When Guardian pundit Aditya Chakrabortti penned his latest column, comparing the hijacking of fringe far-right language by Theresa May to the similar achievement of Richard Milhous Nixon in the late 60s and early 70s, he might not have known that the possibility of Ms May’s political career being blighted by the same problems that eventually felled Nixon was more than slight. Two separate revelations now back this up.
Nixon won a landslide Presidential victory in 1972: not long after, the leaders of Congress, along with Republican elder statesman Barry Goldwater, were at the door of the White House telling him the game was up. It was not the Watergate burglary that did for Nixon, but the blame-shifting mendacity of the cover-up that followed. Theresa May is ideally suited to digging herself in deeper by shifting the blame.
And what might cause our Prime Minister to soon appear as yet another started rabbit before the approaching headlights is the potential of money scandals - that is, money scandals plural. We knew, from the teasers sent out by Natalie Rowe over the weekend, that Ms May was under investigation by the Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics team. David Hencke at Byline has spelled out exactly what that means.
“The Cabinet Office Propriety and Ethics Team last month launched an investigation into allegations that the company which employs Philip May, the husband of the Prime Minister as an investment manager could have potentially made large sums of money from Brexit market movements caused by Theresa May's decisions … Sources say Sue Gray, director general of Propriety and Ethics at the Cabinet Office ordered an investigation into the allegations last month. Nothing more has been heard of this”. Do go on.
“The central point of the complaint is that the Capital Group, a global investment company which manages $1.4 trillion of assets for corporations and high net worth individuals, could have had knowledge of market sensitive information that would have benefited their clients over Brexit. The situation would particularly apply to currency movements”.
And there’s more. “Philip May who works for the Capital Group, could, in theory as the PM’s husband, have had some prior knowledge of major political decisions by his wife. He could also have recused himself from such decisions in the Capital group to prevent such a conflict. But the declaration of interests by Mrs May do not disclose his exact role”.
The Cabinet Office response to Hencke’s enquiries is a fine example of unhelpful blame shifting: “We cannot and do not usually comment on private emails. We are also in a period of purdah so this could be a matter for Conservative Central Office”. Well, if the Cabinet Office chooses to continue deflecting on the grounds of election purdah, then there will be five weeks of speculation to fill that particular vacuum [the Cabinet Office has now stated that there is no conflict of interest].
The potential for scandal on the PM’s doorstep is only augmented by the boast in the Tory-supporting Telegraph that Philip May acts as a “translator” for her in business and City issues: the potential for conflicts of interest is all too obvious.
And on top of all that is the back catalogue of party financing, as Joel Benjamin has been revealing, telling of “HSBC, IPGL and a struggling spread betting firm owned by the Tory Party Treasurer making £millions in donations to CCHQ”. Who would IPGL be? Well, it’s a private holding company whose majority shareholder is one Michael Spencer, a former Tory Party treasurer. Spencer has an interesting track record.
He issued a public apology in September 2013 after his company ICAP (now NEX group) was fined £54 million by the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the UK Financial Conduct Authority for its part in the Libor interest rate scandal. Spencer and ICAP had made £4.6 million in donations to the Tory Party when he was treasurer, but when the Libor scandal broke, the Tories weren’t about to give the money back.
But the sting in the Spencer tail is that it’s rumoured that Young Dave wanted to give him a peerage in his already notorious resignation honours list - only for the Cabinet Office to block the idea. And Benjamin’s recent claim “£5million+ was funnelled from IPGL, a co run by Tory Treasurer Michael Spencer into @Conservatives - backed by a £214m HSBC loan” appears to be additional to the £4.6 million in donations.
All of that constitutes what is becoming known as “Tory Dirty Money”, the second prong of the scandal pincer movement that, along with the Cabinet Office inquiry, threatens to encircle our unimpressive but heavily press-backed Prime Minister.
There will be further revelations on both fronts. And before the General Election.