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14 October 2012

“Generals for hire“ – yet another lobbying scandal

A Sunday Times investigation has secretly filmed former generals boasting about lobbying to win multi-million-pound defence deals for arms firms.

By Caroline Crampton

A Sunday Times investigation has secretly filmed top-ranking retired generals boasting about their lobbying ability when it comes to helping arms firms secure multi-million-pound defence contracts.

Individuals like Falklands war hero Lieutenant-General Sir John Kiszely, Lieutenant-General Richard Applegate and Lord Dannatt were filmed bragging about their access to ministers. Several said it was possible to “ignore” the rules banning recently retired service personnel from lobbying or deals that are in official “purdah”.

One detail that stands out in particular is the fact that Lord Dannatt met the undercover journalists at his private lodging in the Tower of London – where the front door is guarded by a beefeater.

Defence secretary Philip Hammond has launched an investigation into the claims, saying the allegations are serious, but insisting that these retired generals wield “no influence”. The individuals in question have denied wrongdoing.

It’s another great undercover scoop by the Sunday Times, in the style of the sting that caught out former Conservative treasurer Peter Cruddas, who was filmed boasting that he could provide access to the prime minister in return for donations.

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Whether or not serious wrongdoing is uncovered, the bragging of these generals (or the “galloping greed of the old warhorses” in the Sunday Times superb phrase) conforms to an overall impression that a lot of money and undue influence is wielded behind the scenes in Whitehall. The cloud under which former defence secretary Liam Fox left the department a year ago contributes to this.

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David Cameron has repeatedly vowed to “clean up Parliament”. The more stories like this emerge, the more people will doubt his ability, or even will, to keep that promise.