Monday, March 20, 2006

The Ron Aldridge loan should bring Blair down

(Updated: Yes, I know his name's Rod. My bad. More updates at the foot of this post...)

It won't, because we have a largely supine press when it comes to this government. The tabloids can bring people down via sex scandals - but it takes the broadsheets to hammer governments on political issues. At the moment, the broadsheets aren't prepared to do it. The left-leaning ones don't trust Brown, the right-leaning ones don't trust Cameron. There's no potential saviour for them to laud, so they're going to let this particular major political scandal slip under most people's radar.

I really hope I'm proved wrong on this, but hell, even BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson on tonight's 10 o'clock news, though flagging the scandal of Capita's chairman being one of the people behind these morally highly suspect undeclared loans, failed to explain quite the extent of Aldridge's company's involvement in public life. Perhaps because it's the company that administers the BBC's License fee...

Do a Google search for Capita +"government contract" you currently get 30,800 results. Just from the excerpts on the first page of Google's listings, you get figures of £55 million, £400 million, £40 million. Go to Capita's own website you'll see government contract figures of £177.5m, £250m, £500m.

As readers of Private Eye will know, that's not all - Capita have secured an obscene number of government contracts since 1997 - the company's turnover (by its own estimates) growing from £112 million in 1996 to £687 million last year.

It's also not for nothing that the Eye has dubbed the company "Crapita" - its track record in outsourced public service delivery (everything from County Council payrolls and the Metropolitan Police's pension scheme to London's Congestion Charge scheme to running IT systems for the Criminal Records Bureau) is shoddy at best, downright negligent at worst. (They are also the most likely company to secure the contract to run the National Identity Register and ID Cards scheme.)

Hell, the company's failures have even been flagged by Parliament on several occasions, and Capita itself has been known to admit responsibility for major failures (though they often make excuses) yet STILL they gain lucrative contracts. Here, from the Education and Skills Select Committee's report into the failure of the Individual Learning Accounts:

"Mr Paddy Doyle of Capita said: 'looking back on it now, looking closely at the sequence of events, as we have done in our investigations, I believe we should have shouted louder and harder at that time about things that we were identifying'. He assured us that although 'there was an element in the contract which was volume-based' there was no incentive for Capita to ignore fraud and abuse of the system... Mr Doyle told us that Capita 'share our part of the blame in that the scheme has gone wrong'."
Yet do a Google search for "Rod Aldridge" + "Labour donor" and you currently get a grand total of 3 results - two Guardian Education articles (1, 2) and a transcript of the second Guardian article at the website of the Socialist Teachers' Alliance. That first Guardian article notes that
"The executive chairman of Capita, Rod Aldridge, is not a major Labour donor, but has attended Labour fundraising events and has advised the government on outsourcing."
At the time, even that was enough to raise suspicions about the company's receipt of a £177m public education contract (which, if you note the second article, discussing the potential contract eight months earlier, was estimated at *just* £40 million).

Today it was revealed that Ron Aldridge "loaned" Labour £1 million. Naturally enough, this was "in a private capacity". But come on... The chairman of a company whose entire success relies on big government contracts (funded by the taxpayer, lest we forget) bungs the government a million quid out of his own pocket (a million quid earned thanks to the big government contracts funded by the taxpayer and other, private sector contracts earned in part thanks to its high-profile government links) and there's nothing dodgy going on?

Either Aldridge was trying to bribe Downing Street or Downing Street was extorting money out of him. The only vaguely innocent option is that both Aldridge and Blair are too bloody stupid to realise how insanely bad such a situation could look.

No matter which option is the right one, the Labour party Treasurer has publicly denied all knowledge and Blair has publicly accepted responsibility. No matter which option is the right one, this means Blair should go - either for being bribed, for extorting money, or for being incompetent.

In an ideal world, after Blair is forced out in disgrace there would be an in-depth independent enquiry into every government contract Capita has recieved over the last nine years with the option to force the buggers to pay the country back for every failed delivery - of which there are many, many examples.

Remember - "Loans for honours" is not the real scandal. That's small fry and a long-accepted part of British politics (which is why the Tories can't use this against the government). The Aldridge/Capita loan is the real story - and one the government have hoped to bury by releasing his name in amongst those of several others.

Look forward to the next issue of Private Eye. And in the meantime, hope the rest of the press grows some bollocks, actually USES this, and proves my pessimism wrong.

