London Diary: The British-style sleaze and corruption engulfing the ruling party and PM Boris Johnson

There is sleaze and corruption, and then there's British-style sleaze and corruption, euphemistically known as "influence-peddling" but with many more murky shades than the term might suggest

London Diary: The British-style sleaze and corruption engulfing the ruling party and PM Boris Johnson
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Hasan Suroor

There is sleaze and corruption, and then there's British-style sleaze and corruption, euphemistically known as "influence-peddling" but with many more murky shades than the term might suggest. And it runs deep, from the PM downwards--ministers, MPs, civil servants.

Currently, both the incumbent prime minister Boris Johnson and his once-removed predecessor David Cameron are struggling to clear their names in two separate scandals that have engulfed the ruling Tory party which in the 1980s and 1990s was dubbed the "party of sleaze" after becoming embroiled in a series of financial and sex scandals.

Johnson, never really regarded as a great stickler for political or personal moral ethics, is accused of misusing party donations to refurbish his Downing Street flat. He hatched a "secret" and potentially illegal plan to cover the £200,000 cost of the revamp. The bombshell accusation has come from none other than his now estranged former adviser and personal chum Dominic Cummings.

The Electoral Commission has launched an investigation into a potential breach of the law on political donations. Although Johnson claims that he paid for the revamp from his own pocket, critics, including many of his own party colleagues, want him to explain how he obtained the money. One senior Conservative figure --former attorney general Dominic Grieve --described Johnson as a “vacuum of integrity”.

Meanwhile, David Cameron is deep into a lobbying scandal involving a firm he joined as an adviser after leaving Downing Street, and in which he had share options potentially worth millions of pounds. The company Greensill Capital, which has since collapsed resulting in huge job losses, was desperately trying to get financial aid from the government for a supply chain financing scheme.

Cameron is facing multiple inquiries into claims that he bombarded senior ministers and officials with texts and telephone calls seeking favours for Greensill. The stench of the 1980s is back.

Racism in death

The British Government has been quick to offer "unreserved apology" over revelations that soldiers from India and other non-white Commonwealth countries who died fighting for the British Empire during World War One were not commemorated in the same way as their white peers. But opinion among Commonwealth expatriates is divided over whether this really happened because of Britain's colonial-era racism as alleged by activists.

Indian soldiers during the WWI
Indian soldiers during the WWI

Some have dismissed it as a storm in a tea cup arguing that families of many of those soldiers may themselves have opted out of Christian-style commemoration such as erecting individual headstones because of their diverse "funeray customs". Historian Zareer Masani shot off a letter to The Times pointing out that individual headstones were a Christian practice, completely alien to the Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.

"Hindus and Sikhs insist on cremation...while Muslims only give tombstones to grandees. You would be hard pressed to find individual headstones to the dead of those communities anywhere in India or Pakistan today," he wrote.


A report of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission found that at least 116,000 casualties "were not commemorated by name or possibly not commemorated at all". It blamed this on "pervasive racism" citing comments such as one colonial official saying that: "The average native... would not understand or appreciate a headstone."

The fact, also, is that many of these soldiers’ own compatariots regarded them as stooges of the Raj and had little love for them. As Masani says:"You would be hard pressed to find individual headstones to the dead of those communities anywhere in India or Pakistan today. What you would find is collective amnesia about their defence of the empire in two world wars."

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Just deserts

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Stingy Boris

Boris Johnson is famously tightly-fisted. A journalist, who worked with him at The Telegraph, recalls a farewell meal for its former editor Bill Deedes. "Everyone had to stump up 40 quid or so. Who didn’t? Boris."

He coughed up only after a colleague threatened to write about his stingy behaviour in the paper's gossip column.

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And, lastly, Boris Johnson's high-profile, headlines -hogging partner Carrie Symonds has been dubbed "Carrie Antoinette" after the row over the expensive refurbishment of their Downing Street flat to suit her posh taste. As her husband fights a political firestorm, people are asking if their now-up-now-down relationship will survive the row.

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