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15 January 2010

Tory conflicts of interest

The latest is from the shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley

By Mehdi Hasan

Deafening silence from the Tory blogosphere this morning over revelations in the Telegraph concerning the funding of the personal office of the Conservative shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley:

John Nash, the chairman of Care UK, gave £21,000 to fund Andrew Lansley’s personal office in November.

Mr Nash, a private equity tycoon, also manages several other businesses providing services to the NHS and stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Conservative policies to increase the use of private health providers.

The Telegraph adds:

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In a recent interview, a senior director of the firm said that 96 per cent of Care UK’s business, which amounted to more than £400m last year, came from the NHS.

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Earlier this month, the Conservatives pledged to increase the use of private providers if elected.

In the draft manifesto published by the Conservatives, the party promised to “open up the NHS to include new independent and voluntary sector providers”.

In official company documents, Mr Nash, who is also a major shareholder in Care UK, praised reforms proposed by the Conservative Party.

“We welcome recent policy statements by the opposition Conservative Party in the UK which have substantially strengthened their commitment to more open-market reform to allow new providers of NHS services and for greater freedom for patients to choose their GP and hospital provider,” he said.

If this isn’t a huge conflict of interest, then I don’t know what is.

How can the Tories, and Lansley, justify this, or even explain it? That they have been “transparent” and that Lansley did not “solicit” the donation himself is irrelevant. Do they not understand that public trust in the political classes is at an all-time low after the expenses scandal (in which, incidentally, the shadow health secretary was identified by the Telegraph as a “flipper”)?

Does David Cameron think it is right and proper for the head of a company that stands to benefit from Tory health proposals to donate money to the personal office of the man in charge of drafting those very same proposals? In fact, the timing of these revelations is rather apt. Only two days ago, Pulse magazine reported:

The Conservatives have opened talks with a series of private firms after pledging to step up the role of the independent sector in the NHS.

The party told Pulse talks were ongoing with “a wide range” of providers from the private and voluntary sectors, as part of moves to create a more competitive NHS marketplace should it win the election.

So much for the Tories being the “party of the NHS”, eh?

Oh, and don’t forget the Tories’ track record on “conflicts of interest” under Cameron’s leadership:

Alan Duncan, the then Energy spokesman, was heavily criticised after it emerged that his private office was being funded by Ian Taylor, the chairman of Vitol, a firm of oil traders.

The private office of George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, is funded by the hedge-fund bosses Michael Hintze of CQS and Hugh Sloane of Sloane Robinson.

We need to clean up our politics. Reforming MPs’ expenses is only the first step. The overweening and undemocratic influence of the private sector on parliamentary politics has to be tackled. Blatant conflicts of interest must not be ignored. But does any of our front-line politicians have the guts or the principles to step forward and take on the corporations?