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CONSERVATIVE and cronyism are fast becoming the two words most associated with Boris Johnson’s government.
The Prime Minister is savvy enough to grasp the truth that the public are well and truly fed up with crony capitalism and has signalled a reduction in private-sector involvement in the NHS.
In one of those moments in British politics which illustrate just how Westminster is detached from the lived reality of working class Britain, a leaked memo from Sir Keir Starmer is conveyed to the readers of Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper that Labour will be “unashamedly pro-business with a policy that includes tax cuts to firms and a business rates holiday.”
The sad fact of the matter is that Johnson most probably doesn’t mean it and Starmer most certainly does.
The latest scandal centres on a £350 million contract gifted to Medacs Healthcare plc by the Department of Health and Social Care.
This outfit is a subsidiary of Impellam Group whose largest shareholder turns out to be Lord Ashcroft.
Ashcroft is a politically active and influential Tory peer with a long record of strategic interventions in ruling-class circles where his particular, if not unique, combination of global interests, offshore wealth and right-wing views gives him the kind of leverage which shapes government policies and opens the revolving door for cash handouts.
Business is business and the boundaries between politics and profits in late capitalist Britain is wafer thin.
This new contract is to provide a “temporary workforce to support medical and clinical services in laboratories or to assist the national testing programme in response to Covid-19.”
If we go on precedent this will mean a lot of poorly paid health staff doing the work while a smaller number of “consultants” clock up colossal salaries.
The contract was awarded under present-day provisions which avoid the need for a transparent tender process.
The pandemic has provided productive conditions for capitalist enterprises with political connections to make serious amounts of money.
Last year the National Audit Office said that more than £10 billion worth of contracts had been awarded without competition, and up to 500 contractors with links to top officials or politicians had profited.
The NAO’s concerns centred on the lack of transparency as well as the lack of competitive tendering.
Bids from companies referred by a political connection were taken more seriously, said the NAO, with suppliers being “pre-sifted for credibility by being referred by a senior credible source.”
This is hardly a new phenomenon. “The state,” wrote one Karl Marx, “is truly a sphere for the fomentation of the most scandalous acts of corruption, of all the scandals of the bourgeoisie, and the arena for its total putrefaction.”
Rachel Reeves, who has the miserable task of shadowing Michael Gove in Parliament, tweeted that people across the country are “well and truly sick” of Conservative cronyism.
And so they are.
Reeves insists that the government must learn lessons from this crisis, especially when it comes to using taxpayers’ money to provide services, whether that is for life-saving medical equipment or school meals, and she argues that “we need a post-pandemic recovery built on protecting our public services — not wasting taxpayers’ funds on endless outsourcing that continually fails to deliver value for money.”
Labour is ideally placed to argue the case for the total exclusion of profit-taking from public services and the NHS. It is time to give these policies some substance.
Energy companies have announced a price hike. A tax on their windfall pandemic profits could fund the investment and pay rises that our public services so desperately need.
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