How Does Lord Dennis Stevenson Get Away With It? # TWO

The Institute for Government (or ‘come fiddle with me’)

Fiddling with government has been a basic feature of Lord Stevenson’s occupation as a political lobbyist. The fiddle has been conducted via various specially designed organisations he is part of, or set up, or uses to influence politicians in their decision-making capacities to gain public money. Such networks are protected behind a screen of non-reporting, ignorance, legitimate confusion, censorship, complicity, incredulity, cynicism, apathy and disgust.

As Stevenson’s and other’s wide-ranging portfolio of appointments onto Boards of Directors of inter-locking powerful companies becomes more well-known, people can come to think that serial fiddlers like Stevenson will never go away, and then think that they will always get away with it. For example, after Lehman Brothers jumped into administration Victor Blank (Cameron’s ‘Business Ambassador’) and Stevenson (one of the bank’s main sources of information on US practices) jumped from the company. Blank & the CE of Lloyds are to be sued by US shareholders over Lloyds’ takeover of HBOS at the height of the crisis, but (as yet) Stevenson has evaded any real accountability. It is hard to keep up with the chaos, and that is the way the bankers like it. HBOS was receiving funds from the Bank of England within weeks of it being taken over by Lloyds, while its ‘bad debts’, somewhere beyond £600 billion, are now the problem of the UK taxpayer. The feeling is that Lord Stevenson’s fellow misdirectors, Sir Fred Goodwin and so forth, are not really the subject of anything other than a ceremonial wrist slapping by blank seemingly useless ‘overseeing’ organisations such as the Financial Services Authority. The perception is that they will walk and do much the same thing again given the opportunity.

It is this Hey Presto! ability to abscond from responsibility that depresses people. Clearly it is a feature of the powerful. So how is the illusion performed? I will focus on Stevenson membership of a new elitist lobbyist/think tank, the Institute for Government. His position here (largely a product of other ties) alludes to why he escapes oversight.  We are to be hypnotised and believe he is an overseer not the overseen.  It is the people below him who are subordinate to rules: not him. He is the fair and impartial voice and his unelected appointment to certain positions and organisations supposedly proves this and imputes virtue.  Those days are gone.

The Appointments Suspicion

Now it might be that the public feel we need another cabal of bankers & lobbyists and paid for advisers telling various arms of government what to do in secret—or it might be that rich vested private interests are behind the Institute for Government as per usual. One of Stevenson’s key roles has been running various systems that dictate who gets put into high positions: the most obvious being his role as the Chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. (He is also with all sorts of elite head-hunting organisations). Here he is supposed to vet the people governments give ‘honours’ to and this somehow imputes him with kudos. These people largely comprise of those who have heavily donated to the government of the day, with the window dressing of one or two worthy people, and other complicated deals related to a quid pro quo with the other parties. Everybody knows this is a facade but its magic makes Lord Stevenson and the other hustlers on the committee (such as Brenda Dean, now a Privy Councillor) look good. Brenda and Stevenson set the ‘Standards in Public Life’ through observing ‘The Seven Principles of Public Life’ as set out in the Committee’s report when they vet people. These are: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. Essentially when you pay a Lord to lobby for you to a politician on a decision-making committee the politician can rely on this illusion (as sanctioned by Brenda and Stevenson) that the Lord’s judgement is unquestionable—it’s a kind of return to the middle-ages. That just leaves the actual amount of money to be haggled, together with aesthetic proprieties.

Now the rules are the rules as they say: obviously ‘Selflessness’ is interpreted as working on behalf of a large multi-national behind the scenes—one is a mere channel. ‘Integrity’ is what’s on sale which you’ve bought from the government hence your title—the Rt. Hon or Sir or Lord. ‘Objectivity’ is a reasonable quote on the price. ‘Accountability’ is how good your cover story is and how under cover things are done. ‘Openess’ is your de Sade-like attitude to the morality of your clients should they be in the lucrative murder industry. ‘Honesty’ is what you fake on camera and in committee when the fix is put in. ‘Leadership’ is an innate quality you have and deserve because you are now part of an elite.

