25 February 2015

On Malcolm Rifkind & Jack Straw

In the maelstrom of bad news from around the world, it would have been easy to have missed the latest UK political scandal, involving two senior and accomplished politicians: Tory Malcolm Rifkind and Labour's Jack Straw. The two share a number of feats, like having held the office of UK Foreign Secretary in the past. These are two grandees. Two fellas that have made it big in UK politics, and have held very important positions. In fact, Rifkind was, until a few hours ago, Chair of the UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee. Read. That. Again. Please.

Screenshot from Channel 4 Dispatches
A team of Channel 4 journalists set up a website (now defunct) about a PR company, called PMR Communications (see image). The site was registered in September 2013, and it referred to a fake, as in non existent, Hong Kong company.

Channel 4 journalists sent emails to 12 Members of the UK Parliament, claiming PMR Communications was interested in hiring for its advisory board. Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, among email recipients, took PMR's bait and replied. Both met with staff of the said fake company, and both were filmed admitting that they were up for it: Rifkind stating that he would require between £5,000 and £8,000 for a day's work, while Straw (Labour) said he would charge £5,000.

To be clear, neither actually took the money. But, both boasted about networks of contacts around the world that they could tap into at a moment's notice, and provided specific examples of the sort of access and results they could get (policy changes at national or international level). Said for-sale network is based on past or present jobs (let us not forget that both are current Members of Parliament), and both said that, for a fee, they could be hired by PMR Communications.

It took me about two minutes to WHOIS PMR's website, and find out that there is no record of PMR Communications in Hong Kong's register of companies. Rifkind was, at the time, Chair of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee, and Straw does not lack contacts, at the highest levels, to have checked the bogus firm. And yet both fell for it. The promise of £5,000 led them to abandon common sense. Straw even admitted, after the fact, that he had "checked" the company with some people in Hong Kong. No wonder the UK keeps dropping the ball in so many issues, when the most prepared and cunning civil servants can't conduct the simplest due diligence checks.

Corruption in the UK, as demonstrated by Rifkind and Straw, is as rampant as anywhere else. UK politicos, and bankers, may come from Eton, speak the King's English and keep a facade of intellectual superiority. At the end of the day though, a quick buck, regardless of provenance, is as appealing to them as it is to thuggish chavistas. It is a disgraceful state of affairs, but one that proves that money talks and bullshit -whether dressed in fine tailoring from Saville Row- walks, regardless of ideology, status, education and background. While Rifkind and Straw claim that nothing improper took place, the fact that both readily admitted to be willing to capitalise on their extensive network of contacts, acquired over many years of public service funded by taxpayers, leaves little doubt as to their moral stance towards corruption. Furthermore, Rifkind, a current MP for Kensington & Chelsea, even claimed that he was "self employed", and that "no one pays" him a salary (he must have forgotten the £67,000 he gets as an MP). That utter disregard and contempt for the people that elected him should be used as campaign motto by the next Kensington & Chelsea MP.

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