The year 1956 was hardly the best. It saw the last roar of the Imperial British Lion in Suez, followed by the resignation of the Old Etonian and Oxford educated prime minister Anthony Eden. As if to compensate, Britain commenced a series of nuclear tests. Hungary was invaded by the Soviet Union. I was but a baby, but eventually realised why some pupils at my school with Hungarian parents had settled in London.
I recall the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and have friends who, as young people, escaped that outrage. In my professional life I twice visited Ukraine, staying mostly in the city of Kharkiv. As I write, Putin is murdering and maiming its citizens.
We may feel impotent about Ukraine, but we can make a difference. We must campaign to support sanctions, and we should expose dubious financial interests in our own country that support Putin’s activities. These are not so much ‘squeaky-clean’ as ‘laundered white’. NATO or not, there is a very British political campaign to be fought. The writer Ian Dunt talks of cleansing London of ill-gotten Russian money. Whether or not the UK has historically been above reproach in the monetary corruption stakes, we ask difficult questions: should the Kleptocrat-Tsar and his imperial subjects have any place in financial arrangements in the UK?
The Rees-Mogg Russian connections
One burning question of the age is: “What is Jacob Rees-Mogg for?” Imagine my surprise when, following his demotion from Leader of the House to ‘Minister for Brexit Opportunities’, questionable details emerged. Where are these ‘opportunities’, and what could be their impact?’ Non-fans laughed at his appointment stating that “Jacob won’t have much to do then”. Two comments proffered to me were: “Posh yob” and “The Emperor and his friends have no clothes”. Let us disambiguate.
While resting his eyes, Rees-Mogg did slouch on the Front Bench in Parliament. He had been attempting to shut down (‘Prorogue’) the House in an illegal procedure. No clothes? It is not hard to see through him and his fellow travellers, but we need proof. Old Etonian and Oxford educated Rees-Mogg seems an act, a creature of his own making, falling just short of pantomime villain. When promoted to Leader of the House, he banned the use of a comma in lists and after ‘and’ (what he meant to say was before ‘and’ – the Oxford comma) and insisted on the use of (British) imperial units of measurement.
New questions include: “What is Rees-Mogg up to?” and “Why might he do it?” He is not mega-rich, although we could all largely get by on his MPs’ salary. However he does have his own investments, worth well over £100m. His wealth like that of the Conservative Party is worryingly dependent on Russia. Vladimir Putin’s least-favourite politician (Liz Truss) has to explain quite a lot, as the Tories received almost £2 million in donations from people with links to Russia, since Old Etonian and Oxford educated Boris Johnson became prime minister. There is continuation, the Brexit campaign benefitted from dark deeds from Russia. Imagine my surprise when certain ‘investments’ and ‘assets’ came under scrutiny, as well as Tory party donors?
The Guardian article cited above reveals the real Man behind the Jacobian mask is about de-regulation. There is a possibility of his clashing with Johnson’s agenda of ‘levelling up’, requiring a commensurate level of governmental spending. One imagines any new offshore investment strategy will have negative repercussions for the Exchequer. Domestically, the UK could become a huge service economy for the mega-rich. Under certain Brexit scenarios, real wages for the poor may fall. We may also imagine that worsening employment conditions would increase with deregulation.
Let’s keep digging. ‘While looking for Brexit opportunities, Rees-Mogg profits directly from Chinese pharma and Russian gas investments.’ Let us leave aside his Chinese investments because, as I write, Taiwan is not being invaded. Rees-Mogg himself has called for sanctions against Russian interests. Somerset Capital, in which he holds a 12% stake, allegedly invested £5.7m on behalf of clients in a company that potentially faces sanctions from the UK, EU and US. This is Russia’s largest privately owned gas company, Novatek, and chaired by Vladimir Putin ally Leonid Mikhelson.
Then, as if in a fit of conscience, Somerset Capital enabled Rees-Mogg to off-load his shares in the Russian Sberbank. This bank funds lots of activities, including Putin’s war machine and Sberbank is now under sanctions. As Russian-Ukrainian relations were getting even worse, the sale occurred around the end of January. An uncharitable commentator might suggest a similarity with insider trading. Was he party to security briefs? I hear the fictional Prime Minister Urquhart saying: “I couldn’t possibly comment”.
The effects of deregulation are many, with dangers for both public expenditure and conditions for working people here in the UK. Rees-Mogg manipulates his interests and avoids sanctions, and we note that Liz Truss has yet to do something similar for Tory party funds. We may ask how this squares with Johnson’s Levelling Up? The present PM is not out of the woods regarding confidence in his premiership and here Putin may be helping by covering up his lies and incompetence with gross international violence. This is not the Playing Fields of Eton, but Jacob (who maybe prefers the mores of 1956) can at least sleep peacefully in his own bed, as he does in the House.