Lobbygate Britain: A Byer's Market
LOBBYGATE: A BYERS' MARKET
THE cover of Anderson Perry, the fake US company set up by C4’s Dispatches, was effectively blown more than a week before transmission when Tory MP Julie Kirkbride rumbled the hoax and told the Mail on Sunday about it. While the Tories took note, Labour’s greedy MPs remained asleep at the wheel.
The MoS story in fact gave a rather garbled account of the affair. It suggested that the targets of the sting were Tories and the Labour Party “did not think that any of its MPs had been approached by Anderson Perry”. Still, Westminster had been warned and Tory whips alerted their MPs to watch out: several prominent Tories who had lined themselves up for interview at the company’s rented-by-the-hour office in St James’s Square hastily pulled out.
A flimsy subterfuge
You’d think that with the name of the company in the public domain Labour whips would have issued a similar warning. Not so: even after the MoS ran its piece, former Labour ministers were still phoning up trying to book themselves a job interview.
The programme-makers’ level of deception was laughably low: an empty office in St James’s Square with no paperwork or computers and only one apparent employee; a company set up a week beforehand with no business cards. They wondered anxiously if anyone could really be stupid enough to fall for such a flimsy subterfuge.
On 24 February, the day after baring his greedy soul to the hidden cameras, Stephen Byers duly realised – too late – that he’d been had and put his taxicab into screeching reverse, sending Anderson Perry a panicky retraction. Had he mentioned it to the Labour whips, some of his colleagues could have been spared their blushes. But Byers, spineless as well as brainless, said nothing. And so on 3 March Geoff “Buff” Hoon crossed the threshold of St James’s Square too, followed on 9 March by Patricia “Patsy” Hewitt and Margaret Moran.
‘Buff’ Hoon and the revolving door
It wasn’t until 25 March – the Thursday before transmission – that the penny finally dropped for “Buff” Hoon. He raced round to the Channel 4 HQ in Horseferry Road that afternoon and demanded to see the chairman, Lord Burns. Since he didn’t have an appointment, the poor sap had to make do with leaving a letter at the front desk. The whole incident was recorded by Channel 4’s CCTV, giving security staff some delightful footage of the greedy former minister exiting the building through – fittingly enough – a revolving door.
After this rebuff Hoon did what comes naturally to any public figure caught short: he hired Carter-Fuck to fire off threatening letters. Similar missives arrived over the next few days from Schillings and the solicitor-advocate David Price on behalf of other parliamentarians caught in the trap, all muttering menacingly about breaches of the Ofcom code.
These expensive lawyers overlooked two basic points. One is that the code allows undercover filming when “the public interest outweighs the right to privacy”, which clearly applied in this case. The second is that Ofcom is a “post-broadcast regulator” and so couldn’t have taken any action before the programme was aired anyway.
A likely Tory
Although Labour MPs hogged the headlines, John Butterfill wasn’t the only Tory veteran lured into Anderson Perry’s lair.
Former cabinet minister Lord Lang also turned up for an interview with the fake lobbying firm. When not attending to his many other day-jobs (four directorships and two consultancies), Lord Lang chairs the prime minister’s advisory committee on business appointments – the official body that vets ex-ministers’ business interests!
OTHER TOP HP SAUCE STORIES IN THE LATEST ISSUE:
- LOBBYGATE EXTRA:
How Labour’s finest were happy to talk up their Tory credentials too because “We’re all the same… we’re all probably supporting the same agenda,” says Baroness Morgan.
- HOW TO MEET A MINISTER:
Patricia Hewitt confirms what the Eye told you: if you want to sit next to a government minister, hire a think tank.
- DARLING FRIENDS:
So who has Alistair “go directly to government and make your case ” Darling been welcoming into Number 11?
- LAUGHING ALL THE WAY FROM THE BANKS:
So much for that “payback” to taxpayers promised in the Budget by City minister Lord Myners.
- DARBY & MOAN:
How Labour’s control freaks seem determined to hand the once impregnable seat of Stoke-on-Trent to the BNP.
- TRIPOLIS ALL ROUND!
The Libyan trade “fixer” whose company makes a loss – but who still seems to have plenty of cash to donate to the Tories.
- KRAFTY U-TURN:
Gavel-Basher on the Tory MP who’s hand-in-hand with Unite when it comes to boss-bashing over the Cadbury’s deal.
* Politicians For Hire
Dispatches, Channel 4
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Sat, April 3rd, 2010. 10:09 am