Stevenson and Brenda’s Report has a list of the people they vetted that included: Margaret McDonagh (who mostly raised money for Tony Blair’s private office and then lined her own pockets); Professor Anthony Giddens, who thought up all that deceptive ‘Third Way’ crap for Tony Blair to line his pockets; Philip Gould who thought up how to fiddle ‘Focus Groups’ for Tony Blair to line his pockets; Peter Derek Truscott who advised Tony Blair on Russia, thus acquiring several consultancies including Russian state gas giant Gazprom. Truscott was one of the Labour peers accused of accepting ‘cash for influence.’ He put the price of hiring a Lord as your lobbyist as between £1,000-£5,000 a day, adding that “there is a degree of subtlety” to the process and that to pull things off he had to “work behind the scenes,” meaning the facade of democracy i.e., the House of Lobby Lords.

The Consensus Institute

So it could be that Lord Stevenson and his Institute friends felt that setting up yet another group to ‘work with’ government was important because these days clearly the government could put a good few of our banker friends here into an open prison.  I believe they had some discussions on the banking crisis at the Institute—but these are closed Chatam House meetings. But the need for a range of platforms for the high priests of capitalism to repeat and drive home what they have been programmed to say is vital. It generates a multitude of seemingly independent voices that are further reproduced in the mainstream media to create normality.  Here the Institute plays its part: its Greek Chorus creates the illusion so that other voices will seem like an aberration from outside the walls of the sane citadel of the Westminster village that decision-making MPs swill around.  It’s a bit like all those demographically selected people who clump behind politicians when they say something for the cameras.

Possibly, now that the House of Lords is bursting with lobbyists, Lord Stevenson and Lord Sainsbury and friends of Lord Sainsbury’s money felt that setting up another more classy place to gain the ear of government was de rigueurIs the Institute for Government not just a facade for the sleaze of political lobbying?  No hell it’s Prospect Magazine’s think tank of the year.  Oh so it’s a think tank now—aren’t they a bit full of lobbyists working for business, isn’t that more or less what Prospect is? But the Institute seemed to elbow its way onto or simulate the government’s Committees and Ministerial meetings the way ‘think tanks’ run by affluent political lobbyists are wont to do.  Much the same people join Demos, Nuffield Trust, the Policy Network and the King’s Fund in providing such capitalist-friendly ‘evidence’ to government.  Think Tanks are staffed with ‘policy entrepreneurs’ touting for business like those guys outside strip clubs—”oil company: wanna report on how environmentalists are all XYZ?”.  Really the Institute for Government should be called the Institute for Lobbying, but what is it?

The idea with Think Tank lobbying is that you (a person on the make) pay a pseudo-academic outfit (a think tank) some money and they make your suggestions into something that looks like government policy—just notionally observe the proprieties and occasionally offer the government something to say and it passes as democracy.  Of course some studies have found that lobbying, and the lurid language and poor analysis offered inhibits government planning.  But they are outnumbered by the blizzard of reports thrust in the vol-au-vent encrusted faces of decision makers at a phony consensus event sponsored by XYZ PLC at a posh Institute.

A lot of this elaborate process of influencing government is predicated on the assumption that subterfuge is necessary because you cannot just bribe a politician. This is what the Institute feels is in need of reform for effective government—this is the question: effective for who?  Bribery should be a psychological process whereby MPs came to see where their interests lie by the osmosis of proximity to money.  The whole thing should become a streamlined process: convivial, collegiate, mutually rewarding in a plush setting with all the politicians who matter in decision-making committees in the same building as the impartial independent Institute offering a helping hand and some constructive criticism.

Real Accountability

The Institute tells us that it has noticed that the business plans of the Government “are not yet delivering real accountability” (Independent (2012) November 28).  Do we need a hugely expensive institute to tell us that? The other meaningless guff the Institute has put into the mainstream media is that the government is: “overwhelmingly white, male and middle-class”.  Even the Daily Mail found that both obvious and hypocritical.  The Mail described the Institute as: ex-mandarins of dubious abilities; ex-bureaucrats and egregious quango sitters; bag-carriers; platitude dribblers; part of Lord Sainsbury’s ‘charitable’ programme; second-division Establishment trundlers; advisers to Lib Dem buffoons; multi-millionaire ex-Blairite ministers now glommed on to George Osborne.  But Lord Stevenson was weakly described as “Peter Mandelson’s chum,” probably out of ignorance. But the Mail does not explain what is going on or where it is going on—a basic of reporting.