Tuesday update: More from the Financial Times, tim Worstall, A Big Stick And A Small Carrot, Guido Fawkes (and more and again) and Bloggerheads (including a surprising transcript from The Sun)

Update 2: Ha ha ha! Take the Capita contracts quiz (right hand column):
Which of the following contracts has not been awarded to Labour donors Capita?
Criminal Records Bureau, Congestion Charge, TV license fee collection, Council tax bills, Teachers' pensions, Housing benefit, National Insurance, Individual Learning Accounts, Literacy and Learning, BBC Human Resources
Update 3: Jarndyce notes that "Like everything else in Blairworld, the puny case for the defence is just semantics", and links to a Sunday Telegraph article I'd missed, detailing just how personally involved Blair is in all this. This particular Prime Ministerial fox should is cornered and should now be ripped to shreds by the hounds. But as that's been banned, I'll settle for a few blasts from a shotgun. Time to put him out of our misery.

Update 4: Make My Vote Count with "the hastiest of rundowns of what people from all sides of the media are already failing to call Levygate."

Update 5: Charles Clarke goes on the attack - targetting the one man who's name's come up in all this who seems to be entirely innocent of any wrongdoing, Labour Treasurer Jack Dromey. Apparently it's his fault for not noticing that there was something suspect going on... (Coincidentally that's exactly the same logic used by those people who blame the Bush administration for 9/11 and Blair and co for 7/7.)

Update 6: Missed this thanks to the Guardian not recognising a potential story when they're handed it on a plate. Martin Bell on Comment is Free with New Labour's Watergate, and the real question:
"what did the prime minister know and when did he know it?"
If, as seems to be the case, this little peerage scam was orchestrated with Tony's full knowledge from the very beginning (as his granting of a peerage and then Lord Chancellorship to his old flatmate would tend to suggest he did), what did he also know about the Capita/Aldridge loan, and when did he know it?

Was Blair REALLY too stupid to see how bad it would look, or is it ACTUALLY as bad as it looks? Either way, he's not fit to run the country.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Chris Applegate said...

*cough* You've spelt his name wrong, it's actually Rod.

3/21/2006 12:20:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a completely irrational feeling that this one might actually do it. As you say, he is surviving now entirely on lesser-evilist apathy, and he no longer has any actual friends or supporters. It may not be quick, but if just one of the broadsheets decide to chip away at this, he could well lose a war of atttrition.

3/21/2006 07:39:00 am  
Blogger BondBloke said...

Having applied for a job with Crapita at a low point a couple of years back, they make their profits by paying shite wages, which is why I turned it down eventually... No this will not bring blair down for the reasons you mention up front...

3/21/2006 10:48:00 am  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

At least I'm not the only one to get his name wrong - the Guardian calls him Richard...

No idea how that happened, though - the Google search I did to find articles was certainly for "Rod Aldridge", although I seem to have buggered up the link... Ho-hum, such is blogging after getting back from the pub...

3/21/2006 12:09:00 pm  
Anonymous Jawbox said...

I can't understand for the life of me while the words "Halliburton", "New Orleans" and "Cheney" keep scrolling across my mind here, I really can't.

3/21/2006 02:59:00 pm  
Blogger BondWoman said...

It all makes you quite nostalgic for the pre-privatisation days of public sector run information management...

3/21/2006 05:38:00 pm  
Blogger mark said...

Clarke... enough said. At the bottom of the BBC News page you linked to regarding his attempted buck-passing, it talks about the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, which the police are investigating. Apparently offering honours in exchange for anything is an offence, punishable by up to **2 years imprisonment**... Looks interesting - don't bet your house on a successful prosecution though...

3/21/2006 06:00:00 pm  
Blogger Davide Simonetti said...

Crapita are starting to look like Britain's answer to Halliburton. It's interesting that the police have now been called in but I'm sure Blair and co will find a way to wriggle out of it. However, watching Nick Robinson outside Scotland Yard was amusing.

3/21/2006 07:02:00 pm  
Anonymous Range Rover said...

Just read the Matthew Parris piece. always liked the guy but this is fabulous journalism. It aches with regret and pity,and ever so "reluctantly"slides the stilletto in until blood is drawn and we can see the pain threshold breached.Thing is, the Times readership is now Blairs natural constituancy, or at least he hoped it would be. now, with a mighty "Harrumph" they will dismiss him as "not really one of us after all"This sort of journalism does indeed matter. it wounds.Whereas he could possibly shrug off the double barrelled frontal assault by the habitual home of the perpetually offended- the spiked collared bulldog that is The Daily Mail, this is going to be a lot harder to dismiss. he has lost the support of the Murdoch Empire-in itself not a bad thing, but more importantly for him, he is losing the support of independant thinkers who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. no longer though. his days are numbered.

3/21/2006 09:56:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe someone should look at a link between the Capita Group share price and National ID card debates in the other house.
Nice.
I too worked for Capita Group, but I soon found it was much more lucrative to become a politician, at least for a while.

3/23/2006 11:59:00 pm  

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