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Ben Gummer and the ‘Kremlin-friendly tycoon’

THE Tories like to pose as the down-to-earth patriotic party. They want everyone to believe they are the party of “common sense” and British institutions. 

But when it comes down to it they’d rather hand things over to Russian oligarchs or snake oil salesman management consultants.

Why is this? You could have a complex discussion about how right-wing parties want to bind the public to them through nationalism and traditional morality, but also serve capital, which can be international and amoral. 

You could look at how right-wing parties establish social roots through appealing to narrow conservatism while working for big business, which is happy to tear up any established conventions or social bonds for cash.

Or you could just look at where they get jobs.

Ben Gummer was a Tory Cabinet minister from 2010-17. Before the election he was considered part of Theresa May’s “inner circle.” 
Gummer was “May’s eyes and ears, more trusted than many others around her Cabinet table,” according to one report. 

He helped to write the manifesto for the 2017 election, which turned out to be a disaster, as loads of Tory MPs lost their seats — including Gummer himself.

So now he needs a new job. According to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, he’s got two.

First, Gummer has become a “fellow of practice” at the Blavatnik School of Government. He’s there to advise on “teaching and research on government reform” — because the Blavatnik school thinks the disastrous “reforms” his government ran between 2010 and 2017 are worth learning from.

The Blavatnik School of Government is an Oxford school founded by London-based Russian oligarch Sir Len Blavatnik. His firm, Access Industries, have given the Tories £94,000. Blavatnik gave $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, which organised the celebrations for Trump’s election. And he’s given £75m to Oxford to found this school.  

But he built his fortune in the rough landscape of post-Soviet Russia, when oligarchs became billionaires by grabbing newly privatised state industries in a commercial “wild west,” where political connections helped to build fortunes. 

The way his Russian wealth grew in the Putin years and his ongoing Russian business interests led the Financial Times to call him a “Kremlin-friendly tycoon.”

So his school hiring a former minister is likely to make the Tories even more oligarch-friendly. 

Indeed, there is already government-Blavatnik school traffic. The Blavatnik School of Government does free work for the Cabinet Office, helping to train top civil servants through the Civil Service Leadership Academy.

A minister for a really bad government lecturing on how to do “good government” in an oligarch’s college is just one part of the picture.

Gummer also has a nine-month job as a senior adviser to McKinsey, the giant US firm of management consultants. McKinsey is all over the government, offering overcomplicated “solutions” to public services it doesn’t understand, usually by some spurious market methods. 

Any government that was “small-C” conservative would run a mile from McKinsey. But it got millions of pounds from both New Labour and Tory Andrew Lansley’s market-led “reforms” of the NHS. 
 

McKinsey is hiring Gummer to advise on “government transformation projects.” Again all the Tory “government transformation projects” that happened in Gummer’s time — Lansley reforms, the probation privatisation, universal credit, rail franchising, academy schools — have been awful. 

So McKinsey and Gummer sort of deserve each other. However, as the Economist noted back in 1998, McKinsey “form a quasi-Masonic network at the top of businesses and governments alike.” The firm has been involved in many failures, but it keeps hiring the right people, and so keeps getting hired itself. Gummer has just become the latest member of its “quasi-Masonic network.”

 

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