The Institute was used as a forum for a speech by Nick Clegg on the rhetorical need for a “major shakeup” of (easily bypassed) media ownership laws. Nick didn’t offer much in the way of explanation of the Murdoch’s proximity to government that was unfortunately being partially revealed.  In an ideal universe and not this one Nick would include far more restrictive controls on ownership and tighter definitions of a “fit and proper” person to run broadcasting.  So possibly the Institute is there for people who want on the News to offer a meaningless vision.  In the real world any intellectually curious research institute might make mention of David Cameron (and Nick’s) role in giving everything to Murdoch in the first place, or the sleaze around Andy Coulson overseeing the government’s media image and on and on and on.  Search for the one reference to the term ‘Murdoch’ in this Institute Report or the one mention of Murdoch in this long Peter Riddell book launch for ‘In Defence of Politicians’ at the Institute and it is like a parallel universe.  The Institute prefers to ‘explore issues such as Media & Government’, in a series of seminars with Fishburn Hedges.

But what is it? Its self description contains a revealing phrase:

The Institute for Government is an independent charity with cross-party and Whitehall governance working to increase government effectiveness.

How do they have Whitehall governance? OK let’s forget accountability, but as for ‘effectiveness’: if I was a Press Baron (and Lord Stevenson is) or a wealthy business man (and Lord Stevenson is) or a Banker (which Lord Stevenson is) or a political lobbyist (which Lord S. still is) I would not want the government ‘effectively’ governing me: in the sense of I would view them as working for me, and all I do is offer a platitudinous greater good of mankind as a reason, just like Nick Clegg’s inane pretend Liberalism.  They would be helping me wreck the economy for my private gain, not the other way around—and I would also think “oh and to hell with them getting tax by the way!” The above quote is from a report (one of many) offering advice on shutting down entire government departments (to pay for what the bankers have done).  That’s more like it.

I still don’t know what does the above quote means when it says that the Institute has ‘Whitehall governance’? What—captured it in a PR lobbyist way? The report’s author, Matthew Flinders, is an exponent of ‘Multi-level Governance’, that’s a term to cover when big business and lobbyists capture and control political decisions—it became popular after the EU’s Mastricht treaty.  It’s how big business fashionably and openly traduced democracy, based on Giddens and Gould and McDonagh above? We’re all partners in decision making—get it?

The Institute’s first director was former mandarin, Sir Michael Bichard (of RSe Consulting that offers services to local government, presumably in sacking people to pay for the exploits of the rich).  Dr David Halpern, formerly the Chief Analyst at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, led the formation of the Institute in 2008. Halpern works at the Cabinet Office and heads the Behavioural Insight Team.

In another report, the Institute tells us that Sir Gus O’Donnell (he of the Werrity/Fox cover-up) spoke at the launch of the Institute, and suggested that one of the areas it could exploit was “arm’s length government.” These are the Quangos, the appointments government ministers make for their friends and funders, so they can help themselves to the money pool.  The Institute’s report’s authors estimate Quangoland makes up over 900 bodies that control over 13% of government expenditure—and that attracts certain people—in what the Report calls “the ‘messy middle’ between Whitehall and citizens.”  The place where bankers, mandarins, think tankers, lobbyists, and consultants ply their trade and swindle us: the messy middle: the notionally democratic structures that privatisation and lobbyists razed to the ground, perverted or impersonated.

