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15 April 2021updated 23 Jul 2021 6:43am

Can Boris Johnson’s Tories really keep themselves free of David Cameron’s scandal?

The Conservatives are feigning horror at something that has, ultimately, taken place under 11 years of Conservative rule.

By Ailbhe Rea

The Conservatives won the battle but lost the war yesterday (14 April): they successfully voted down Labour’s motion for a parliamentary inquiry into the Greensill lobbying scandal, only for at least four other inquiries to be announced or confirmed, including a full inquiry by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).

[Hear more on the New Statesman podcast]

The story is spinning out in multiple directions this morning, following the revelation yesterday that a senior civil servant, Bill Crothers, double-jobbed as both a civil servant and as an adviser to Greensill for two months, with approval from the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has now ordered all civil servants to declare second jobs, while the papers contain multiple stories of second jobs held by civil servants and senior Conservative advisers, including reports that Boris Johnson’s deputy chief of staff Simone Finn has retained part-ownership of a company that advises governments including Saudi Arabia. She denies any conflict of interest.

One of the big questions is whether this becomes a story about “Tory sleaze”, as Labour would like, or a scandal that implicates the entire political class. Today’s headlines demonstrate that tension: the scandal inches ever closer to the door of the current government, while also sprawling outwards to implicate more and more senior civil servants. It doesn’t help that there is already a vague public perception that all former senior politicians, Labour and Conservative, get up to this kind of thing when they leave office. 

[see also: How the Greensill scandal has become more dangerous for the Conservatives]

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But a big part of this question – Tory sleaze or the whole political class – is whether the Conservatives can sustain their current approach of disowning David Cameron and feigning horror at a scandal that has, ultimately, taken place under 11 years of Conservative rule. Whatever the broader framing, we know that David Cameron is the face of the story, and we had the slightly surreal spectacle yesterday of Tory MPs lining up in the Commons to drag their former leader’s name through the mud. They, and the team in Downing Street, are seemingly confident that the Boris Johnson administration is viewed as sufficiently different that a scandal with a recent former Conservative prime minister at its heart won’t damage the Tory brand in general.

It was one of the successes of the last general election campaign that the Conservatives managed to shape-shift into a new party. But it’s not certain that a Conservative government taking chunks out of a former Conservative government will pay off in the longer term. 

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[see also: The government’s Greensill review is a distraction from the David Cameron lobbying scandal]