Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Fancy Footwork With Paul Uppal

There's an old saying in Texas politics relating to that corrupt state's political fundraising, popularised by the great muck-raking journalist Molly Ivins, and it goes like this:
You got to dance with them what brung you

It means, basically, that you pursue your donors' interests in politics. If you don't, no more money. And in a hollowed-out democracy, it's the money which brings in the votes. With this principle in mind, let's have a look at who funds Mr Paul Uppal, my lazy local millionaire who was once described as 'our man in Parliament' by the British Property Federation.

First up: £8000 from the Government of India for a lovely all-expenses paid trip. Simple enough transaction and one MPs engage in all the time. Free holiday; quick photo op, warm feelings forever after. Then there's Ranees Ltd. They appear to be a clothes shop in London's East End: why they want to give a West Midlands MP £1500 baffles me, especially as they have a capital value of £2.00 (yes) but there must be some reason.

Up next: £1500 in cash and hotel rooms from LTC Investment Ltd. Who are these people? As is so often the case, they're very shy. No website, no public profile. A few scattered references to property and a lot of donations to Conservative MPs across the Midlands. It's almost as if they're buying friends - and as Paul made millions in property speculation, I'm sure they already had a lot in common.

Moving on, we find that Paul is in bed with the Big Beasts: £15,000 from the Midland Industrial Council. With a name like that, you're pretty much guaranteed that they're not cuddly chaps doing their bit for the nation. No: from the limited information about, they're hard-faced men with serious money ready to ensure that a government of crooks, con-men and cash keeps on screwing the poor and making life sweet for shareholders and directors. Who are they? Well, even the hard-right Telegraph calls them a 'mystery'. What is known is that this group has a shared fortune of £4 billion and puts large amounts of it at the disposal of the Conservative Party: and yet the Tories go on about Labour being run by 'union barons'. It was founded to fight the Atlee government (the one that introduced the NHS and the Welfare State) and has spent the past 70 years opposing every civilised measure introduced by government - all hidden behind a wall of anonymity. Are its activities legal? Hard to say, as no court has tested it yet, but it may be dubious if its acting as a channel for donations by unqualified donors. We can't tell who they are. That's democracy, baby!

Next: £5,000 from Bearwood Corporate Services Ltd., the personal piggybank of Lord Ashcroft. Yes, the Lord Ashcroft whose businesses seem to be dubious at very best and largely reliant on activity in agreeable offshore tax havens and of course Belize, which he appears to own. The Lord Ashcroft who thought that being given a seat in the House of Lords and a central role in British democracy shouldn't entail paying tax in the United Kingdom. Me? I say 'no representation without taxation', not a slogan likely to adorn Conservative posters in the near future.

Then there's Millway Shippers (£2,500), another London company with a serious attack of stage fright: not even a website. They apparently do 'import-export' which can only be above board and honourable, but there's nothing else to say about them other than to commend them for their public-spirited concern for the citizens of The Dark Place. I'm sure their interest in funding Paul Uppal is entirely altruistic.

After them comes some old favourites: the Conservative Friends of Israel, who handed Paul a shade under £6000. This is the classic lobbying operation. Paul got an expenses-paid 'fact-finding' trip to Israel courtesy of the Israeli government, which funds the CFoI. It included a ride in an armoured car or similar to the Golan Heights, which as far as the world is concerned, is Syrian and illegally occupied by Israel. CFoI is simply an exercise in buying Tory support for what is essentially an apartheid state, one in breach of multiple international laws and human rights treaties. Think of it as an investment: you can guarantee that whatever the Government of Israel does, Paul will never murmur a word of criticism. Money well spent! His constituents' views, you say? Talk to the hand.

Another big donor is Sun Mark, funding Uppal to the tune of £15,000. The company exports junk food across the world. It has no interests in this city, but its owner is a very active Tory donor and he's active in Sikh politics, working hard to make Conservatism attractive to British Sikhs.

After Sun Mark comes JCB Research Ltd. One of the JCB construction company's subsidiary, it seems to exist solely to channel the company's and its owners' money to the Conservative Party: Cameron has used its helicopter often. JCB has a reputation as a fearsomely rightwing company never scared to back up its vile ultra-capitalist views with cash directed to eager Tory mouths. What research does JCB Research undertake? Not mechanical experimentation, it seems: more like lobbying for tax breaks and state support, going by this presentation. With that level of generosity, you'd think that Anthony Bamford who owns JCB, should be in line for a peerage like most Tory-loving plutocrats. Sadly, a line has to be drawn somewhere. Fat Tony's tax affairs are so outrageous that even the spineless HMRC refused to play ball.

Finally, Paul's received £2500 from the United and Cecil Club. Now, I know the streets of this city pretty well. I've searched and searched for the United and Cecil Club, and can't find it anywhere. Is it an ex-Servicemen's association? Perhaps an old folks' organisation dedicated to tea dances? A group of aspiration young people looking for a way out? Sadly not. The United and Cecil club is yet another bunch of very rich people hiding behind a corporate shell because either they shouldn't legally be donating to political parties in this country, or they're simply ashamed (anyone who gives a political party more than £1500 has to be publicly identified). It works like this: they give the money to the United and Cecil Club and then – completely independently and spontaneously – the United and Cecil Club decides to give exactly the same amount of money to needy Conservative Members of Parliament. As long as it's less than £7500 per person per year, the real donor never has to be named.

So while the Tories bleat about – declared, legal, identifiable – Labour donations from the Conservative Party, every penny of Paul Uppal's declared funding comes from shadowy companies and front, not one of which is based in the constituency. It's almost as if nobody here wants him and his party as an MP, and all these shady bodies are piling in to support a marginal seat. You won't hear Paul mentioning these groups in public: he's cleverer than that. But you know that their calls and good wishes go a damn sight further than those of his constituents.

It's really simple. If Paul's proud of his funding by these groups, and they have the courage of their convictions, why don't they identify themselves? Why doesn't he tell us who these people are, why they're funding him and what they get out of it? Just so we're reassured that he hasn't been bought, lock, stock and barrel. Because as far as I can see, his current strategy is to accept large chunks of cash from very obscure sources with shady agendas.

And that, folks, is how democracy is bought. You got to dance with them what brung ya. The question is: who's calling the tune?

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