The exclusive story behind the MPs cash-for-lobbying sting, revealed by the journalist who uncovered Westminster's double-dealingby Philip Clothier / March 25, 2010 / Leave a comment
Geoff Hoon talks to an undercover reporter on Channel 4’s Dispatches
They say that after the expenses scandal, the reputation of MPs sunk lower than that of estate agents. It’s anybody’s guess, then, where their reputation stands after this week’s cash for influence affair. However, after falling so spectacularly for a simple undercover television sting, it is perhaps the intelligence of such politicians that is now more in question. Why did people who are supposed to possess the intelligence to run our country not have the intelligence to see through such a thin spoof?
I produced and directed the Dispatches programme Politicians for Hire, which revealed senior politicians, including former cabinet ministers Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, offering their lobbying services in return for cash. Looking through the many hours of footage, the question that I asked myself continually was how people who helped run this country for many years could have even turned up for those interviews, let alone said what they did.
Stephen Byers was the first person to be interviewed in our sting, in which we set up a fictitious company called Anderson Perry, backed by a website full of management consultant jargon and fairly crass one liners. (Our offices were theoretically in smart St James’s although the meeting rooms there were only hired by the hour.) When he first responded to the unsolicited call from Anderson Perry, Byers was in the middle east. He was one of nearly 20 politicians who were approached about a month ago. Not one of them put the phone down. That was startling enough; and a course of action that Alistair Darling said this week should have been de rigueur.
Evidently, that advice went unheeded. Even though the pictures were compressed and the sound less than perfect, the uncut version of Byers’s interview made compelling viewing, enough in itself to have filled an hour of television. He billed himself as “an ideas man,” although he cautioned that only one out of ten ideas might come off. An outsider would be hard-pushed to work out that he was actually still a serving MP.
The chancellor’s advice was certainly not heeded by two extremely senior and long-serving Tory politicians either—including Michael Howard, who talked it through on the phone and, in a follow-up email, suggested that breakfast might be a good idea. At first he wanted us to tell him…