in the back
Awards special on ‘best of our nation’
Birthday Honours, Issue 1421
EACH recipient of a Queen’s Birthday Honours award “exemplifies the very best of our nation”, the Cabinet Office announces grandly. So that must explain all the gongs for party donors, apparatchiks and officials who shuttle between government and the City while the financial sector continues to do as it pleases.

There was a knighthood for insurance boss Peter Wood in recognition of his “services to UK industry and philanthropy”. Wood, whose company Esure is poised to sell its Go Compare price comparison site, has given the Tories more than £200,000 since 2009, some of it to help run MP Chris Grayling’s office.

Meanwhile there was a CBE for Steve Bell, president of the National Conservative Convention and a key representative of grassroots Tories (as well as being partner of Lewes Tory MP Maria Caulfield and a councillor in Brighton in his own right); an OBE for Mike Chattey, head of Conservative party fundraising; and an MBE for Mary Harper, chairman of Conservatives Abroad. Nothing partisan there, then.

In the world of pop, Lucian Grange, the head of Universal Music, which gave the Tories £80,000 in 2010, was also knighted. He has dined with Cameron at Chequers and, somewhat bizarrely, hired former diplomat Sir Nigel Sheinwald, a security adviser to both Tony Blair and Cameron, as his own special adviser. Grange’s knighthood, and that given to Tory-supporting former tax exile Rod Stewart, at least prove the government is down with the kids. Or not.

Former Lib Dem donors haven’t gone entirely unrewarded either, with a knighthood for Paul Marshall of hedge fund Marshall Wace fame. He has given the Lib Dems more than £200,000 and encouraged their most City-friendly “Orange Book” wing. Lest we forget, at the start of the financial crisis Marshall Wace was among the funds “shorting” the banks (betting on making a profit from a crisis that was leaving the rest of the country in the mire), sparking accusations of “hyena” behaviour. Marshall Wace is still short-selling – betting on a property collapse and further bank woes – but the world has moved on and people who do this sort of thing now are apparently the “best of our nation”.

Failure to regulate the financial sector properly also has its rewards. Treasury permanent secretary John Kingman has been knighted “for public service particularly to the economy” – even though in 2007 he was one of the Treasury geniuses promoting the private finance initiative for public services and light regulation for the City. True, the bank bailout he later helped design stabilised the economy; but it did so using vast public subsidies and in a way that allowed bankers to go on overpaying themselves while ripping off customers. As the Eye has revealed, Kingman enjoyed many agreeable lunches with grateful bankers, and then took two years out of the Treasury to work for one of them, Rothschild’s.

The CBE for Tracey McDermott, outgoing acting chief exec of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), appears to be a sop reflecting the FCA’s failure to take on the banks. Her predecessor George Wheatley did try to regulate the banks more firmly, but in 2015 chancellor George Osborne announced a softer “new settlement” with the City which meant Wheatley had no power to do anything. He walked and McDermott gamely filled in at an FCA that no longer had the ability to regulate.

The CBE for Rachel Hopcroft, principal private secretary to cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, also marks the close relationship between the civil service and City. Hopcroft is leaving Heywood, a champion of privatisation and former Morgan Stanley banker, to become corporate affairs director at KPMG.

Other public servants were rewarded for their work with the poor. Jeremy Moore, top Department for Work and Pensions mandarin, became a Companion of the Order of the Bath for his work on welfare reform. Until 2014 he was in charge of “disability issues”, including the cruel and expensive fitness-to-work regime; he now oversees “strategy” and “deliverability” for welfare in general and (hollow laugh) “the social justice agenda”. And there was a CBE for Ian Wright, the DWP’s programme director in charge of Universal Credit, which still doesn’t work.

The CBE for Howard Lyons, outgoing chief executive of Healthcare UK, was one of the top gongs in the health sector. Healthcare UK is a Department of Health body, but it was set up to “help UK healthcare providers to do more business overseas”, promoting private health firms rather than the NHS. The CBE for Simon Blagden, chairman of Fujitsu, had a health aspect, too. After Fujitsu sold a non-working IT system to the NHS, the government cancelled the scheme and Blagden’s firm promptly sued British taxpayers for £700m.

How the OBE awarded for “services to immigration detainees” to Karen Abdel-Hady, head of detention operations at the Home Office, reflects “the very best of our nation”, is a mystery given the case of 84-year-old Canadian Alois Dvorzak. The frail pensioner was refused entry to the UK at Gatwick and lay shackled to a security guard for more than five hours before he took his last breath. At the inquest into his death last year, Abdel-Hady admitted she did not have adequate arrangements in place to protect elderly and vulnerable detainees. She was also forced to disclose that Mr Dvorzak’s case was no exception and that 90 percent of immigration detainees had been taken to hospital in handcuffs. Prison ombudsman Nigel Newcomen (who already has a CBE), said the case was “likely to have reached the threshold of inhuman and degrading treatment” and was “a tragic indictment of the system.” Still, no bar to winning a gong.

Nor, it seems, is involvement with the excesses and fiascos of the pre-crisis boom years. Hence the knighthood for the private equity industry’s leading light, Damon Buffini. As head of the Permira group running funds that bought out AA and Birds Eye, Buffini was behind thousands of job cuts while he and colleagues earned millions and paid lower tax rates than their cleaners. Union protesters once famously turned up at the church he was attending with a camel. Rich men may have trouble entering the kingdom of heaven, but there will always be a place for them among the “best of the nation”.

All is forgiven, too, for Terry Morgan, former chief executive of the unlamented Tube Lines consortium that ran one of the public private partnerships to upgrade the tubes. After fines and funding problems the consortium was bought out by Transport for London in 2010.

Among the crop of gongs for those already doing nicely from the public purse is the honour for the aptly-named Richard Banks, outgoing chief exec of Britain’s “bad bank” UK Asset Resolution. He recently flogged £13bn of former Northern Rock loans to US private equity outfit Cerberus and was this year judged by his directors to merit bonuses of £400,000, taking his total pay to £966,000. A CBE is the cherry on top.

More top stories in the latest issue:

Questions over Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction for bombing Lockerbie won’t go away, despite a new book by ex-Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill.

Will police now take action after a TV documentary effectively destroys the alibi of Hubert Spencer, widely suspected of the 1978 murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater?

The attorney-general gives consent for the family of a second young private who died at Deepcut barracks to apply to the high court for a fresh inquest.

The accountancy regulator belatedly investigates how Deloitte approved Serco’s accounts while it was fiddling contracts with the Ministry of Justice.

The emirate rulers who own vast chunks of prime central London via offshore companies – and with not too many impertinent questions asked.

Falmouth University presses on with an unpopular expansion even as some of its most respected courses are shutting down.

Live-aboard boaters without permanent moorings fear the Canal and River Trust’s new approach to cruising rules aims to drive them off the water.

Why delays in introducing the new Pubs Code are leaving pub landlords bitter and potentially out-of-pocket.

Sir Philip Green’s performance before MPs raises questions beyond BHS – not least about his and wife Lady (Tina) Green’s offshore tax arrangements.

Embarrassment for government academies adviser Elizabeth Sidwell, who was chief exec at a schools trust while its accountant stole nearly £4m.

Military families are still living in damp, rat-infested homes, MPs hear, while billions of pounds have been sent to the estate’s offshore owner.

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5th July 2016
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- EU bias: TV news and why obsessive ‘impartiality’ is plain daft
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Private Eye Issue 1420