But on past evidence and results are these the kind of people the citizens would want?  The Institute’s authors and advisers contain quite a lot of former bankers: Zoe Gruhn was Global Head of Leadership and Learning for Global Finance at HSBC until leadership and ignorance at the top ruined it.  Her report starts with two quotes from politicians, that for me, allude to the need to erect a facade:

“On 2 May 1997, I walked into Downing Street as PM for the first time. I had never held office, not even as the most junior of junior ministers.  It was my first and only job in government.”  Tony Blair

“I do not recall ever being given any indication of what was expected of me on being appointed to any political job.” Michael Heseltine

Rather modest nuggets from two big egos, but for the Report, politicians are something to be moulded, according to differences between the business and political worlds.  Most ministers are viewed as having “virtually no previous experience of working at a top level or in the management of a large organisation”; to which is added the unbelieveable: “Ministers are subject to diverse constitutional and political constraints, rather than having a straightforward legal responsibility to shareholders.”  What is the point of people like Dennis Stevenson even being notionally connected to the word responsibility never mind the word shareholders? But this endless claim to morals is the chant of those who pretend that those at a top have exhibited: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.  The only real use our gang can find for these things is using them to erection a facade for institutionalised corruption.  The Report also noted that: “The limited overlap between a minister and a corporate leader underlines the scale of differences, notably in the nature and scale of accountability.”  This holds on to a view of business and banking as accountable and that regulation is the enemy and that bankers should take over.  They did, and they made off with all the money.

A charity that gives money to itself

The Institute’s address is 2 Carlton Gardens SW1Y 5AA, just off the Mall.  This was specifically refurbished to house the Institute at the cost of over £1million funded by the Gatsby Foundation. Previously, the address was used by the CIA and MI6 (Section Y) as a front to meet to discuss cold war plans. Next door at 3 Carlton Gardens is where MI6 interviews prospective applicants. 2 Carlton Gardens was also the address where MI6 would, for example, interviewed Paul Henderson, the chief defendant in the Matrix Churchill arms-to-Iraq trial back in the mid-1990s.  Now it is a front for something else.

This is the exact same address and postcode of the Privy Council Office also known as the Ministry of Justice. So the Institute shares its home with the conclave of politicians who do the real dirty work of government: Bismark’s sausage producers.  Nick Clegg (the former Brussels lobbyist) was appointed Lord President of the Council.  The Director of the Institute for Government, the Rt Hon Peter Riddell CBE, is called Rt Hon because he is a Privy councillor (he was made so to oversee an enquiry to nullify allegations that MI6 engaged in torture etc: privy councillors are privy to state secrets).  Lord Adonis, an executive director of the Institute for Government is also a Privy Councillor. So the ‘think tank’ ‘institute’ ‘charity’ ‘shares’ an luxurious office base with the Rt Honorable amongst some of our elected representatives: those who perceive the world via secret intelligence; those who are chosen to ‘oversee’ things because they are Rt. Hon, or have been given a place by Brenda and Stevenson.

In 2011/2010 its accounts said it spent over £4 million a year—that is quite something for a think tank. The Gatsby grant makes up most of that and according to the accounts most of the money is spent on ‘Charitable Activities’.  That is deceptive in my opinion because almost all of the money goes on ‘Staff Costs’ (£2,020,851) and ‘Support Costs’ (£1,688,427).  The ‘Premises’ cost £448,490 (but this is not rent: a figure for a lease is given as £224,000 but seems connected to something called ‘The Academy’ in the 2010 Accounts).

The rest of the money vanishes into ‘Administration’ (£778,629) with ‘Finance’ costing £236, 118.  So although it says it is in the interest of the public it spends all of its money on itself.  Peculiarly for a charity it spends over £1 million on legal fees; with other money spent on auditors and the board’s expenses.  Why is it spending a fortune on lawyers—looking into overturing laws? And £2 million+, on its staff: some charity. Most staff are on over £60,000 with some being given twice that.  It has a Trading subsidiary, IFG Enterprises which handles any room hire and event management. Other income includes money from staff secondments into government.

