Why Greensill and Tory lobbying scandal insults ‘red wall’ families – Andrew Vine

WORK in the past few weeks has taken me down some of the poorest streets in Yorkshire, places where a lack of money and opportunities are there to be seen in run-down housing and groups of aimless young people without jobs.

I don’t suppose for a moment that David Cameron or his chum Lex 
Greensill have ever spared a thought for places like this, let alone visited them, because they exist in a different world from theirs.

This is where even the families who are fortunate enough to be in work bump along from worry to worry over whether there will be enough money to make ends meet on any given week.

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As far as I can tell, nobody with any influence where it really matters, at the heart of Government, is lobbying to make things better for them, to help repair homes and tidy up streets, or create jobs and a sense of hope for the kids hanging about on the corners.

Former premier David Cameron remains embroiled in a Tory lobbying scandal.

There are no cosy chats over a drink between a former Prime Minister and a current Health Secretary over what investment should be pushed their way, nor anybody being given an advisory role at the heart of the Downing Street machine to press the case of residents.

The gulf between some of Yorkshire’s poorest places, and the lobbying scandal currently undermining the credibility of the political establishment, demonstrates how left-behind large parts of the real world have become by those who have the power to help them.

This was recognised at the weekend by the senior Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin warning that Boris Johnson risks losing the ‘red wall’ seats the Tories took from Labour at the last election because trust in politics is being undermined.

We’ve got a lot of those seats in Yorkshire, places that switched their political allegiance after decades of being staunchly Labour because of a combination of factors.

The Tory lobbying scandal does does nothing to help areas of the North blighted by poverty and under-investment.

Brexit, worries over immigration and jobs being lost to those from abroad, and a conviction that the former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was not fit to be Prime Minister all played their part.

Boris Johnson was supposed to be a new beginning, a man who understood these concerns and somehow attracted the confidence of voters, even though his own background could hardly be more removed from their own.

But now, on his watch, comes the lobbying scandal and instead of a new politics in tune with ordinary men and women striving for a better life, we’ve got what looks like old-fashioned sleaze in which money talks – but only to a very few right at the top.

No regulations have been broken by Mr Cameron or the Ministers he lobbied. He’s accepted that he should have approached Ministers through formal channels and promised to co-operate with any inquiry. But that doesn’t address the real problem. An impression has been created of mutual back-scratching for gain, in pursuit of vast sums of public money.

How should Boris Johnson respond to the Tory lobbying scandal?

There is such a thing as behaving honourably and doing the right thing. Unwritten and unenforceable, it is an essential quality if the public is to have faith in the process of government.

The proliferating number of inquiries into lobbying won’t do anything to restore such faith. New codes of conduct drawn up by lawyers or committees don’t register on streets in Yorkshire where the people know they haven’t had much from governments for years, if not decades.

All this reinforces a sense of them and us – one set of rules for those with access to the people who hold the purse strings and another for those who feel forgotten when money is spent, however much the need for it is apparent to anybody who walks along the roads where they live.

This won’t be forgotten. The people who live there will draw the conclusion from lobbying that here is the same old Conservative Party, interested only in further enriching those who already have enough, and indifferent to those who struggle.

That conviction was instrumental in the Tories being kicked out of office in 1997 when Labour won a landslide, and though a repeat currently looks unlikely at the next election, lobbying is enough to make the red wall voters return to their traditional allegiances.

If Boris Johnson wishes to counter the damage done by Mr Cameron, he needs to do more than order inquiries or promise to tighten regulations around lobbying, which to ordinary voters outside the Westminster bubble looks like a grubby system of mates swapping favours in order to get their hands on public funds.

He needs to demonstrate that Government money is not only accessible to those in the know who already have more than enough, but is prioritised towards people whose lives are blighted by lack of it.

In other words, show people that they don’t need a sharp suit, an expensive private education and mates in the right places to get their fair share in the Britain – and the North – of today.

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