established suppliers of medical equipment had been granted huge orders without proper scrutiny I would not have much objected. But what we have instead seen, stinks (and we should never forget that the procurement emergency arose in the first place because the Tories had stupidly run down the national emergency stockpile for a pandemic).
I do not think it impossible that courts may yet find that the ability to offer “direct award due to extreme urgency” does not exempt ministers from all duty to ensure that companies awarded contracts were suitable and capable, or exempt ministers from the need to eschew corrupt patronage. But for the moment, all the High Court has decided is that Matt Hancock broke the law in not publishing details of awarded contracts within thirty days. That is like getting Al Capone on tax accounting – far worse crimes lie beneath. But for now it is what the legal system has given us.
Yesterday we were faced wth the stunning spectacle of the so-called Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, refusing to call for Hancock’s resignation over the Covid-19 procurement debacle. That is not, Sir Keir gravely told us, what the public want to see.
Indeed, with Starmer as Labour leader, the public of England and Wales appear resolute in wanting to vote Tory, so presumably Starmer will not oppose them in that either? Starmer appears not only to have misunderstood “Opposition” in his job title, he clearly has not grasped “Leader” either.
Do you recall when the Blairites told us that once Labour eschewed all nasty thoughts of regulating extreme libertarian capitalism it would romp ahead in the opinion polls? Corbyn was duly smeared and jettisoned, and it took Starmer once elected about five minutes to show that he had simply lied in pretending to share Corbyn’s interest in social justice. The Labour Party has now been dressed in the Union Jack, has pandered to anti-immigrant racism, has embraced the hardest of Brexits, has become an unequivocal cheerleader for Israel, and declared itself primarily concerned with the interests of businessmen, yet still Labour polls worse than under Corbyn. This despite a bumbling, incompetent and corrupt Tory government whose only achievement is measured in death toll.
The Labour Party under Starmer is simply useless. I have not the slightest idea why it believes itself to exist. With the super patriotic Knight of the Realm as his second, Boris Johnson could bumble on for many years to come, while Tories just get richer and we all get poorer.
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