Press non-coverage

And there is almost nothing in the mainstream press about what the Institute for Government actually is (there are no articles on its formation) or what it really does.  The press just report its events trotting out the press releases one by one.  What coverage that exists in online archives would lend itself to the view that it as an effort to copy the Blair and New Labour model of utter contempt for traditional institutions and democracy.  Accordingly, in 2009 the Conservatives via Francis Maude started using the newly established ‘non-party’ Institute for Government to “school potential ministers” thanks to funds from Lord Sainsbury (a sort of brainwashing slush fund).  As a charity it is supposed to be apolitical but, in an interview the Institute for Government’s Andrew Adonis directly contradicted this:

All thinktanks try to mix their public policy advocacy with some behind-the-scenes nudging. The IfG goes further, making its closed-doors support for ministers a key part of its role. Before the general election, members of the Conservative opposition frontbench received training on how to run government departments. A sort of school for ministers, if you like.

Stevenson’s secretive consultancy, SRU, did much the same for New Labour—the accent is on how great management of the financial sector is.  The Institute has issued the odd memo to the government on the bleeding obvious: describing the Brown Government as having: “a conspicuous lack of a single coherent strategy for government as a whole.”  What was the banker’s strategy again? remind me: once we’ve got someone who can’t pay for a mortgage we con them into a shady deal?

The Institute is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Lord Sainsbury’s money—but they are going to lecture everyone on the free market.  Irony fans will note it is also advised by Sir Andrew Cahn, who (from 2006-2011) used to be at UK Trade & Investment: a UK Government department presumably lacking a coherent strategy if we are to take what the Institute says about government seriously.  Cahn used to aid Neil Kinnock when the Kinnocks were rabidly milking the European Commission for everything they could get out of it (now estimated at £8million).   All in the name of Socialism one would imagine or government efficiency, accountability…?

A Culture of Inhumanity

The Institute has offered its solution to the country’s financial and political woes.  This boiled down to the statement (Sunday Times, May 2, 2010) that:

Research by the Institute of Government [sic], a think tank, suggests that there is no relation between whether countries have coalitions or majority governments and their fiscal position. However, it is Britain’s lack of experience of this that has brought fears to a head.

That means nothing—because they have nothing to say.  What does explain governments’ fiscal positions then: corruption in high places?  How something as vague as ‘experience’ and ‘fear’ on the part of an entire nation is measured is anyone’s guess: a survey of a few people?  Why should we believe that a bought-and-paid-for racket like the Institute for Government bother that much about methodological accuracy?  The Institute then noted (Guardian, June 2, 2010) that the Conservatives are in charge of most of the big government ministries, and control 90% of government spending: some coalition.  And the Institute insisted that Clegg had already signed up to spending reductions totalling £6.2 billion as part of the post-election coalition agreement with the Tories (Daily Telegraph, June 14, 2010).  Yeah so what: Nick Clegg lies? That figure of £6.2 billion is less than the amount that the strategy-less-government gave to Lord Dennis and Fred the bankrupter to keep them in the style they were used to (the Financial Times gave a 2009 estimate that some £280billion in ‘toxic loans’, their polite word for a swindle, that would have to be dealt with). But hey that’s all so abstract right?

Lord Stevenson does on occasion get a little bit depressed. So do the public whenever they see him. Generally speaking, we have all been left thinking that the banking elite didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into, that they had no knowledge of the past activities of the stock market, or the complexities of banking, the risks involved in speculation or that the property market wasn’t about to pop and so forth.  As long as we accept that paying the money back is our fault and that Bankers are the perfect people to tell the government what to do.  But they do seem much more shrewd when it comes to dealing with whistle-blowers—people who actually believe in those 7 values cited above: rather than unscrupulous con-men who hide behind and pervert them.  The persecution here is weird for such affable honour-laden charitable worthies, independently overseeing interests: how can you be blind and yet see such detail?

The sacked HBOS whistleblower, Paul Moore, who alerted the board of its self-destructive course stated that Lord Stevenson should be investigated.  Moore said that there was evidence of the involvement of senior executives in fraud or a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.  But the investigations are going nowhere near the people at the top. Lord Stevenson is quoted in the Financial Times as saying that to avoid everyone getting depressed about all this: “companies must foster a culture of humanity in which emotions are allowed to be discussed.”  Yes great! So Paul Moore can come back and tell people like Stevenson something along the lines of: “you make me feel sick you callous, deranged, inhuman, lying, criminal, con man.”

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