Tory sleaze hits fresh heights with law-breaking, 'careless' multi-million-pound tax mistakes and friends in high places – Angus Robertson

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The Tories have been marred by stories of sleaze over the decades.

Many of us will remember how, in the winter of John Major’s premiership, the Tories were embroiled in allegations about “cash for questions” and backroom arms deals. Various other events painted a sorry picture of a party without care for the rules or how things looked to the general public. Sound familiar?

Even after ‘Partygate’ and the breaking of lockdown rules by the current and former Prime Minister, the disreputable profiteering of PPE contracts by Tory peers and donors, as well as sheer economic incompetence, the scandals keep on coming.

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Rishi Sunak was given another fixed penalty notice on top of the one he received for breaking Covid rules, this time for not wearing a seatbelt. One might think he would have learned that the rules apply to us all, but so divorced from reality is he that even the most basic driving laws don’t appear to register.

Next, Tory party chairman Nadhim Zahawi is embroiled in a tax dispute. Millions of pounds of tax was not paid by Zahawi due to “careless” (an HMRC term to describe someone who has failed to take reasonable care in their tax affairs) errors in the division of shares of his company YouGov. Apparently, this error involved registering shares under his father’s name in an offshore trust. Zahawi’s father appears to have had no role in YouGov’s management. How one can make such a mistake is at least questionable.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s reported that a penalty payment for this ongoing dispute was paid to HMRC while he was Chancellor and, therefore, in charge of HMRC. Obviously, that would be a blatant conflict of interest, not to mention an indictment of the fiscal (in)competence of the person in charge of the nation’s finances. Even the rule-breaking Prime Minister says there are “questions that need answering” in this affair.

Meanwhile, it’s been revealed that Boris Johnson arranged an £800,000 private loan from a Tory ally while he was Prime Minister. As former Tory minister Rory Stewart noted, someone in “financial trouble to the tune of £800,000… is vulnerable to pressure and conflicts of interest. Vetting would argue against them becoming a junior civil servant. They should certainly not be PM”. He’s quite right.

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Richard Sharp, the person who connected Johnson with his new bankroller, was appointed as BBC chairman within weeks. During the appointment process, neither Sharp nor Johnson thought it necessary to disclose this clear conflict of interest. This is now subject to investigation by the BBC’s board.

Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi seen duing a Cabinet meeting last year (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA pool/Getty Images)Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi seen duing a Cabinet meeting last year (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi seen duing a Cabinet meeting last year (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/WPA pool/Getty Images)

We must ask ourselves, is there no conscience or principle left in this Conservative government? Inept management of the UK under a succession of worst Prime Ministers on record has been punctuated by acts straying from the inappropriate and unethical to the corrupt and illegal. Really, the question is whether there were even principles or conscience in the first place.

Of course, the result of the years of Tory sleaze and scandal under John Major resulted in a crushing defeat for the Conservatives in 1997. Recent polls suggest Tory seat losses in an upcoming election would be near-universal, with the SNP best-placed to win their seats in Scotland. A wipe-out of such magnitude would be totally deserved.

Angus Robertson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central and Constitution, External Affairs and Culture Secretary

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