I was always a bit underwhelmed by David Cameron; so was the late Ronnie Corbett, who found him ‘too eager to please’. Dave’s Brexit referendum struck me as the policy of a complacent man who had always managed to get away with it in life and who thought his lucky streak would never end.
His whole approach was so sloppy. There were those ridiculous last-minute negotiations with the EU to wring out the ‘vital concessions’ that allowed him to back Remain, but really, what did the EU ever mean to him? Abroad was, as one of his civil servants later said, where he went on holiday – he’d never worked or studied overseas; neither did he speak any foreign languages. He had left Oxford and gone to London and his contacts got him work – according to James O’Brien William Hague (a really clever man) actually turned him down for a job.
After working as a Tory advisor, Cameron drifted into PR where it would appear he made no great impact and eventually he charmed his way into a safe Tory seat. Dave is clearly no fool. According to his tutor Vernon Bogdanor he was a “very clever student”. He certainly talks well, but he is not a man of political principle. When elected PM one of his first truly disgraceful moves was to ally Tory MEPs with an extreme right group in the European Parliament. The aim was, of course, to appease the headbangers of his party. No question of standing up against them – Dave didn’t do that kind of thing. And finally, there was his “who governs Britain?” Edward Heath moment – the Referendum. Instead of saying that it was government policy to remain in the EU, he offered a totally uninformed electorate a referendum. What kind of strong leader does that? Clearly, he thought he’d get away with it.
And then he was gone – do you remember his last appearance in the House of Commons? Very flippant; there were even a few jokes. Well, Brexit was never going to be a problem for him personally and he went back to the Cotswolds and set about writing his memoirs in a shepherd’s hut.
Dave yearns to serve
But public service was what he yearned for, so he started to look for other work and an opportunity arose with one Lex Greensill who had been introduced to him by the late Jeremy Heywood. Lex had been an adviser in No 10 (many wondered why). Back then Lex was trying to get the government to use his ‘supply chain finance’ company Greensill Capital, when all that was needed was to pay suppliers more quickly. Supply chain finance has always existed. Large businesses take time to process invoices from suppliers, so you buy the invoice at a discount from the supplier, so he gets most of his money sooner and your profit is the margin when you get the invoice paid in full. Of course, you can also sell on the debt, and you can even bundle the debts up and market them on as securities. It isn’t normally a glamorous business; neither is it highly remunerative, but Greensill managed to make it sexy with beguiling talk of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and algorithms and attracted bigtime investors with the seductive notion of ‘democratising finance’ and making it available to the little man (along with making shedloads of money). Now imagine, if you sell an invoice made out to the Ford Motor Company that is 100% safe – Ford is going to pay one day but what if you sell on an invoice to a company that isn’t doing quite so well? That is a risk, but you don’t allow yourself to become too reliant on one company or for that matter one sector. However, Lex became deeply involved with a British Indian steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta who was buying up steelworks all over the world – and needed money to do so. Greensill became a source of finance. It helped both those consummate salesman! (They also shared a penchant for luxury private jets).
Dave rides to the rescue
Lex also had top people fronting up for him, drumming up investment. From Australia he had former foreign minister Julie Bishop and, as we have learnt, in the UK ex-PM David Cameron, who were able to open doors and make him seem squeaky clean. Cameron had managed to create an aura about himself of being a really nice guy and his Etonian allure worked wonders when the dynamic duo toured the world enchanting high-rolling investors (needless to say Cameron received share options and a very generous salary for services rendered). When Covid came Dave lobbied energetically on behalf of his boss bombarding his former colleagues with at least 50 texts and WhatsApp messages, like this one:
“I am riding to the rescue with supply chain finance with my new friend Lex Greensill”.
Strange behaviour, you might think, for an ex-PM.
Did those in power know that all was not well with Greensill? Securities were now being sold made up of loans which according to AI were merely “likely” to be made: possible invoices! Now, even when business has been done and an invoice purchased the possibility remains that the creditor may default (or dispute the invoice), which is why any firm offering supply chain finance takes out insurance. However this will have its inevitable terms and conditions and if the insurance company thinks that a policy holder is sailing too close to the wind it will withdraw cover. This happened in the end to Greensill which subsequently collapsed costing the UK taxpayer £5 billion. The Greensill family still has its enormous farm in Australia and Lex, though not a billionaire, is certainly coping. Lord Dave of Chippie is sitting pretty with his money and his houses.
Did Cameron not fully understand the Greensill model? Surely any former PM needs to apply due diligence before associating himself with a business. Did Dave do so? Was he not suspicious of Lex’s lavish lifestyle – how many businesses can afford luxury corporate jets? Dave certainly enjoyed winging it down to Cornwall courtesy of Lex. Certainly, few public companies would tolerate their use. Did he never suspect that there was an element of ‘too good to be true’ in the Greensill narrative?
I broke no rules
And was it appropriate for an ex-PM to be using his contacts in government to secure contracts for an employer? I would argue that it was not. Now, let us be absolutely clear here. Cameron has committed no crime. Nevertheless a Parliamentary Inquiry still concluded that he showed a “significant lack of judgement” and suggested that stricter rules are needed to prevent such behaviour. Surely this should be a damning indictment for anyone in the public sphere, even in the Tory Party.
Of course Teflon Dave just regards this as water under the bridge – he didn’t do anything wrong so that’s alright then, isn’t it? Let’s let Dave speak for himself:
“While I am pleased that the report confirms I broke no rules, I very much take on board its wider points. I always acted in good faith and had no idea until the end of last year that Greensill Capital was in danger of failure.”
But did Cameron take on the “wider points”? We now hear that he has been speaking in Sri Lanka this year on behalf of a Chinese port project. The company involved is, of course, a proxy for the Chinese government but Cameron was paid by the Washington Speakers Bureau, so that’s alright then, isn’t it? Yet someone paid the Washington Speakers Bureau to send him there. Who was that and what on earth did he think he was doing there? I think we can have doubts about the wisdom of such appearances.
And what are these companies paying for? If a politician like Owen Patterson or an ex-politician like Cameron is hired what is the company getting out of it? Was Lex Greensill paying Cameron for his deep knowledge of the company Fintec and the intricacies of supply chain finance? Was Patterson hired for his experience in diagnostic solutions? What was it they talked about at board meetings? I’d like to know.
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