A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sorry tale of sheer greed

In the run-up to any general election, you can generally expect a fair bit of character assassination of Labour's parliamentary team. It's established practice and it's even got to the point where an election wouldn't feel the same without it. With the Tories seemingly unable to manage to cement a secure advantage in the polls, the Tory press is becoming ever more hysterical in its efforts to smear Labour. And, of course, the parasites of new Labour have popped up with the perfect ammunition for the Tory press, as they always seem to. The unedifying spectacle of a procession of new Labour MPs and ex-ministers trying to capitalise on their contacts by influence-peddling at the rate of around £3,000 a day has provided everything a Fleet Street Tory could dream of. It's a tatty parade of new Labour's second-raters, headed by ex-transport minister Stephen Byers, followed closely by ex-defence secretary and coup plotter Geoff Hoon and his coup-plotting partner Patricia Hewitt, with the tail being brought up by Margaret Moran, the-Luton South MP who is due to leave the Commons following the expenses scandal.

As a set of unprincipled opportunists, you'd walk many a country mile to meet better examples of the nauseating breed. Ms Hewitt does work for banking speculator Barclays Capital, private equity company Cinven and a selection of other big employers. Mr Byers has a similar range of interests, although not on such a grand scale, but sufficient for him to describe himself as "a bit like a sort of cab for hire." Mr Hoon and Ms Moran are just breaking into influence-peddling, but all four have one thing in common. They all consider the experience and contacts gained representing working people in Parliament to be a commodity for sale to the highest corporate bidder. It's a shameful attitude, worsened by the use which has already been made of those contacts. Mr Byers has made great play, apparently, of his services to National Express, the East Coast Main Line franchise-holder which lost that franchise at great cost to the public purse but still clings desperately to its remaining two in Essex and East Anglia. According to the newspaper which set up an ambush for Mr Byers, he claimed to have been instrumental in affecting government negotiations with National Express about surrendering the franchise. Supposedly, he also exerted his influence to enable the company to cling on to the two eastern franchises, which it is still wringing for every bit of profit it can squeeze from them, before losing them as well.

It's a grubby little story, but one of huge significance in the privatised rail industry. It shines a revealing light on the lengths that privateers will go to keep their franchises coining money for them. Mr Byers, of course, emailed later, retracting such claims and regretting that "my misleading comments might be taken seriously." Which shows him in an even worse light as a man whose word can't be trusted. Nevertheless, it has provoked RMT general secretary Bob Crow into demanding that a "full and transparent" investigation be held into the events surrounding this franchise and no-one could possibly disagree with him that such an inquiry is necessary. Despite Mr Byers's subsequent hasty retraction - prompted by who knows what - his version of events rings true and must be substantiated or discredited. Such an investigation is not, of course, necessary into Mr Byers. Whatever version is established as true, Mr Byers is discredited as either a liar or as a fantasist. And so, for unconcealed and uncontrolled avarice, are his colleagues in influence-peddling. When will Labour learn that principle and class-consciousness must be the measure of an MP, not unbridled greed? It had better be soon, because only then will the party become honestly electable.

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